The People of Thailand
The Adventures of The Roving Route #17
A week full of temples- some new and some old- but what stood out the most were the people!
From Ayutthaya, we jumped back onto the slow but cheap Thai train system to go north a short way to the town of Lopburi. The town is not known for very much other than the 13th-century monkey temple. These old ruins are just 3 prangs (the temple version of church towers that often hold relics or important objects) and now act as a jungle gym for the hundreds of monkeys that live in the city! We are not sure why Lopburi seems to be the only city in Thailand to have more monkeys than New York has rats, but we are not complaining! Causing all sorts of ruckus and destroying numerous people's cars while we were there, they seem to have full run of the area! They even jumped on both of us a few times and stole an empty water bottle.
Though they seem to be a nuisance the locals don't seem to mind very much as they continue to feed them throughout the day. It was never more than about 45 minutes until another bag of food or kool-aid looking drinks were dumped onto the ground, starting quite the feeding frenzy!
What we found very interesting was that though there were upwards of 400 monkeys, if you walk a block from the temple, you will only be able to spot a few! The only explanation seems to be the food that draws them to that specific location. There are even temples that are similar-looking less than 5 minutes walking away with not a monkey in sight!
Sorry, we couldn't choose just one....so we chose seven.
After a nice evening with the monkeys, our next stop was the full day train then bus to the city of Sukhothai. Sukhothai is often considered the first Thai Kingdom (1238-1438) as the small state was able to unite the surrounding states to defend against invading armies from the neighboring countries. Sukhothai became the capital city and was positioned, like Ayutthaya in the south, on a man-made island surrounded by several sets of city walls. Unfortunately, the kingdom did not last long as the unification fell apart and areas were invaded. Though it was short-lived, its impact was great and has earned the UNESCO designation.
Once again we rented bikes and meandered our way through the 50-foot spires, more Buddhas than we could count and dozens of ponds. The interesting difference between these ruins and Ayutthaya is that there are a number of active temples and monasteries throughout the sites.
When wandering around it was fascinating to watch how the locals were using the area around the ruins. On the left, you can see two women (who are employed by the park) skimming greens off the top of a pond. We chatted with them for a few minutes in broken language and were surprised to find out that what they harvest from the surface is edible. They were collecting massive amounts of it from just this one pond and there were numerous through the site. On the right, this man was collecting roots, leaves, and flowers from the swampy area in between 2 of the sets of city walls! These make up a good portion of his family's diet! It was really cool to see them urban foraging through a site that is up to 800 years old and was once the powerhouse of Thailand!
We usually try to stay away from talking in the first person as these newsletters are a combined effort between the both of us, however this week I, Jacki, want to tell you about an amazing experience I had. While in Sukhothai, Derek and I decided to split up as he had already seen a site and would head to the tourist office to find more information about a temple we read online but apparently no one in the town was familiar with. I was supposed to just head into the ruins to take a few photos then meet up with him afterward. While touring the site I noticed a few buildings off to the side but was a little skeptical as to whether I was able to head in. After a few minutes of hesitation, I decided to, and to my astonishment, I was eventually greeted by a monk. While I continued to walk around he happily followed me and told me about some of the buddha statues, what things were made of, and what to do when in certain areas (walk through a glass box, pray and release any negative thoughts, etc.). We then walked into the temple where he told me that I would be able to pray, but as I am not a Buddhist I politely declined. He then asked me if I had ever meditated before. With my answer being no I decided to take the opportunity to ask if he would teach me. He said he would be happy to join, however, he had to prepare and proceeded to unravel part of his robe, properly fold, and place it back over his shoulder. He then sat down on a bench and asked me to sit in front of him. We walked through exercises to meditate and once we were done he asked if he could take me to another building to read some scripture from the Dictionary of Buddhism. While I knew Derek would be wondering what I was doing, I couldn't pass up the time I had alone and this experience that I would say is once in a lifetime. We spent another half hour sitting and reading together. He asked me to take photos of the scripture so that I could read it again later on. He presented me with a gift of string for a bracelet and a medallion of Buddha. We ended our time together asking each other what we could do for one another. He asked me to meditate as he believes it will lead me to greater happiness and I eventually asked him for a photo to commemorate this moment.
I couldn't believe the experience I had just had, there were other people walking around the monastery but the monk chose to ignore them all and focus all his time with me. When people come to countries such as Thailand, they pay all this money to have an experience that I just did. I left with tears in my eyes knowing that this was something I will continue to cherish forever.
Originally when we were on our way to Sukhothai by bus, we passed through a tunnel of hundreds of thousands of coloured lights. They were hanging from trees, light posts, and bridges. Some were in the shapes of flowers, tanks, helicopters, and tractors. It was clear something was going on! With no place to go after Sukhothai, we knew this would be our next stop!
Phitsanulok is fantastic! Upon arriving into the town, it was clear it was designed for the people of the city. Running down both sides of the river was a massive promenade that was always full of families and friends out for a run. There were sports areas, workout gyms, beautiful seating areas, and several markets. With little tourism in the city, it is clearly built for the enjoyment of the locals. It was amazing to see how busy the area was even during weekdays. During the evening, these lights mark a massive food and textile market/festival dedicated to a former king during the Ayutthaya period (thanks to a tidbit from a friendly local woman who stopped us to chat). It was no doubt the largest and busiest market that we have visited yet in Thailand. As everyone always says, the street food in Thailand is the best, and this festival did not disappoint! Noodles, curry, seafood, and sweets were all available in varying spice levels. It was no doubt the right choice for us to stop here for a few nights!
When looking around online for things to do in Phitsanulok, we couldn't help but notice pictures of people standing on massive lilypads on the city's Facebook page. Did you know that this is the easiest way to see what current events are happening in a city you are traveling to? With some searching, we figured out where it was and took our chances of getting to it. The area was gorgeous with several pools of lily pads up to 6 feet wide. Sitting around the outside were numerous props for photos but our attention was always focused on trying to stand on the lily pads. Unfortunately, with New Years having just passed, he was very busy and his biggest lily pads had to be cut so we were not able to stand on them. It was a big disappointment, but we couldn't get over how great of an idea this person has. Taking the swamp around his house, and simply adding a few photo props and a species of lily pad from halfway across the world, he has developed a rather well-established business. You can tell that if tourism continues to develop in the city (like it seems they are trying to do) he will have a gold mine!
We finally entered what is truly considered Northern Thailand starting with our first destination of Lampang. The north is characterized by rugged hills, rice plantations, opium and hill tribes, and the strangest temples so it should be interesting to see what adventures we can get ourselves into! It was a long travel day to get here, so we are off to bed.
Cheers from Lampang, The Roving Route