Today was a busy busy day and a total mixed bag. After enjoying some sandwiches made with stuffs from the local super market we packed up, checked out and left our bags with the concierge before heading into town. This time with long pants. The Grand Palace isn’t as amazing as I expected, it’s a little packed with tourists and so dense with what seems like recent fabrications. Heck there was lots of ongoing work. I had a look at the emerald (made out of jade) which was kind of cool. Danny and Elmar were just humoring me at this point which I appreciated. It’s just a shame we have such different interests, I think we would have more fun collectively if we were on the same page. It was also brutally hot again. That won’t change during this trip. We then made a stop at the Reclining Buddha, they didn’t join me this time electing to sit outside and deal with the touts. I was really quite impressed, it was a massive statue that dwarfed anything I’ve seen yet. Pictures included below.
Danny and Elmar had a little fun while I was gone asking questions of the touts whenever they asked one of them. “Where are you going?” would get a similar question in response. Eventually the touts would just leave but some of the conversations sounded pretty funny.
The Thai people seem devoutly religious but in a fairly non intrusive way. They don’t bother you with it and even invite you into their temples just to look around. You’re free to participate or not. I appreciate that. I’m especially interested in Buddhism. I can see a kernel of truth in there with a real Siddhartha I believe, and he did go through great lengths to try to find inner peace with himself and I have a lot of respect for that. I also respect that he seems to have tried to help others with their own internal struggles. The end goal is something important to everyone, theist or not. But my impression is that what I see of Buddhism now is different from what he seemed to be about. The worship of him and his image, the exaggerated tales of his acts. And I sure don’t think he ever shot fire and water out of the palms of his hands like Captain Planet. It makes me a little sad actually, like something was lost in the creation of all this doctrine and ritual. Like people are more focused on praying to his image and not the pursuit of peace through internal examination.
We then headed back to our hotel to collect our things and head to Ayutthaya by train. It’s really hard to catch a taxi from the tourist areas to the Anantara Sathorn hotel we were staying at. A lot of them don’t want to leave the tourist area or won’t do it on the meter. I’m sure the traffic in the area is also a strong deterrent because the meter only goes by miles. This time our taxi got lost and had to ask for directions. At the concierge desk we got the train table and notes on which ones had first class cars with AC and caught a taxi to the train station. As usual we overpaid for the taxi when he got us there without any fuss. He seemed really thankful for what to us is less than a dollar. When you can get a taxi on the meter in Bangkok it’s so very cheap, and with it so hot it doesn’t make sense to not use them.
We tried to buy the first class tickets, but either they were out of them and couldn’t communicate this (which would surprise me in the low season and the economy), or the ticket salesman at the train station thought it would be funny. Either way we ended up with third class tickets that apparently were also standing room only. The train car was baking hot with no AC and fans that hardly moved any air. It was packed too. We didn’t understand that our tickets were standing room only until half way through the already miserable ride when we were told we had to get out of our seats. Well Danny and Elmar were, either the person that had my seat didn’t want to try to explain it or was intimidated, but I wasn’t asked to move.
The train ride though difficult to stand even for the Thai’s, was an interesting experience in itself. I find if I can log it away as one of those it makes it much more acceptable for me. The entire train ride people would push up and down the crowded cars selling food and drinks, and sometimes trinkets. At one point a pretty young Thai woman sat down next to me with her mother. Then suddenly my little area of the train got quite a lot of focus. We came to the conclusion that the mother decided I would be good for her daughter and was trying to get her to flirt with me or something. She would ask me questions like if I had a baby or not. And suddenly people were trying to convince me to buy her flowers or these little crickets made of flax. We seemed to be the only two people reluctant about the whole thing. At one point Elmar asked me jokingly if I had any pointers. I think I’m a novelty or something. Eventually our train reached our station and we got off.
In general we were pretty miserable at this point and just wanted a place to shower and maybe get some laundry done. We had found in the Lonely Planet guide book a place that sounded promising called the Baan Lotus Inn on the scenic side of town. When we walked over to a map to get our bearings and head out we were accosted by the most aggressive tout yet. A woman trying to get us to go to her guest house telling us that they’ve spent a lot of money and they’re trying to make a name for themselves. That they had a car, and could take us there. That the price was cheap. That the rooms were nice and we should feel free to look elsewhere to compare. We said we wanted to look around first and we would take her map and swing by. She said ok and left. We found a quiet area where I could get out the address and map. She then came around again this time showing us keys like we doubted she had access to a car. We told her politely we would consider her guest house but we were going to walk into town and look around first. Again eventually she let us be. Now we’re a bit skeptical, her hard sell is just too hard. Is this how it’s going to be the entire stay? Is she going to be trying to sell us tours all day? We were pretty unsold. We set out and crossed the river by ferry (which over charged us by 1 baht, which is annoying but not worth the fight). Hiking into town was hot an miserable. The town at this point could hardly be described as anything but dirty; images of TJ flashing through my mind. A bit further down the road a guy on a moped spots us while we were reading a map and comes by the help or perhaps “help” we’re never sure which. Immediately the very same woman accosting us at the train station pulls up on her bike apparently having followed us. She tells us her guest house is right down this street and we should come look. At this point I’d had enough. Enough of the heat. Enough of the shitty train. Enough of the fucking touts always trying to get in my pockets. This was so far the low point of our trip. I couldn’t help myself. I blew up at her. I told her she could have the most amazing guest house in the whole world, but the way shes trying to get me to go there just makes me not want to go. I don’t want the hard sell. It’s a total turn off. She backed up a bit as I said this in a raised voice; I tower over her by probably a full foot. She said “ok you don’t like me.” and started to get on her bike. I told her while I closed the distance to her that she could be the nicest person in the world but right now I don’t see that, all I see is a pest. She starts looking scared and says “ok you no come to my guest house?” and I say no, and turned around and start walking away. In one ear and out the other. Part of me feels bad, shes trying to make a living, and perhaps she did spend a lot of money fixing up this guest house and no one is going because of the season and it has no reputation, but shes going about it in the wrong way. She just doesn’t get that even though she might browbeat some people into coming by, in the end she’ll get a lot less business than having good reviews in guide books or sites like Trip Adviser.
I was about ready to just go back to Bangkok and close myself up in a nice hotel for the rest of the week. Maybe in Phuket, maybe in Chiang Mai, and I know that Danny and Elmar felt even more like that. At this point we were as low as could be I think, but luckily things started turning around, and quickly. We were apparently a stone’s throw away from our destination. A cute little guest house with a lotus covered lagoon and a patio sitting out over it. The place was run by a cute little old woman who is incredibly helpful. We got our Air Con rooms and got to relaxing. We handed in and paid to have our laundry done. Had a beer and relaxed in a hammock. The place feels so far removed from not just Bangkok, but even the city we’re in the old capital of Ayutthaya. There are geckos, turtles and fish. Birds and bugs. I feel like I’m half out in the Thai wilderness but not.
We then set out for dinner. The guesthouse owner recommended the night market which was spot on. There are some 20 stands setup around this parking lot all selling different foods. We tried some Islamic Thai food called Mataba which I’ve never seen in the states. It’s like a thin crusted pastry with meat, chillies and onions inside fried on the outside. It’s one of my favorite foods this trip for sure. The onions were caramelized slightly and it just tasted perfect. I grabbed some Chicken Sate sticks along with a desert I’d never seen before. I also found a stand with Rambutans and bought a Kilo. Elmar bought some bananas, and Danny a guava. We headed back to the hotel and ate our spoils of victory. The hotel because of it’s write up in Lonely Planet receives lots of western attention, with plenty of guests from all around Europe and America. We immediately made new friends with Jeff and Shelly a couple in their mid 30s on their 4th trip to Thailand from Santa Cruz. We also met Eris and Barbara a couple of girls traveling from Holland who we joined for drinks. For the second time in the day I was harassed into buying flowers for a girl. Eris was quite cute, and they both were great fun to talk with. The smoking though not so awesome. They apparently didn’t go to bed until 7 the next day, but we were kicked out of the bar at midnight. What’s with that?