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The presence and influence of Buddha is everywhere in Thailand- Temple Doi Suthep.

Ninety-five percent of the Thai population is Buddhist. Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, the Enlightened One, or the Awakened One, was born as a prince in the sixth century B.C., and grew up in what is now Nepal.

When he was twenty-nine, he had a revelation about the dreariness and joylessness of life that led him to leave his kingdom, his wife and newborn son, to lead a life of non- materialism. He felt this lifestyle would lead him to find a way to relieve the universal suffering he saw all around him.

Sometime later, he realized that living life at its extremes was not the answer to suffering; rather, he embraced living life in moderation. He encouraged his followers to follow a path of balance instead.

He called this the Middle Way, and his influence has clearly impacted on the present population. There is a feeling of balance and moderation everywhere you go in Thailand, with a gentleness present in the people that is unmistakable.

There is a sizeable contingent of American expatriates living in Thailand, particularly in the northern part of the country. It is easy to understand why: In addition to the gentleness, outside of the large cities, like Bangkok, the air is clean, the scenery lush and inviting. There is high quality medical care available, the food is fresh and delicious, and the cost of living is so low you can live quite well on little money.

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This was a complex trip, exploring South, Middle, and Northern regions of the country, beginning in Bangkok, the capitol. We stayed at a nice hotel on the Chao Phraya River, a most active waterway carrying much of the nation's commerce.

Leaving Dulles International Airport on a Thursday afternoon, we had stayed overnight in San Francisco, then flew on to Bangkok leaving California at 1PM the next day-Friday. We arrived in Thailand at 12AM Friday. No, that's not a mistype- you must cross the International Date Line- which causes you to lose a day. It is a long, long trip!

The management, in appreciation of the effort it took for us to get there, upgraded us to an awesome suite, let us sleep in, and served us breakfast in bed. We were really out of energy, and "running on empty".

On Saturday, we had scheduled a tour of the Grand Palace and the Emerald Temple. Rather than start at 8:30AM as the guide had suggested, we slept a bit later and did not try to cram too much into what was, essentially, our first day sight seeing.

As you can see, it was an absolutely luscious day, and we were finally starting to feel relaxed and no longer jet-lagged. The palace is spectacular in every respect. We were particularly attracted by the delicate art work and mosaics. We absolutely fell in love with this stunning golden maiden.

Throughout the country, there are seemingly endless different images of Buddha- seated, standing, lying down, walking. These are made of wood, plaster, cement, bronze, whatever. The images are not meant to be realistic, but to emphasize the Buddha's supernatural qualities. Each different positioning of the hands and body means something different.

This image, however, is the most special, the most revered, of all. It is the famous Emerald Buddha, now located in the Wat (temple) Phra Keow. It was discovered when lightening struck an ancient stupa in the North Country early in the 1400's. The image is quite small, only 26 inches high, 19 inches wide, and is carved on semi-precious jade.

The image sits high atop an ornate throne made of gilded wood. Since we were not able to enter the building itself, the photo was taken through one of the open windows- quite some distance away.

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Just as there are countless different images of the Buddha, there are countless temples built to hold them. We left Bangkok and flew north to explore other temples. This place is Sukhothai (Dawn of Happiness), founded in the mid 13th century. It was the northernmost citadel of the Khmer Empire- the same empire that built Angor Wat in present day Cambodia- only much easier to reach than Angor Wat for people who are physically challenged.

The huge temple covers a square measuring about two football fields (660 feet) on each side. This central chedi dominates the entire complex, but there are many other temples, many other images of Buddha within this park.

This next one is in Wat Trapang, and is known as the Sukhothai Buddha, widely regarded as the most artistically beautiful image in all Thai art.

This is also the most classic pose, with the left hand across the lap, the right hand reaching down to the Earth.

And sometimes it is the shear beauty to be found in the surroundings and plantings of these vast temple complexes that captures your eye and spirit. Serenity is everywhere around you. The Middle Way.

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Now we head north again, this time to the towns of Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son to visit with the Hill Country People, especially the Karen Tribe. As we approach the village, using the only paved road in the area (built in the late 1950's) we are forced to yield to "oncoming traffic".

The village, home of "The Long-Necked People", is authentic, not a Disney or theme park reconstruction. There is no plumbing, no electricity; there are no computers or iPhones. To enter, we must cross a stream. The bridge, as you can see, is a bit too narrow for our Dune Buggy wheelchair, but there is an easy solution.

Several of the tribesmen came forward to help Nan across. No one has seen a wheelchair like ours, but the villagers were not put off by Nancy- though this is often the case with people who are disabled. The tribes people are warm, welcoming, and genuinely friendly.

The village "Elder", Mariana, comes over and invites Nancy into her home and shop. She is the oldest person here, 52 years old, and famous for her long neck:

Note the gold rings around her neck, added one-by-one, year by year, making it appear her neck is nearly 12 inches long. She has been X-rayed by the authorities, and the films show her neck is NOT elongated, rather her collar bones and shoulders have been depressed. She is clear eyed and her skin is smooth and unwrinkled, giving her the appearance of a much younger woman.

She and the other women in this village make and sell products to the tourists who come to the area. She has spun, woven, colored, and sewn everything you see here, and she is quite proud of the work she and her "sisters" have produced.

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Perhaps 5 miles down the road lives another sub-division of the Karen Tribe, this one a little more advanced than the Karen Long Necks or Karen Long Ears. This tribe runs a 100% self reliant distillery, growing rice which they use to produce a potent brew able to grow hair on a billiard ball if drunk straight ;>))

Here the process begins with liquefying and boiling down the rice.

Next, the addition of a few "secret ingredients" to increase the power of the drink.

Finally, the woman kneeling is holding a bottle being filled with the finished product. After allowing the rice wine to age, perhaps a day or two, they will sell this at the local markets. All such activities are entirely legal.

There are other activities which are not. Between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai (which we will visit in a few days) there is a trail with a rickety suspension bridge over the Yuam River.

A dirt path, used only by the locals, leads from the end of the bridge to the poppy fields in Burma. It is a lawless frontier, and my guides forbid me to go further, as they cannot insure my safety.

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Back to the road, we drive further into the dense jungle, very much off the beaten path, known to only a few. Indeed, we are told we are the first Westerners to come to this place, a sesame oil "factory". Our guide knows of it because his own family farm supplies some of the seeds. To start, the sesame seeds are slowly cooked over an open fire.

Then, the cooked seeds are loaded into this large wooden tub, similar to a pharmacist's mortar bowl

An ox or water buffalo is hooked up to the ancient apparatus which, acting like a pestle, grinds the seeds against the bowl as the animal walks 'round and 'round.

This press has actually been "updated" from its original form because it has a silver spigot at the bottom which can be opened, allowing the oil to run into the red bucket. The "factory" also owns an older model press, where the worker must place a bucket into the main vat to scoop up the oil.

The animal works for 1 1/2 hours, then rests while another animal takes its place. The human worker is not so well treated. They work 9 hour days, 6 days a week, and are paid somewhere around US$200.00 MONTHLY!

Because we are with a guide who is not only local, but part of the business, we are able to get some "insider information". Our guide shows us the factory owner has a sideline occupation- cock fighting.

This activity is now strictly illegal in Thailand and most of the rest of the world. But the chance of "hitting it big" is strong in poorer countries, and this equivalent to our lotteries gives impoverished people a chance to substantially alter their lives.

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It is 6AM, dark and raining in Mae Hong Son, but already many of the locals are at the market. We are here also because the monks will come soon, begging for food. Our Guide, Chuang, a monk himself for four years, selects a balanced diet to give them. There is no packaged or junk food anywhere in these markets.

Having loaded up with food, we go outside and set up a little table by the curb. As dawn breaks, 20 or more monks come walking down to road toward us.

Travel disabled wheelchair see monks in thailand

Each stops in front of us and Nancy gives them food. One by one, they say a blessing for us, then continue on their way. At the very end of the line there are two very young boys. Nancy gives them food, too. They take it, but turn away without a word. Chuang calls the novices back, explains gently what was not done properly, then leads the boys in the correct prayers.

We are told the monks are regarded as one's children. A person starving to death will happily give up their food, rather than see a monk, their "child", go hungry.

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We spent a marvelous day at an elephant sanctuary up in the North Country. Most of these animals have been rescued from poachers, circuses, and other endangering situations. Their day starts with a bath in the river (including a brushing of their tusks by the handlers). Then they demonstrate how elephants are used to move heavy logs from the forests. They even include a "soccer game" played by the elephants- no handlers riding. The animals are remarkably swift and not at all clumsy or ungainly.

Travel disabled wheelchair see monks in thailand

There are lots of admirable qualities to the people as a whole, but the most outstanding feature is this: There is a characteristic about the Thai landers, a serenity, a joy of being alive, that is palpable- so tangible you have no trouble being ware of it everywhere you go. It is present in everyone we met, whether rich or poor.

In Thailand, however, when something equivalent to “Have a nice day” is said to you, you instantly feel it is genuine and sincere.

The bouquet of roses Nan is holding was given to her by the owner of the hotel where we had stayed for a few days. He was overjoyed at being able to help "make our day" and had tears in his eyes as we left. You can see Nancy was touched as well.

Thais are amazingly “connected” to their world, and see true goodness everywhere they look and in everyone they meet. It must have something to do with Buddhism, and most Thai landers follow the teachings of this Enlightened One. I was so impressed by the attitude and demeanor of the people that I decided to study the teachings of Buddha, not as a religion, but as a philosophy of life. It has certainly made a difference in my life...

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Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.