So…Enlighten me!?

Hey! Ok great, so I  can write, or at least I think I’m allowed to as no ones taken anything off me so from the top…

My train pulls into Ubon Ratachathani around 8am. Dammit, I’ve missed brekkie with the monks, the one and only meal they have PER day! So I get off the train and find the nearest tourist information. “Wat Pa Na Na Chat!! Oooo!” The lady gave me a mixed expression of ‘I can’t believe you’re staying there’ to a’wow, that’s really impressive!’ She’s clearly telling everyone around her and everyone else too is looking amazed. It was a bit like kids telling each other ‘Santa’s coming to town’ or something along those lines! Everyone was being super nice, it was as though this monastery now gave me some kind of privilege pass!?

Anyways, Jan as she liked to be called, arranged a taxi for me which apparently a 10 minute drive. “Ok, hold on, is there a wifi spot nearby? A cafe maybe? I’ve missed the morning brekkie with the monks you see” I explained. “Oh, you can log in on my True Wifi for a short while. And also, there is a lady across the street who sells the most delicious crispy chicken…here..” Jan typed her password into my tablet for me! True wifi is a service around here where you pay and connect anywhere, like a pay and go service..so I thought that was very kind of her! Jan then beckons the lady over who sells the chicken. All the while, the taxi man is waiting patiently for my business.

The chicken lady turns out to be a lady boy wearing more make up than me! He / she comes over with a basket full of chicken wings. “30 baht” He said, almost shoving the basket under my nose! “Um, ok, I’ll take one”. The thought of eating chicken at 8am really didn’t appeal but also the thought of not eating anything at all was worse!

The Monestary

So munching on a chicken wing in the taxi, I’m on my way to Wat Pa Nanachat. We pull into a long and windey path and into the forest. I can see a few buildings all spaced out and a few visitors darted about here and there. Self motivational plaques are displayed in the trees as if to remind you of your purpose and time there..e.g. ‘If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate’

I had a good walk about trying to find some kind of office / entrance when I came across an Italian guy all dressed in white. “Hello! May I help you?” He said chirpily. “Hi! Yes, that will be great thanks..I’m staying here but I’m not too sure where I need to sign in. “Oh, no problem, I’ll take you to the office.” I can’t remember his name so for my own benefit, I called him ‘Roma’ ! So I’m taken to the office and a tall, brown robed man comes out..Roma explains I am staying with them, then the brown robed man turned to me and asked “Did you write us?” “Yes, yes about 3mths ago” I replied. “My name is Helen”. “Ahh, Helen Readdy. Welome, we’ve been expecting you.” This guy was the guest monk, the one who wrote to me. It was all very weird though, he didn’t even look at my letter but he remembered my surname..more to the point, he got it right! “Please can you wait to the side with your luggage. Do you have sandals?” “Yes, no problem.” Minutes later, monks were appearing from all over, more men in brown robes but also white and orange. I found out that white means novice (so not yet a monk), brown is a forest monk and orange is a city monk…so they obviously had monks from other monasteries staying. Clearly it was a morning meeting. Then 2 women  joined and sat at the back..they beckoned me over to sit with them. “We must sit to the left of the men” A french accented lady whispers.

The meeting didn’t feel very long, 10 minutes if that. The guest monk explained we had a lot of work to do that day and we were to do our jobs well but not become absorbed into them. He also let everyone know there were a few new faces and that everyone was to help make us feel welcome. After the meeting, the guest monk asked ‘Daniella’ (the lady who I first thought was french actually turned out to be Brazilian!) to hang around for a few minutes whilst I filled out some paperwork. Next of kin details, estimated duration of stay and a passport photocopy and I’m in! Daniella then walked me round to the womens quarters. “This is where we stay. I will show you the available rooms so you can pick one”  Well, OMG, the first thing I notice about this place (and not just the womens quarters) is the amount of ants about the place! They are everywhere..and I don’t just mean the odd ant here and there, I mean literally whole marching lines of ants, thousands of them! Great, no beds either so I’d be sleeping with them! There was no way I could sleep in the first hut Daniella showed me. The next one was better so I promptly piped up “‘l’ll take it!”

Kuti’s are the actual name of the huts..they are TINY! Small and perfectly square rooms with nothing in them apart from a picture of the Lord Buddha, a fan and a few candles in one corner. ‘Right..first things first..mozzie net!’ Eyeing up the Kuti, it’s another blue peter job. I was determined to get this thing up even if it took all day, there was no way I was risking things crawling on and over me during the night! 20 mins later and I’ve done it! I found hooks and hinges to wrap the string around and although it wasn’t perfect, it was better than nothing…

Ok, so I’m then shown where the clothes are kept. I’m given a pastel purple shirt Tshirt and a long black wrap around sarong type thing. Oh and a rope belt to keep the skirt up! Hmm..I feel like a Mormon or something haha! Once settled in, I was then taken to the office so I could leave any valuables in the safe e.g. ipod, cameras, tablet etc..except, I left my mobile and camera in my kuti and cleverly decided to use the padlock from my back pack to secure the door with haha. I then went back to the womens area with Daniella which is where I was formerly introduced to Noricco, the other lady staying at the monestary. Noricco is lovely! She is a Japanese lady who like Daniella, has been staying at the monastery for around 2 wks. Both the women can’t be much older than 35. I can tell they are both very dedicated and know a lot more about Buddhism than I do but hey, I was there to learn right…”We are kept to ourselves here. The men can’t speak to us and we’re only allowed to speak to the Abbott or Guest Monk if he is with another monk!” Noricco explained. Apparently responding with “Oh, is that incase they could be seduced?” was not the answer the ladies were expecting haha. Of course, that was an indication that my sense of humour would be lost here.

I am given their schedule to study and told it’s very strict and must be followed  unless I have special permission from the Abbott or guest monk to be excused from any chores etc. Our schedule was as follows:

3.15am – Morning Puja (chanting) starting a 3.30am

5.45am to 6.45am – Laywomen clean the Bot (square marble temple)

6.45am to 7.45am – Laywomen separate the alms food

7.45am to 8am – All congregate in the Sala temple for blessing chants (and thanking the locals for their kind offerings of food)

8am – The meal. Afterwards, the laywomen clean up the kitchen area etc…

9am – Brief meeting at the office to be given our duties

11.30 / 12 – Back to our kuti’s for meditation and / or reading

4.30pm to 5.30pm – Laywomen’s afternoon tea (drinking not eating!)

6.15pm – Evening chanting starting at 6.30pm until 8pm.

Then back to Kuti’s for bedtime!!

Noricco then showed me how to maintain my kuti. “You must keep it clean inside and out to stop the bugs from coming in. Also, there is a moat surrounding your kuti. You must keep this filled with water to help stop the ants from marching in however, you will need to change this every 3 days to stop mosquito’s from breeding in it”. So I filled up my moat to help keep the bugs at bay which actually, I don’t think it made a blind bit of difference! Moat filled, I’m then asked to sweep the womans quarters.”All the leaves must be removed from the path. This is so we can see it’s safe to walk, but also, sweeping is a good form of meditation” Noricco explained the rules and benefits of sweeping but forgot to mention that all this peace it was supposed to bring me would also leave me with lead arms and hands full of blisters hmm..Phew! It’s taken ages and I’m sweltering. Finally a break.

Oh one thing I forgot to mention is upon arrival, the guest monk asked if I’d eaten. I said I’d eaten some chicken on the way over so I was ok at the time. “Good. Try to wait until tomorrow to eat again, an empty tummy is better for meditation” What!! Oh great.So you can imagine after all this sweeping that I was beginning to feel hungry! Noricco asked if I’d eaten too so I said the same thing to her and she gasped..”Uhhh, you must have more!” She whisked me off to the kitchen and found a monk. “Excuse me, I’m worried Helen might not last the day, is there any food left over?” She asked, bowing to the brown robed monk. It took me by surprise when he replied with a Manchester accent but I remembered it was an international monastery after all! “Of course, let me see”. He came back with some biscuits, crackers and 2 apples. I scoffed the lot knowing it would be the last munch I’d get until the next morning.

Back at the kuti, we were allowed to rest until 4.30pm when it was tea time. And remember, this isn’t tea as in food, it’s literally ‘tea / coffee’ time. You drink whatever has been donated by the locals so you don’t know what you are going to get until you open the kitty. Today inside, there were bottles of green tea, 1 x bottle of coke, 1 x bottle of orange juice and a carton of soya milk. In another box, there were T-bags (green and herbal teas), Nescafe and coffee mate sachets. So we drink as much as we can. We can also take bottles of water during the day, this is of course as often as we’d like.

Back at the kuti (5.30pm), we sweep a little more and then chill until 6.15pm. “Helen, are you ready to come to evening chant? Bring your torch.” I hear Noricco beckoning me from outside my kuti. We all walk to the Sala temple, place a mat and cushion down and grab 2 chanting booklets..not sure of the difference but one is white and one is orange. Everyone sits in rows on their mats and once seated, you bow 3 x to the Buddha statue and, well, wait. Then all the brown robed monks come in, sit at the front, bow 3 x and pick up one of the books. “Orange book, page 34”. The chanting begins. Omg, it’s so hard to follow to begin with! It’s mostly in ‘Pali’ the language of the buddha but sometimes it will have the english translation after it.

“Hagam malam, paralandimagam, suddosammabudda” (something like that!) Everything is chanted in monotone but sometimes the words will go up and down. You can tell when it will as it’s almost like a musical score e.g..the words will have a small arrow indicating up or down above or below it. You do get used to it though, even if it is a little hard to follow at times. After the chanting, everyone meditates for an hour..the lights are dimmed and everyone gets started! Some of the monks get up and walk around (walking meditation) while most of us stay in the cross legged position. Afterwards, it’s back to the kuti’s. Wow, it feels so early!

I’m too scared to turn the light out in my hut so I sparked up a few of the candles which threw off a nice subtle orange glow. Woah, bugs and forest talk surround my hut and it’s so loud! I can hear things clambering on the roof, things whacking the side of the hut, the usual clicking and grunting of geckos and the odd ‘splosh’ sound coming from the moat. ‘Splosh??!’ What the heck is that?! Ok, ignore it..it can’t get me from under my mozzie net right hah..? Ok, so the alarms set for 2.50am!! With the candles getting dimmer and dimmer, I’m wishing someone would knock me out before they go out but no chance. It was like something out of a horror film, you know, the bit where someone’s in a cave or something..candle or lighter going…fuel running out and the heroin still desperately needing the light before the monsters come! It was like I was waiting for it to happen…the light was fading fast until, going…going…’poof’! Now in total darkness and just left with that after burn smell from the candle, it’s as though the forest talk had suddenly gotten louder as if to say ‘play time’! Eventually, once I’d stopped tapping my mobile for a bit of extra light, I fell asleep, well, that is until the alarm rudely woke me up at ten to three AM!!!

Morning Glory…hmm!!

2.50AM!! OMG! I get up and get dressed into my purple and black gear in a sleep drunken state, grab my torch and head for the toilet. Jeez! Ants have taken over the place! A quick bucket of water soon washes them away..  “Helen, we are going to Sala now” Noricco’s voice comes from behind the toilet door. “Ok, wait for me!” Daniella and Noricco both wait for me and then in the dark (and in silence), we walk to the Sala building.

Again, we grab ourselves a mat, cushion and the orange and white chanting books ready. Half asleep, I’m in awe of everyone’s commitment! But also I’m wondering why they feel the need to show their commitment at this time in the morning? During the meditation time, I peep through slitted eyes and just watch for a moment – haha, glad it’s not just me who’s tired! I can even see the brown robed monks wobbling, well, either they are super tired or super into their meditation that they’re literally swaying in their own little worlds hehe!

After the chanting and meditations, the ladies have to clean the bot building so that’s where the 3 of us all headed. We had to sweep the leaves from the path and then mop the floor of the temple. After an hour of cleaning, we then head back to our Kuti’s. I actually cried! I was thinking to myself, what have I done, what am I doing here? I hated it! How is this going to help me find peace with myself? 30 mins laters, we all had to go to the kitchen to help separate the alms food.

The Meal

Now this is the food I’ve stopped to give the monks while we were in Laos. Well, now I know what happens to it being on the other side. There is so much food! Fresh fruit, fish, veg, salad, full on dinners to cartons of drink! Oh yes and soo much sticky rice haha! One word of advice, don’t give the monks sticky rice, give them something yummy plus, no one really eats much of the rice, there’s always so much of it left.

So, food separated, you then go and wait in the Sala building. The monks then ring a bell at 8am and walk over to the kitchen / food hall. We follow behind the monks but we have to wait in a separate room in the food hall..so basically, the monks get the prime pickings. Next, the laymen go in with their food bowls, then finally, it’s the womens turn! The table is full of food! As I mentioned, it’s full on dinners etc..the men are filling their bowls to the brims! While I’m hungry, the thought of eating rice noodles, chicken and pork at 8am doesn’t appeal but at the same time, this being the only meal, you just have to tuck in!

My bowl doesn’t look that full. Rice, veg, some donuts, a carton of milo and some bananas..hmm, not sure that’s going to sustain me all day is it? Back in our little eating / prayer room, my bellies grumbling away like a frog and as I was abouts to eat a spoonful of rice, I realised no one else was eating yet?! Huh? We waited for a few minutes, then a bell chimed. We then had to chant a blessing before we ate…”I eat this food not for fun, not for pleasure, not for beautification but to provide this body with the nourishment it needs so I can live the holy life. I will allay hunger so I can live blamelessly and at ease”..well, something along those lines. Finally we can now eat..gobble gobble! Afterwards, everyone has to clean their bowls and cups and then go and gather around the Abbott’s office (where I was told to wait when I arrived). “Ok. Today we have a lot of work to do. Ladies, please can you clean the kitchen area and do it well”  The men were given jobs / tasks too. The monks final words again were “Do your jobs well and do them thoroughly but do not become absorbed into what you are doing”. Umm ok, not too sure I understand that lol. Everything seems to be a riddle here.

So we go off to clean the kitchen! Sweeping, washing up, floor mopping! Breaking into a sweat, I thought we were nearly done but then Noricco asks me to clean 4 of the ladies toilets!! What! So I’m a janitor now too. Of course, I couldn’t argue it and followed orders. Chores done, then back to our kuti’s. Right 12 until 4.30pm free time..how will I spend mine..? Sleeping, oooh yeehhh! I get into my kuti, clamber under my mozzie net and fall asleep to the sound of Noricco sweeping her kuti.

Knowing you, knowing me! 

Daniella actually woke me up around 4.15pm to ask if I was coming to tea which of course I was. During tea, I got to to know the ladies a little better…

Noricco used to be a highly paid IT Computer Programmer living in New York! Wow, she must have been pretty hard-core to have survived there. She said she was getting fed up with the constant 9 to 5 daily routine and the stress that came with it. “I hated the getting up for work, coming home, then bed, then back to the same routine again the next day. The only time I was happy was when I went on holiday. So I joined a few meditation classes in India but all I could think about was my flat in New York! So I decided to make a break, quit my job and flat and go on a quest to see what I really wanted to do with my life…” Wow….sounds familiar haha! “So then I started to study Buddhism and Reiki. I felt Buddhism was more my thing and I stayed at my first monastery learning all I could. Having studied Ajahn Chah (the guy who set Wat Pah Nanachat up) I then wanted to come here.” “So do you want to become a nun now for sure?” I asked. “Yes, I do. It brings me peace. It’s a simple life and you have nothing to worry about”

I then turned to Daniella and asked “And what about you Daniella? What’s your story?”. “Well, I used to be an actress. I worked in London as a Shakespearean actress and was quite good at it but then suddenly I felt as though I couldn’t express myself properly anymore and needed ‘something else’. I guess you could call it actors block, you know, like writers block. So I started to learn contemporary dance to see if that would help. It did for a bit but I still needed something else. I felt some time out to reflect would help so I did some travelling and here I am now at the monastery”. She explained. “Wow, sounds like everyone’s here in this place has a story” I said. “And what about you?” Asked Daniella. I was thinking…where do I start haha! “Me? Well, I guess I’m also on a quest to find myself and some peace along the way! I’m a mixed bag of potatoes though, I have many reasons! I’d always wanted to travel and adventure for one but situations and / or timings were never right. Then sadly I lost my Brother and that showed me how short life really is. I turned to Reiki to help me on a more spiritual level and then I too decided to follow my intuition and jack everything in and up and go! I felt Buddhism and the Reiki were somehow linked and that this monastery would perhaps help me to develop my meditation too?” They both seemed to understand and actually, it was nice to talk about it, it felt like the right place to do it too.

After tea, it was the usual back to the Kuti to chill before evening chanting. Again, it was another noisy night of  ‘forest talk’ chattering away whilst I was trying to write my journal. With the candle fading, I braced myself for the darkness and tried to shut out my imagination trying to kidd me that Freddy Kruger was going to hack down my door and get me haha….

Flash…ARR   GGHHH!! 

It must have been around 1am when I was woken up by the sounds of heavy rain hitting my tin roof along with a rendition of the frogs chorus outside! It sounded like the frogs were all around my hut! Uh oh, what was that? A bright white, bluey flash lit up the whole of my Kuti! Oh no…..thunder! The crash and rumble was quite subtle to begin with but it soon crept up until it was right above my hut! It was so scary! I was in a hut, in the middle of a forest surrounded by creepy crawlies amist a huge storm! Again, my imagination never fails to frighten me! I was thinking of the horror films once more…I imagined I’d see a horrible scary face or a man with an axe just as the room was lit up by the thunder! With each crash and bang, I’d dive under my sleeping bag. ‘Right, that’s it, I’m sleeping with the light on!’ I said to myself. I couldn’t stand listening to my imagination chattering away anymore haha! I didn’t get much sleep to be honest…with the frogs croaking and the thunder banging away, I ended up clock watching…waiting for the dreaded alarm to get me up for morning chanting!

Fed up and washed out! 

Yep, there goes the alarm, bright and early 2.50 AM Thursday morning! Oh and it’s STILL heavily raining. ‘Oh great!’ I muttered as I clambered out my sleeping bag and out from under the mozzie net. So I had to get up, run to the toilet (avoiding all the green frogs that were lapping up their free outdoor lido!) and get completely soaked. I wasn’t happy at all. Checking myself in the mirror I noticed that my right eye looked a little puffy and it was rather itchy too! I put it down to being tired to brushed it off..

So we all walked over in the rain for the chanting and then continued on to clean the Bot building. There were these huge flying bugs all over the place! I didn’t say much to Daniella or Noricco that morning because I was so tired (not to mention soaked and hungry too!). Finally, walking back to the Kuti’s, I was thinking I seriously wanted to walk but something told me to keep trying!

After the meal at 8am, the Abbott gave us our chores. “Ladies, can you clean all around the kitchen quarters and the visitors toilets” Great! So today I got lumbered with cleaning 9 toilets, plus I got bitten by blasted mozzies! Mozzies seem to hang around toilets, I’m not sure why but they do! I was so shattered. I must have already burnt off the brekkie too! Finally at 12, we went back to our kuti’s. Another quick check on my eye and I noticed the swelling had gotten worse. Hmm, something must have bitten me in the night so I’d better ‘keep an eye on it’ boom boom! As before, I slept until around 3pm.

Thursday evening after chanting, I see there were still a surprising amount of frogs around. It was funny actually because I was watching them through the netting on the door of my kuti. I found it amusing guiding these huge winged bugs down and down with my torch to the little green frog sitting at the doors entrance and ‘gobble gobble!’ haha…Gourmet dinner for these little frogs…not very Buddhist of me!

So another night to get through. I actually slept with the light on as I’d run out of candles! I could see small geckos hiding up by the light eating small flies ‘goodo, eat up my friends’ haha. Still, small ants and beetles were getting through my net! I hated it. So even with my mozzie net up, my plug in bug killer and an extra dowsing of bug spray, I STILL got bitten! Arrgghh, how much more of this could I stand?! I wasn’t learning anything Buddhery either…the women are literally left on their own so you have to read books and teach yourself.

Forget snakes on a plane….try snakes in a Kuti!!

I get woken up at the usual out of this world time of 2.50am so I can get ready to go to morning chanting. My eye felt worse today, better check it in the mirror. I”m horrified at the reflection in my little compact mirror! The swelling is worser still and now the eye is looking red and inflamed. ‘Great, now it looks like I’ve been punched in the eye!’ Worried, I knew I had to tell someone about it. Breaking my thoughts I hear Daniella outside my kuti. “Helen…are you up?” Daniella called me so we could walk to morning chanting together. “Did you sleep with the light on all night?” She asked. “Oh yeh, I did haha!” I replied. “Did you sleep ok though?” “No, not really. My eye for one is giving me grief..look at this..” I then shone my torch on my eye to show Daniella. “Oh no, looks like you’ve had a nasty bite from something. I have some cream you can put it on don’t worry” Phew! Walking to the Sala building I then said “I’m so tired! Do you think the monks will notice if I draw eyes on my eyelids?” I laughed at my own joke but again, my sense of humour was useless here and we walked to chanting in silence haha!

Again, the usual day of chores, sweeping and scrubbing is over with and I’m still thinking my time here is also over with! I think I really need a meditation centre to help me develop this side rather than a monastery..this wasn’t helping me to achieve anything.

When we got back to our quarters in the afternoon, I checked on my eye again in the toilet kuti and it was still puffed up and nasty looking…it was proper itchy too! Hopefully the cream that Daniella had would soothe it. Walking back over to my kuti, I could see my usual gecko friends on the outside walls of my hut and out the corner of my eye, I saw something green going into my hut…’was…was…that a s s s s snake?’ I thought to myself! ‘Nah!’ But then anything’s possible in the forest I guess plus, I did stupidly leave the door open oops! I could then hear all this commotion going on from inside my hut!! Approaching cautiously and OMG….there it was!! A huge, long green snake in my hut trying to eat one of my gecko friends! Well, the gecko looked too big for it’s mouth but he put up quite a fight! I screamed to the others who came running over which interrupted the snakes munching time and the gecko broke free! We all watched for a while (at at distance of course!) until the green unwanted visitor slid off. By the time I got my camera out, I’d only caught photo’s of the snakes head! After this episode and with my puffy eye situation, I knew it was definitely time to move on!! “Ladies, I’m outta here!” I blurted! “Ok, then you must tell the Abbott today.” Noricco said. “We can go to the office together and tell him” So we did just that…

I’m not a Nun…get me out of here!! 

At the office, the Guest Monk comes out to greet us. “Can I help you?” Feeling rather intimidated (and also like I was abouts to be told off by the Head Master!) I responded with “Yes. I have come to tell you I’m leaving tomorrow”. My voice sounded as though it was a pitch higher than it normally was but I know this is because of nerves I guess! “Oh right. I thought you were going to stay for 3wks and you only made it 3 days?!” The guest monk sounded surprised. “3 wks!!” I blurted out an even more surprised response! “No I didn’t. I wanted to try this for as long as I could but it’s not quite what I was expecting and also, tomorrow will be 5 days!” I felt I needed to correct him here haha! “Well, perhaps Wat Pah Nanachat isn’t right for you at this moment in time. I think you must be at the stage where you perhaps need to be spoon fed with information” Hmm, I didn’t like what he was saying, but actually, he was right and as I said, I wasn’t learning anything here! So it was agreed I could leave on Saturday after the meal and oh my Buddha, I couldn’t wait!!

So Friday I just carried on with my normal duties and followed the schedule as usual. “Oh I’m not going to come to early Saturday morning chanting if you don’t mind, there’s no point with me going now” I said to the girls. I made it clear I didn’t want to be woken up at silly o’clock the day I was leaving hah!

At tea time, Daniella confided in me a little. “You know, I’m thinking of going too now. All this…everyday, it’s the same. I’m thinking I need to travel some more, perhaps Cambodia as you were talking about it and we are close to the border here.” Oh no, what have I done haha! It’s like when you hand your notice in at work – you usually get a short wave of others also wanting to leave too! But she has to follow her intuition.. I’d been telling Daniella about Cambodia a few days earlier and what it was like etc but also because I was thinking of volunteering for New Hope in Cambodia. It also makes for a prime location for a visa run too…hmm… So I responded with “Oh really! Well, you have to follow your intuition. I can recommend some places to go if you’d like.” “Ah well, I was thinking..If you could hang on a few days, we could go together?” This sounded almost like a plea but as I’d now got into the mindset of leaving, I really didn’t want to hang about! I felt bad but that’s how I felt, I couldn’t bear the thought of another night in a snake and bug ridden hut in the forest not to mention another day of sweeping or scrubbing toilets! ” So I had to be honest with the girl…”Oh cool. That will be great to go together but now I know I’m going…plus, I really don’t want to stay another few nights in my kuti..” “Ok, I understand” I got the impression Daniella knew I was going to say that anyway! But we exchanged emails so we could keep in touch, for I said if I went to Cambodia, I’d take Daniella with me. But actually, I was bricking it inside for I didn’t have a plan AT ALL, plus not having access to the internet, I couldn’t book things or research anything so I had to ‘go with the flow’ as soon as I was back in reality! I’d only had a few ideas…maybe I could help teach english at New Hope and perhaps also help in the health centre. I had emailed them before I went into the monastery suggesting I set up a reiki practice as an add on to their medical treatments – a complimentary service for the Cambodian community. Or if this wasn’t possible, I’d go back to Bangkok, my ‘base’ so I could stay in my favourite hostel ‘Hualampong Hotel’ and then plot to go to the islands down South. Then really, that for me would be Thailand done..the beaches are a must and with that ticked off, there really isn’t anything more I wanted to do. Ok great, so not too much to be fearful of.

So my last night in the monastery came…I think I slept with one eye open (the non puffy one!) just incase that snake managed to get in! Oh and of course, light on again too hehe! What a big wuss! I actually heard Daniella and Noricco leaving their huts to go to the morning chants…I must have been getting into the routine by then haha! I did get up in time to help separate the food for brekkie though, I wanted to work for my breakfast to feel worthy of it. After the meal, I went back to my hut to wash my monastery clothes and pack up. I checked on my eye again and it still looked ‘big and squishy’ but the swelling was starting to go down..phew!

So packed up and ready to go, woo hoo! Both Daniella and Noricco helped me to the gates with bags. Daniella had already directed me to an internet cafe so I thought, fab, I can check what to do and also see if New Hope had replied to my email about volunteering. We said our goodbyes and vowed to keep in touch. Just before we got to the gates, a car was slowly driving out past us..2 Thai ladies stopped to say hello (and goodbye), Noricco asked them if they knew for sure where the internet cafe was and also the train station and they kindly offered to take me there as they were going to pass that route anyway!

Fab, so in the car, I’m getting to know ‘Sow’ and ‘Way’. Now, Mum and Dad…don’t worry, I had a good feeling about these 2 enough to get in their car! Sow and Way are both really into their Buddhism and visit temples all over when they can. I asked them where the train station was as I thought I’d better check train times and grab a timetable before getting too wrapped up in the net. “Ok, we can take you to the train station instead it’s no problem” So, we are now on the way to the train station and it turns out, they live in a small place called Sisaket which funnily enough, is 80km from the Cambodian border!! I then told Sow and Way that I was thinking of working in Cambodia but as I’ve not heard from the company yet, I didn’t just want to go straight there if they didn’t have any places for me..Sow and Way suggested I go with them back to their home town for the night. “Our town is very safe and very friendly. What you could do, is stay in a hotel that has wifi and then make plans as to where you want to go after. We know people that can get you to the Cambodian border if that’s what you want?” Awesome! My inner typical Taurean that likes stability and routine was twitching but I thought, yeh, actually, that’s a good idea. I could always just hop on a train to Bangkok in the morning couldn’t I?! So we’re driving to Sisaket!! Previous research told me the people in the East are super friendly and I had a good feeling about these 2 girlies otherwise I wouldn’t have got in the car with them in the first place!

2 hours later, we’re arrived. Sow and Way even took me to a food hall so I could grab some supplies plus, they dropped me off at a hotel and even checked me in!! Great little hotel at 350 baht for the night. I had the biggest double bed, TV, a HOT shower oh and wifi IN THE ROOM = Helen heaven haha! We all exchanged numbers and said we’d keep in touch…particularly if I needed their help to get to the border. Such wonderful people…I offered them money for the drive over but they point blank refused! “No, no Helen. All we want is your friendship plus, we believe if you do something good, good karma will be returned to you.” Which is true, that is just what the Buddha’s believe. Wow, such kindness and gratitude…you just wouldn’t get that in somewhere like London would you!!

Plan for the unplanned…..

Straight away I’m on the net from the comfort of my hotel room and checking emails etc trying to plot my next move. Hmm, nothing from New Hope, so that must mean there’s no hope of a place hah! Later in the evening, my friend Ken called me..”What are you doing in Sisaket?!” He sounded surprised but I explained what happen etc and coincidentally said he knew people here and that he could possibly get me a teachers job! Whey hey! “But it won’t be paid but I could see about getting you free accommodation and free meals in exchange for the english teaching. It will take me a few days to hear back from my contacts and you will need to meet the main manager in Bangkok.” Great stuff! Sounded like this english teaching is meant to be in my ‘plan’ somewhere hey! Excitedly, I checked the trains back to Bangkok for the next day..well, I thought, even if it didn’t come off, I’d go back to my plan of travelling to the islands down South (always good to have a back up!)

In the morning I checked out and asked the receptionist where the train station was and also an internet cafe but unfortunately she didn’t understand me! So I thought I’d just go for a walk and explore Sisaket for a bit…that’s when I met ‘May’….

“Excuse me Miss…you go wrong way…main road is that way..!” She cried as I was walking up a dead end doh! “Oh thanks!” I replied. “Where you go?” “Oh, I’m looking for the train station and an internet cafe”. I responded. May and her husband were loading up their 4 x 4 whilst chattering away to me. “Ohh…train station is too far to walk. We can take you there?” Ok, so here goes again..I’m now getting a lift with new strangers hah! My Mum and Dad won’t like this one bit! But they were both very very sweet. I told them I may be teaching english in their town and suddenly their faces lit up…”Oh, you must keep in touch, we have a daughter and you could teach her!” May said excitedly! Oh I see…so saying you’re a teacher here could get you places…literally! So we swopped facebooks and emails once they dropped me at the train station. I thought if I’m at the train station, I could book my ticket to Bangkok and then see if there was an internet place nearby.

So, overnight train ticket booked…now where’s the cafe!! Walking around, I notice there’s not one single foreigner! I had done some research on Sisaket in my hotel room the night before and it seems to be a little off the radar..it’s not touristy even though there are temples, ruins and waterfalls but not many people pass through here (unless they’re on a visa run to Cambodia I guess?!) I did come across an american guys blog and he explained he spent a month in this lovely little town. He said the people are so friendly and helpful and love foreigners! We are considered ‘lucky’ to them and bring them good fortune apparently! So I was being stared at out of every passing car, shop window, market stall hah! But I was used to this by now. I lingered for a bit outside a small DIY store and just watched for a moment looking up the streets and which one to pick to walk up.. “Hello Miss..are you lost?” A guy about my age asked if I needed any help. “Ah yes, do you know where there is an internet cafe?” I asked. “Let me check” Then he went back inside to ask the others for me…moments later I had my directions and hey presto, there I was…internet, food and drink! The menu was all in Thai though! ‘Oh great’. Then a very kind Thai family helped me out…”What do you feel like eating?” They asked me…well, I wasn’t sure to be honest, I kind of wanted to see what was available so I could make up my mind hah! “Um, chicken and rice” No, I didn’t but that’s all I could think of hah! They were such a nice family. Again, I bragged about the possibility of teaching english there and they seemed really impressed hehe!

Catching up once again on my internetting’s….a huge shadow suddenly past the window. I looked, then looked again…hang on…it’s a huge elephant! What the..! I turned and looked at the family and they said ‘Yep, that’s normal here!’ Wow, I LOVE this place…

Hours passed and it was time for me to head off for my train to Bangkok. The train station was suddenly alive with a night market! There were stalls everywhere and there was also a small stage show going on. So I stood and watched some of the show and there was another elephant…huh!! Staring with my mouth wide open at this wonderful sight a guy came over and asked if I wanted to feed it! “Sure I do!” So for 50 baht I bought some feed and fed this cute elephant for a little while. Hah…so I’m abouts to get on a train, casually watch a Thai singing and dancing show and feed an elephant! I love this place…I will be sure to come back too, teaching or no teaching job! The people and the vibe here is just indescribable. The people here just seem to really want to go out of there way to help you but I also think being the only tourist there helped that massively. So I reluctantly got on the train and watched Sisaket disappear until I couldn’t see it anymore…but I have a feeling (and here’s hoping), it won’t be for the last time….

 

 

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