Old Siam

It’s amazing what a weekend can do to erase your stress, lift your spirits, and recharge you. I’ve been teaching now for almost a month, and I am just getting in the swing of being up early and orchestrating a class of young kids to sing, dance, and most of all, getting them to fang khru.
Last week I was battling some sort of stomach virus. I stayed home from school Monday, but my stomach was killing me until about Wednesday. I realized that I was super dehydrated and started chugging liters of water which helped my stomach cramps immensely. I really didn’t feel 100% until Friday, so teaching through that all week was not the best. However, Friday night I felt great so Taylor and I went for a run in a nearby park after dark. This park is still under construction, it’s very modern and clean cut not only for Thai standards, but for anywhere. There’s a small lake, a running path, exercise stations, and a security guard, all in this park that sits under mammoth sky high overpasses that connect to the Bhumibol Bridges into Bangkok. I don’t think I will ever get over the sheer size of the bridge and the looping concrete skyways. A quick jog and some stretching felt great after a week of being doubled over fighting some unknown affliction. I just keep thinking that my immune system will be impenetrable in a year (fingers crossed).

ceiling of concrete

super-sized Bhumibol Bridge!
The next day we headed to the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya, about an hour and a half ride from BKK. This small city was once the home to Siam’s capital; a major trading port between the years of 1350 and 1767. At one point, the empire ruled over an area larger than England and France combined. The kings that ruled Ayutthaya ensured that no Western power ever ruled Siam.
The last battle fought in Ayutthaya was in 1767, when a Burmese army sacked the capital, destroying most of its treasures including cutting the heads off of many Buddha statues. The headless statues remain among the ruins today; eternally silent and still.

decapitated statues amongst ruins

The sun was was blazing hot, true to Thai form, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the palace and temple ruins that are located throughout the bustling city. In Thailand, they dress statues of a Buddha in bright gold robes that match the garb seen on Buddhist monks. The gold fabric glitters in the sun and billows in the warm breeze, bringing the images of Buddha alive.
Our group spent some time at each sight, with a trusty tuk tuk driver to drive us from spot to spot. This allowed us to see many of the ancient sights in a mere three hours.

 

bell shaped towers - Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

Khmer architecture

The massive temples in Ayutthaya range from Conehead-esque Khmer style architecture to bell shaped chedi. We visited many temples such as, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, which is home to the tallest standing structure in the city. The chedi is an iconic image in Ayutthaya’s skyline. The wat is surrounded by a perimeter of Buddha statues, all dressed in the signature gold robes.

 

Another highlight in Ayutthaya is the massive reclining buddha. Like the rest of the architecture here, this statue is made of stone. He lies at the base of a field of ruins, propped up on his side.

 

 

golden buddha

We also walked through Wat Mahathat, which was once the provincial center of the Ayutthaya kingdom. All that’s left today are brick ruins and many decapitated Buddhas. The most unique thing we saw the entire day was located on the grounds of this wat. A bodhi tree has merged with the head of a Buddha statue, attaching its roots around the dismembered head creating quite the spectacle. It’s believed that this was caused when the Burmese attacked the city in 1767. The temple was deserted for about a hundred years, leaving nature to quite literally take its reign over the sacked city. The tree head combo looks intentional, but the fact that it happened naturally is just too cool.

natural wonder!
Ayutthaya was an amazing day trip, and an amazing end to a somewhat stressful week. I would recommend anyone traveling through Thailand to go visit the sites and revel in Thailand’s rich history that remains even today. I loved seeing the buddha head grown into the tree, but the image that is burned into my mine are the finely dressed Buddhas that are everywhere, donning sunshine golden robes that ebb and flow in the wind.

the group and the massive chedi at Wat Phra Si Sanphet

triple chedi action

blessed with gold flakes

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

 

Slightly Homeless: Koh Samet

island cuisine

It’s been a few weeks since our long weekend trip to Koh Samet, and I learned a couple few important things from that trip:

1) Always book accommodation ahead of time for a holiday weekend. The rest of the country will be also traveling at the same time as you!

2) Cheap is always good, except when it comes with bed bugs and other creatures of the night.

3) The amount of sunscreen you used in the US is no match for the sun in Thailand. Re-apply, re-apply, re-apply!

4) Always pack your first aid kit, because the time you don’t will be when you hurt yourself!

All that being said, it was a great weekend regardless of a few little bumps here and there! That’s life, though. It all makes a funny story once it’s said and done. The girls and I left Phrapradaeng immediately after school and headed to Ekamai bus station in Bangkok. Large air-conditioned buses will bring you to the port in Ban Phe, Rayong for about 300 baht round trip ($10 USD). The trip takes about 3 hours, most of that time is getting out of Bangkok on a Friday evening. We checked into our humble little hostel in Ban Phe, which was appropriately named Ban Phe Hostel, and almost ran to dinner because we heard there was PIZZA. We ran into some OEG girls at the bar/restaurant, and all had a delicious Western meal that consisted of some burgers, pizza, and an omelette! The pizza was delicious, but I could have eaten twice the amount I did. We were to bed soon after to wake up early for the first ferry over to Koh Samet.

The next morning we loaded onto an interesting ferry which was packed with backpackers and Thai people alike. The ferry dragged on but for the cheap fare, I can’t really complain. I know now that if I am crunched for time, I would definitely spend some more baht on a quick and fun speed boat to get to a beautiful beach much quicker. As soon as we got to the island of Koh Samet, we were in love with its quaint quirkiness and natural beauty. The water was bright blue and clear, and the skies were overcast which was fine for our hostel hunt to begin. We began a leisure search for a place to crash and had no luck. That search soon turned a bit desperate, as we were hungry and tired and just wanted to put our stuff down to go have fun. Many many hours later, we found rooms at these tiny little bungalows that were in a peninsula like area of the island, so there was beach on both sides! We crawled to a hotel for food and some much needed drinks and a dip in the water. Koh Samet is dotted with hostels, big hotels, little bungalows, and restaurants all up and down the beaches. The beaches were flat but the land had a bit of an incline to it, so bungalows were stacked all over the hills amongst lush trees and plants. There is a long dirt road that travels from one end of the island to the other, and bright green pickup trucks will taxi you anywhere on the island for an agreed upon fee. It’s a fun and bumpy ride in the back of the trucks and if you don’t hold on tightly, you could literally fly off of the truck. It felt like we were touring through Jurassic Park, but unfortunately I didn’t spot any dinos.

After a strange meal of Spaghetti Americano (with chopped up hotdogs in it? They love those here.) and some relaxing time,  we went back to our bungalows for a better inspection of our rooms. A quick lookover revealed that one of the beds was infested with bed bugs, amongst many other lovely insects. The beds were on the floor, which would mean that many other of Earth’s creatures could easily get in and snuggle with you during the night. No, thanks! We quickly left that hell hole and we were back to being homeless. As luck would have it, we walked up to the desk at a really nice cabana hotel and they had ONE room left for the weekend. It was expensive (and I’m talking $40 per person per night here, that’s EXPENSIVE in Thailand) but it was probably one of the last rooms on the island to choose from, and it was getting dark. We’ll take it! The manager even brought in extra beds for our large group of six, and we had an infinity pool right next to our room! Not too shabby.

The rest of the weekend consisted of yummy meals (som tom made by a Thai man on the beach for 50 baht!), jumping off a rickety pier into the bright blue bathwater sea and floating around, drinking many Changs, hilarious karaoke at a reggae bar, and a late night dance party on the beach that spilled into the ocean under the full moon. I’d say that our nearly homeless, nearly bed bug infested, first weekend of traveling was a success. It felt amazing to be in the sun on that beach with new friends, not thinking about work come Monday morning. We all came back to the mainland pretty sunburnt but in good spirits, I slipped on a beach rock and acquired a nice deep scallop shaped cut on the knee, but that was the worst of the weekend. Koh Samet was easy to get to from BKK, and it’s a super chill beautiful place that you can either party hard at, or just relax and turn off your mind. I will definitely be back soon!  in my happy place

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