Our first day in Chiang Rai was already a heady spiritual experience, at least for me. My Soul Foodies and I got to marvel at the beauty of the White Temple. Moreover, we had a most wonderful, truly soul-feeding meal at Locus Native Food Lab.
On our second day, we took this spiritual experience to the next level. How did we do it? By crossing the border and going to Myanmar, to visit a nun’s temple and the replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Myanmar feels isolated from modern civilization
Let’s stop for a short note on Myanmar. There’s some confusion regarding its name—I know I’m confused. Its official name, according to the local government is Myanmar. However, in international circles, the country is still known by its old name, Burma. The people of Thailand, on the other hand, have always called it Pra Ma.
Going to Myanmar is the very first time I’ve felt like a tourist on a trip I’ve organized. While some of the scenery is similar to Thailand’s, it’s way different from my home country. From what we saw on our rickshaw rides, Myanmar looks rustic and isolated from modern civilization. Our guide informed us later that we’re actually on a more “modernized” part of the country, and it becomes even more primitive further inland.
Speaking of the rickshaws, they’re so much different from the Thai tuktuk. But it still has three wheels and is motorized. The ride itself was exciting, if a bit bumpy.
Our first stop: A nun’s temple
As mentioned earlier, we’re going to Myanmar to visit a nun’s temple. Our guide recited what sounded like a manifesto from the nuns living there: “Even though we are born with nothing and our parents can’t send us to school, the temple will send us to get an education so we can grow up to be a benefit to our community.” This statement highlights the importance of education and how deeply it’s been drilled down in all of us.
When we got to the temple, we arrived just in time to hear the nuns’ chant. They did a special chant for us, wishing us happy travels, prosperity, and health. We learned later that every single nun has to chant for one hour in a different language to give thanks and to bless the people who gave them food, shelter, and education for that day.
I could really feel the nuns’ gratitude in their chanting. Most of these young ladies were either from the orphanage or left behind by their families. Moreover, their chanting is so musical, very different from Thai chanting. The chants also feel more spiritual and like they’re channeling a lot more energy from the universe, perhaps because of Myanmar’s seclusion from modern civilization and technology.
Our second stop: A replica of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda
After another bumpy rickshaw ride, we arrived at our second stop for the morning: a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The original pagoda in Yangon is considered to be the holiest temple to Buddhism in Myanmar and houses several relics of Buddha. Tradition holds that the original pagoda is the world’s oldest Buddhist stupa. It’s built with genuine gold plates.
The replica we visited is also gilded, but it’s only a tenth of the size of the original pagoda. Nonetheless, walking around the pagoda gives you breathtaking views of the mountains of Thailand, as well as Laos and Myanmar. You’ll also see other golden pagodas in the distance. Walking around the pagoda, which is part of the ritual you need to observe when visiting Buddhist pagodas, is an extremely spiritual experience.
Before we could enter the grounds, though, we had to wear a sarong and put orange powder on our faces. Wearing the sarong wrap is to give respect to the holiness of the site. The orange powder, on the other hand, is to make the face look brighter.
Around the pagoda, you’ll see different angels representing different days of the week. Each day corresponds to an animal symbol in the Burmese zodiac. I was born on a Thursday, and Thursday’s animal symbol is the rat. This means people born on a Thursday are easy going and love eating. They’re also fast and efficient. When I heard this, I was like, “That’s so me!” And it’s so cool and awesome to learn something like this in the country I’m visiting.
All in all, going to Myanmar was a deeply spiritual and insightful experience. I also felt that, in crossing the border, I have traveled 40 or 50 years back to Thailand’s past, before it embraced modernity and technology.
You can watch the episode here: https://bit.ly/NFSSeason2Ep19