Dawn is breaking as I pull open the curtains. Thailand is waking up. Wooden houses on stilts, taller, bendier more gracious clusters of palms.
At 7.30 I get off at Phetchaburi and walk into town. past hawkers selling green coconuts, along the street with the municipal buildings lined with displays commemorating the life and passions of the king, who recently turned 85.
The guest house (Rabieng Rimnum Guesthouse) is on the river and an old dark dusty teak building with an airy restaurant which opens directly over the water. Leonard Cohen is playing and the lady owner is on the phone and chatting to whoever appears at the same time. I never saw her finish a conversation. She could be an old madame, or a Chinese opera singer. On the walls are faded album sleeves of Andy Williams and other 60’s heart throbs.
The room is bare, wooden, basic, dusty, but surprisingly comfortable, even if the thin wooden walls allowed sound to penetrate from outside with relative ease.
I chat to Thomas, a German, now living in Israel, who is in the middle of a long cycle through Thailand. We talk about politics, corruption, the Indo-China war, his scrape with the Laos police, which involved him paying them $500 for something he had nothing to do with. Well, that or prison….).
I rent a bike myself and cruise the sleepy Sunday town where everything is in Thai and there are no Farangs to be seen.
I go to 2 temple sanctuaries. Each involves a journey through tree-lined roads full of monkeys. They have no fear and snarl and attack for little provocation.
Khao Lung cave is amazing. It’s roasting outside and the cave give me shelter and most astonishingly after the hurly burly of KL and SP silence. Utter silence and it’s so beautiful. The cave has a number of temples with a central hall with the walls lined with Buddhas. The light breaking through a chimney in the roof. Stalactites and the growing sing-song sound of Thai voices as a few more visitors arrive. Each shows respect. Wai-ing, hands clasped in a bow, then buying a handful of jossticks. Kneeling and wai-ing clasping the sticks. Lighting the sticks from a flame on the altar and repeating. The joss sticks are planted in an urn on the altar and the praying continues. They then gild the Buddha, sticking small strips of gold leaf on the Buddha statue. Offerings are also made. I watched a woman take several bottles of drink out of her bag. open them, put straws in the bottles and leave them there…for Buddha to drink? I also saw cans of coke left in the same way.
The second temple, Khao Bandai It, is west of the town. On the way I buy a whole chopped fresh pineapple from a roadside hawker and chat a little with the woman there. The temple entrance is at the top of a hill and among a number of temple buildings. The inside is less spectacular and less atmospheric, but the silence and coolness is a relief. Outside again I climb to the top of the hill where there is an enormous Buddha statue but unfinished, and by the looks of it abandoned for the time being. The view is amazing.
Cycling back across town is great. The town is awakening from the heat of the day. The many many temples, though are quiet, and the monks almost invisible. The ones I see are sweeping the yards and watering plants. Dogs are everywhere, many mangy, lounging in the sun or strolling across the roads. The shop houses are in evening mode, tvs showing boxing and football, shopkeepers packing up…but the hairdressers, of which there are a disproportionate number are busy. Children call out hello, men are chatting together, some playing chess, and the women are preparing noodles or barbecue on their stalls. Everyone looks content, beautiful, simple. There are pictures of the king all over town, whole families on motorbikes and everybody obeys the traffic lights.
I dont have the language skulls to negotiate the night market with its myriad of dishes and eat at the guest house. Noodle omelette and spicy morning glory. Some beers, some football (Liverpool 2 Villa 0), and I meet Ray from Holland, a well-travelled German couple and 2 very drunk Norwegian guys. Bedtime is late, around 2pm.