There’s always something to to do. But knowing exactly what? That’s a different story.
Today (May 10, 2017) is Vesākha – also known as Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day. You can learn more from Vesākha on Wikipedia – from people who actually know what their talking about. If you’re after more a more uninformed view with pictures, read on (that’s me!).
We found out this centuries-old celebration by a little luck, via a friend who found out by accident. As we’ve learnt, Buddha Day was formalised in the 1950s, but it’s been running for hundreds of years, annually around this time.
While it runs across many Buddhist regions, we were fortunate enough to experience the Chiang Mai incarnation. Up the north of Thailand, it consists of a 12Km walk from the foot of Doi Suthep to the Wot Doi Suthep temple which overlooks Chiang Mai City. Today is the national holiday, but it all starts the night before.
12kms – Not that far
A 12km walk might make you think twice, but while it took almost 4 hours, time flew. There’s something to be said about the overwhelming air of friendship, positivity and inclusiveness of the Thai Buddhists. We – as in a group of foreign tourists – were very outnumbered and our walk was really in to the unknown. We researched a few pictures, knew we could get a red-truck back (more on the red-trucks below), would be offered water, but little else. This was no Tourism of Thailand sanctioned event – almost everyone were seemingly local.
On arriving to our meeting point of Chiang Mai Zoo for the start of the walk, we realised this was a big thing. There were thousands of people. Traffic was madness, cops were on their best-whistling-game and there was a sense of occasion. We met up with some friends, and not long after 6 pm, hit the road.
It didn’t take long to get a taste of things to come
Within a couple of minutes of walking, we’d been offered countless drinks. Water, cordial, juices, iced-coffee; the true hospitality of the Thai’s was on show. Even omelette at one stage. The generosity with smiles and English (often broken, for those who could speak) from people helping felt so special – you couldn’t help to be in a great mood. The crazy thing? This generosity and service-with-a-smile was there the entire 12kms, from kids to teenagers through to the elderly.
There were Monks and donation stands, music and dancing, trucks on the side of the road playing music. For a 12km walk, there was no opportunity to get bored. Committing to the walk was something I was in mixed minds about prior. While walking, I was relived I decided to do it. I recall thinking that I’ve never done anything like this, while there are parents piggy-backing their young kids up and elderly with walking sticks.
Wot Doi Suthep
As we reached the destination of Wot Doi Suthep around 9:45pm, the streets were lined with plastic chairs and the (almost) ever-present call of ‘massaaaaaage’. Talk about knowing your market. We were tempted.
Despite the huge numbers walking up, crowds were very orderly. This was a spiritual event, there was no booze and everyone knew what they were doing (except us). Our group split up at this point, where half our crew decided to head home, and we decided to make the final flight of stairs to the top. The top really was the pinnacle – this was a beautiful experience and something I’m so happy I decided to do.
Once we’d had our fill of this cultural experience, we decided to call it a night. We’d watched the processions, seen many monks and (oh yeah, noticed that it was mostly teenage boys ringing the loud gongs) we were keen to hit the red-truck down the hill.
Our friends that had left told us it takes a while to get going. They left at 9:50pm and got to the bottom at 10:45pm. There were plenty of red-trucks, and ours was full within minutes. But that didn’t mean squat. Our truck was in a queue and we were expecting about an hour of some squishy-stranger-moments in the back. Turns out it took us an hour to move less than 1 km. The streets were chaos and we just had to sit tight. We jumped on the red-truck at 10:45 and didn’t hit the bottom until 1am. At 40B per person, the trip didn’t break the bank either, despite it being pretty late.
All up, it was absolutely worthwhile. Heading to the top for a night I’ll never forget, I’m so happy I decided to do it. I hope the pictures give a little taste of the evening.
Everyone getting ready for the walk to Doi Suthep for Visakha Bucha
Along the 12km walk, at all stages, everyone was looked after
Starts in daylight, ends in moonlight
Working through the night
Walking up, there were blessings and donation wells along the way
There were street vendors, music stages and general good vibes
Family, friends and good spirit
All heading to the same place
Along the 12km walk to the top
I was looking for a fan
As we got to the top, it got more and more festive
They know thier market
The final part of the walk
Small but spiritial crowd
With Thai people on the pilgrimage
At Wot Suthep, Chiang Mai
Beautiful views from the platform at Wat Doi Suthep