It seems I have saved the best of our Thailand trip for last in my diary about this journey: I have already written about our side trip that we made to the small city of Chiang Rai during our February stay. But there is one more grand experience we had that I think was the best of a lot of good things on that short jaunt.

One of the reasons for going to Chiang Rai in the first place was that we were invited to attend a house blessing. This was to be in a small village a little more than an hour's drive from Chiang Rai, way out in the country. Our host, who with his wife are the owners of the new home, works in Bangkok for the company where our longtime friend had been the chairman of the board. He is a commuter, going to his home in the northeast about every three months or so, like many other Thai people.

At first we didn't think we would be able to go, because it was a long holiday weekend, and both the flights and the hotels seemed to be booked chock full. But we kept looking, and eventually were able to book both. I think we were successful only because we were going on Sunday, and maybe most of the weekenders were clearing out by that time.

The house blessing was going to be on Monday, starting very early in the morning. That meant we had to leave the hotel by 5:30 in the hopes of getting there by 7. It was dark most of the way, so we didn't see a lot. We just realized that we were really almost the only ones on the road, and there weren't a lot of towns to pass through.

We made it, and we started eating almost immediately. Breakfast was several Thai dishes, absolutely delicious, and turned out to be just the first of the many times we would eat before we left. People kept arriving, and everyone brought food, so there certainly was plenty. We were told that the whole village would be there for this celebration, and it looked as if they must already have all arrived!

When it was time for the actual blessing, the monks filed in and took their places. Our hosts, and our Thai friend Khun Ohn-on, sat under a tripod made of bamboo poles, and decorated with candles that were lit as part of the blessing. A long white cotton string was passed to them first and then to the rest of us, which I think was symbolic of the community being tied together. And of course there was the beautiful chanting on the part of the monks.

After the service, food and gifts were brought to the monks and eventually they left. We had been sitting on the floor this entire time and, of course, in Thai society it is very rude to point the soles of your feet at anyone, particularly those in respected positions such as the monks. So, we were seated on the floor, me with my feet tucked first to one side and then to the other as I became more and more stiff from this unaccustomed position. If I were limber enough to sit cross-legged like the Thai people can do, I would likely have been much more comfortable. But they have had a lifetime of practice.

Spouse Roger did sit cross-legged, but I could tell as time went on that it wasn't particularly easy for him. And, after the monks were gone, we both started what was by then an arduous task of getting up. This was the cause of much merriment, because obviously people had noticed our difficulty and they rushed to help us up. We all had a good laugh, and then went to eat some more.

Part of the ceremony had included getting the string tied around one of our wrists by a monk, which is a blessing to the recipient. Suddenly it seemed important to the village people that they also give each of us a blessing and a string. At first, it was one by one coming to where we were seated to tie the string and say some words. That seemed to be going too slowly for them, so then we each had two hands out, receiving two at a time.

By the end, we each had a thick bracelet made up of all the strings and many blessings. The strings must not be cut off, because that would mean the wish that had been made for us would not come true, and in fact it might even be bad luck. So for the next two or three days, we lived, showered and slept with those string bracelets until they stretched enough to slip off. We were truly blessed by those wonderful and welcoming people.

Following the formal part of the day, and more food, and lots of laughter, there were speeches and music and much merry-making. Everyone else could walk home, so they were settling in for a full day and likely evening of fun. But because we had a long drive back to Chiang Rai, with hopes of more sightseeing, too soon we were back in the car and on our way. These friendly people walked us to the end of the driveway, saw us to our car, and waved - just like a Minnesota goodbye - until we were out of sight.

It was one of those memorable events, to which we were honored and thrilled to be invited and a part of. It was truly the best experience of our Chiang Rai trip.