Friday, August 07, 2009

All Thai'ed Up

I am at the end of my second day in Thailand and finally have a few moments to write. At this very moment I am in a little town named Mae Sot, sitting in my little teak bungalow, listening to the almost deafening chorus of frogs. I can’t hear anything else. No cars. No people. No music. Just frogs, and it is wonderful. A wonderful end to a great day.

I arrived in Bangkok yesterday morning at five, and by half past ten, everything for my visa was done. I had filled I my papers, been interviewed and the visa was approved. It still takes five days for them to process that for reasons I don’t understand, but it did mean that I was as Hualamphong train station ready to get a train to anywhere. As it turned out, there was a train leaving for Ayuthaya in 15 minutes. It was only a 3rd class non air-conditioned train, but I figured it was only for two hours, so I would do it. I booked the ticket and less than twenty minutes later I was heading north. The train was not bad at all. I wouldn’t want to spend endless hours on it, but for two hours, it wasn’t bad. The only episode was when I tried to get a bit more comfortable and broke the seat. The bench gave way and fell to the floor with me on it. I was a bit embarrassed, but more scared that someone would yell at me and I would have no clue what they were saying. But nobody even glanced my way and the guy across from me gave me his seat and fixed the bench in just a few minutes like it was something that happened everyday. Maybe it does.

After two hours, I arrived in Ayuthaya, checked my backpack, rented a bike and took a long boat across the river to go explore the ruins. The whole place is a mix between new and old. It was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. It had over four hundred temples, but most of them now are nothing but ruins. Some of them little more than a few bricks from the foundation. I only had a few hours as I decided I did not want to stay the night there, so I went through the Lonely Planet and narrowed down the one must-see, and for me, that was Wat Phra Mahathat. By coincidence, it was the first ruin I came upon. It was stunning with dramatically leaning structures and remnants of what must have been several hundreds, if not thousands of Buddhas. The site I was most interested in seeing is the stone Buddha head which has been taken over by a the twisted base of a tree, making it look as though the Buddha is merely taking a peak at the outside world from his hiding place.

From there I crossed back over the river to another Wat, and then another, the last one with a nineteen meter high Buddha and a room with 84,000 Buddha images. I quickly found the nineteen meter high Buddha, but could not find the other room, but time was running out and so I headed back. It was only after I returned the bike and sat down for a quick meal before my bus, that I discovered the 84,000 Buddhas are on the wall right behind the nineteen meter one. So I saw it, but I didn’t realize it.

After just a couple of short hours in Ayuthaya, I decided it was time to move on and be someplace else for the night, so headed to the bus station to see what was going where. I am not sure some of the people on the bus were too happy to see me. In fact, one French girls kept snarling at me while we were still at the station. Not sure what her problem was, but I had been up for over a day and a half, a day filled with plane, taxi, subway, train, bicycle, motorcycle and now a bus (in that order). I felt, and probably looked disgusting, but actually I was too tired to really care.

I ultimately decided to head from Ayuthaya to Sukhothai, the original capital of Siam, before it was moved to Ayuthaya. There is a World Hertitage Park I was determined to see. It was about six hours by bus before I arrived in Sukhothai at almost eleven in the night without a reservation. I have decided that reservations are out this trip. I am making it all up as I go along. As happens when a foreigner steps off any mode of transport, there is a wave of people coming at you “were going?”, “you need hotel? Sleep? I know good place. You like. Very close. Very cheap. Only one room left.” Normally I wouldn’t go for it, but I was in desperate need of a shower, a toothbrush and sleep. And since I decided this trip was all about the adventure, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what came back to me.

The guesthouse was very cool, and there was a nice vibe to the place and it was the perfect ending to an exhausting day. I settled in for the night and tried to sleep, but was too worried about oversleeping my alarm and I wanted to be at the Sukhothai Old City first thing in the morning, so I kept waking up and checking the time even though I had set the alarm. I did manage to get a few hours of sleep and after a nice breakfast and feeling a bit more human, I got a tuk-tuk to the old city…

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