Thanks to a chance conversation with a member of Bhutan’s Royal Family, a hotel worker began a life-changing link with the mountainous kingdom and its unique version of Buddhism. Somkiat Sixkachart, Manager of the Greenhouse restaurant in The Landmark Bangkok, relates his amazing story.
How did you first hear about Bhutan?
I’ve known about Bhutan for many years because of the close bonds between Thailand and Bhutan. But to think one day I would have the opportunity to visit, explore and be part of the culture, it was like a dream.
Yes, it was Her Majesty the Queen Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck who invited me to visit her country. She came to have lunch here, at the Landmark’s Greenhouse restaurant, with her daughter. As the manager of the restaurant, I went over to their table to take care of them just like other regular guests. The Queen Grandmother would come here several times a week, and I was always there to take care of them. She would ask me questions regarding Thailand and I would answer her honestly.
One day while the Queen Grandmother was dining at the Greenhouse, she asked me if I would like to visit Bhutan. At first I didn’t know how to answer her because back then, I didn’t know she was Her Majesty the Queen Grandmother of Bhutan. But once her identity was confirmed (on television during HM the King’s Coronation Day back in 2008), I told her that I would love to visit Bhutan.
Did you travel alone?
My first trip to Bhutan was in April 2011. I was nervous at first because I was travelling alone and it was only the second country I had visited (my first was Vietnam). After I was granted a visa from the Bhutanese Embassy, I started researching about Bhutan, its cities, food and culture. After an amazing journey by plane, I arrived at Paro International Airport. The Queen Grandmother kindly sent a chaperon and a driver to meet me and take me around Thimphu, the capital. It was a fascinating journey.
On my first trip, I was there for about eight days. I stayed at a hotel arranged by the Queen Mother.
What it challenging in any way, or spiritual and special?
It wasn’t challenging because I was lucky enough to have a driver and a chaperon to help me travel around the city. It was definitely special after I had learned about Bhutan and its culture. But it became even more special, almost spiritual, when I decided to become a Bhutanese monk. I ordained at Drukralung Monastery in April 2015.
Did you meet other Thai monks?
No, I didn’t come across any Thai monks during my trips to Bhutan, partially because the Buddhism sector, Vajrayana, in Bhutan is very different from Thailand’s Theravada Buddhism. Monks in Bhutan, for example, can eat three times a day but they have to cook themselves. They can also drive a car and go to the local markets to buy raw food. Bhutanese monks give praying and meditation the highest importance.
How was the experience, and what did you gain from it?
I enjoyed it immensely. I now consider myself a Bhutanese monk. After absorbing the Bhutanese culture and Buddhist training as a monk, I realised that I have become calmer, more patient, more optimistic and more giving. In the past, I sometimes felt frustrated at work, but with my experience in Bhutan I have become more open-minded and take my surroundings into consideration. I have also learned the gift of giving – to give and do good without expecting anything in return. I remember clearly how the Bhutanese monks were shocked by the donation envelope that I took with me last year. At first, they didn’t want to take the envelope but I convinced them that it was for maintaining the monastery.
Would you urge other Thais to visit Bhutan?
What would you tell Thai people hoping to become monks in Bhutan?
Bhutanese monks are different from Thai monks – in the way of beliefs and the way they act. So my only suggestion for would-be monks from Thailand is to adapt and learn from your surroundings.
What do you think of Bhutan and its people?
Bhutan is such a beautiful country, very rich in culture. It has about 20 districts, each with its own distinct beauty. Bhutanese people are extremely happy, friendly and generous. Before visiting Bhutan, I thought Thai people were the happiest people in the world. Now I believe that Bhutanese people smile much easier than Thai people. When they meet, they drink tea, chat and then leave, which is unlike Thai people who seem to hang around for hours.
Are you planning more trips to Bhutan?
Yes, definitely. I consider Bhutan as my second home already. I’ve been back every year since 2011, with each visit lasting eight to fourteen days. I have promised the Queen Grandmother that I will be a Bhutanese monk until my last breath. Eventually, I plan to live in Bhutan.