28.01.2016 - 31.01.2016
You can continue reading my letters following the link below!
See you there
Now, as I mentioned previously, we have only one week before we begin our first placement at the school so we had only a few days to enjoy Bangkok. Knowing we’d be back for sure, due to most flights passing through the capital, we were happy to leave the city when the time came. With the promise to see some smaller towns we pack up our bags before beginning our ascent to the north. This particular voyage begins with a pretty interesting train journey. After purchasing our tickets we hop onto the carriage to grab a seat before they’re all gone. This particular carriage houses bench like seating, olive green walls and rotating fans stuck onto the ceiling. They seem a bit pointless when huge open windows accompany each set of benches. We sit down in front of an older Thai lady who smiles at us and removes her feet from the seat to let us sit down. I notice that she’s so tiny her feet don’t touch the floor and gesture that she can put her feet on our chair if she likes. She smiles and nods but doesn’t take us up on the offer. I sit down and peer through the large window. Along the tracks, in front, appears to be an open air hairdressers. Five or so customers sit on plastic coloured chairs that line the edge of the platform. They each bear an apron and a hairdresser who styles, trims and combs away. An elderly man sits on the floor beside them perfectly still, meditating. My attention returns to the inside of the train. Time for some top notch people watching.
Behind me is a small boy and his grandmother. He’s a pretty wild child, jumping around, head out the window screeching out of pure joy and excitement to be on the train. His grandmother gives him a firm smack hoping to shut him up but he smacks her back and they both fall about the chair laughing. I can tell she was once as wild as him. In front a sign dangles between the luggage racks. it says “Reserved for Monks” and beneath the benches are filled with bald, robbed monks chattering amongst themselves. To my left is a full-figured, barefooted woman. Her face is weather beaten and her mouth houses only one tooth. A constant stream of chat bellows from her mouth (the entire 3 hour journey!) and lands on a gentleman wearing sunglasses in front. I’m not sure if he’s a friend, husband, brother or stranger but he spends the whole time silently receiving each word. Every once in while he nods to show he’s listening. Once again i’m desperately wishing that if I could have only one super power in the world, it would be to understand every single language on the planet. What could she possibly be saying! I feel the engine roar and we begin to move. We bounce up and down on our hard seats while the train finds it’s rhythm, feels more like a tractor than a train. Pleased to have the window seat and I stick my head out the window enjoying the natural fan the wind is providing. The equivalent of the food trolly arrives. A slender woman, hands laden with pre-cut pineapple, cold juice and candy walks through the aisle calling in Thai, her repeated words almost sound like a song. She stops to sell to some customers and moves to one side as another food vendor squeezes past her. This becomes a constant stream and I’m reminded that in Thailand food is consumed little and very, very often. The small Thai lady in front puts down her magazine to buy a bag of snacks. She gets up and hands it to the small wild child who has been dangerously hanging out the open window of the moving train. I’m touched by this random act of kindness. This is a 3rd class carriage and I can tell that the people around me are not affluent yet sharing food and laughter with the strangers around seems common practice. A group of teenage boys in school uniform giggle and share phone screens behind me. They chew on candy sticks and for a second they don’t look too dissimilar to teenage boys in the west… except that these boys are hanging out between the carriages. Like standing out in the open, on the tiny metal platform that joins this carriage to the next. They’re just half a meter from the track below, wind in their hair seemingly unworried that one wrong move could cost them their phones (or their lives!).
Outside the window it appears that Bangkok never ends! The track doesn’t curve at all. We’re literally on a straight line heading north. According to D’s phone we’re no longer in the city but the buildings and constant construction are endless. An hour into the journey and we’re still passing grey slabs of concrete. Colossal metal frames soon to become immense buildings loom over the tiny workers below. They sport large brimmed hats, their faces wrapped up in material to prevent the dust penetrating their lungs, only their eyes are visible. Every now and then an exquisite gold temple will break through the monotonous building site until eventually the scenery transforms from grey to green. Fields of water with beautiful deep green shoots indicate we’re on farming territory. Rice paddies littered with life. Great, grey storks cool off and feed in the waters while small colourful birds dive into the leaves of the banana trees. I absorb the green, reminded that I’m most definitely not a city person. I have enjoyed the novelty of Bangkok but it is here amongst the natural, bright colours, lack of straight lines and right angles that my body and mind feels most at home. Suddenly a crackling noise coming from the other side of the track meets our ears and smoke erupts through the windows. The passengers, unphased, tuck their noses into their shirts in such a casual way that I immediately realise random field fires are a regular occurance.
Our next few days are spent exploring the beautiful historical town of Ayutthaya. The present town itself is nothing special. It’s home to many stray dogs however this places enchantment lies in its temples. Unlike the glistening temples of Bangkok most of these have fallen into ruin. They’re white washed walls have gone over time, only the deep red brick below remains. Some are in better condition than others and each has it’s own unique charm. It all has a very Tomb Raider feel. We spend days exploring them all, traveling between each by tuctuc. One of our favourite temples houses a whole host of buddha statues. Some towering meters in the air. What really makes this temple visually spectacular is that each buddha is dressed in a gold sash. Even the huge reclining buddha at the entrance is covered in a massive gold piece of material. We are lucky enough to see an entire family clamber onto the edge, each holding a piece of this golden material and together drag it the entire length of his body. We’re impressed by the sheer size, age and beauty of these buildings and we don’t tire of wandering around the city. Our agenda is pretty much eat, visit temple, eat, visit temple. At dusk we watch the sun illuminate the red brick structures and at night we feast at the night market. Ayutthaya is indeed, a perfectly peaceful escape from the buzz of Bangkok. With only a few days until we begin our first placement we decide to take a day trip to the neighbouring town of Lopburi.
Not too dissimilar to Ayutthaya, Lopburi also has temple ruins scattered around the town but not quite on the same scale as its neighbour. What draws tourists to this quiet town is, however, something far less peaceful. Monkeys. Hundreds and hundreds of them! We step off the train and I’m eager to catch my first glimpse. I’ve read that they’re everywhere so I’m a bit disappointed that I can’t seem to see any on the platform. I’ve come prepared with no glasses (sun or viewing), no bag. Nothing that they can steal or mistake for food. I deliberate whether or not my camera is a good idea and decide on taking it (sorry Dad!). I know how gutted I’ll be if i don’t get a picture of a monkey! We wander down the street a little and it doesn’t take long before i catch a glimpse of my first one. Initially I mistake it for a dog but then I spot another, and another and another. Soon they’re everywhere! We seen to have stumbled upon an area that is a designated feeding zone. They’ve purposefully made these so that the monkeys don’t go hungry thus are less likely to steal from the humans. This feeding zone is located beside small outdoor shops and the poor vendors are at constant war with the thieving animals. They are armed only with long sticks that they proceed to bang on the counter when it all gets too much. The noise causes the cunning creatures to disperse but only for a short while. I spot a tiny baby monkey drinking from a yakult, and capture my first photo.
Across the road is a large red brick temple that is absolutly teeming with monkeys. This is clearly their home and i’m reminded of the temple in the jungle book! There is a lot of screeching, jumping, grooming, sleeping, humping and general monkey antics going on. Tourists buy food to feed them and boy do they come quick, snatching it right out their hands. I’ve read about this place so I know the monkeys are not shy to jump on you so I’m a bit weary taking pictures incase one creeps up behind me. D watches my back and I see a few tourists whooping with laughter as the animals jump onto them. Some sit contently grooming the humans while others hang off their limbs. You can tell when they’re coming for you as they lock they’re yellow eyes on yours and start walking slowly towards your feet. I decide to be brave and pick up a piece of half eaten corn off the floor, placing it on my head. I crouch down and wait. It doesn’t take long to attract someones attention and within seconds two monkeys fight to sit on my shoulder. The winning one grabs the corn and chills there. I can feel his sodden fur pressed on my face and as much as i’m enjoying the animal interaction, I’m worried it’s wet with pee and that it may bite me. Others start coming towards me and I panic. I’ve had enough. But how on earth do I get the damned thing off now?! I take a step with the monkey chilling on my shoulder. It seems pretty content, i don’t think it’s going anywhere without a nudge. I stride towards the man working in the temple. He too is armed with a long stick and as soon as my companion sees where I’m going he jumps off making a mad dash to the safety of his temple. I’m damp, smelly and covered in brown mud but it was totally worth it! I spend a good few hours taking pictures of the critters. I love the setting. A group of them are lounging on a buddha statue and in the setting sun it’s just beautiful.
Before heading back on the train we stroll around the town a little. There are monkeys everywhere here too. Crossing the road, jumping in and out the back of pick up trucks. I look up at the facade of the buildings and see it’s crawling with them. They’re jumping around on the electric cables, there own personal play park. Down one ally we spot a scooter with about 7 monkeys draped over it. They begin to fight over the helmet, pulling it apart. Beside this another group are jumping around on a car, bending the wing mirrors. A man appears, yelling and they quickly disperse. The humans yell only once things escalate, most of the time they manage to live in harmony. I see an elderly woman compassionately feeding a few with fruit from a bag and I get the impression that the monkeys are not only tolerated but also respected. It would seem likely that it’s thanks to these little crazy critters that the sleepy town of Lopburi has made it onto the tourist map.