September 2, 2011
Kat and I took a break from the heat and humidity under a tree in northern Thailand. We laid our bikes down by the side of the road and dug through our panniers looking for snacks.
The tree was enormous and the base of its trunk was decorated with colorful ribbons of silk. A local art project perhaps?
Trees are often decorated in public places. Just recently an artist "yarn bombed" trees in Occidental Square in Seattle. It was whimsical fun.
In Thailand, we didn't meet many foreign cyclists on the road (at least on the routes we pedaled), so we got wonderful reactions from motorists. But never honks. The people of Thailand are some of the most polite drivers on the planet.
So when we heard someone honk as they passed it startled us. Then the next car honked as well. And the next. And the next. Were our bikes too close to the road? But each car only honked once or twice. And the occupants were smiling. We smiled and waved back. For the next thirty minutes it was like being on a parade route. We waved at every car and every car celebrated our journey in Thailand with polite honking.
What was truly strange was that the honking never happened again. It took us at least a week to figure out that the motorists weren't honking at us.
It was the tree. Or the spirits in the tree. We found someone who explained to us that it is common belief that spirits inhabit certain trees. These trees are often decorated with flowers, garlands, and ribbons.
It is considered good luck to honk once (or twice) as you slowly pass by a spirit tree.
Note: If a couple of touring cyclists are sitting under the shade of that tree, it is still good luck to honk. And it will make the cyclists feel special ... at least until they learn a little bit more about Thai culture.
Photos by Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road, and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com.