Therese is my childhood friend from Iloilo City. Frankly, we only became close towards the latter half of high school. We both loved and consumed a lot of of the same popular culture — and we agreed we were weird enough for each other’s taste. I have not hung out with her for a greater part of 8 years since she moved to the States (I am not going to pretend we talk on a regular basis either), but there remains a genuine joy to see her happy from the sidelines. We never got to travel together to all these places we dreamed we would, but the years to come are far from few. I’m sure we’ll work something out soon enough.
Dear Ter (Freak),
Blame it on my probinsyana (“just a small town girl …”) roots, but I still think there is so much more to learn of a place by visiting the countryside. It’s right up there with commuting. I’m all about stripping things of their frou frou just for contrast (and to test how much I truly like it). It’s the equivalent of finally seeing your girlfriend without make-up (good luck!).
I went to see Thailand without make-up. But instead it came in costume, and I love costumes.
In the two times I’ve visited Thailand (I pray it to be the first few of many), I’ve hit two countryside albeit popular tourist destinations, both a little more cultural than the frenetic energy that lives within the metropolitan world of Bangkok.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Ratchaburi province is located west of Bangkok. A little farther south of the province is a town called Damnoen Saduak where you will find the most famous floating market in the country, as made popular by a Bond film (Roger Moore). It is a two-three hour ride from the city, which we were able to arrange through our hostel’s tour group partners. Expect to rise at the crack of dawn.
I know, I know: tourist trap. But I enjoyed Damnoen Saduak precisely because it was so busy, colorful, and noisy. It was a spectacle!
It was a little over a half-day affair. My friend and I had a long night out the night before, but we were so bent on seeing as much as we could of Thailand that we decided to brave it anyway — hangover or otherwise.
My favorite part was eating beside the canals (khlong). Old ladies with buckets and casseroles of ingredients row their way to the river bank where tiny plastic stools are set up for tourists. They serve hot bowls of noodle soup, mouth-watering piles of mango sticky rice, and a hodge-podge of Thai delicacies for your pleasure.
The (tail) end of the ride in the long tail boats takes you through a maze of residential houses —wooden; with open, airy verandas; rather shoddy; some more charming than others; propped up high to prevent water from coming in. It was a small peek at rural Thailand, a picture of the life by the river that courses through the history of the Thai people.
I have a fascination for Thailand for a single reason that is only mildly embarrassing depending on how much humor you possess — The King and I.
I am talking specifically about the 1956 film that starred Yul Brynner (whom I remember as Ramesses II in Cecile B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments, which my very Catholic family loves) and Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember). I am quite thankful that my mom was wonderful enough to shove both vegetables and classics down our throats as children.
The King and I revolves around the story of King Mongkut (Brynner) of Siam (the former name of Thailand), his many wives and children, and their Western governess Anna Leonowens (Kerr). The film is based on the musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This is important because I love musicals and am crazy about the singing and dancing.
A month ago, I and some familiar faces (They say hi) visited the city of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (or just Ayutthaya). Ayutthaya was the capital city of Siam, established in the 1350s and burned down by the late 1700s. The King and I was set in the 1860s (this assumes that the capital would have already been in modern-day Bangkok), but it did not stop me from imagining a similar world existed in the ancient halls and abandoned structures of Ayutthaya.
You may recall the part where Tuptim (the newest and the youngest of the King’s wives) staged a play (a Siamese version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) showcasing traditional Siamese garb and cultural references . This is the specific scene I associate with Thailand!!!**
** I’m starting to regret being so honest about this.
WATCH THIS SNIPPET HERE PLS:
The Kingdom of Ayutthaya was the center of civilization and a major trading point of interest in Indochina. So, as is consistent with world history, someone had to burn it down. Shout out to the Burmese for this one.
As I wrote in Part 1, we had a very short yet jam-packed stay in Thailand. So, the logical thing to do was to cram a whole-day adventure to Ayutthaya despite only having three full days.
I read 20 different blogs that told me to take the train because it was the best way to get there. Correction, it is the best because it is the cheapest, so I will concur on the superlative. But some things they don’t highlight which I wish they did:
- When you arrive only 5 minutes before the train departs, expect to RUN immediately from the ticketing counter.
- Because we only had 5 minutes, we didn’t bother to check which coach to go into. The non-AC area was packed (standing room), so why not go into the AC-area?
- This was the incorrect thing to do, but ignorance allowed us an hour’s worth of cool temperature as we appreciated the beautiful scenery of grassland and rice paddies in simple but comfortable seats (I later found out that the tickets for the AC-section were 200+ baht. We only paid 20 baht).
- You will eventually be relegated and exiled to the correct but uncomfortable non-AC area as an official quacks rapidly at you in Thai.
- This means you have to cross in between coaches. I say “cross” dramatically because you have to go over a wobbly metal plank (roughly two-three steps forward but only 15 inches wide) out in the open as the train sped past, thus clunked and rattled as you crossed. We were in a movie, and we were the Asians they were going to kill off in a train chase.
- Thankfully, we only had 20-30 minutes left standing up until we reached our destination.
SUMMARY: We rode the equivalent of what I imagine is the PNR in Metro Manila for an hour and a half each way.
LESSON: Get to the station early and not during rush hour so you get seats (best pin down the exact departure times). Our trip back was relatively less painful because of this. You may also take a bus.
TIP: Choose your temples; only some temples require entrance fees. You can purchase a six-temple pass for the price of five (this allows you access to all the paid temples), but we opted not to take it because we expected the heat to slow us down. In the end we still crossed off 4/6 paid temples and visited 1 free temple.
Our route in bold:
Wat Phra Ram (my personal favorite) > Wat Chaiwatthanaram (farther away from the rest of the temples, but with a more stunning landscape view) > Wat Lokayasutharam (for the Reclining Buddha; free entrance but not visually remarkable) > Wat Thammikarat (a lot more varied in its look sans the prangs/spires) > Wat Mahathat (for the Buddha’s head in the overgrowth of tree roots)
BONUS: Wat Ratchaburana (is just right beside Wat Mahathat) > Wat Phra Si Sanphet (This was the royal palace built along with the establishment of Ayutthaya in the 1350s)
If you think renting a bike is a good idea so you have “cuter” photos, I assure you you’re going to have haggard photos instead. Not all the temples are near each other, so don’t even bother renting one unless you know what you’re doing.
Weighing In: Ayutthaya vs Angkor
Ayutthaya has far more consistent architecture visually (This is how I say the wats look more or less identical) versus Cambodia’s Siem Reap/Angkor. Given this, Ayutthaya shouldn’t take too long and, personally, was less exhausting versus Siem Reap. Choose your temples. Four-five wats should be enough unless you’re out to prove something.
I’m not a fan of the sentiment, “If you’ve seen one [temple], you’ve seen them all” (Admit it, we all have that friend/family), but there is merit in visiting Ayutthaya and Angkor (or Indonesia’s Borobodur, which I still haven’t been) at least two years apart. Trust me; you will have far better appreciation and will least likely get a heat stroke.
Here are a bunch of outtakes no one really cares about but I just wanted to remember:
I’m going to leave off here. I think I will visit Chiang Mai next so I can help take care of elephants because that’s on the bucket list (Dear friends, please stop riding the elephants when you travel across Indochina unless it’s with an accredited sanctuary).
I miss you and see you soon,
P.S. I hope my letter reaches you before you fly back to the Philippines as you mentioned.
I’ve got two more recent trips I haven’t written about. Watch out for the next letters on Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Taipei., Taiwan.