Three years ago, a friend of ours taught English to monks at Wat Chedi Luang, right in the center of Chiang Mai, Thailand and suggested we pay a visit during our stay. So of course we visited Wat Chedi Luang and spent the afternoon participating in their Monk Chat Program. The purpose of the program is to educate Western visitors on Buddhism and monk life while also allowing the monks to practice their conversational English and interact with people from different cultures and religions.
A monk named Minx greeted us and invited us to sit across a table from him to talk. We began by talking about the daily life of a monk and the Buddhist system. For example, young men can enter the Buddhist system as a monk as young as age seven and can stay for a varying amount of time (as short as a few weeks or as long as a lifetime). During our two hours chatting with Minx and a few other monks we pretty much covered all the bases: politics, religion, sports, music, food, language, weather, education, and travel. We enjoyed when the monks explained to us that English tongue twisters are difficult for them, such as “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” However, I think the funniest moment was when Minx suddenly reached under his orange robe and pulled a cell phone out of a little zippered pocket. True fact: Many monks text message and have Facebooks. It’s interesting how monks can live such similar and different lives than us at the same time.
About a week later, we had another unexpected encounter with a monk in Laos. While chatting with the guy named Dao working the night shift at the reception desk of our hotel, we discovered that he recently just left the monk system. He went to monk school from age 16 until less than a month ago and was experiencing a complete change of lifestyle. Dao explained to me the types of things monks are not allowed to do such as touch women, have girlfriends, play sports, wear normal clothes, dance, drink alcohol, or smoke. We were surprised that monks were not allowed to dance and asked Dao if he wanted to dance. He said that he really wanted to but that he never has before and he didn’t know how. So of course, we cranked up the music, hit the open space in the hotel lobby, and showed our new friend/ex-monk how to dance. It was one of the most heartwarming moments to teach a 23-year-old man to dance for the very first time in his life and see the huge smile across his face. However, the best part was that it put an even bigger smile on our faces.
Well, Coley and I thought that we left all the extreme adventure activities back in New Zealand, but I guess we were wrong. During our time in Chiang Mai we unexpectedly decided to partake in a once in a lifetime opportunity to zip line through the 1500-year-old Mae Kompong jungle in northern Thailand. The Flight of the Gibbon experience is advertised as the best attraction in Thailand and “perfect for extreme fun lovers.” We were sold.
We were booked on the sunrise experience, so we arrived at the Flight of the Gibbon office bright and early after an hour drive up the mountain on the windiest roads imaginable. They got us set up with a harness and helmet and we met our two Thai guides for the day named “Big Daddy” and Joe. We were lucky that our group was comprised of us and seven of our new friends that we met in Thailand earlier in the week. Finally, we were driven high into the canopy where we walked to the first platform and were ready to go.
Since this was a last minute decision we honestly didn’t know much about it and thought that we would get to go on maybe three different zip lines if we were lucky. Well, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we’d be spending 3 hours soaring through the rainforest on three kilometers and 39 different stations of zip lines.
We started out with a few short lines and worked our way up to the longer and obviously more awesome ones. As we made our way through the course, first Joe would zip to the next platform and Big Daddy would stay with us to hook us up and send us down the line one by one. The funniest part of zip lining was the landings on the next platform, most of which were not too graceful. Joe (who was nearly 5 foot tall) would try to catch us as we came flying towards him, sometimes at ridiculous speeds and sometimes backwards or sideways. On some of the lines we would fly into nets and then climb them up to the platform like we were in some type of obstacle course. Another nice surprise was that there were many different types of lines and ways we could fly across. There was a two person (“honeymoon”), a few abseil (“mission impossible”), a head first (“superman”), a zigzag swing, and even an upside-down line where we hung by our feet.
The zip lining experience is called Flight of the Gibbons because there is a chance that during your time in the jungle you can see gibbons, which are apes native to Southeast Asia. The only time we’ve seen gibbons before was on Planet Earth so we were really excited about this possibility. We were told that our chances of seeing one might be slim since it is currently the rainy season in Thailand. However, we were extremely fortunate that we spotted a father, mother, and baby gibbon hanging out in a tree above us. The gibbons are known for their loud hooting calls, which are oddly enough quite similar to the “woo” sound we make as we’re on the zip line.
Coley and I both agree that this was hands down our favorite activity we’ve done on our trip thus far because it was a perfect combination of thrilling and fun without being too scary or life threatening. It was also an incredible experience alone to spend three hours in a jungle and see a family of gibbons in the tree above us. Lesson of the day: sometimes the best adventures are the ones you didn’t plan.