March 25, 2008

Easter in Thailand Day 6: Homeward Bound

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Another early start to the day, going around to the temples I marked for exploration in the morning instead of yesterday afternoon.

I start at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon south-east of the island, whose main attraction is an outdoor reclining Buddha. As I take my camera out of the bag for pictures, I hit upon a snag. Apparently the air con in my hotel room was very cold, and now my camera and lenses are fogging up in the same way that people's eyeglasses fog up going from a cold to a hot environment. This was very frustrating, as I could do nothing but watch mangoes fall from the tree above while waiting for my equipment to defrost. Eventually it took more than 20 minutes, and I give up after a few quick snaps of the Buddha and the large chedi structures. On my way out I encounter a number of cats running around the temple, and spend a bit of time following them around.

Next stop is Wat Mahathat, another highlight in Ayutthaya. Besides the usual collection of chedis, prangs and Buddhas, the piece de resistance here is the dislocated head of a Buddha statue tangled up in the roots of an old tree. The clever people at the temple roped off this area, set up a make-shift altar, and ask tourists to pray, photograph and make donations.

From here I move to Wat Lokaya Sutha with its large reclining Buddha. Here my strategy failed. The Buddha here faces west! Choosing to visit in the morning has backfired, and I am unable to take any decent pictures.

Frustrated, I stop at Wat Worachetha Ram next door. Here we have a Buddha statue housed in a structure with the walls intact but no roof. Lots of old, French tourists climb up and take silly pictures with the statue. I wait until they leave to take my pictures.

Moving on to Phu Khao Thong northeast of the island, this "Golden Mount" chedi is large and tall, and is built in the Burmese style. It is painted white and now has black marks due to age. This is what I expected Wat Phra Borommathat in Kamphaeng Phet to look like before it was painted gold. The legend behind this temple involves cockfights, and here on the grounds one can find numerous cocks running around. In fact, there are so many of them that kept crowing nonstop, it was very, very annoying. I can't imagine staying here for any length of time without being driven crazy by the cocks.

Wat Na Phra Meru is kind of on the way back to the island, and we stop to take a look. This is supposed to be the original temple which wasn't sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century. However, this is another modern temple so I left quickly.

Before going back to the hotel, I decide to go to Thanon Dusit east of the train station, and check out the few temples along the country road. First we come to Wat Mahaeyong, which has a meditation retreat next door staffed by nuns.

Then we cross the street to Wat Kutidao. This is the more interesting of the two, with a few roofless structures still standing. The main structure still has most of its tall supporting columns intact, and I also find the toppled tips of chedis lying around.

Done with all the sights that I wanted to see, I head back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes. After checkout I head to the train station, and bid Ayutthaya farewell as I head back to Bangkok.

I have about 4 hours before my flight back to Hong Kong, so I decide to head to Chote Chitr for a late lunch. Unable to figure out the system (is there even one?) of taxi rank at Hualamphong station, I go out to the street to grab a cab.

Why are most of Bangkok's taxi drivers assholes? Almost every one I met during this trip fit the description, and this one was no exception. First he pretends not to understand me when I ask him to go to Thanon Tanao, and I had to show him my map. Then he tried to head for the wrong turn at a roundabout, and only circled around after I complained loudly. Then this jerk has the gall to talk on his mobile phone while driving, and end up missing the turn off to Thanon Tanao. When I complained about it, he actually yelled back to me with impatience, as if he hadn't done anything wrong.

We finally reach my destination, and I exit the taxi while handing him a 100 Baht note for the 59 Baht fare. He pulls out a single, 100 Baht note from his pocket and proclaimed that he had no spare change. What the hell is a cab driver doing out on the road with absolutely no money and no change? I know he is just trying to get me to give him a 40 Baht tip, but after his poor attitude, I have no intention of giving him any tip. I insist that he go and get change from one of the many street vendors around us.

He pretends to run around but actually never asks anyone, and returns to tell me that no one will give him any change. He throws the ball back to me and tell me to go get change. This is ridiculous, as it would be infinitely easier for a local Thai to get change than a foreigner. After much mutual yelling and having informed him that I will not be paying the fare if he cannot produce change, he finally runs to a vendor and find some change. The ordeal is over. I've showed this asshole that not all foreign tourists are willing to roll over and get ripped off.

I reach Chote Chitr at 3:30pm in the afternoon. The restaurant is open but there are no customers at this hour. Tim the owner and chef takes my order. She tells me the specialties of the restaurant (even though I have read about these on the net), and I order the prawn mee krob and the eggplant salad, passing up the banana flower salad.

The mee krob is every bit as nice as one can expect, achieving a nice balance between sweet and sour notes for the deep-fried vermicelli. It was always a dish I ignored on Thai menus, but this creation changed my mind about this dish.

The eggplant salad also hit the spot, as the smoky, chargrilled vegetable soaks up the fish sauce and lime juice. The dried shrimps complete the tastes. I devour these two dishes, and there is almost no room left for dessert. I thanked Tim for a delicious meal and promised to return for the banana flower salad. Failing to find the sweet shop nearby that supposedly sells mango and glutinous rice, I hop into a taxi and head for Suvarnabhumi Airport.

I change my return flight to an earlier flight on Emirates, and once again have another dose of the Emirates service. Can this airline get its act together? The crew is really poorly trained, and nothing more than a hodgepodge of individuals recruited from all over and thrown together. There is absolutely no team work here, and the meal service continues to baffle me. The Chinese-looking flight attendant is rude, and she rolls the cart down the aisle shouting "Rice or noodle?" instead of asking passengers whether they wanted chicken curry (with rice) or fried fish (with noodles). Must be leftover from her days on the domestic Chinese airlines. I roll my eyes, and tell myself again that this would be the last flight I take on Emirates.

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