Monday, January 20, 2014

It's a Long and Winding Road

20 January 2014

We decided to take the day train to Chiang Mai so we could see the beautiful scenery.  And it really is a very pretty trip.

We got up very early to catch a taxi to the train station (Hua Lamphong, also spelled Hualamphong, or Huala Mphong - Thai is very confusing to try and pronounce sometimes!).  This was Tuesday, 14 January, the second day of the Shutdown Bangkok - so we were prepared for a long and tortuous trip.  Turned out to not be as bad as expected.

We got to watch the workers wash the trains, which was a novel experience.  Really, there's an entire crew with brushes, soap, water, rolling generator-powered water and power washers and hoses - it was a whole major procedure!

But we boarded the train, settled in our seats in the second class coach (no berths on the day train), and we were on our way.

We rode through Bangkok, which seems to go on forever.  Then suburbs, or outlying towns, and then fewer and fewer towns and houses.  Until we were in the agricultural area, with field after field of rice.  Bright green rice shoots coming up out of flooded rice fields.

There were also homes, businesses, factories, and towns we stopped in.  But the fascinating thing was seeing all kinds of temples, stupas, shrines in various states of repair or disrepair.  

Where did the monks go?  How does a temple or monastery, or a church for that matter, become abandoned and left to go to ruin?  Invading armies?  Famine?  Flood?  Plague?  Other natural disasters?  What happened to all the people?

These are the things I think about as we go rumbling along.

The price of our ticket included a morning snack (bun with custard center, and choice of drinks); lunch (soup, chicken curry, rice, drinks); and an afternoon snack (bun with sweet red bean center, and choice of drinks).  Nice, but, well, not the best food we've had in Thailand.  The Thai equivalent of coach airline food.

Anyway, Thailand is flat.  FLAT.  Not a ripple in sight for miles and miles as we headed north.

And then suddenly there were hills in the distance, sort of weird and steeply curved hills.  We were still in the flat plains or delta or whatever it is, but we could see hills.

More towns, more ruins, more rice fields.  Strangely some fields of sunflowers, looking very French or Italian in all their golden splendour.  

It went on and on like this for a while.  Or several hours.  Or half a day.  Time sort of runs together and stretches out when the scenery doesn't change a great deal, when you can't understand the announcements or even read the names of the stops.  We just rode, and looked, and read, and napped, and ate.  Time passed.

And darkness fell.  It got COLD!  We suspected we were in the foothills, but, well, it was dark out there.

Our arrival time came and went.  Rumours came around that we'd be getting in at 10 PM instead of 8 PM.  Two hours later.  A fourteen hour trip.  Well, it could have been worse.  Like, longer.

By now I was shivering, I was so cold.  Aching, because I was so cold.  And starting to feel unwell.

We eventually rolled into Chiang Mai, the end of the line for the railroad.  We tumbled out, and found our hotel, and all I could do was fall into bed.  Shivering, achy, feeling ill, and hoping I'd be all better in the morning.

Didn't work out that way.  By morning, I was still sick.  But it was basically one of those 24-hour bugs that people get when they are tired and busy travelling (or working, or whatever) - so by the following day, I was feeling much better.  (I have to add, Richard brought me tea and some cookies - almond cookies, because the lady at the shop said almonds have healing properties.  He later brought chicken soup, and the lady at the café told him the lemongrass in the soup had healing properties.  I'm glad the cooks in Thailand are so well-versed in healing foods!  Must have worked, right?)

Except for my back.  Which was miserable.  Out of alignment.  I wasn't able to stand up straight.  Sandy and Jody, Richard's brother and SIL, were in Chiang Mai, we wanted to go out sightseeing and walking, and I couldn't even stand up straight.  Or all the way.

So what do you do in this situation?  You ask around for a good doctor.  Richard had found a cute little café nearby, owned by a man from Charlottesville, VA and his wife (from the Philippines) - they recommended the Chinese hospital, which is more of a Chinese medicine clinic with massage, acupuncture, etc.  Well, we didn't know anywhere else, so we went over there.  They were on lunch break.  I wandered (slowly) around Wat Phakhao, originally built in 1487.  I ended up calling it the Temple of the Buddha Light Show - or maybe it's the Buddha of the Light Show Temple.  I don't mean to be so sacreligious, but seriously, check out these photos - what would you call the place?  Just an odd and rather funny way of displaying the Buddha figures. 

Anyway, we got to the Chinese hospital but no one could see me, they were all booked up.  So we went back to our hotel and talked to the manager, who did some calling around and booked at appointment at what he called "a doctor with a student who does work on muscles."  Okay, close enough to a chiropractor under the circumstances.  Hotel guy wrote the directions to the place as well as the address, found us a taxi, and explained to the driver where it was.  We still managed to drive in circles a bit, but eventually found the place - it seemed like almost a metal container turned into a shop, in a mini-mall of other container shops, all off the main road.  Not an auspicious beginning.

I know not everyone wants the details, but this was just so, well, unique.  We walk in, and there are a few customers and a whole bunch of workers.  Mats and pillows on the floor.  We explain my situation.  Someone gestures that I should lie down on a mat.  The doctor (who I can't see, I'm on my side) pokes a few spots on my hip and back - of course, those sore pressure points that were currently on fire.  I gasp and squeak in pain.  He mumbles something to a woman, who comes over and explains in minimal English that I must be relaxed before the doctor can see me.  So a woman has me lie on my back and gives me the most intense and therapeutic massage of my life - beginning with one foot and hitting every single pressure point and sore spot as she worked her way up one leg and then up the other.  Including stretching my thigh out by pushing with her leg extended and she used the toes of her other foot to manipulate my sciatic nerve - can we say OWWWW!?!?!?!  Two other women who spoke some English would periodically ask me about what hurt, where, or they'd put a hand on my shoulder and tell me to breath slowly, in, out, or they'd give me a pillow to hold and tell me to squeeze the pain into the pillow.  They were sort of like doulas for the massage therapists - just there to help the client get through the treatment!

At this point the doctor is working on a woman to my left, and she's in pain as he works on her shoulders.  The man client to my right is in equal pain (but a little more silently) as he gets a Japanese foot massage working on reflexology points in his feet.  Richard is in and out, because by now an hour has passed.  The doctor asks me about my back, and I give him a summarized history of my back issues.  (Extra vertabra makes for a lifetime of issues.)

And then it's my turn.  I'm poked and prodded by Mr. Doctor.  He has me lie on one side and kick my upper leg as high as I can as he presses on the various pressure points in my hip.  Then slide the leg up and down as he repeats the pressure.  Kick to ten, ow ow ow, slide to ten, eak, ow, ugh.  My back feels better.  Flip to the other side and repeat.

Sit up, he wraps his arms around my shoulders in some weird wrestling move and gently crunches my upper back into shape.  Then back on my side for more pressing and kicking and sliding.

And then he proceeds to push me through a variety of stretches that I do every morning anyway - butterfly groin stretch, knee to chest, and bent-leg pendulum - yay for personal exercise routines designed to keep me limber and agile and stretched and strong.

After about two hours there, I was done.  I could stand up straight.  I could walk without pain.  I still had sore spots, as well as the points where everyone had been pressing.  But I no longer looked like Quasimodo's sister, I looked like me again.

All this for 400 Thai baht. That's about $12 US.  Able to stand, able to walk, and having experienced a very interesting cross-cultural exchange.

Totally worth it!



  1. ...Where did the monks go?...>>> Some temples were left because they are too distance from villages.

  2. Lemongrass and almond, both used in Chinese and many Asian local medicines as herbs to cure flu. Lemongrass also accepted by scientific research about its effect. (I don't know about almond.)

    If you come back to your country, I would suggest you to take lime or lemon, tea, sugar or honey. (You can make some lemon tea. ) These are also good cures for catching a cold.

  3. Very interesting! Oriental medicine has been around several thousands of years longer than any of our Western stuff.