March 22, 2008

Easter in Thailand Day 3: A traveling companion

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This morning’s program consisted of revisiting some of the main sights from yesterday to try to get better shots in the morning light. I started with Wat Mahatat to capture of the faces of the Buddha statues. The light was prefect so I was very happy.

Wat Si Sawai was my second stop, and as the tuk-tuk pulled up to the entrance, I heard the deafening roar of countless cicadas singing in the trees above me. No one was at the temple at this point in time, and the cicadas gave me a sense of being alone in the woods. Found some new angles for great shots that I missed yesterday.

Next I passed by Wat Traphang Ngoen, which has two separate parts. The ubosot sits on an island in the middle of a large pond. There is no chedi or Buddha statue here, only the laterite remains of the columns. The ubosot is surrounded by a ring of large, old trees whose canopy cover the island completely. Here, too, the cicadas sing. I find myself listening to the sounds of the tropical rainforest, relaxed and taking it easy. I relish the moment. From here I can see the rest of the wat across the pond, with its pretty lotus bud chedi, a seated Buddha and broken columns of the wihan. It’s a pretty sight, especially the reflection in the water.

I go back to Wat Si Chum, definitely my favorite location in Sukhothai. More pictures of the long fingers, and in storms a Spanish family talking loudly. They ignore my presence and begin taking touristy pictures, jumping onto the cement pedestal and touching the Buddha despite large signs in front asking tourists not to climb up. So what’s their excuse? That they are Spaniards but sign was written in Thai, English and French – three languages that they don’t read? And why did their Thai guide not stop them? I am annoyed by stupid tourists.

My last stop for the morning is Wat Chang Lom, east of the old city. The Sri Lankan style chedi is surrounded by front halves of stucco elephants, which appears to be a popular theme. Unlike Wat Sorasak yesterday, the elephants are in pretty poor shape. Some have been totally destroyed, and the attendants have laid the few remaining chunks in their niches.

I head back to the hotel for lunch and a little rest. At the restaurant I meet Debbie from New York, who ends up being my traveling companion for the afternoon excursion to Kamphaeng Phet. Yesterday, the hotel had mentioned about a single traveler wanting to go to Kampheng Phet, and asked if I would mind sharing my car with her. We finally meet by chance, and decide that it would indeed be a good idea to go together.

We set off a little after 2pm for the one-and-a-half hour journey. Our first stop is Wat Chang Rop outside the historical park, yet another chedi carried by elephants. The temple is in pretty bad shape – only the base of the chedi remains; none of the elephants’ trunks are intact, and the stucco on some elephants are completely gone, leaving the laterite cores exposed. The ruins make for interesting subjects for my pictures.

Next we stop briefly at Wat Singh, with its large seated Buddha broken by the elements. He’s in relatively better shape, though. Despite losing all his stucco exterior and having his arms broken at the elbows, at least he’s still got his nose attached – escaping the fate of being another faceless statue.

Next door is Wat Phra Si Ariyabot, another worthy temple outside the park. The main feature here is a structure with Buddha on four sides, showing the four poses of Buddha – sitting, standing, walking and reclining. Only the standing Buddha is in relatively good shape, and the walking Buddha has half the body left while the other two are completely gone.

Another brief stop is made at Wat Phra Non, where the branches of a tree stretches towards the bell-shaped chedi. By this time I had come to really appreciate the temples in Kamphaeng Phet, since these are located in the Aranyik forest area and are surrounded by nature. They remind me a lot of the ruins of Ta Phrom and Ta Som in Siem Reap, where nature overpowered the man-made structures and reclaimed the landscape. I really prefer the setting of the temples here compared to the ones in Sukhothai.

Now we are finally into Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park, where we walked through the large number of ruins and saw the trio of Buddhas at Wat Phra Kaew - one reclining in front of two seated ones. I remarked to Debbie that the reclining Buddha is resting his head on a typical Thai pyramid pillow. The nearby chedi has numerous niches where Buddha statues used to be, in a style I haven't seen in this area so far. Next door is Wat Phra That, with a large chedi.

Finally, we cross the river to checkout Wat Phra Borommathat. The large chedi here houses some relics of Lord Buddha, and the brochure we got with the ticket to the historical park showed a beautiful white structure (and my Eyewitness Travel Guide described it as white). As we drove up, though, we were shocked to find that this had been painted gold, befitting its Burmese style. But it's not just regular gold, but halfway between yellow and gold. That is just ugly!

Before heading back to the hotel, Debbie got hungry and we found a street stall for some noodles. She finally had her pad thai, and I ordered a bowl of noodle soup with minced pork, cilantro and deep-fried pork rinds. It was the most delicious 20 Baht bowl of noodles I've ever had.

Debbie wanted to check out the night market in the old city, so we walked over to check it out. Since it's Saturday, they moved the market to the empty corner parking lot and it also grew in size. We bought some desserts and returned to the hotel. Debbie played with the house kitten while we had a drink. She was adorable!


Debagogo said...

Peter, my 20 baht pad thai noodles were the best too! glad I twisted your arm to convince you to stop for something to eat. and I thought the bodhi tree, its branches hovering over the noodle stall, to be the most beautiful tree ever. glad you pointed that out.

Nakia Mosley said...

Travelers say that traveling is to dispel other people's misconceptions about other countries. I agree with that completely, and when my husband and I took the tourist route I wanted to see Mae Ya Waterfall most of all, and this was made possible cuz, my husband rented a motorcycle for us in the Cat Motors service Now that I'm in Thailand next time, I'd like to start with Wat Mahatat as you did, thanks for the article) I was glad to read it.


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