Hello MisTER Wel-coooOME!

click to see full-size picNo, not a raunchy night-life post... Not even close! Chiang Mai is, thankfully, neither 'in-your-face' Pattaya, nor akin to certain areas of Bangkok; the bar-girl scene here is limited, very muted in comparison. The red light district, if you can call it that, is mostly to be found in a small area in the vicinity of Loi Kroh Road (near the Night Bazaar), with (currently) three go-go bars close by. So those hoping for some on-line titillation will have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid...

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The Number 1 Bar's welcome, just off Loi Kroh Soi 1, represents a kind of sensible compromise between the blatant "Hello Sexy MAAAN!" approach of the girls working a very few bars, and that of the 'run-of-the-mill' drinking establishments where we boring folk sometimes go for a drink, a meal... or perhaps succumb to a sudden urge for some English language TV or expat company. Pretty girls a-plenty in the Number 1 to serve you; but who will leave you alone, not pester you for a drink (unless of course you are feeling generous and offer first!) For the first-time visitor to Thailand, the Number One Bar - run by Belgian Freddy and his Thai wife Joy - is a comfortable introduction to evenings out in the city of Chiang Mai, with a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere.

Buddhism is a very open-minded philosophy! Click to see why in full-size image Early morning preparations - click for big pic Still, it was a bit of a strange experience,coming along to the morning 'Kuen Ban Mai' Buddhist blessing of the new bar addition to the No. 1 Bar, just across the soi from the original. Nine monks from the local wat soon filed silently into the bar, itself a odd sight for some of the farang onlookers, used to a somewhat different kind of patron frequenting the bar. (Why nine monks? Because in Thailand 'nine' (gâao) is considered to be an auspicious number, being pronounced in an identical manner to the Thai word for 'progress').

Joy checks that the 'novice farangs' are showing due respect for the importance of the occasion (we were) - click to see big picIt was a touch early for most of the bleary-eyed regulars (and the bar staff as well!), but they mostly managed to turn up on cue at 9 am sharp. Those attending such a ceremony are expected to bring along an envelope containing a couple of hundred baht or so, given to the host of the event, as part of an offering from all those present to the temple conducting the blessing. (We all thankfully got a much-needed cup of strong coffee in exchange)...

Joy places the temple donation on the shrine - click for big picThe Buddha shrine previously prepared in an elevated part of the premises is blessed by a senior monk, candles and incense lit. He then marks out the ceremonial perimeter with a ball of the sacred white unspun thread, or sai sin. Starting from the Buddha image on the shrine, he unrolls it, tying an unbroken length around the whole building, before returning it to the altar. The ceremony begins, and as the chanting gets under way the senior monk holding the sai sin unrolls the ball, passing the thread between his fingers, before handing the ball to the next monk in the line of nine. Each member of the Sangha successively takes the
thread between his fingers until the ball reaches the last of the nine.

The food and other offerings are placed at the feet of each monk - click for big picThe ceremony itself is intended to instigate harmony, to remove negative energy, to promote the conditions ideal for success and prosperity, and to invite good fortune for all those who work there, as well as for the customers of the business.

The sai sin thread encircles the building; the space contained within, once consecrated by the monks whose chanting gradually imbues the thread with sacred power, is considered sacrosanct. Those inside the circle are thereby blessed, and protected from harm and evil.

The 'sai sin' is cut into short lengths for individual blessings - click for big picOnce the chanting is over, the senior monk cuts the sai sin, now infused with positive energy, into short lengths. Those present may then receive individual blessings. Holding the thread in his hands, after a short prayer he then blows the blessing into the sai sin, before tying it around the wrist. As there can be no physical contact between a monk and a woman, a lay helper performs this part of the blessing on the monk's behalf.

The monk also sprinkles the heads (the most sacred part of the body) of those present with lustral water. The traditional source of this is fresh underground water, and it is usually held in a bronze bowl. It is prepared in a particular manner, with a lighted candle on the rim of the container. As the wax drips into the water, illness, sadness and evil are washed away. Sometimes gold leaf and lotus flowers are added to increase the sacred powers of the gwat nam (water blessing). The blessed water is considered to be representative of the four elements: earth, water, wind and fire (earth by the candle wax, water by that contained in the bowl, fire by the flame of the candle, and wind by the breath extinguishing the flame).

Tucking into the buffet - click for big pic 'Sar' helps herself - click for big pic The ceremony over, Tony from Brighton looks forward to some much needed sleep - click for big picOfferings of food, and the likes of toiletries and other useful items, are presented to each individual monk. The ceremony is completed well before midday, allowing the monks to eat before fasting until the following morning. Only following this do the guests gather downstairs to eat the special buffet laid on in the downstairs bar. And what a feast!

It had been a fascinating and instructive experience for the farang non-Buddhists present, who all greatly appreciated the serenity and inclusive tolerance of the occasion. Something that one might find hard to imagine taking place in a Judeo-Christian or Moslem setting!

Staff and regulars tuck in - click for big pic Staff and regulars tuck in - click for big pic Staff and regulars tuck in - click for big pic
(Centre) Joy respectfully kneels as the last monk leaves, and we all tuck in ...

Normal business is resumed - click for big pic Pool or a quiet night in front of the TV? Click for big pic

A normal evening at the Number 1 Bar. Pool... or a quiet drink in front of the TV?

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Hoo Don said...

Very interesting article, posted with some lovely photographs. I have never seen Chiang Mai but I am planning a visit next year. I will certainly drop into the NumberI bar. Very well written article, keep posting. Hoo Don

FrogBlog - Thaidings said...

Thanks Hoo Don, and please get in touch should you make it up this way!