This has to be the craziest tree in the world. It takes up an entire island and its hanging roots plunge to the ground like hundreds of trunks, in the bowls of this monster is a shrine and trees are bedecked with strings of flowers, the ground scattered with monkey, horse, and elephant statues. Am old woman pursues me asking if I want a massage. A local family come to shake prayer sticks and an excited boyreadshis fortune from the one that falls out. I catch their eye and first they want me to take their picture, then they ask me to pose with them so they can take my pic too. They are overwhelmed with joy. Scattered around are small tables and chairs where teenagers are gathered. Across the bridge back on dry land is a long open shed of benches and food stalls where I get the usual pad Thai. The rain is spotting down on me.
Tiziano terzano’s is becoming even more relevant. I read his Bangkok chapter under the tree, and notice that there is actually a fortune teller lodged at the far corner of the island. More stick shakers. Some saffron figures, monks, glide through the trees. Back on dry land there is a stall selling bags of fish and turtles. Buy them and set them free for luck. It seems quite perverse that these creatures are bred and. Imprisoned and sold to bring people luck.
Cycle in the rain past the big square pond covered with lilies and water buffalo grazing the banks. I trace the site of the perimeter wall of the old town. The roads are still laid out in cruciform and the remains of each gate can be found at the ends of each cardinal artery.
After the big flash it rains most of the night. Steady drizzle, but large drops that evaporate as soon as they touch you. I have a beer at the bar on the corner, seemingly staffed entirely by lady boys.
Wake up early and wander the town as it begins its day. Kids going to school, breakfast hawkers. I get a fried egg and juice.
When I enter the prasat phi mai, I’m the only person there, other than women in scarf cum masks and wide brimmed hats meditatively sweeping the dust and fallen leaves from the ruins. It’s a big site and I garner that it’s been largely rebuilt. There are barefooted guys precariously erected scaffolding at the west gate. There is a collection of remoulded sculptures. Regardless the place is spectacular, and is claimed to be thailands largest stone monument. The same layout as angkor wat, and apparently there is an ancient road linking the 2 places. It must be weird having this as the centre of your town. The main tower is flooded with the creepy echoing cooing of pigeons. It’s a peculiar mixture of ancient, well, 1100 years old, and a place where life carries on almost obliviously. I see pictures of how it was before restorations began, the romantic in me kind of prefers it.
Phi mai at night. It’s a small place. A central crossroads where there is a sports fields (conctrete) with a stage at one end, and behind that, on a mound, the remains of a laterite chedi overlooking the town. At the cross roads is the foods market selling fresh vegetables, fish, jasmin, lottery tickets. I buy some sweet fried dough things and some banana fritters dipped in flakes of coconut, and a sour orange and lime shake. I sit under the central tower where roosting birds are chattering loudly. The market slowly winds down. Trying to work out what all the kids uniforms mean. Some boys where an almost military cadet uniform. All tan with Shoulder insignia. Other boys wear blue shorts and white shirts, others coffee coloured shorts and very pale pink shirts. They all look so smart, clothes well pressed and clean. In spite of being poor, dressing their kids for school is something parents obviously take seriously. Thai kids look so cute. Simple hair styles, simple clothes, they are sociable. They don’t have smart phones to play with every second of the day.
But…Don’t Thai kids have homework to do? How come they’re out on the streets now? Maybe with their mothers buying the food for dinner. I see some climb aboard their mothers’scooters. Some hanging around their mothers’ stalls, waiting for them to finish work. Young teenage boys and girls hanging around the tower. All still in uniform at 7.30 pm. Very different from uk, that’s for sure.
The phanom phi mai is literally opposite my guest house. It opens at 7.30. I really want to catch it in the morning light.
Suddenly there is a loud bang and a terrific flash…what the fuck was that? Some of the lights have gone down behind the tower. There’s no screaming, no hysteria, no confusion. Everyone pauses than carries on…I look to see what the source is..but there is nothing obvious, and it wasn’t a bomb… Back at the guest house they tell me it was something to do with the electricity supply!