Friday, November 30, 2012

Monkey butlers for all!

Except they won't bring you things or do your bidding, they will run rampant around your city and nick things from you... Or at least that's the case in Lopburi. Being one of the oldest ancient towns in Central Thailand with some reasonably intact ruins, there are many reasons to visit Lopburi. But we came here for the same reason most do: to see the hundreds of Macaques that rule this city. And since it is considered seriously bad karma to harm a monkey, this sense of invincibility has gone straight to their monkey brains, so you'd best watch your back. Watch out especially for the cute, little ones; they'll sneak up on you while you're busy snapping photos of the photogenic ruins, untie your shoes, and while you're bending down to tie them, jump on your back, and then more will come, and it can quickly get out of control.

There's one specific site, Phra Prang Sam Yot, where the majority of the macacques concentrate, so that's where we spent most of our time. These monkeys are very entertaining! We happened to be there at the same time as a tour group, so we shuffled around with them, careful not to stray to far from the group, because that's when they'll get you. Power in numbers works both ways.

Then it was feeding time, nearby, just across the tracks, and all the monkeys lopped over, ignoring traffic, to get their serving of bananas and cartons of milk. And when a train rolled by, they almost didn't get out of the way!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ancient Ayutthaya

Our first stop after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok was the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. It's only about 80 km north of the city, but on the budget commuter train, it takes a bit of time. But the windows are down, the city, suburbs, and countryside are rolling by, and vendors make their rounds selling snacks and drinks. All the food comes in bags: eggs in a bag, meat in a bag, rice in a bag, other mystery things, all in bags.

Our guesthouse had bicycles for rent, and that was definitely the best way to explore the various ruin sites. There is no buffer between the modern city and the ancient capital. Sagging and crumbling wat walls, chedis, stupas and pillars rest alongside vendor stalls and diesel-choked streets. Cycling between the sites was a bit of an adventure, but it was nice to be on our own--albeit rickety--wheels.

Having seen the Grand Palace in Bangkok, you could really visualize the former splendor of these massive complexes. Most structures were made of brick, and then covered in plaster, and would probably have had colourful mosaic tiles on top of that. Next stop, Lopburi for some monkey business!

Yes, that is a hole in the wall beside me. What do you expect for 15 baht (about 50 cents)?

Bought these peanuts on the train thinking they were roasted peanuts. They were not. They were wet, and on the inside, they were... chewy. The flavour actually wasn't bad, but the damp texture didn't do it for me. Mark liked them though, to no ill effect.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is a picturesque annual festival to give thanks to the water Goddess by floating beautifully handmade krathongs. It is believed that the krathongs carry away all the sins and misfortune of the previous year, giving the new year ahead a fresh start. It takes place on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, and luckily for us, that happened to be November 28, when we were in Bangkok.

Throughout the day we saw people crafting and selling beautiful krathongs, some made of elaborately folded banana leaves, and decorated with flowers, candles, and incense; others made of intricately sculpted and painted bread; and others still made from a coconut shell filled with candles. When evening fell, we wandered over to a riverside park near our guesthouse, carefully selected our krathong, and waited for our turn to have our kratong lowered into the river. In hindsight, I'm glad we chose a flower krathong, because the ones made of bread swell up rather quickly and fall apart...

On the walk home we saw people setting their krathongs adrift on side canals, and as we stopped to watch, we could see lanterns floating into the sky, as Loy Krathong also coincides with Yi Peng, a festival of merit-making where paper lanterns are lit and set off into the sky. I'm so glad we were there to see and experience this beautiful festival!

One of the many krathong competitions we saw that day.

Long poles equipped with a slotted platform carried the krathongs down to the water.

Wat Arun

On the banks of the mighty Chao Phraya river across from Wat Pho is Wat Arun, a corn-cobbed shaped central spire, surrounded by four chedi. As with many of the temples at the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, Wat Arun is entirely covered with decorative ceramic plates and tiles in floral patterns. From a distance, the wat appears an overall grey-brown colour; and it's only up close that you see the millions of colourful petals that create the surface. The ceramic tile had been ballast, dumped by Chinese ships. I think it's the most incredible example of upcycling I've ever seen!

There are staircases that allow you to see the surface details close-up, and also get a nice view of the river and the Grand Palace. The first set of stairs are wide and easy, but they get progressively narrower and steeper (and terrifying); the third set feels more like a ladder, but it's definitely worth any fear!

We spied these giant lizards in a canal just off the main river. Central Bangkok.