48 Hours In Phayao
I’m en-route as you read this from Panama City to Washington, D.C., where I’m speaking later this week at AARP’s week-long National Convention. If you find yourself in this part of the world and would like to join the fun, it’s not too late to register in person, starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at the Washington Convention Center. I speak Thursday, Sept. 4, and hope to see you.
Meantime, today, correspondent Vicki Terhorst writes from Thailand:
“For major holidays, Thais head home so they can celebrate with their extended families, often in their ancestral villages. Recently two holy days fell on a Thursday and Friday, making for an extra long holiday weekend. We accepted an invitation to spend it visiting our Thai friend Nok and her daughter, my 3-year-old Thai ‘granddaughter.’ We planned a day trip to nearby Chiang Rai to see the new and famous White Temple, as well as a visit with Nok’s family in their ancestral village an hour north of Phayao.
“The Wednesday before, Paul and I joined the throngs at the Chiang Mai bus station. Our bus loaded with university students. As we sat in air-conditioned comfort waiting to depart for Phayao, I watched great volumes of people pack into the cheaper buses, on which more travelers stood than sat.
“Nok had made reservations for us at a brand-new hotel in Phayao, behind the hospital where she works. Paul thinks we were the first Westerners to stay there, ever. Promotional price: about $11 a night, including breakfast and wi-fi. While I freshened up after the three-hour bus ride, Paul headed downtown just in time for the holiday parade.
“Groups of all ages, from schools, offices, clubs, etc., wore uniforms or traditional dress as they paraded along the route. In one group, each girl had her black hair cut exactly the same way…Paul calls it a sugar-bowl style. They wore exactly the same dresses, shoes, and ribbons to match.
“Elderly ladies joined in, too, wearing elaborate long dresses. The parade floats were carved from golden wax with scenes related to Buddhism. The wax for these floats comes from individual offerings of large golden candles to the temples. In ancient times, these candles lit up the dark days of the rainy season, assuring that monks would have enough light for their scriptural studies.
“Paul returned to the hotel as Nok and her daughter arrived. We piled into Nok’s new car and drove down to the lake, Phayao’s major tourist site, where we chose one of the lakeside restaurants for a spicy dinner. As we ate, we went over the weekend’s jam-packed schedule.
“We realized, though, during dinner, that my ‘grandaughter’ had a fever and a cough…and this changed our plans completely.
“We accompanied the 3-year-old to the doctor in the emergency room at the hospital where Nok manages the lab.
“It turned out that the daughter had pneumonia, and the doctor insisted she be admitted to the hospital. This led to an opportunity for us to connect with Thai culture in quite an unexpected way. I stayed with Mom and Daughter at the hospital until Nok’s mother arrived the following day. Paul was on his own and went back downtown.
“The spacious, private hospital room seemed like it belonged more in a Thai three-star hotel than a hospital. There was a low queen-sized bed so Mom could sleep with her sick child, just as she would do at home. There was a stocked mini fridge, a couch, a dining table and chairs, and a large color TV.
“The doctor started the toddler on antibiotics and oxygen. The first round of antibiotics didn’t work, so they switched to stronger ones the next day. To keep the child comfortable, the nurses gave her ibuprofen, but also wiped her down with cool water. The doctor checked on his young patient twice a day and had long chats with Nok; it was very compassionate care.
“On Friday morning, Nok’s mother showed up, giving Nok a chance to take Paul and me to visit one of her favorite mountain temples, where she could pay homage to Buddhism and pray for her daughter’s wellbeing. Me, too. Paul came along to see the compound of Wat Analayo, the second-biggest tourist attraction in Phayao.
“After the temple visit, we drove back to the hospital to say our goodbyes. We returned to Chiang Mai Friday afternoon, a day early. I called Nok on Sunday for an update. She was back at work. Her daughter’s fever had broken, so she’d returned home to the village with her grandmother—her real one, not me.
“The four-day holiday weekend ended just as the pounding rains began. The holiday marks the official beginning of the rainy season, and this year the timing was perfect.”