Best Laid Schemes

by Andrew Stein

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft aglay.  -Robert Burns

This quote as written by Robert Burns and later quoted by John Steinbeck, describes how I felt when rainy season hit Thailand early. I knew the rainy season wasn’t normally for another month and thus the risk of flooding and excessive rains was minimal. The Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat, which was to take place starting on April 1 near Chaiya in Southern Thailand was canceled on account of severe flooding. The story of how my plans shifted goes as follows.

After my train is canceled Monday night, I wake up at WE Bangkok Hostel and start planning how I am going to make my way towards Suan Mokkh Monastery. I first check the Monastery’s website in the morning, and they have a notice on the home page indicating that they are unaffected by the flooding. Unfortunately, trains, planes and some buses have been stopped that would have otherwise ventured southwards. Only the tourist buses are stopped because it’s not economical to charter a bus that tourists won’t want to take because laying on the beach sounds less glamorous when the beach is already underwater. I go to the Bangkok South Bus Terminal and purchase my bus ticket that is scheduled to leave in the evening.

Around 3pm, I’m double checking that the bus is still leaving, that the weather hasn’t worsened too much, and that the monastery is still unaffected. Now, on the monastery’s home page, I read, “The April 2011 Retreat may get canceled.” This felt like getting wait-listed in that I wasn’t sure if I should keep pursuing it or if I should already start moving on. Because of the word “may” in the sentence on the monastery’s website, and because I feel I am a relatively optimistic person, I took my chances and made my way to the bus station, all the while checking the website to make sure the update hadn’t changed.

Fast forwarding to 6pm, I get to the bus station early because I do not know exactly where to go and don’t want to miss my bus. Immediately at 6pm, everything stops, people stand up, and the national anthem is played on the loud speaker. I also stood up, but at the time I had little idea of what was transpiring. I grab some dinner, meet a couple Thais also waiting for the same bus, and make myself comfortable for the 10-hour journey when I get to my seat. I have not always been so lucky, but the bus I picked for this journey had a great chair that reclined almost 70-degrees. However, about 10 minutes into the trip, before I try falling asleep, I check my phone one last time to see if anything new was posted on the monastery’s website, and I read that the meditation retreat has been canceled.

suan mokkh screenshot

I spend a minute or two frustrated and disappointed, and then remember I’m en route to the middle of a terrible tropical storm and it might be 24 hours before I could get back to Bangkok, assuming everything went relatively smoothly. I consider my options. The cost I paid for the bus is now a sunk cost and there’s no reason to pay for a return bus if I don’t have to. I decide to make a fool of myself by roaming the moving bus tripping over seats and bags until I get to the driver. Eventually, I communicate that I want off the bus, and I trip my way back to my seat to get my backpack as the diver pulls over on the side of the highway. I get my things, get off the bus, and am now somewhere near Bangkok in the middle of a highway. Considering the situation, I don’t feel I’m doing too badly.

Within an hour, I get to the Northern Bangkok Bus Station, which I learn is called Mo Chit, find a bus to Chiang Mai, and board another bus, which is slightly less comfortable and heading North. After sleeping decently on the ten hour bus ride, I arrive in Chiang Mai about the time I would’ve arrived at the monastery, get my barrings, find a place to stay, and figure out what there is to do. As any feel-good story should end, I find that there are a couple monasteries near Chiang Mai, research them online, and learn that one has meditation courses. I try emailing and calling with little success. I get over there, ask around, and eventually sign myself up for a week long retreat starting on Monday, April 4th.

I now will experience Northern Thailand for several days, not be torrentially rained on, and will still learn Vipassana Meditation. Sometimes initial plans are not the best laid schemes.