After a full day’s ride we were pleased to roll over the 100km mark and straight into a wat in Ban Tham Nam Bang. As per usual, I asked to see the head monk and was told that I could find him in the cave on the top of the hill. Despite my wobbly legs, I managed to climb the stairs into the main shrine but the only figure that greeted me was Buddha himself.
The cave was vast with several storage and sleeping rooms built into the walls and as I lingered in this space it felt as though I was an intruder in someone’s home. Eventually I found the monk, drinking a cup of tea and reading a book, and when he looked up I could see that he was thinking "Farang?!?". He said we were welcome to sleep in the cave, or the sala if we were scared - obviously he could read me aswell, because I chose the sala.
Each wat we have stayed in has offered a unique and rewarding experience. So far, monks in Thailand have been extremely hospitable and let us stay in their wats for free - whether it be in a cave, the forest, overlooking a nice beach or in the middle of a big city. We are grateful when offered a room (once with air-conditioning and internet access!), but are just as happy with a dry space under a temple building or sala.
Every day Thai monks wander the streets barefoot, collecting food which is given by local people wishing to gain merit. Occasionally they have offered us food which has been donated to them during this morning alms collection. At first, I was very humbled but at the same time worried that they didn’t have enough food. On subsequent occasions I realized that they have to encourage people from the village to come and eat with them so the excess food does not go to waste.
Some monks have been eager to chat with us about the Dhamma or Buddhist practices. One particular monk made quite the impression when he used loud noises and hand movements to explain his theory about people sending rockets through underground tunnels to cause natural disasters such as the tsunami. Chris and I did not want to offend, but had trouble containing our laughter.
Another memorable experience was when Gemma and I were taken to Wat Suvarnapoom (Lopburi province) to meet Ajarn Songsom, a monk who teaches “Freestyle” Dhamma. He told us to simply listen and the message and practice would be ‘up to you’. He was right, especially because his teachings were in Thai and I think my translations were way off!
Overall, the wat has become a place of refuge that we seek out at the end of a long day and helps to make cycling through Thailand a very cheap and satisfying experience, not to mention entertaining.