6/12/2008 – Alms Offering to 11,250 Monks and the Night Bazaar
It was 5am, it was pitch black and there was loud thumping on the hostel front door. I rolled over in my bed and made a quiet groan, knowing that I would have to get up shortly and feeling the slight anger of hours earlier rise up into my throat. Yesterday was the King’s Birthday and all over Chiang Mai posters and bunting had been advertising the Alms Offering to the Monks. For this reason, Jimmy, Kelly and I went to bed early so we could get a decent amount of shut-eye. 6.09am in pretty early for me at the best of times, but as a traveller this really is ridiculous-o`clock. So you can imagine how annoying it might be that several other hostellers decided that this was the night they were going to stay up late and make banal conversation keeping me awake until 2am. Seriously, the conversation couldn’t have been more boring, they weren’t even drinking and it was just plain rude to keep other people awake at that time.
Kelly went to answer the thumping, some backpackers had arrived 2 hours early on the bus from Chiang Mai.
I dragged myself up and threw on some warmish clothes as the temperature drops at night now it’s winter in Thailand. I made a quick cup of tea and attempted to pull myself together.
Most of the hostel was coming to the Alms offering, so we gathered our foods and walked down the main street. We were lucky that the ceremony was taking place practically on our doorstep because after the disaster of the fireworks the previous night, I couldn’t be dealing with more traffic jams.
The main road was covered with white and red tarpaulin and Thai people were starting to position themselves on the white parts. We walked a couple of blocks down, leaving our flip flops by the entrance to our close, and sat in the middle of the road along the edge of the red strip. The red strip would be the walkway for the monks and everyone else sat along the edges.
The morning was fresh, it was dark and the atmosphere was a quiet hum. We waited patiently for the ceremony to start at 6.09am as advertised. Alas, this was not to be. As we were sat down even monks were still arriving. By half 6 the road was filling up more and more people tried to snuggle in behind us.
Eventually the the PA system started up and we listened to music, prayers and speeches. Obviously, it was all in Thai but I’m sure they were repeating themselves a lot. As I later found out they were repeating the prayers and more people turned up (late) they needed to bless them as well.
It was particularly difficult to stay awake through this and I think Jimmy even managed to doze a little bit.
Just before 8am we were informed over the PA system that the ceremony was due to begin. We watched as the thousands of Monks slowly walked up the red runway in front of us. After positioning themselves in front of us. The actual Alms giving began: still seated on the ground we reached up to place our packets of noodles into the metal bowls the Monks were holding. I felt a bit guilty, they must have been thinking `oh great, another packet of noodles`. I wish I’d been a bit more imaginative with my offerings. Anyway, it was really special having Monks proceed in front of us and reaching up to make offerings. The road was crowded with a sea of people and Monks and the air of giving was so prominent. It was humbling.
After about 20 minutes or so we had managed to give all our noodles away so we made our way back to hostel to a well-earned cup of tea and a few episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
I spent several hours on the Internet trying to make a decision about Australia and after a conversation with Uncle David I decided to take the plunge and book the ticket. I am now flying to Australia on Sunday 21st December and I get to see my family at Christmas. I am very excited.
In the evening we went to the Night Bazaar to have dinner, more Pad Thai, and wander around the market stalls. I didn’t see anything to buy and it was a little touristy so the prices were more. Now that I have splurged on a flight to Oz I need to be strict with my pennies.