The Way of Nature, of Art, of Naan
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Whenever I feel down or bored with my daily life, often I take a trip to try to find my inspiration. Many times I took a train up north to a small underrated province called Prae, a town where people talk in a unique rapid local dialect. After a few nights of visiting my cousins, I took a familiar red minibus from Denchai District to Naan, a small town with kind people with big hearts, and pride of their hometown and nature.
I met my friends the next morning before dawn for our trip down the Nam Wa River by raft. From the town, we climbed the hill shoulder for a little more than two hours before reaching the place at Sob Mang village, Bo Klue District, the starting point of our journey for the next two days. Farmers with their carts and cows travelling along the way was an image both captivating and something impossible to be seen in Bangkok. However, the bumpy road got me so dizzy that I could not enjoy the view as much as I should have.
For amateur rowers like us, instructions for the safe and proper raft-floating experience were essential. We were told how to row correctly, what to do if we fell into the rushing water, and to always listen and follow the steersman for our own safety. The steersman seemed very familiar and experienced with this river. He earned our trust even though he tried to scare us a little telling that this part of the river, which passed through three districts of Nann, contained over.a hundred cataracts some of which were dangerously challenging. Then he assured us of a safe and fun experience if we followed his orders strictly.
We were given advice to bring up river water and take our bath on land tonight, that way the chemicals we used to clean ourselves would not pollute the river that was the main water source for the locals. I couldn’t help but smile and gladly and willingly followed the advice. This truly showed the spirits and the responsibility of good travelers, it is not about only taking pleasure from the place, but also preserving nature and the way of life of local people in the area. This was truly called a sustainable tourism.
Each bright-colored rubber raft was then filled with eight people, two steersmen and six rowers full of the spirit of adventure. We stowed our stuff in the waterproof bags, then were ready to row! My feet touched the clear cold water and it lifted my spirits up, I was excited, pumped up, and ready to challenge the power of the river.
After the first hundred meters, we welcomed the downward stream that served as an appetizer and alerted us that the journey was about to start in earnest. Girls were shrieking out of terror when one of the steersmen told us that the real screamer was yet to come in a few minutes.
The beginner cataracts appeared before us and we rowed to the order of the steersmen like trained marines. The sound of water hitting the raft and the paddles was energizing, and the stronger the water hit, the more fun it felt. After we passed the first level, some of my friends gave a big applause out of joy (or relief for that matter), and some gave out a big sigh. Many were panting when the steersmen said that this was a kindergarten level waterfall.
Afterwards, we passed a number of cataracts, big and small, with adrenaline pumping in our veins. Soaking wet, yet we rowed to the order strictly. Girls wouldn’t stop screaming and there were times it felt like we were going down, but we managed to pass through safely. A while later, we reached a part where the water was calmer and we could get our breath back and enjoy the nature on the riverbanks. There were trees everywhere, with the cooing of wild birds so close to us. A small waterfall emerged in front of us; the stream of white water glittering in the sunlight was a source of life in this small town.
Cool breezes swept in, bringing with it yellowing leaves of the past season and drying up my wet body from the earlier battle between the river and me. Life is like a river in a way, isn’t it? We move forward, unable to go back and fix our mistakes in the past. Sometimes it’s rough, sometimes it’s calm, and it always ends somewhere. I let my thoughts go wherever they took me for a while, then I was pulled back to the ruthless cataracts once more.
During the day, we stopped and had lunch on the riverbank without forgetting to clean up our mess like other good and responsible tourists. It was sunset when we reached the halfway stage of the trip, so we set up our tents for a good night sleep at Mae Sanan Camp. After cooking a few easy but tasty dishes and satisfying our hunger and thirst, we sat around the fire, sipped our tea, and had a talk, exchanging stories between friends. The steersmen joined us and told us some funny and creepy stories too.
I left the group to find myself a sweater since the wind was starting to get me. As I took a walk farther from my friends, I heard the sound of the water not so far away so I continued to the riverbank to take a deep breath of the pure and clear air of fresh forest. Millions of starts gleaming and glittering up above my head, brighter and any light in the city would compare, an unsurpassed beauty of nature that could never go wrong.
Next morning, my body was sore from yesterday’s heavy work. I stretched myself to let go of all the aching and emerged from my tent to take a deep breath of the morning air. A thin, delicate wool of fog covered the forest around me and the air was so crisp and clean I had to take more than one deep breath to freshen up myself.
After a brief breakfast, we packed out things and got ready for the rest of the river journey. Today’s cataracts seemed more brutal than those of the previous day, but we were experienced rowers now and so we managed to have our luck with us throughout the journey. Occasionally the steersmen would warn us to swim as fast as we can to the shore in case we fell into the water, and the caution worked like a magic. We rowed with all the strength we had and no one got hurt. This was a truly memorable experience.
Come afternoon, we bid goodbye to the kind steersmen who had kept us safe for the last two days, and continued our trip to seek the essence of Naan. We wanted to see this town of rivers and how people here lived their lives.
After two full days of sheer exhaustion, we pampered ourselves with a large and luxurious dinner of local food in town. Northern food has long been known for its salty and spicy flare that slowly seeped in. Back in Bangkok, northern dishes with such originality in taste and look are very rare to find so we ate as if we had been in a desert for weeks. Ironically, we weren’t in desert, we were had plenty water. That night, I slept like a dead man from the tiredness and a stomach full of a great supper.
Next day was planned to be a cultural trip. After a full sleep, we woke up to a lively morning in the town of Naan, ready to explore the traditional culture of the province. We started the day off at the famous Pra Taat Chae Haeng, the Buddha’s relics of those born in the year of the rabbit. The name of the temple represents how humans are born with sins and through the passage of time they are purified with good deeds throughout their lives and died in a pure form.
The golden chedi, is built in traditional Lanna style, glowed in the morning sun and could be easily noticed on the hill just three kilometers from the center of the town. Pra Taat Chae Haeng has been a respected historical site in Naan since the Sukothai era and the beauty of it has long attracted tourists.
Back in town, we went on to a famous temple we could not afford to miss called Pumin. Apart from the distinction that the image hall and the monastery was the same building and there were four Buddha image facing four directions, the highlight of this holy place was the exquisite mural that reflected the delicacy and beauty of the traditional Lanna artistry. The paintings on the wall depicted the stories of the ten lives of Buddha integrated with the lifestyles of Lanna people. Though the painting was a bit washed out, the colors like red, blue, black, and brown were still vivid, showing the love, the faith, and the respect of the painters back in the past.
From the classic art, we changed the atmosphere to a more contemporary art at Rim Naan Art Gallery, a private company on the banks of the Naan River. This art gallery was created by a local artist of Taa Wang Pa District named Winai Prabripoo, who was inspired to have a place where children from other provinces could come and learn about art.
The big building is a mixture of wood, rock, cement, and ceramics; an unusual but pleasurable combination. The symbol of red sun and yellow moon on the roof was outstanding from afar. Inside the gallery, exhibitions of painting, sculpture, and contemporary mixed artwork are arranged with a light atmosphere and casual neatness. Even someone who does not have an artistic gene like me felt comfortable enough to look around and let myself be inspired by the creativity and wealth of ideas by those artists.
I guess you could say that Naan is a province of art and culture. When I reached the town at dusk, the town was lit with street lamps carved into the shape of the King of the Nagas. All the roads in town were bright with these magnificent lamps that resemble those in Aksa road in Bangkok, only better. Lamps in the shape of long boats represented the river-integrated lifestyles of Naan people from the past that have created famous traditions like the annual boat race, a significant festival that draws a wide variety of tourists year on year.
I said goodbye to my friends and stood under one of those lamps to take a minibus back to my cousin’s house in Prae. As I looked up to the lamps one last time, I realized how culture has been blossomed from nature and woven into the lives of people in the community. This perfect combination would make way to a sustainable and lifelong happiness between individuals and nature. I smiled, and got into the minibus with my pocketful of inspiration, ready to continue my life with confidence.