Sunday, March 08, 2009

Return to Sangkhla

Day 1 - March 1, 2008

I woke up 30 minutes after the alarm went off! I set 2 alarms already to keep me from going back to bed, but this has proven to be ineffective. I took a quick shower, grabbed my bags, turned off the main power switch, left my plant to the caretaker and headed to Mochit 2. I was a bit confused with the schedule of departure. I couldn't remember if the morning trip was at 5.30, 6.00 or 6.30am. When I arrived at exactly 5.25am, I rushed to the ticket booth and got my ticket. It was for 6am! Yey! *whew*

The trip took almost 8hrs, instead of 6. The driver was really moody, and it seemed like he was driving so slowly on purpose. We arrived Sangkhlaburi at 1.40pm. I wanted to go biking right away but I was so tired that I just checked in, dropped my bags, set up my computer, took a quick shower and slept. It's sooo hot in Sangkhla. Good thing it rained in the middle of the night, so it got a little cooler.

Day 2 - March 2, 2008

Since I got more than 12hrs of sleep already, I got up at 5am. It was still dark so I didn't go out just yet. I opened my notebook and started writing my "Random 27". I was having so much fun reminiscing about the past that I finished at 8am! I had a quick breakfast and headed for my rented bike.

Man, I really lack exercise! I was struggling to make it all the way uphill! I had to stop halfway to catch my breath. Good thing I had my water bottle ready, it saved me from near-collapse. I took it one pedal at a time, and finally made it downtown. I did some grocery shopping first (more water, noodles, tissue and disposable utensils), then headed for the wooden bridge.

It was almost mid-day when I crossed the bridge. There weren't a lot of villagers crossing or out on the streets, unlike last time. It felt like I had the bridge and the road all to myself.

I walked half of the time because the roads were going uphill. But all the muscle pains vanished when the roads went downhill. I love the feeling of the wind against my face. Anyway, I was able to reach the golden pagoda that we missed last time. The pagoda appeared very distant from across the lake, but it was actually just a few meters away from the intersection we had once been! The scorching heat was torture, I doubted if the loads of sunblock I put could still achieve the much-needed effect. Anyway, I climbed up the golden pagoda to find out how the monks set the candles/gas lamps around, which we could see glowing from across the lake at the guesthouse. But lo, they were nothing but light bulbs! So I took pictures and left.

I was exhausted from the heat and the uphill pedaling that I stopped at the next salon. I went in and had my hair cut really short. Bye bye, long hair! Hello, summer look :D

I went back to the guesthouse to grab a quick lunch, showered and took a nap. By 4pm, I went out again. I rode my bike and headed downtown. I was all sweaty by the time I got there. I went straight to the grocery store and bought a popsicle. I withdrew some cash afterwards, assuming that I would be spending more than I had planned, then headed for the opposite road parallel to my usual route. Damn, it went on and on and on! I even passed by a major highway, I thought i was already lost! I asked a lady in a motorbike if the road led to the guesthouse, and she said "yes, just turn right" in Thai. I had no idea that the right turn she was referring to was soooooooo far away. I met stray dogs, which fortunately didn't attack me or run after my bike. When I finally arrived at the right turn, it was uphill again so I had to drag my bike up. Upon seeing fast vehicles ahead, I assumed it was the main road. When I got there, I realized I was only halfway through! Which meant the little adventure I had was 3 times the length of my usual route! Lesson learned? Stop whining and enjoy the experience. Hehehe.

I went in and showered once again, then headed for the front deck. I enjoyed watching the sunset. It was so peaceful around. The wind started blowing, and I could see gentle ripples travel across the lake. The sky had a mixture of pink, blue, white and gray. And the sun was huge and red-orange.

I thought it was nice to have dinner at sunset so I climbed the steps to the guesthouse restaurant. And there I met a nice 62-year old lady from Aussie named Helen. She was reading Paulo Coelho's 'The Devil and Miss Prym'. Right after we said our hello's, I asked her if it was any good. I told her I was supposed to bring the same book but decided to bring another, also by Paulo. She told me she was a volunteer at an orphanage nearby, and has been to Thailand twice already. She's already retired so she has done a lot of traveling, until the recession. We shared some insights on volunteer work, and Sangkhlaburi, and Burma, and the Philippines, and the different religions in Australia. We had a lovely chat. After an hour, she finally excused herself to get ready for bed. Like me, she had quite a long day. Hopefully, we can exchange books when we're both finished. Which reminds me, I should be reading by now :D

Day 3 - March 3, 2009

I woke up at 6.30 today. I made an early stroll around the guesthouse. Most guests were still asleep, but the cleaners were already at work. I loved the sound of fallen leaves being swept on the ground. It reminded me of my childhood days at my grandparents' house in Naga City.

The morning breeze was wonderful so I headed for the bike and pedaled all the way downtown. I had to stop twice, at the 2nd and 3rd roads going uphill (there were 3). Yesterday, I couldn't even make it uphill, I was easily exhausted. That's why I had to drag my bike on foot half of the time. I went to a shop to buy some supplies but unfortunately it was still closed. My stomach screamed 'food' already so I went to the nearest Thai cafeteria in sight. I was planning to have cereal and soymilk for breakfast, but they were only found in the closed shop. Right after I finished eating, the shop opened. Oh well. I bought my supplies and left.

I literally went "weeeeeeeeeeeeeee" on the way downhill. I didn't care if the kids on their way to school or the traffic officer looked as I passed by. I was having a grand time. When I got back in my room, I made some tea and set up a comfy chair at my own patio. I grabbed my book ('The Pilgrimage' by Paulo Coelho) and spent the rest of the morning reading. I took quick naps in between. If it weren't for my background music, I would've gone back to bed after every page. It can be too quiet here sometimes.

In the afternoon, it was extremely hot. I looked for a good spot with cool breeze so I could continue reading my book. I went down the lake and settled beside the overturned canoes. It was perfect. Light breeze was blowing from the lake, and I didn't feel the heat because the roof had wooden layers underneath. I stayed there from 3 to 5pm.

When it was almost sunset, I took the bike downtown again to buy dinner. The guesthouse menu didn't appeal to me then. I drove all the way to the market, non-stop! :D It was my accomplishment for the day.

Back at the guesthouse, the sunset looked extremely marvelous! Still drenched in sweat, I rushed back to my room and grabbed my camera. The sun was bigger and redder this time. The other guests started taking pictures as well. After a few seconds, the sun was completely out of sight. I love sunsets!

I can't wait for tomorrow's surprises :D

Day 4 - March 4, 2009

I woke up at 7.30 today. I was in the mood to have breakfast at the guesthouse resto. While enjoying a hearty meal, I browsed through several pages of a travel magazine. Featured in the magazine were some of the places that I've been to before. I usually prefer places that are quite unpopular, so it gave me a sense of pride to have been there before they got commercialized. For me, it's more special that way.

I went biking after a few minutes and took several unfamiliar routes. It reminded me of my childhood days when I used to take my bike in every unknown street and see where it led to. It thrilled me to discover something unique or special along the way or at the end of the road. I liked discovering shortcuts, too. My first stop this morning was just like that. The slope was very steep but I rode my bike, clasping the brakes one meter at a time. There, at the end of the road, was a little village of Burmese people in floating houses.

I remember asking one of the guesthouse guys how close the Burmese border was (about 20mins, according to them), thinking I might be crossing borders without knowing! I learned yesterday from Helen that there are many Burmese refugees residing in this part of Thailand. It's a sad story, really. Most of these refugees fled from Burma because they have been deprived of their land and other properties. They're like people without a country. And those who have found refuge here remain, living a simple yet threatened life, and never to be allowed to go anywhere beyond Sangkhlaburi. Most of the cleaners in this guesthouse are Burmese, and they are bound to keep a very low profile. Now I understand why there are 3 checkpoints upon entering/leaving Kanchanaburi province. So it's advisable to bring your passport always.

Anyway, I took another route parallel to the main road. I was glad that the stray dogs didn't mind me passing by at all. It always scares me when dogs start barking and following me, with their ears and tails upright. Perhaps they're used to bikes or strangers passing by all the time. One time, when I was about 9yrs old, I went biking with a friend and we were chased by a pack of dogs. I was able to pedal fast and got far enough. But my friend, because of panic and fear, jumped off her bike and left it lying there while she ran for her life hahaha. For some reason, the dogs kept barking at the bike and didn't run after my friend.

I was back at the main road. I noticed the sign 'Burmese Inn' on the opposite road. It was a long way downhill. I really enjoyed going down that road. I found myself back at the wooden bridge, but since I spent half of my 2nd day there already, I went the other way. It led me to a viewing deck. It was really hot there, but it didn't stop me from taking pictures. Fortunately, there wasn't anybody watching me do my wacky poses.

When I finished, I went back to my bike and froze. I remembered how steep the slope was going up. I wanted to faint upon seeing the 45-60-degree slope. I dragged my bike up anyway, and went back to the guesthouse.

I stayed in most of the afternoon. I had to wait till sunset before I could drive the bike again, I just couldn't stand the heat. At 4.30pm, I went down the road to Burmese Inn again to check the place out. I was hoping to have dinner there as well. Anyway, I can only tell you this: never ever stay there if you plan on getting drunk! The pathway leading to the cottages were way too steep! And there wasn't any safety fence right before the cliff. I checked one room and it was filthy and gloomy inside. I left shortly after that.

At 5.30pm, I went down to the lake to watch the sunset again. Just as I was having my camera ready, a pair of British ladies (Tessa and Jenny) resurfaced from the water. They were very friendly. We had a quick chat about how glorious this place is. When they left, I resumed making adjustments with my camera. Then an old Brit guy came out of the water and started making conversation. He happened to be here with his girl friend, who seemed as old as he. How cute is that? He told me stories about his trips within southeast Asia, and that he was retired. It lasted for several minutes, until he felt he was cold. By then, the sun had completely set.

I settled on a marble bench up on the hill. It felt calm and peaceful. I imagined taking my parents here someday. I think they will really enjoy it here. It's really a good place for family. I couldn't help but feel really fortunate to have come to this place again.

Day 5 - March 5, 2009

I woke up at 6.30, thinking it's just 5. It's still dark outside. When I went out, the whole place was covered with fog. I went down to the dock to enjoy the early morning breeze, which was cooler than usual.

I remember the book that I just finished last night. I have written "it is not the blessing itself that is given to you that matters, but what you do with it" several times in my posts/blog before, and the book I read was just about that. It made me re-think about the things that I have yearned, and continue to yearn for -- if I knew what to do with them before I even asked. I realized how many times I've wanted something but had no idea what to do with it that it didn't last long, or ended up wasted or taken for granted. I usually got what I wanted but they came almost naturally that I took them as an ordinary occurrence. Like the author, Paulo Coelho, I was just too eager to get the prize. Last night, I was reminded yet again that the journey mattered more than the destination; that the destination is just a mark to end a transition, or to begin a new one -- nothing more, nothing less.

I think it's very timely that I have read that book. The Daily Bread booklet I brought also focused on rebirth and having a brand new start, from March 1 to today. They made me realize why I came here in the first place. Why did it have to be here in this solitary and faraway place, surrounded by nature's beauty, where I can do 3 of the things I'm passionate about everyday: read, write and bike. I figured just now how God had planned to surprise me, answering my questions one moment at a time. They all occurred while I pedaled, read and wrote. Through biking, He re-introduced me to the child I once was -- full of adventure, unafraid of taking risks, focused on the goal and not about to give up so easily. Through reading, He humbled me and made me realize that I am simply one of His subjects, that I am here to be taught, and be of use to Him every single day. And through writing, like what I am doing now, He re-confirms the knowledge I got by etching them into my mind and into my heart, hoping that one day they would turn to wisdom. According to the author, wisdom is knowledge applied. And not applying it every chance I get makes it completely useless. Upon realizing this, a funny yet exciting thought came to me: THIS may have just been my own pilgrimage.

Here's the prayer that the author wrote in the book, upon seeing a white frightened lamb on the foot of the cross (excerpts from The Pilgrimage, pp256-260). Oh by the way, if you're planning to read the book, I advice that you skip the following paragraphs in red, they're a bit of a spoiler heheh. You have been warned :D

"My Lord, I am not nailed to this cross, nor do I see you there. The cross is empty, and that is how it should stay forever; the time of death is already past, and a god is now reborn within me. This cross is the symbol of the infinite power that each of us has. Now this power is reborn, the world is saved, and I am able to perform your miracles, because I trod the Road of the common people and, in mingling with them, found your secret. You came among us to teach us all that we are capable of becoming, and we did not want to accept this. You showed us that the power and the glory were within every person's reach, and this sudden vision of our capacity was too much for us. We crucified you, not because we were ungrateful to the Son of God, but because we were fearful of accepting our own capacity. We crucified you fearing that we might be transformed into gods. With time and tradition, you came to be just a distant divinity, and we returned to our destiny as human beings."

"It is not a sin to be happy. Half a dozen exercises and an attentive ear are enough to allow us to realize our most impossible dreams. Because of my pride in wisdom, you made me walk the Road that every person can walk, and discover what everyone else already knows if they have paid the slightest attention to life. You made me see that the search for happiness is a personal search and not a model we can pass on to others. Before finding my sword, I had to discover its secret -- and the secret was simple: it was to know what to do with it. With it and with the happiness that it would represent to me."

"I have walked so many miles to discover things I already knew, things that all of us know but that are so hard to accept. Is there anything harder for us, my Lord, than discovering that we can achieve the power? This pain that I feel now in my breast, that makes me sob and that frightens the poor lamb, has been felt since human beings first existed. Few can accept the burden of their own victory: most give up their dreams when they see that they can be realized. They refuse to fight the good fight because they do not know what to do with their own happiness; they are imprisoned by the things of the world. Just as I have been, who wanted to find my sword without knowing what to do with it."

"Lord, I am not worthy to enter Thy house. But the lamb looked at me and spoke to me through his eyes. He said that I should forget forever my unworthiness because the power had been reborn in me, in the same way that it could be reborn in all people who devoted their lives to the good fight. One day would come -- said the lamb's eyes -- when people would once again take pride in themselves, and then all of nature would praise the awakening of the God that had been sleeping within them."

And to end the whole book, Paulo Coelho closed it with these words of hope and encouragement: "...I guess it is true that people always arrive at the right moment at the place where someone awaits them."

This book has definitely earned a spot in my top 10 reads.

Day 6 - March 6, 2009

Today is my last night... I shall do my utmost.

I woke up at 7, changed into my biking clothes and went to the parking lot. But the bike I've been using for 5 days wasn't there. Oh well. I tried other bikes but they were either too rusty, too squeaky, or too short for my legs. I miss my blue mountain bike with the basket....

I went to the guesthouse resto to enjoy another hearty breakfast. I was planning to buy cereal and soymilk at the grocery store earlier, the reason why I wanted to go biking in the first place. Anyway, this morning had been the coldest since I got here.

Not only did I get to enjoy the cool breeze, but the beautiful scenery as well, while eating my eggs and toasts and reading steamy articles in Cosmopolitan's December issue (hehe). It was still foggy when I came out. The only visible view was within 100meters. Little by little, the fog lifted. I could see several patches of fog dancing away like fairies on the surface of the lake. The scene was just so surreal.

I spent most of my time at the restaurant patio, overlooking the mountains and the lake, in front of my notebook: writing my thoughts, uploading pictures, replying/sending/reading emails and checking recent updates on Facebook. I was happy to have had wifi access, free of charge. Last time I was here, they only had a computer for file transfer and CD-writing. Good thing I only discovered the wifi after my 5th day, otherwise my retreat would have been a total failure (I'd probably be on the internet most of the time, or at least tempted, which would have distracted me from time to time).

At around 4pm, I checked if the blue bike was back so I could take it for a quick spin, and it was. I headed downtown straight away. I was aware that it was the last time I'd be biking around that area so I turned at every street corner, like an act of farewell. Then I remembered I had not stopped by at another guesthouse I've been to before. I had trouble getting there because of all the stray dogs on that street. But luckily today, no dogs were in sight, and I was able to pedal straight to it. There was really nothing much to see or do there, but I just felt my stay would be incomplete if I didn't drop by. I stayed for a few minutes, checked if they had something new in the menu (which turned out to be the same as what they had at my guesthouse so I didn't bother ordering) and left.

Upon my arrival at the guesthouse, the dock wasn't crowded so I picked up 'Catcher In The Rye' and headed down there. It felt nice to welcome the sunset with a book in hand. When the sun had completely set, I prepared for dinner. I wanted to be at the resto early because I knew the orders would pile up soon. The place was indeed pretty packed tonight, so my instinct was right. I craved for fish so I ordered tom ga plaa (sour fish soup with coconut milk) and fried fish with garlic and pepper. Shortly, I was joined by 2 nice ladies, Helen and Tessa. We talked for almost 3 hours.

Just when I thought I had gotten everything I needed and learned yesterday, I was surprised by my final night's turnout. Talking to Helen (62-year old lady from Australia) was like reading "Tuesdays With Morrie", except that Morrie was a healthier and younger woman. She's had quite a colorful life, based on a few stories she had shared. Like Morrie, she had experienced and enjoyed every stage of her life, which has enabled her to relate to younger people well. And Tessa (40-year old lady from UK) seemed to enjoy taking risks, clinging to her passion in helping others and living life as it comes. (She also mentioned that a foreigner had been bitten by a stray dog while biking the other day. How blessed have I been these past few days?!) Anyway, both women are volunteers at the Mon villages, educating children and giving as much help as needed. It felt wonderful having met them, hearing some of their life's stories and their views on the world today. And the best of all? I just made new friends :D

Day 7 - March 7, 2009

Off to Bangkok.... :D

And now, I end the week with a prayer. Lord, thank You for the safe trip and fruitful getaway. Thank You for what You have made me realize over the past 7 days. May I turn this knowledge into wisdom, and be of better use to You upon my return to Bangkok. May I not forget to call upon You every waking day, and be grateful for all Your blessings. I ask for Your guidance, that You lead my every thought, word and action. Amen.

Note: I just reviewed my journal from Day 1 to today, and guess what. I never had cereal and soymilk for breakfast. It may have just been a bait so I would stay enthusiastic on every biking day :D Kinda reminded me of Kung Fu Panda haha!

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