Tag Archives: temples

Prachuap Khiri Khan day 2

I get up reasonably early to a cool breeze.

 

I feel invigorated and spend a relaxing and enjoyable few hours climbing then hanging out on the mountain on the northern side, khao chong Krajok. There is another temple here, a scruffy group of buildings, a gold stupa, colourful bushes and a lot of monkeys. The steps and trees are full of them, and I feel like I'm invading their territory. Some are scabby and mangy. Their principle past-time seems to be picking fleas off each other. They are not exactly aggressive but a bit intimidating. I see a young boy with a bag of corn, bought from an old man with no teeth. Suddenly he is shrieking as scores of the beasts are at his feet, jumping up, all around him.

 
 
 
 

 

I have found a great and chilled out vegetarian restaurant, which also does a wonderful chocolate smoothie. Everywhere else sells seafood, so this place has already become my regular haunt.

Back at om's peter is having tea. I join him and JJ brings me some sticky rice which is cooked by steaming it inside bamboo cane. The Austrian next door seems to have lost it..or has decided to piss everyone off today. He is playing a cd of Christmas songs done in a kitschy oomp pah Austrian style. Frosty the bloody snowman in a tropical climate. It's beyond irritating….

 

Nakhon si Thammarat day 2

Nearly any rain, at least not until nighttime.

I spent today with Ning, an old student from Regency, and her old school friend and husband who are both university teachers. The deal is I teach a lesson with them tomorrow, and they drive me around the city today and lavish me with lunch, tea and dinner. It's a really nice day and I get to learn and appreciate things I wouldn't be able to do as a solo farang with no thai language. We make merit at the temple, which is considers the most important in southern Thailand. The white stupa allegedly contains yet another of the buddha's teeth. The gilded spire obviously isn't golden as corrosion stains drip on the white plaster work. Unfortunately the walkway around the stupa is closed, but we burn joss sticks (3 for the Buddha; 9 for the God, which we do at the city shrine later) and candles which get snuffed out by the breeze before we have time to kneel and plant them in the ash trough in the boat alter. We have little scraps of gilding, which we transfer to the Buddha effigies. Mine blow away, rather then cling. My merit is hard to. Achieve. Out of the sudden rain, we walk a cloister like passage where there is a large gong. None of us succeed in making it resonate. This is done by caressing 2 raised knobs. One woman coaxes a tremendous ringing tone from it. Wow.

We visit the city museum, which has some rather amusing dioramas, including one of a thai school room with a projected animate school teacher. There is a a big freize on which is written the 60 commandments that school children must learn these days. It's a bit much. Ning comments that the first commandment which is basically “do good things” suffices.

Afterwards we go to the city shrine for more merit making, and then to the remains of the city wall. On the city park nearby old and young, slim and not so slim alike exercise on the open-air communal gym-type equipment, though it feels more like a dangerous kids playground. On the field groups of men are playing a kind of keepy-uppy game involving a hollow rattan ball and bare feet.

A shared meal together is great: when you eat alone you can't possibly order so many dishes. Equally being with Thais, they are able to specify exactly what they want cooked. We have egg and bitter cucumber, a Chinese mushroom soup, broad beans and green beans in a spicy sauce, and a very hot tofu in yellow bean curry paste.

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

Day 3 in Sangkhlaburi…..Religion

At sunrise their are groups of monks on the bridge heads. Locals are flocking down the hills to make merit by offering food then being blessed. There is so much food that they will end up not eating it all, for sure.

I negotiate a trip across the reservoir to the partially submerged remains of the old temple. The original village was drowned when the valet was dammed. The present settlement being newer and on higher ground. The temple must have been on a small hill. You are able to disembark and wander into and around the structure. Local mon women are arriving on long tail boats to prepare bunches of jasmine. The offer these to the subsequent passengers on the next couple of boats to land. Locals, I suppose, who have come to pray at the shrine inside the temple. This seems to be an auspicious day.

There is an aura of religion throughout the day. In the evening on the mon bridge I bump into the Taiwanese girl who i chauffeured from the bus station in kanchanaburi. As we watch the increasing number of monks a man in a simple white cotton smock and trousers informs us that there will be a large gathering of monks who will be chanting on the bridge soon. About 80 or so assemble and sit on mats facing the now dimming dusk sky. They have little bottles of energy drink. En masse at 6pm they begin to chant. I sit and absorb for over an hour. The atmosphere is special, though not totally serene, as the occasional boat buzzes out into open water. Not all the monks seem to be immersed. I see one chatting on his mobile and another taking selfies on an iPad! This event is to mark the mid-point of the monks' retreat. Now I understand why there is a monk camp site, and why they are behaving as if they are on holiday! These guys come from all ove thailand and are at Buddhist university. The man in white is also studying there.

 

 

 

 

 

Sangkhlaburi day 2

Quite a chilly sleep, thankfully the karaoke on the other side of the creek stopped by 11.

I'm quite excited to get up for sunrise over the lake. Monks on the bindi baht are crossing the bridge. Long tail drivers are prepping their boats and cruising out into the golden water. A schoolboy dressed in Boy Scout type uniform is with his mother selling little fish in bags of water, to be released for merit making. I guess that's his job before school. I forget how early it is. 6 am? 7 am? The village is getting up. Mon women with yellow ash daubed faces with baskets balanced on their heads are selling tea and snacks. Across another small bridge, under which locals are tilling their vegetable gardens, I'm now in a more rustic environment of typical mon houses, bamboo platforms with thin woven walls. There are a lot of women with babies. At a store I drink some water and a guy on a motorbike generously offers to take me to the wat. It's burmese and very ornate. On the land next to it is a campsite. Tents for monks. There is a road which is strewn with dry leaves, rustling in the cooling breeze. This leads to a gilded stupa, next to which is a souvenir market. Here I see a small group of monks committing taboos: handling money, smoking, shouting to each other. Buying food and ice creams…I understood their food was from donations. In the road a small mangey pup has just died. A pack of adult equally scrawny and few ridden dogs aggressively police the small corpse.

 

 

 

 

Final day in kanchanaburi

Again I fail to get up early. My bed is hard and I'm groggy. A good sleep. I want to avoid the tourist crowd at erawan waterfalls, so having missed an early start, it makes sense to go there late in the day.

In the morning I ride out to a cave temple. You climb a flight of naga flanked steps to the mouth of the cave where the temple proper is. Then follow red arrows painted on the walls until you are on hands and knees crawling through spaces til you come to a vertical metal ladder. You climb about 3 metres through a tiny gap and then you are out on the top of the mountain looking over the river, kanchanaburi and the mountains beyond. This temple is famous for a floating meditating nun, but she's dead, and her replacement only does it when the crowds are there. So I don't see this!

Late morning is spent buying sweet fried things and iced coconut juice, which I snack on by the round pagodas next to the river. A boy of about 11 walks up and down the edge of the embankment and cheerfully says to me dee mai dee mai. He is catching fish using a plastic bag and is very pleased and proud of himself. I offer him a fried banana. He cautiously approaches, wais, then to my surprise he takes the whole bag. I'm too surprised to take bag at least a few,and anyway I think he will appreciate them. Off he goes then back, then off then back again this time beaming. He wants to show me his latest catch. In his bag is a large toad, dark green with a soft white belly, about 12 cm long. He takes it out for me to photograph. I ask him if he will eat it. He shakes his head. I wonder what he will do with it..

 

Final day in kanchanaburi

Again I fail to get up early. My bed is hard and I'm groggy. A good sleep. I want to avoid the tourist crowd at erawan waterfalls, so having missed an early start, it makes sense to go there late in the day.

In the morning I ride out to a cave temple. You climb a flight of naga flanked steps to the mouth of the cave where the temple proper is. Then follow red arrows painted on the walls until you are on hands and knees crawling through spaces til you come to a vertical metal ladder. You climb about 3 metres through a tiny gap and then you are out on the top of the mountain looking over the river, kanchanaburi and the mountains beyond. This temple is famous for a floating meditating nun, but she's dead, and her replacement only does it when the crowds are there. So I don't see this!

 

Late morning is spent buying sweet fried things and iced coconut juice, which I snack on by the round pagodas next to the river. A boy of about 11 walks up and down the edge of the embankment and cheerfully says to me dee mai dee mai. He is catching fish using a plastic bag and is very pleased and proud of himself. I offer him a fried banana. He cautiously approaches, wais, then to my surprise he takes the whole bag. I'm too surprised to take bag at least a few,and anyway I think he will appreciate them. Off he goes then back, then off then back again this time beaming. He wants to show me his latest catch. In his bag is a large toad, dark green with a soft white belly, about 12 cm long. He takes it out for me to photograph. I ask him if he will eat it. He shakes his head. I wonder what he will do with it..

 

 

 

Kanchanaburi

Early start, for me anyway. Eggs and lemongrass tea, and oh my god Fran is already moving into my guesthouse and planning to follow me…..

The minibus to kanchanaburi is rapid, too air-conditioned and a bit bumpy. Only 3 passengers, so lots of space. It’s easy to get a room, and I soon discover there is a long farang stretch of pars and guesthouses. This one ain’t so bad, and I’ll keep the name hidden for the time being. I have the option of a bungalow on stilts on the river but take the cheaper option, online, which is free. Renting a bike is full of issues. They are all knackered in some way and the one I take in the end, going for something with gears rather than the usual rickety basket at the from number. Typically it’s too small and the seat is stuck so can’t be raised….

I cycle up to the fabled ridge over the river Kwai. On the way I look at a Japanese obelisk monument and enter the front yard of the kitschy war museum, a rusty steam locomotive with a car on its roof…for some reason. The bridge is a tourist magnet you can walk over it, and I attempt to cycle over it at night time. It’s kind of creepy and scary so I only get a third of the way over. 200,00 prisons of war and enslaved Asians died building the death railway for the Japanese in world war 2. What I don’t get is how the Thais let this happen on their soil. The weird thing is that now where there was death, disease, beatings, slave labour there are now luxurious floating restaurants. I know time moves on, but it seems totally perverse. I haven’t come her for this, but it’s fascinating. So are the huge allies cemeteries. Next door there is also a rather bizarre Chinese one full of pointy spires and a large outdoor crematorium.

Lunch is at on’s Isaan thai restaurant. A tiny place with 4 tables and where the kitchen is on the street in front of the shop, and On cooks non-stop. The food is terrific. Full of flavour, packed full of diverse and interesting veg; Chinese mushrooms, sweet potato, thai aubergine, to name a few. My green curry and red rice is amazing. The food is so good I return for dinner and have a banana leaf salad and sour large flat noodles with pak choi (perhaps). It is here I share a table with Jo, a professional poker player from Switzerland, a job which is location non-specific and, he says, allows him to live wherever he wants and earn all he needs to exist for a year in a couple of months…he is quite intense and has a curious stare. After a while our conversation has got incredibly deep and we examine the concepts of knowledge, understanding, being…..there were odd moments when it almost felt like I had entered into a scene from a film. Could it be Hitchcock? 2 strangers meet and decide to swap identities. It doesn’t go that far…but it’s true that when you meet someone for the first time you could, if you wanted pretend to be anything you wanted. Who knows if he was telling the truth. He could be some crazy guy on the run from Interpol…..anyway, it was an entertaining lunch.

Afterwards I cycle through the area that all these towns seem to have: a school zone with. 3 or 4 large school complexes, the buildings with an open space on the ground floor level, where kids often congregate politely sitting cross legged reciting something with a teacher. The kids are all smart and somehow noble looking in crisp simple uniforms. Their parents pick some of them up from school on their mopeds. It’s not untypical to see mother plus little son plus little daughter all on the same little bike puttering home. There is a new temple complex being built by the river. It’s very unusual. The central temple is still plain concrete, and the embellishments along the eaves and ridge of the roof are being attached. Some, strangely have been painted already. Dragons. Seems strange to be finishing the decorations before the structure is complete. There are 2 completed smaller temples. They are Chinese pagodas, and round with 2 levels. Garishly painted and with a recording of chanting resonating within.

I cross the river and cycle a few miles to Wat Tham Khao Pun, which is known for its caves. There is a serious of around 15 chambers, some requiring serious stooping to enter. 2 of these are used as temples, ie they contain Buddhas. The most striking and most beautiful thing was the sheer silence. Nobody else there, maybe 20m underground, I sat and listened to silence. Wonderful.

Ayutthya day 3

A late start and a trip to a veggie buffet. Cheap, tasty, and slightly mysterious what I was eating! Then I do some exploring of the local market. The usual covered hall with concrete slab counters wher meat is carved up and fish are laid out. Old women sitting next to their vegetables and bags of spices. I have been to a lot of these and I'm always too late to catch the real bustle. It's half closed now and some of the women are uncomfortably sleeping among the produce. Rats scuttle across the floor. The pavements of the streets outside the market hall are lined with stalls. Key cutters, underwear, lots and pans. A thickset bald older man behind a stall that fixes watches catches my eye. Taking his picture results in avert long chat,him doing most of the talking. It's one of those “conversations” where the other party can talk but not comprehend too well. Anyway I find out he's 70, works every day of the week from 7am and learns English from tv and directing tourists. I'm there for over an hour, and see no other white skins, so I find the latter hard to believe. His English isn't too bad, but his absence of most of his lower front teeth makes pronunciation rather difficult. I buy a strawberry shake pandan cakes and rose apples for lunch back at the guesthouse, then take a snooze.

 

 

I'm hoping the afternoon light at the temple ruins will be nice, and it is. The park is actually very busy with the building of stages and markets, and a son et lumiere rehearsal of some reenactment of the ayutthya a fighting the burmese. I chance upon the backstage preparations where 5 massive white elephants are being dressed for the show.

 

On returning to the soi, low and beyond there is Fran..much sooner than expected or hoped for. I meet her for a drink at gubar later but meanwhile I'm accosted by a jolly bunch of assorted drivers who are rapidly getting through a bottle of (fake!) Johnny walker. They ask me to join them and our conversation is an exchange of the names of our favourite football teams,and an exchange of gestures brought on by the disclosure that the balding one has the nickname of zidane, and that another one likes Liverpool and Suarez. Head butts and bites. We play guess each other's age and are all generously underestimating. The mood changes suddenly when a pretty stern thai lady appears (driving a tuk tuk) with 2 small children. She is the ringleader's wife and proceeds to yell at him to come home instead of staying out drinking. He looks bashful like a scalded kid, but stays at the table, whilst she drives off in a storm. Apparently this is the typical thai marriage. Drunken lazy husband, tough, strong wife who does more than her fair share. I get a little drunk, then take my leave.

 

Fran is full of the usual stories of narrow scrapes, spending too much on things she doesn't want and technology problems. I want to watch the band at the bar opposite. The previous night they were surprisingly good. A group of young Thais all in black playing tight energetic hard metal-funk. As I got ther and bought a beer that I didn't really need, the band finished. Tonight we checked that they hadn't played yet, and asked who they were. The board said spring low, the barman who had made fun of me over last nights poor timing tells us they are called “spring roll”. At least that is his pronunciation, and in spite of my coaching he can't get the “r” and can't hear his mistake, so I get some revenge. Perhaps the sucker punch is how dreadful the band are. I predict a Number of songs that I know they will play. All these bands in thai bars play the same mix of reggae standards and rock cliches. So we get no woman no cry, born to be wild, honky took woman, hey joe…..my god it's painful. A Thai guy who puts his own unusual inflexion on the singing, a white guy who thinks his soloing over loose backing musicians will make this all good…..so glad when it's over! Bedtime.

 

 

Ayutthya

So glad I didn't get sunburned today, and I'm surprised!

Today I cycled most of the day, well from when I felt together enough to go out, which was 11. I rented from a girl, who also had a masculine element to her! She wore a skirt made from Hmong fabrics, which I recognised from a bagi bought in chiang mai. We have a discussion about my necklace, and have our doubts about it being real jade. She likes my British accent! The bike rent is 40 per day, I get it for 2 days for 60. Cycling around the place reminds me of Anuradhapura, in that the town is build among the ruins, mostly well restored, of some magnificent wat and palaces, on an island, which contains a number of ditches and tanks. It also reminds me of jogykarta, sukhothai…elements of others. I've done this before: losing myself on archaeological parks, spending long pauses sitting on temple steps watching the world and emptying my mind. There are fallen cherries on the ground, small children selling some kind of bird made from bamboo leaves. There is a souvenir/snack market, where women are smearing green batter onto hot plates to make pandan pancakes. Others in rubber gloves are dropping batter into huge woks of bubbling oil to make donuts. The stalls have bags of twisted dark crispy snacks. On close inspection they seem to be reptilian in origin. Lizard heads?, snake skin?

Lunch is at the small pure vegetarian food place I had read about but thought I had no chance of finding. I just stumbled upon it. Tasty and cheap!

I cross the bridge to the east and off the island, and follow a smal windy road to a place called th elephant krall. This is like a stockade fenced with red tree trunk like piles. I get excited when I spy a pale grey bull elephant with long tusks swaying his body outside this empty arena opposite a school yard. On encircling this massive space I come across a dark skinned man marshalling 2 smaller darker elephants across the road and down a smaller one to a cluster of buildings and wooden structures. Elephants! Maybe 30 of them. This is some kind of elephant sanctuary. It's fantastic. I spend a happy hour or so watching a 3 day old baby elephant stumble at his mother's feel looking for her teets. The mother shows amazing grace and awareness not to step on the tiny creature. Further along the road I come across the river once more. Here, in twos or threes the elephants are being ridden..and then ridden into the water where almost submerged they are washed, their riders standing on their backs like listing living rocks. On the banks of the river some small children are fishing. All these goings on are every day occurrences and unremarkable to them.

 

I cross the island and over to the other side of the river to experience the end of the sunset at the serene wat chaiwatthanaram, nearly get lost cycling back, and am overtaken by a man with a puppy in the front basket of his motorbike.

Dinner is at gubar. I ask for my curry to be spicy. Big mistake….too hot even for me!

 

Christmas in Anuradhapura

It’s Christmas Day and I have a hangover, as expected from the cheap local lemon flavoured gin I shared last night with Simone, a French guy from Strasbourg who is travelling around on a shoestring. He has stories of losing his passport in India, sleeping rough and being robbed in Greece. A sad story of his father disappearing at sea after an argument a few years ago. Boat found, but no body.
Last nights dinner at the lake view guesthouse was really delicious. The usual rice and curry. As usual a huge mountain of rice, far to big for 1 or even 2 people. In small bowls: Dahl, pumpkin and coconut, green bean, aubergine…actually I can remember all the curry dishes, or recognize the vegetables.
The journey here was quite swift and I settled on this guest house pretty fast. It’s family run, is low key, and should have been easy to find last night on my bicycle, but once more I became disorientated and the several people I asked for help were unable to read my map, or thinking they were being helpful gave me wrong information, or due to poor English were unable to explain adequately. It was dark,very dark and only 7pm, roads with few landmarks and far too many roundabouts with statues on for me to be confident that that was the one tha I needed. At the significant elephant roundabout ( it has a big elephant statue in the middle), a guy on a motorbike pulls up and right on the junction oblivious to the traffic engages me in a very broken conversation. He wants me to come and see his office, he is a doctor at the hospital, he wants my phone number, address, he wants to know about my family. He shakes my hand many times and restarts this one sided conversation several times before I am able to get away.
There is a mystery to solve after dinner. I parked my rented bicycle at the guest house in plain view of the terrace. As the owner is putting away the bikes she notices that one of her bikes has been replaced with an alien yellow one, which also has gears and different brakes. She reckons I must have mistakenly got on the wrong bike and ridden off with it on my way back. I’m adamant that this is impossible. Her husband even takes me out on my route back to see if I can spot their missing silver bike. Of course this is fruitless. It is 11 pm and anyway, I know I brought back the right bike. We don’t solve this problem. Someone else is responsible, not me..but who could have done this and why? The upshot is that the guest house now has a new and possibly better bike.
This mirrors an experience earlier when one of the Nepalese monks I meet finds that his flip flops have been taken and an identical but smaller size pair have been left in their place. I met these monks yesterday afternoon on my bike trip trying to find some free attractions. It was raining on and off, and my first encounter was with a plain clothes police officer who engaged mein conversation when I paused to watch a motorbike training course : guys weaving around 5 orange traffic cones on a patch of land next to a roundabout. The usual questions: country, family.married, if I like Sri Lanka, then more interestingly we talked about his job, which is to train and educate drivers. We compared notes on the horrendous driving habits of the bus drivers in Sri Lanka. The west side of the city has an open landscape of empty roads going to stupa sing rebuilt or already reconstructed, a cave temple in front of a lily pond, which I pay to enter, and it’s no great shakes. Like every monument in Sri Lanka there are bus loads of locals in their white clothes. At the lake further on, I see them disembarking to eat wadi and bathe in the waters en masse. The roads pass through paddies complete with egrets and storks, and past military compounds. Guarded roads blocked with yellow barriers, barbed wire empty machine gun posts. There isn’t all that much worth seeing around her, but the whole atmosphere is kind of bizarre. As I begin to head back I spy a cluster of 5 yellow and red cloaked monks shuffling along the road towards me under umbrellas. As we pass they call out hello and where are you going and I ask them the same back. We begin to chat and they persuade me to come with them to their nearby monastery, which takes a long time to get to, owing to their languid pace, our confused conversation and the avoidance of shortcuts across sodden paddy.

They are all 18, from Nepal and are studying here in Sri Lanka for 5 years, I think. They don’t have the dignified comportment you might expect from people devoted to a life of religion and austerity. They share savoury snacks with me, pouring them into my hands, and offer me bites of red lollies. They drop the wrappers, uncaring by the side of the road. The reason being that there is no rubbish bin. I’m sure also that they should be much stricter and not eat at this time. In one respect one is strict, as he declines my invitation for him to ride my bike. Lord Buddha forbids their driving of vehicles. I attempt to do a little interview with them. They struggle with English, though insist they want to improve. 2 of the boys want to talk the others too shy or unable. We exchange email addresses, and will become Facebook friends. Their monastery also has military guards.its quite a new building, 35 years old, with a massive white Buddha siting under a roof which lessens the impact. They invite me into the base of this statue to look at the illustrated through crude and childish wall paintings and painted models the story of the life of Buddha. I particularly remember the big eyed blue devils that looked like something from a children’s book, comic rather than scary. We are In a long white chamber which is sweatily hot, the statues and pictures are strangely behind metal grills like animals in a zoo.i teach the guys some words they should know, like temptation, resist, reincarnation. Then we walk around the stupa and they ask me what my biggest problem is… We talk about striving to improve oneself, about dissatisfaction. Then they take me into another room called heaven. More statues and paintings around a central white column. The piece de resistance comes when they ask me to stand in front of a black window in this column in a cubicle sectioned off by a gold curtain. One of the monks drops a coin into a box attached to the wall, and I see the craziest thing in the window. There are flashing fairy lights and wax work like statues of the Buddha reflected into infinity by mirrors on all sided in the chamber in the centre of the column. It is a cross between a gaudy Christmas light display and a scene from twin peaks. It’s so funny I can’t contain my laughter. The monks think it’s great too, but I’m sure they don’t share my reference points. It’s quite sad when we say goodbye. I don’t know how to say goodbye to a monk. Do we wai? I try this, but this seems to be a Thai habit. Shaking hands with a monk is not a done thing either, so we just wave. The dark skinned silent one gives me a handful of crunchy fruits. They look like marzipan pears.