A MEMORABLE PLACEThailand's challengesBy Rosalie KoslofI was...



Thailand's challenges

By Rosalie Koslof

I was not ready for the strange allure of Thailand. I thought this country would be like any other foreign country I visited. I would see the major sights, learn what I could about the culture and, after returning home, fondly remember my trip. But Thailand was different. I was exposed to more profound experiences in a relatively brief period of time.

It was a humid 80 degrees and the skyscrapers were gray from the haze hanging over the city when we arrived in Bangkok. The pollution from the throngs of cars and motorcycles mingled with the scents of spicy foods cooked at vending stands on narrow, crowded streets.

It did not take long to find another side to this big city -- a spiritual side. I would turn a corner to be greeted by a pedestrian lighting a candle at a shrine or the elaborate architecture of a temple. I checked my shoes outside and entered Wat Po, temple of the Reclining Buddha. Spellbound, I sat on the floor under the gaze of the serene Buddha. At the heart of the bustling city, religion pulsates.

Traveling north, I encountered unusual ways of life. In Lop Buri, 90 miles from Bangkok, I was surrounded by a horde of monkeys. These monkeys live at a 13th-century shrine, Phra Prang Sam Yod. Protected here, they roam the streets and enchant -- sometimes exasperate -- tourists with their antics.

Farmland is interrupted by ancient temple ruins. The most frequently visited site is Sukhothai, an ancient city dominated by the remains of stucco Buddha images.

I drove on winding mountain roads lined by lush vegetation to villages of hill tribes. I stopped to admire their handicrafts and bring snacks for the children who joyfully encircled me.

I visited the upper reaches of the Mekong River, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) meet, an area known as the Golden Triangle. From a boat, I watched inhabitants of huts along the shore wash their clothes in the river. Children ran naked into the water. The river was their playground and backyard.

Two nights in Chiang Mai, a northern city, took me almost to the end of my journey. I climbed 290 steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep to attend the evening service. Monks knelt to pray in a mesmerizing chant that echoed above the skyline. I felt as if I were floating in midair to the perfect harmony of the chanters.

Back home, I often remember Thailand as a place that challenged my senses, heart and soul all at once.

Rosalie Koslof lives in Ellicott City.


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