Thailand 3: Ayutthaya (old Thai capitol)

Well, I stayed in Ayutthaya for 2 nights, as suspected.  I spent the day off my feet as much as possible, and now I’m ready to really hit the pavement (or dirt roads in this case).  I rented a bike and cruised around some of the Wats on the Ayutthaya island.  The Wats were built in about 600 A.D. and though they are seriously falling apart/over, the general framework (usually involving a huge phallus) and some of the original plaster remains.  The only other remains I’ve seen that compare are the ruins in Rome.  And these kick Rome’s ruins’ ass.  I wish, I WISH I could see what these cities looked like 1400 years ago!  The brick underlying structures are amazing in and of themselves, but when you catch a glimpse of old plaster details that originally covered the brick shapes, I imagine the nicest hotel in the world today couldn’t compare to the elegance, curves, and beautiful detail that these walls, Wats, and buildings seem to have had.  Too bad they weren’t working with marble or something that could withstand 1400 years of the elements and raids.  Though these were all overgrown thorny messes a couple decades ago, the vegetation has been cut back, and the ground has been landscaped and manicured, so it’s a very nice (not overly restored), clean look at what might have been.  There are virtually no people there, and in my opinion, there were very few tourists in Ayutthaya.  My guesthouse was one of the highest rated ones, and there only seemed to be about 10 or 15 people staying there.  Considering it was listed as the “party guesthouse” in LP (Lonely Planet), this was a very subdued Friday and Saturday.
Later in the day I went on a boat tour around the island and to the harder to reach Wats on the mainland.  There was literally only 1 Thai family at the first Wat.  Very nice to have these places all to yourself.  Along the river a few dozen kids and women were bathing and playing in the water.  Again, I was overcome by the innocence and friendliness of the Thais.  No matter how naked they were they would smile and shout and wave as our boat of 7 farang passed.  I’ve been boating plenty, and there’s sort of an unwritten rule that you wave to other boaters, but considering the boat traffic this river must see, I was surprised how no matter who we passed, they smiled and waved.  How do they get their bathing, lunches, and work done?  They must have to wave and shout ever 30 seconds!  Something I noticed in Bangkok and again here was that they often have HUGE black barges towed 3 at a time by tiny sinking boats no bigger than a Boston Whaler.  Maybe these barges are somehow light, but I doubt it.  But what I do know is that swimming kids will grab on behind the third barge and get a free ride up river.  You’d have to see it to understand how dangerous it looks, but these barges are really, REALLY big.  Like small oil tankers.  The spinning of of the water behind the last barge seems like it would create a massive undertow suction.  But the kids all think it’s a load of fun, and I’m sure it’s perfectly normal.  Later in the day I saw kids doing the same thing on a motorized ferry!  Who KNOWS where the propeller is?!  It could be inches from their swimming feet!  Fun!   …I guess…
The other Wats I saw were more of the same with the exception of a 4 story tall solid gold Buddha (can it be true???), but the main attraction for me was fish.  Yes, fish.  The fish at the last Wat were feeding on snacks thrown by tourists.  I’ve never seen so many fish.  There literally wasn’t enough water for them to swim in.  All the fish were trying to constantly get to the top, so the top layer of fish were getting pushed up fully out of the water.  At any given moment there would be 1 or 2 fish flapping around on a bed of other fish as if it had just been thrown on the floor.  A small child could have walked on this solid carpet of feeding fish.  Cool!
Well despite successfully resting my feet on the bike and boat ride, I was pooped, so I went for my regular afternoon cold shower.  This place had hot water, but the cold water (which really isn’t very cold) is so much more refreshing, and helps cool my slightly sunburned skin.  I laid down and opened my LP but before I knew it I was waking up and it was dark.  Damn!  I was tired, but I didn’t want to waste my time sleeping!  I wanted to see the Wats again at night when they were lit up, and I wanted to go check out the night market and sample some strange foods.  I dragged myself out of bed and hopped on the bike.  The streets around the Wats were pitch black and no cars were on them.  I was scared I’d run over one of the many large toads crossing the street, or that a dog (more on dogs later) would attack me.  Well I don’t think I ran over any toads, but on my way back from the Wats, 3 dogs did gang up on me.  Man, the street dogs in these poor countries can really be a menace.  Usually they are dirty, puss-eye, mangy things, but they are also usually sleeping, or injured, so they aren’t a threat.  But there is always some Alpha male that just wants to fuck with people.  He usually hangs out by the door or entrance  of a place I want to go.  And as soon as I get within 20 meters, he gets all toothy and scary.  I have never noticed a Thai’s reaction to these Alpha males.  All the Thai’s seem to have some sort of calming pheromone so dogs never mess with them.  Whereas I must smell like tonight’s dinner!  Well sure enough these three dogs are just chillin near some Thai’s in the street, but as soon as I bike by they are all over me.  There is NO way to outrun them on my single speed, 50 Lb bike.  Luckily all bikes in Thailand have the short “ladies” style frame (same in Japan).  So as each dog snapped at a leg, I would bring it over to the other side.  This was all in the dark, and aside from the few Thai’s the dogs had been hanging around, there were no other people or cars.  It sucked.  I hate Alpha male street dogs.
The night market was a sad sight.  I’ve been to many, but this one was kind of winding down I guess.  They didn’t have anything except old fish and fried chicken with shards of bone in it so I caved in and got some Pad Thai.  I’d like to try to keep the number of Pad Thai’s I eat down.  It’s just too much the safe way out of eating on the street.  But in my defense, no Thai’s were ordering the rancid-looking fish, or bony chicken, and there was a long line for the Muslim woman’s Pad Thai.  I also ordered juice from a dirty-looking juice cart.  All the fruits were a week old, and there was only 1 or even 1/2 of each of the 5 or six fruits on display.  I pointed at her tiny green oranges (which look like limes) and thought I’d get it fresh.  Instead she scooped 3 spoons of orange liquid, too much sugar, shaved ices, and added dirty water.  I don’t know why I even drank it.  Others were sticking with Coke from her.  Not that night markets are usually like this.  They usually specialize in fried and well-cooked local snacks and meals.  Fish and fruit served at night is just a bad idea.
Well I needed to figure out my train situation for the next day, so I biked over to the sketchy river ferry, and brought my bike on deck.  This time the same guy had his 5 year old daughter with him to collect the 10 cent fee.  I was the only one on the boat and he was a lot happier than the night before.  The boats here are powered by car engines.  Literally, they just rip a car engine out of a car and throw it on the back of a boat.  Although this wasn’t one, usually they are called Long Tail boats because they are already long skinny boats, but the car engines drive shaft is extended 5-8 meters behind the boat with a little propeller at the end.  So they look like boats with long tails.  Anyway, you get the gist.  So the father dropped my change into the engine while passing it to his 5-year-old girl.  Without hesitating she reaching INTO the running engine in the pitch black dark while he watched!  Christ!!  Life must be cheap!!
While crossing the river I was drawn to the sounds of some sort of festival on the opposite bank.  It was 9:45, so I thought I’d check it out first just in case it ended at 10:00.  It was a typical fair with balloon-dart games, and the Airwalk thing for kids.  And at the end of the street was a concert.  There was a Thai guy singing to very upbeat Thai-pop, and a row of beautiful girls (or “Lady-boys”?) on either side of him.  People had set up picnic blankets and were dancing and everything.  It didn’t take 30 seconds before people notice a farang had shown up.  Beer was immediately forced into my hand (despite my refusal) and I was pushed onto the dancefloor to dance with some family.  The daughter was especially good at English (and especially interested in taking me home) and they showed me how to do popular Thai dance, and I showed them how NOT to do popular Thai dance.  It was lots of fun, but before the second song ended a huge fight broke out.  The family seemed to be taking it a bit more seriously than me and dragged me away.  I thought it would be like your average street fight and would end, and the band played on.  But the second it happened, the girl dancers rushed off stage, the music stopped and flood lights lit up the field.  The police seemed to already be there, but the locals (including my family) broke it up and that was that.  Show over.  Fun for a minute though!
After buying my train ticket, I found that the father and daughter had closed the ferry early.  After a long ride to find a bridge I called it a night with my third cold shower for the day.  I felt good about a good days rest for my feet.
Today I had my spicy rice soup and fresh fruit breakfast before heading to the train station.  The train I’m on now is nicer than the commuter train I took, and complete with A/C, a reserved seat, and a free meal.  I think I’m surrounded by Thailand’s middle class.  Everyone has nice clean clothes and shoes, jewelry, new luggage, and obviously cell phones.  A few less smiles than I see out in the streets.  Not that I’m expecting it for just showing up and sitting down.  Today I saw more examples of Thai kindness.  A Thai teenager ran after a tourist with a roll of film he had dropped, and a waiter gave a table of smokers a bag of tobacco (though that could just as easily be to ensure an earlier death…).  Perhaps all the surrounding countries are similarly nice, but as a farang from America, I don’t understand why.  It seems they should be working just as hard as Chinese, Indians, and Nepalese to be selling, touting, pushing their wares, and when possible, looking after themselves before the farang.  Even in Japan I think people would be inclined to avoid contact with a gaigin before offering free tobacco, or running after someone who dropped a box of film.  But here they truly want to help, no strings attached.  And not to bash Japan in any way, which I truly love, but I forgot people like to smile.  I mean, really.  It feels good to smile and be smiled at for no reason.  On a human level.  This past year in Japan I could count on my fingers the number of people who have smiled back at me in public.  So I’m enjoying the people here most.  The food is a close second, but so far I think Japan has the best food in the world (a surprise, from what I’d heard about Thai food).  But Thai people may be more friendly even than Nepalese.  But not by much.  You can’t be TOO much friendlier than the Nepalese!
Well, that’s day 3.  Happy April Fools Day!  Anyone get pranked? 
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