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Published: January 28th 2011
What I love the most about Thailand is the simultaneous predictability and unpredictability of everyday situations. To some, walking down the street to a constant chorus of “Where you go?” “Hey you!” and “Tuk Tuk, Tuk Tuk” could really rattle the cage, but to me it provides a constant source of amusement – on a good day that is. This constant harassment is the predictable side of Thailand; it happens all day, every day. What was also predictable on this particular morning was a woman in official train staff clothing, trying to convince us that the particular train we required had no seats – not ‘no seats available’ but that the train was lacking anywhere to park our backsides for the 2 hour trip to Ayutthaya. Of course she knew a taxi company that could take us there instead, but she was gone in the blink of an eye when we insisted we would check at the official counter first. We handed over our 100 Baht to the cashier who seemed amused by our question as to whether the train had seats and we made our way to the platform, reciting the story of what just happened while revelling
at 14th century Wat Phra Mahathat
at our triumph over the train scamster. “Honestly she must think we are completely stupid – a train with no seats – have you ever seen such a thing?!” We didn’t like to admit that we believed her for a good few seconds, enough to voice our doubts at the tickets office.
Next came unpredictable Thailand; A small girl peering out of the train window on the opposite platform with her dad flailing her arm about in a waving motion to catch our attention. I smiled and laughed and this went on for a good 5 minutes, the cue for a Thai guy standing next to me to spark up a conversation. Finally, the soot covered diesel train squeaked and rattled into the station and people shuffled forward into something that could loosely be called a queue – queues of the English variety don’t exist in Asia. I darted for a seat, but our new friend patted the space next to him and so we sat down. The exciting thing about 3rd class trains in Thailand is a) They are dirt cheap and I mean DIRT and b) There won’t be another tourist in sight
and the locals never fail to provide and endless source of entertainment – A lady jamming bag fulls of flowers into the overhead luggage storage, random unofficial food vendors parading their goods in plastic buckets up and down the aisles, monks in their special ‘Zone reserved for monks’ and quite often school children that all want to shake your hand as you are desparately trying to find a seat. Today we had the pleasure of ‘Boy’ on our train ride. He spoke fairly good English but conversation was quite limited but once people clocked he was talking to us, everyone in a 5 metre radius were breaking their necks to join in. Boy was a business graduate who studied in Ayutthaya. I didn’t manage to get out of him what he was currently doing; he was too busy lavishing Ste with comments about how handsome he was!
Soon the party opposite became involved. “New Moon, New Moon” they called out, pointing at Ste. “You two are very beautiful and like celebrities” they chimed while nodding keenly. We, of course, were in fits. It turned out that the young Thai guy sitting opposite spoke fantastic English
and was completely fluent. His name was Yut and he was studying computing. He was on a placement in Ayutthaya for 3 months and his dream was to come to London someday – but he told us that for the price of the airfare he could buy land and build a big house in Thailand, so it was just a pipe dream. He offered us to come and stay at his province when we next visit Thailnd and “not to worry about anything, I want to make you happy” - a common and heart warming phrase in Thailand. He wanted us to come and see the elephants there and also visit his local school to teach them English. What a kind gesture and a fascinating opportunity for the future I thought! It was a shame he wasn’t available to host us this trip! A considerable portion of the conversation also centred around when we were getting married “you should get marry soon” Boy insisted “Not too soon” we both laughed. The train ride was over quickly and we were soon on the baking platform snapping some photos and exchanging emails. Boy then insisted we get a tuk tuk to have
Swensens (random) visit the primary school (also random) and to see the market (more normal) and that takes me onto part 2 of unpredictable Thailand.
This tuk tuk driver had skin as thick as a saddle and a rough, unusual looking face. Boy and Mr tuk tuk man spoke in Thai which was then repeated back to us with a good 90% of the conversation lost in translation. We weren’t quite sure where we were going when we climbed into the unusual tuk tuk, that looked like something out of shoe people. Well we arrived at Swensens and just when I thought it was time to say cheerio to Mr tuk tuk, he waltzes into Swensens, pulls up a Pugh and orders a chocolate Sundae. So there we are, two ‘farangs,’ a tuk tuk driver the size of an elephant eating a tiny chewy choc sundae and a camp Thai guy tucking into a banana split. We tried to hold back the giggles as he whipped out some beaten postcards of the local sights. This was THE mother of all efforts I have seen from a tuk tuk driver to get some customers! I was
Wat Phra Mahathat
half expecting a bill for 400 Baht for the ice creams, but no, we finished and everyone paid separately.
Right, we must be off to the school now I thought, but no. Mr tuk tuk was still talking in Thai to Boy, who then left almost without saying bye and looking a little upset. Mr tuk tuk must have told him to do one! This is when he whipped out his scrumpled tour sheet and started to discuss everything except the price. After the fourth or fifth attempt he flipped the paper over to reveal the 300 Baht and hour fee. We laughed. And then came some serious bartering. “We only have 300 baht for the rest of the day and we need to get back to Bangkok!” It took a good 5 minutes to get him down to 300 Baht for 2 hours and still we felt like we were being robbed. But we did want to see the ruins, we didn’t have much time and it was searing hot. We had agreed on 4 of the most popular ruins and we chugged off down the road.
centre of the old sacred city is Wat Phra Mahathat which was built in the 14th century. This was our first stop and we were already looking longingly at the passersby with their sunbrellas, it was stifling and this was cool season! The ruins were like something out of tomb raider, with towers and satellite chedi on the verge of toppling over. There were hundreds of Buddha’s dotted about the place, all missing their heads. In the centre there was a large stone Buddha with its head intact and gold leaf fluttering on its hand like an insect’s wing. Orange wax dribbled down its stone seat and onto the parched grass. But the temples most visited image was not this, it was the Buddha head emerging from the entwined roots of a tree, like something out of Sleepy Hollow. It took us a while to hunt it down without a map, but it was as strange and eerie in the flesh as it appeared in the photos I had seen. You were allowed to take a photo with it but you had to kneel below the height of the Buddha’s head, so as not to be offensive to the image.
We headed back to our chariot and on to the next sight.
Ste was excited about this one…and so was I! Wat Lokayasutharam, now in ruins was once home to the colossal reclining Buddha, that now lies basking in the sunshine amongst crumbled brick walls. This is the Buddha that is featured in Street Fighter and so when no one was looking we whipped out a couple of moves for the camera. Swathes of bright yellow fabric rippled silently across its 46 metre long body in the breeze. Its head was propped on a lotus flower 8 metres above us. This reclining Buddha had a good atmosphere surrounding it, not as stuffy as the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, but nowhere near as detailed, especially around the feet region.
Last of all we managed to get a quick undisturbed glimpse of Wat Chai Wattanaram before literally 400 school kids showed up! The Wat was built in 1630 in the late Ayuthaya period by King Prasat Thong, to commemorate his mother. The central prang that is flanked by 4 smaller ones, is thought to contain Lord Buddha relics and It was built
to represent Mount Meru. Lining the walls are numerous decapitated Buddhas. It didn’t fail to impress and Ste even took the treacherous climb up the near vertical stairs up to the central prang. The school kids cheered and clapped as he reached the summit in one piece. We hurried back to the tuk tuk hoping to fit in one more ruin but he insisted there wasn’t time.
The journey back was far more sober than the morning, albeit faster, the driver must have put his foot down. I could have collapsed into bed when we got back, but it was straight into the shower and into the taxi to Khosan road to meet Pippa. We didn’t have too much trouble finding her, and it was great to finally meet up in her home country. She took us to a lovely restaurant that overlooked the river where we shared our Thai experiences and feasted on seafood. She also insisted on footing the bill which was very kind, so we bought her a couple of cocktails in her favourite ‘Hippie’ bar on Khosan. Great night, but she had to be off early as she was going to Samui
the next day. We waved goodbye to another familiar face and headed off to find a taxi, while trying to avoid the “You see Ping Pong?” We had a look at the menu – yes a menu…with a list as long as your arm, that goes something along the lines of ‘Fanny shoot banana, fanny blow out candle, fanny open bottle…and so on. “Not tonight we insisted” and jumped into the safety of a passing taxi.
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