The trip back from Chiang Rai was something straight out of Indiana Jones. Most of our adventures begin with us saying, “That looks cool, let’s check it out,” which is exactly what happened on our return home. We spotted a wat on the mountain in the Mae Suai District of Thailand so trying to find it was the right thing to do. Turning off the road, we saw a sign for Mae Suai Cave and quickly changed our plans. After asking a local for directions, and by that I mean she motioned in a general direction, we began our adventure not knowing where we would eventually end up. We drove through the beautiful mountainside of rolling hills, vibrant colors, and the sight of rice and corn fields that stretched for kilometers. It was amazing.
Guessing our route the entire way (there were no other signs in English), we came across a staircase on the side of the mountain. We climbed the 100+ stairs where came to an open courtyard of trees and a beautiful wat. It appeared as though it was not a frequently visited wat. I stood there in amazement, as time seemed to stand still for a short moment; I suddenly felt so small, but in a good way. The area was calm and silent except for the songs of birds.
We entered the wat, open on all sides with stairs to lead to each Buddha. As I was photographing, my sunglasses fell from my head and out of the corner of my eye I saw something shoot up to a sitting position in the other side of the wat. It scared the dickens out of me at first...it was a monk. We joined him on his side with our phone translator in hand. His name was Noi...his warm smile reached his eyes and his giggles were contagious. We told him where we were from and where we had traveled in Thailand so far. He gave us directions to the cave with the translator and through hand signals. It amazed me how well we were able to communicate with just the hand motions such as stairs, walking, and curvy roads. Our time with him was brief but it will be a time I always remember.
We set out on the scooter with little direction and determination. As we zigzagged our way up the mountain we searched for anything resembling Noi’s directions. The smell of the air became much more fresh the further we drove into the jungle. Every now and then there would be a break in the trees allowing us to glimpse out at the lake and rolling mountains...it was unreal. Finally reaching a large opening, we parked the scooter and began our hike up the steep, washed out incline. Much to our surprise, we found some stairs, exactly what Noi was motioning. With the amount of overgrowth on the stairs, I assumed whatever was up there was not visited often. We reached the top to find a beautiful temple ruin. Nature was starting to reclaim what was hers; moss and vegetation were thriving on everything. The temple still contained offerings and candles that were now piled with dust...who knows the last time there was an actual visitor. Standing in the entrance of the door, you could watch as the the light rolled over the mountains...an instant reminder of how beautiful this world is. As we explored the small area we found the cave right in the mountainside. We were thrilled to have found it but still a little too chicken to go in any further than a few meters…maybe if we had a proper flashlight. Although we didn’t explore the cave, discovering the temple ruin and our time with Noi was more than I could have ever imaged…and for me, that was enough.