Back to the vacation grind...
We awoke early, again, and walked into the alleyway near the house for some breakfast duck. Hot, oily pieces of fried duck were mixed with vegetables and eggs for a quick treat. Flick needed to run a bunch of personal errands, i.e. he was sick of us, so Tex and I decided to act like tourists and visit the major landmarks of Bangkok.
The driver dropped us off at the royal palace of Thailand. An enormous wall almost a mile long on each of its sides greeted us, along with the army standing guard carrying their AK-47's. Through the main gate, Flick negotiated with a certified guide to take us thru the royal city and around Bangkok. Our guide, Pip (real name) spoke English, but decided not to talk very much to us. As we started the tour, the immense size of the compound was finally realized... this place was huge!
Large wooden buildings in the styles of Thailand, Cambodia, and China loomed over us decorated in ceramic flowers, gem-cut glass, and layer upon layer of gold leaf. Every structure told a story about the royal life; from the seven headed snakes found on the eaves, to the multitude of dancers holding up the palace walls. Everywhere we turned was rows of the Cambodian style of spires, all capped in gold and jewels. The color was amazing from the temples and homes; rainbows that had been born at a Home Depot.
In one temple was the Jade Buddha, a small statue on a fifty foot pedestal that was clothed in his golden summer clothes. They have to change the Buddha’s clothes for the three seasons of the year... winter, summer, and rainy. This was one of the few places that we couldn't take photographs... the Jade Buddha is one of the most sacred relics of Thailand.
One of the largest buildings in the complex looked like British Parliament with a strange roof. When I asked Pip, she told the story about how one of the former kings decided to leave Thailand and travel the world as a statesman and diplomat. During his travels, he met with the British, and brought many of their ideas, architecture, and customs to Thailand. The royal guards outside the main palace wore all white tunics and pith helmets, almost identical to the royal guards in London. The main palace was built using English design, but the king hated the drab roof. So he ordered that the roof be removed, and a traditional Thai roof be installed in its place... very cool.
There were landings for the king to mount his elephants and palantirs, mirrors in grand rooms that allowed the king's subjects to approach him while walking with their back turned towards him (since they weren't allowed to face the king). The Rama's favorite dogs carved out of marble, protecting the entranceways.
After touring the palace grounds, Pip walked us out of the palace and into a nearby market. We made our way thru the narrow alleys until we popped out from under the canopy and found ourselves looking at a large river, the Chao Phraya (The Lord). She took us to a small counter and calmly said, "1600 baht." Huh?? What the hell?? In no time, in all of Thailand, did we have to spend 1600 baht on anything... I could have bought a scooter for that much! I was on the phone with Flick at the time, and he said that Pip was paid 1000 baht for the whole day, so what was the 1600 baht for? Turns out, it was for a boat ride. We pretty much got robbed by pirates.
Tex and I loaded up into a longtail that pulled up next to our floating dock. Pip jumped aboard and sat in the front, and never said a word for the next hour as Tex and I were treated to a river tour. The river is intersected by many canals that meander through the city. Some of the homes bordering the river were grand estates with glass shards poured into the concrete to keep out the unwanted. But many of the homes were culled together from scrap wood, aluminum sheets, and lots of rope. All of these shacks were built on rotted stilts, held together with twine and two-by-fours. We could see rats scurrying about the water and sewer pipes that ran under the homes.
After an hour, we pulled up to a dock and walked into a small temple with multiple statues of one of the kings and his advisors. Pip walked away from us to pray at one of the statues. Next, she paid some money to a monk and received 120 single baht coins that she slowly dropped into the 120 copper bowls that encircled the room... one each for the 120 monks that have reached enlightenment. Pip spoke about one of the men depicted in a statue of a warrior that was so loyal to the king that when the king went mad and was killed by his advisors, the warrior demanded that he be killed too.
We took a 9 baht ferry ride (versus 1600!) back across the river to another large temple complex. We paid our dues, took off our shoes, and entered the large hall. Quickly, we realized this was no ordinary temple. Inside was a statue of the reclining Buddha that was 48 meters long, and 15 meters tall... the size of a gymnasium!
From here, we walked several kilometers back around the royal palace and ended up back where we started. Both Tex and I were extremely tired from walking through the intense heat and humidity, and were dying for the driver to pick us up. We walked amid the European tourists and souvenir barkers. We were finally picked up, and headed back to the house for a desperately needed shower and a foot soak. Noi was nice enough to run out and pick us up some orders of pad Thai noodles for lunch. After that, it was a napping afternoon.
Flick came back to the house for a quick change, and he headed out again. He suggested that we head out to a night market, but Tex and I were too exhausted to do much outdoor travel. Instead, we asked the driver to take us to the local mall for dinner and a movie; or at least good air conditioning.
We moseyed around and people watched for several hours, checking out the sales racks and discounts bin just like any other mall. We bought some cheap DVDs and Tex got himself some anti-sweat shirts... if you've seen the jungle pics, you probably understand why. We ate dinner at the mall of deep fried rice buns with sugar sauce (Thai donuts), sweet pork, and dim sum.
In one the stores, we were walking thru the electronics and kitchen section, wondering if we needed anything to take back with us. I started railing that in Doha, you can't always get the products that you necessarily want... but can always find something to make do with. I was a little angry that [NAME REMOVED] had to spend lots of her personal time, money, and luggage allowance to bring back a suitcase full of items that had been requested by our friends when she last went back to the states. "Why can't they just make do with what we have?" I questioned... then I had a eureka moment. "I wonder if they have crock pots here."
We don't have crock pots in Doha. And you can't bring them from the states, because they use too much power for our transformers. But they do have them in Bangkok! I went ahead and bought one for a gift for [NAME REMOVED], wondering if I should buy myself one. Tex laughed at my hypocrisy as we called the driver for a ride home.
Turns out, Tex laughed too soon. He called his wife, Lady Tex, and joked about my crock pot purchase. She responded, "Why didn't you get one, too?" Hah! We made plans to return to the mall later in the trip so Tex could get one for himself.
We woke up real early, around 6am... have you ever had a vacation where you couldn't sleep late? The driver picked us up around seven for Flick to give us a tour of the old temples and former capitol of Thailand. We drove about an hour out of Bangkok to an area called Lopburi. Back when Thailand was part of Cambodia, the area capitol was placed here. A huge city with massive temples was built that spread for miles around. But the city was sacked and conquered by the Burmese on more than one occasion, and most of the city was destroyed. But there are still hundreds of structures laid out across the town; in open squares, in backyards, next to empty lots are ancient spires that no one dares to destroy.
We first went to the town of Lop Buri, to a tiny temple in honor of the Angel of Death. Now, a temple of doom sounds really cool, but it was just a tiny little temple surrounded by a small gate. The Angel of Death wasn't the cool part, but the servants of Death were definitely cool... macat monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys...
In a tiny area about the size of a basketball court, two thousand monkeys call home! They were everywhere! Signs warned us about hiding your wallets and cameras, because the monkey will steal them for fun. Breeding season had just past and females were carrying newborns on their backs and stomachs while their young quietly suckled. Locals brought baskets full of bananas, eggs, and peas to feed the monkeys. The monkeys would instantly see if you were carrying food, and signal the others to rush towards you... waiting for the handout. One person dumped bags of four-ounce bottles of milk that the monkeys quickly peeled or punched open and drank down. Occasionally the larger and older monkeys would steal food from the upstart youngsters, and get into miniature fist-fights. We bought little bags of dried peas and sunflower seeds, and the monkeys would walk up and pick the seeds right out of our hands.
Strange thing, though. The small temple on top of a narrow flight of steps is completely open to the air, and throngs of people come to pray and give gifts of food and flowers to the Angel of Death. The room is filled to the brim with fruits, vegetables, and seeds... and the monkeys don't touch a single grape. They never, ever, enter the temple. No one stops them, and there is no door. The monkeys simple do not touch their master's Death's food. Eerie.
Suddenly, a series of bells rang out, and the monkeys bolted through the fence line into oncoming traffic. All cars stopped, and waited until all the monkeys had crossed two large intersections and a railroad. These are sacred animals here. Across the street, they started to climb storefronts, power lines, and traffic lights. They made their way to three ancient spire temples in the middle of the town. Now... here is where the trip gets really interesting...
Tex and I were standing outside of the three spires, while Flick had gone inside. We were feeding the monkeys the last of our seeds and peas, when two of them jumped onto Tex. It was quite funny, as he was both nervous about disease, but really wanted the photo op. After a few minutes, he wanted to get them off. Flick loudly yelled and shooed them off of Tex, but one of the monkeys was pissed off about having to leave his back. If you've seen Tex without a shirt on, like I have, then you'd know that the monkey probably thought he'd found King Kong. The small macat hissed violently atop a nearby column while Tex and I took more pictures.
Then, without warning, the pissed off monkey decided to take his revenge... It jumped about five feet through the air (Tex says it was twenty feet) and landed on Tex's head! He freaked out, then started to laugh at the situation... what Tex didn't realize was that the monkey had its teeth bared and was trying to eat his brain. Open mouthed, it scratched away at his scalp and shoulders trying to tear out a chunk of Tex.
You're probably thinking that I, in my bravest commando mode, swooped in to save my friend from the ravaging hoard of the servants of the Angel of Death... alas, no. Not me. Instead, I managed to take some great pictures while the mad monkey tried to render his juicier bits of flesh. Finally, I had enough and quietly stated "Tex... it's trying to bite you..."
Tex's grin, instantly remembering his lessons of biochemistry and epidemics, quickly faded. "Get it off!! Get it off!!" He started to spin to shake the monkey off his back (I can't believe I used that phrase) but it wasn't budging. I threw my bag at it, with no luck. Tex made one final tornado-like spinning whirl and tossed the monkey aside. Frantically, Tex hurried down the temple steps shouting "Fuck these monkeys!! Fuck 'em all!!" He scurried past more macats that were enjoying the show, and we used half a bottle of my hand disinfectant on his scalp and shoulder where the once cute, now diseased wild beasts, had tried to eat Tex Mex.
He grabbed the driver and made it clear that he wanted to leave... now. I felt a little bad for him. Not for taking pictures when I could have been helping him, but about his sudden about face considering the wildlife. The man who almost shat himself when seeing the monkeys at the start of the trip in Khao Yai was now offering the driver 100 baht for everyone he ran over. What a horrible descent into madness.
Still laughing hysterically over Tex's near assassination, we headed to a small palace that houses a museum to the former kings. Soldiers were training on the expansive grounds. Inside, we looked at the furnishings and costumes of the long dead king. Oddly, there was a large, Western-looking hoop dress arranged in the same room. Reading the translation, I finally realized what this dress was. It was a dress that belonged to Anna Leonowens... and this room was where she met Rama IV, King Monkut... yes, the same King of Siam and the British school teacher from “The King and I”.
We drove back towards Bangkok to visit the old city. We pulled into a floating restaurant on a barge in a nearby river. We ate soft bone fish and bowls of fried mushrooms and chilies. A group of Americans was sitting behind us, and they weren't having much luck in ordering, or even knowing how to pay. They noticed that Flick was speaking English, and asked for help. We began chatting about where they were going, where they were from, etc. Turns out, they were a group of FBI agents in Thailand to train their police force. They were probably the same agents that were called in to investigate the death of David Carradine... hope they return my handcuffs and wig...
Next up, we traveled to an ancient temple of gold, called Wat Chai Watthanaram This temple looks just like a small version of the enormous Cambodian temple Ankor Wat. Once, all the spires and temple walls were completely covered in gold. But this opulence came at a cost. When the Thai people went to war with the Burmese, they came in and destroyed much of the temple. There were hundreds of Buddha statues lining the walls, all of them beheaded and partially destroyed by the plundering Burmese. People still find small drops of gold in the nearby grounds from when they melted the gold off of the temple walls.
Flick told stories about the horrific fights that occurred on this site throughout history. Every time the Thais and Burmese fought, this temple was the most contested land in all of Southeast Asia. Hundreds of battles and thousands upon thousands of lives were lost on this small parcel of land. Wat Chai Watthanaram is the most cursed and haunted area in all of Thailand. No one dare digs into the soil, for fear that they may disturb the layers of bones from long dead soldiers just beneath their feet.
The three of us climbed the near vertical stairs of the central spire and let Tex set up his camera to get some good pics. As we balanced ourselves atop the ancient steps, Tex went to town taking photo after photo... glasses on, glasses off, smiling, not smiling, cool, smiling with glasses on, thumbs up... etc. Some Japanese tourists walked by, and I think even they snickered at how silly three fat guys wearing the same T-shirt looked nestled on those steps.
Just down the road was three more temple spires... the whole area is filled with them. This one was more of a public prayer place, with buses of tourists offloading in the parking lot. I did join them for a quick prayer to help my sore feet at a statue of the reclining Buddha. Flick took me through the procedure on how to correctly pray. I bought a lotus flower, some incense, a candle, and some gold leaf from monks sitting nearby. I lit the candle in an oil lamp, and placed it in a stand in front of the Buddha. Next, I lit the incense and gave the lotus flower to the Buddha, and asked that he help my sore foot. Then, I placed the gold leaf onto the foot of the Buddha where my own feet were killing me. After that, I circled the statue three times asking for his blessing. I felt a little foolish, not being Buddhist myself, but anything helps.
We drove around checking out many other temple sites in the areas. Some were beautiful, with rows upon row of multicolored Buddhas gracefully sitting around a central spire. One was bone white and enrobed in yellow silk, another encased in multicolored ceramic tiles. Some were big tourist traps with ice cream stands and postcards for sale. It was an odd assortment of serene beauty and Disneyland.
We were starting to get tired... after a while every temple began to look the same. While on the highway, Flick yelled for the driver to pull off the highway so that he could buy some local drink. Two people had a large pot of boiling sap from some unknown tree that was then cooled in ice to make a sweet, earthy juice... really good. We napped until we reached Flick's house, had some quick showers, and rested up for dinner with the family for our last night in Thailand.
Flick's parents joined us for dinner at an upscale mall that housed an enormous sushi restaurant. We ordered two huge boats of sashimi and nagiri, plus soups and dessert... great stuff. Afterwards, his parents left for home, and we headed into Bangkok to explore the night markets.
The night markets are huge flea markets that only operate at night. Visited by both locals and tourists alike, you can find just about anything you like... most of it cheap knockoffs for cheap prices. Thousands of stalls after stalls selling luggage, gifts, souvenirs, dirty T-shirts, wallets, etc. We spent four hours squeezing past the hanging lanterns and tables full of fake watches, haggling over prices of bronze and resin Buddhas and I Heat Bangkok T-shirts. I picked up a cool cigarette holder for myself, and gifts for the ladies. Flick teased us for our poor haggling skills... still not something I've ever gotten good at. In Doha, if you don't have the stones to haggle, you just say "best price?"... and that normally works. Not so well in Bangkok.
Even though the market seemed very busy, Flick said that it was almost empty. Turns out the recent coup and poor economy was keeping tourists away. Thankfully, that meant even better prices for us!
We ended the market in a massive open air seating area where we ate some noodles and had our last beers while a shitty cover band played nearby. At this point, it finally hit us that we were leaving the next day... and that our trip was almost finished. Just as we were soaking in our last remaining Bangkok experiences, we were slammed back into reality when the last food stall we saw was a falafel stand... a quick reminder that we were leaving Thailand behind, and heading back to Arabia.
A quick cab ride home with some sweet corn for a snack, and we started packing our bags.
Slept in... about damn time. We spent most of the morning getting our bags packed and backing up our cameras. After a quick breakfast, we asked the driver to take us back to the mall. We ran inside, and Tex picked up his own crockpot. After looking at them some more, I decided to get myself another one. So between Tex and I, we have scuba equipment and three crockpots we have to somehow get back to Doha. We had to buy some duffel bags for all of our souvenirs... how touristy of us.
Later, we headed to the weekend flea market. Basically, it was the same thing as the night market, but much hotter. Packed with people, we again slipped between the myriad of stalls and storefronts. I ate some fresh coconut ice cream (made inside a coconut) to cool down. We shopped for the little items we still wanted, and then, reluctantly, headed back to Flick's.
With our new duffel bags in tow, Tex and I repacked all our gear, desperately trying to protect our crockpots. The rest of the afternoon was spent tidying up and getting ready to go. By late afternoon, we said our goodbyes. Flick's parents were wonderful to allow us to crash at their house, use their driver, eat their food, and use their maids and homes... thanks. We gave big tips to the driver and the maids for taking great care of us, said our goodbyes, and headed to the airport.
I know why people stay in Thailand... it is an amazing country. The beautiful landscapes were easily matched by the beauty and warmth of the people. We traveled from an enormous city, to a jungle park, to a serene coast... all within a few hours from each other. We had a great time in Thailand. We were three friends, traveling around, enjoying everything that came our way.
I know why people stay in Thailand. The food alone is reason enough to never leave. I’m coming back later this year to spend my Christmas holiday in Thailand. So if you don’t hear from me… at least you’ll know where I am.
Check out the full photos at http://s249.photobucket.com/albums/gg223/benji-of-arabia/.