The things I love most about travelling aren’t the beautiful places I’ve visited, the amazing food or the gorgeous hot weather. No. For me, it’s talking to strangers – the good kind of course. Meeting new people, speaking to those I wouldn’t normally get the chance to interact with and making friends. So when I walked into my hostel in Chiang Mai three days ago, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of four Jewish girls from Israel. I only spent one day with Maya (yes we have the same name 🙂 ), Tom, Einav and Dalya before they headed off to Pai, but in that one day they not only let me into their friendship group – they also shared with me their beautiful jewish culture.
We hired a taxi driver to chauffeur us around for the day – as expensive as that sounds, it actually worked out much cheaper than getting a tuk tuk to drop us off and pick us up from where we wanted to go.
Wat Phra Singh Temple
So we started the day with a visit to one of the smaller, local temples. Wat Phra Singh Temple. It’s located in the western part of the old city of of Chiang Mai. Although small it’s still as beautiful as some of the other temples I’ve seen here in Thailand.
Apart from one or two others, I think we were the only tourists, but that wasn’t such a bad thing. It meant we got to see and be amongst local Thais going about their daily lives.
Next up – we headed for Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon. There was a 50 Bhat entry fee, that’s roughly £1.20, but I’d say it’s a bargain as I could have easily spent the whole day here!
The Grand Canyon is a fairly new attraction around 30 minutes outside of the city. The site was used as a soil mine before it became abandoned and later turned into the giant pond it is today. It’s visited by hundreds on a daily basis all wishing to walk along the narrow steep bank, swim in open water, or take a dive from the top of the cliffs. The water is 32m deep, but there are lifeguards around so don’t worry if you need a little helping hand.
As I’m not a strong swimmer, well I can just about swim (but get tired after 10 seconds), I decided to sit back and just enjoy the view. After 5 minutes of watching everyone else having the time of their lives I couldn’t keep still. I was itching to get in on the action too. I wanted to take the 8m jump off the cliff into the open water.
After a bit of encouragement from the girls, and a hint of pressurisation from Dalya of course (just kidding), I got strapped up into my life jacket, practiced jumping & holding my nose with one of the lifeguards and then took the plunge.
For a girl who can barely swim this was a massive achievement for me. So I’m very happy I did it 🙂
Watch me jump!
After the jump we floated on bamboo rafts in the water. I probably could have stayed there all day but we had to get back to our hostel and get ready for Shabbat.
Shabbat relates to the Hebrew word ‘cease’ or ‘rest’. It’s the sixth day of the Jewish week, and is also the day of rest. It means on this day practising Jews abstain from work. But it’s not just work they can’t do. They don’t use electricity – that’s right, no phones, iPads, tablets, not even driving is allowed! Instead people spend this holy day together with friends or family. Resting, reading prayers, feasting and singing. Just generally being thankful and enjoying all that life has to offer.
So I joined the girls to a Chabad House in Chiang Mai. I was keen to learn more about the Jewish culture, traditions and see how the day was celebrated. Now I couldn’t take any pictures because that would be breaking all rules, so just imagine this.
You’re in a community room with around a hundred Jewish people, all different ages, all from various walks of life. From families with permanent residency in Chiang Mai to the backpackers and holidaymakers from all over the world. A beautiful blend of accents all in one room, coming together for one special evening.
I sat down with the four girls and we listened to passages being read out aloud by the rabbi, before songs were sung by all. After around an hour we sat down for dinner. Bread and wine was blessed in front of us and then we were given the first course of our meal. A variety of traditional Jewish salads, followed by more singing, a vegetable soup, a shot of whiskey, more singing, storytelling by the rabbi, a main course meal and more singing. Despite not being able to understand a word of Hebrew it was a really interesting evening.
The whole point of Shabbat is to set aside our daily concerns, our work, our problems and instead spend time with our loved ones, friends, family and community.
In a connected world where we never switch off, where we live from one notification to the next, where we go out for dinner and double-tap the pictures on our tiny screens instead of looking up and actually speaking to the person sitting opposite us. From taking our phone out of our bags to turn the screen on just to find out what time it is, instead of looking at our wrist which would probably have been much quicker, and saved all of 3 minutes looking for our phone – we’ve turned into this digitally-obsessed generation that never switches off. And I’ve just realised, I HATE IT!
Yes I’m probably guilty of all of the above, but after living and travelling without a phone for nearly 14 days, and then going along to Shabbat with the girls, I’ve learnt that things aren’t important. People are. And from now on, I’m going to make more time for people.
Things can’t make you happy or create unforgettable memories. But people can. It’s the people around you, who you choose to surround yourself with. Whether it’s family, friends, or a community who share the same beliefs as you do, whoever they are, make time for the people that matter.
Despite only knowing Tom, Maya, Dalya and Einav for one day they welcomed me into their friendship group with open arms. I’m so grateful to them for sharing with me their culture and answering the hundred and one million questions I had!
Thanks for sharing part of your journey with me Dalya, Tom Maya & Einav!
Current location: Blogging by the hostel poolside waiting for my bus to Pai