Last Thursday I got to tag along on the M.2 (8th Grade) excursion to Ayutthaya. It's about an hour or north of Bangkok, and was the country's capitol city before Bangkok. The city was incredible. Even though it's not the capitol anymore, it is still a working city, so all through the city there are old ruins and temples in between the more modern shops and buildings. In addition to a small museum where we learned a little bit about the city's history, we ended up visiting 5 different Wats. I wasn't able to pick up as much of historical info as I would have liked (due to the tour guides speaking in Thai), but luckily some of the Thai teachers who were chaperoning as well were nice enough to translate some bits and pieces for me.
I ended up enjoying Ayutthaya so much that I actually ended up going back this past weekend. Jen, Kaila, and Kristen (who weren't able to be part of the field trip on Thursday) and our friend Clay, who were all planning on going for the weekend, talked me into going back as well. I didn't have my camera on me for Ayutthaya pt. 2, so I don't have any pictures, but we saw a couple new places and had an awesome time. Thanks to an offline travel app that Clay had downloaded, we found an amazing little hotel next to the river to stay for the night. Although our original plan was to go exploring right away, the hotel was so nice and relaxing that we ended up hanging out at the there for the afternoon and evening. I mean there were hammocks, lounging chairs, a bench swing, and some great music playing on the computer...so it was tough to justify going right back out again.
We met a few other people who were staying there (and all seemed very nice), but Ya, the hotel's owner, was by far one of the nicest people I've met in my travels. He sat and had a beer with us, talked to us about the area, and even brought us some fish food to feed the fish in the river which was cool. Later that night him and his (I assume) wife made a delicious (and free!) dinner for everybody. There was this stir-fried veggie dish that I think was primarily morning glory with a few other greens and plenty of garlic which may have been one of the tastiest things I've had in Thailand so far. After dinner Ya busted out his guitar and had a little sing-a-long. I mostly played along on a little drum box that he had.
The next day we rented some bikes from the hotel. Ya took us down the street a little ways and showed us around a floating market on the river where we had some lunch. After that he gave us some directions on how to find the closest temples and we went off to explore Ayutthaya. The last place we'd visited on Thursday (which was also my favorite) ended up being the closest to the hotel so I was pretty excited to get to check that out again, and for everyone else to be able to see it. Wat Chaiwatthanaram (which is what I think the actual name is) is a Cambodian style temple that was apparently constructed after having defeated the Khmer in a war. Unlike a lot of the other temples, this one is a bit more spread out...with a lot of grass and fields surrounding the main structure which I really liked.
Next, we rode across town awhile trying to find Wat Mahathat. We didn't know the name at the time, but knew there was a place where tree roots had grown around the head of Buddha sculpture. Overall the site was a little more ruinous, but it was still an amazing place to tour around. More so than in some of the other temples, there were a few preserved pieces of wall that had the intricately carved designs which likely covered the walls back in the day...so that was cool to see. Plus the whole tree roots growing around the sculpture thing was pretty sweet too.
Basically, Ayutthaya was the tops. I'm super glad I had the chance to go back not only to get to experience the city a little more hands-on than I was able to on the school field trip, but to also see a few things that we'd skipped over on Thursday as well. I just realized that I've now been procrastinating for at least 40 minutes...and these mid-term tests aren't gonna write themselves so I should probably go do my job now.
On the 6th we went to Bang Saen, one of the nearby beaches, to celebrate Loi Krathong. The name 'Loi Krathong' basicially translates to 'to float a basket'. I didn't get a picture of any of our Krathongs (or even have one of my own), but you can check out a picture of one HERE. Traditionally, they're released in rivers in order to pay respect to the water spirits but now apparently any body of water is sufficient (hence the ocean). It was really windy so we weren't able to get any of the candles lit, but, after a lot of effort, we were able to get some of the incense sticks lit so that probably counts for something.
In addition to Loi Krathong, there's also a full-moon festival going on which is what the floating lanterns are for. The main festival takes place up north in Chiang Mai where people simultaneously light off thousands of the lanterns all at once. I've only seen pictures, but it looks freaking amazing. Unfortunately, due to a combination of distance and unavailability of tickets, we weren't able to make it up to Chiang Mai...but we bought some lanterns on the beach and it still ended up being pretty awesome. Standing on the beach, watching the lantern floating up and away until I couldn't see it anymore was really cool. Plus since there were only a handful in the sky at any time, tracking our lanterns until they disappeared wasn't too difficult. So there's that.
So yeah, little candle boats, floating lanterns, random fireworks, water spirits...that's pretty much Loi Krathong in a nutshell.
Alrighty...it's been a minute since my last update, and it's been an interesting couple of weeks. Unfortunately, my phone decided to take a quick dip...and, as it turns out, water is bad for phones so I've been without both my camera and easily portable Wi-Fi since around the 7th or so. Good news though is that I was able to find a pretty decent camera at the mall this past Friday, so I'll still be able to take pictures of awesome things I see.
I went back to Ko Samet last weekend. A bunch of the OEG teachers in the area (and a few from a bit farther away) made the trip. It was really cool seeing a bunch of the friends I'd made at orientation and getting to hear about their first few weeks of teaching. Plus, as I've said before, Ko Samet is a ton of fun and it was nice just hanging out enjoying the beach for the weekend. Usually the water there is pretty calm, but on Sunday there were some legitimate waves so I got to spend the day bodysurfing and it was awesome.
Ok! So...I know the Grand Palace was super inspiring and junk, but holy crap I got to hang out with monkeys this weekend! I'm pretty sure our songthaew (a taxi pick up truck thing with benches in the truck bed) hadn't even stopped before I was jumping out to buy some bananas. It was only 10 baht (like 33 cents) for a small bunch of bananas and it was totally worth it. A few of the monkeys were super stuck up and didn't accept my offering, but most of them seemed really excited about the deal. I also may have coerced one of the monkeys into walking next to me for a little ways before giving him (or her maybe?) the last banana.
Here are a handful of pictures from our visit to the Grand Palace. I would honestly love to explain every single one of the pictures, but there were so many different things to see, and our tour guide breezed through everything pretty quickly. As I think I mentioned in my last post, Thailand is really big on taking in and adapting artistic and architectural styles from other countries. So we’d be looking at one temple based on Sri Lankan design, then immediately be looking at a Cambodian influenced temple.
If I remember correctly, the wall paintings tell an adapted story, taken from Hinduism, of a deity/prince battling a demon who had kidnapped his girlfriend. There were a couple hundred sections of the story illustrated on the walls and I probably could have happily spent the entire day just looking at and studying the details on the walls. Sadly, we only spent a couple minutes looking at a few of the sections so I wasn’t able to get too many pics or even learn too much about the source material. It’ll definitely be worth a trip back at some point in the next year.
So yeah, the Grand Palace was super awesome. I pretty much spent the entire morning geekin’ out super hard art history style. The fact that there was so much to see, and the massive amount of stylistic inspiration from other cultures, was almost too overwhelming.
In other news, I’m still in the process of obtaining pics from the elephant camp we went to. It was super rainy when we arrived, and we also did a river rafting thing, so I figured that leaving my camera on the bus was probably the best plan. There’s definitely some pics floating around out there somewhere though, and, as soon as I get my hands on a few, I’ll throw em up on here.