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Friday, June 29

Thailand Travels: The Final Day

Our last day in Thailand was much less intensive. Our flight was at 8:00 in the evening, but we weren’t going to waste a day and not book a tour. Again, a guide showed up bright and early after our last Thai buffet breakfast to take us out for the day, promising to have us back to the hotel by 4:30 at the latest so we could still get to the airport. I must admit that this made me nervous because the airport was not some hop, skip and jump away. In the end, I figured that should we miss the flight, would it be so bad to have to spend another day in Thailand? And off we went.

Our first stop for the day was Bang Pa In, the summer palace of the royal family, about 60 kilometers or 40 miles north of Bangkok. It dates back into the 17th century prior to Bangkok becoming the capitol of Thailand. Considering we had seen the quintessence of Thai palaces only two days prior, I must admit that my enthusiasm for this step of the tour was at the ultimate low. Sadly, this didn’t change much as we walked the grounds. While it is laid out beautifully, much of the palace is very European in design and hardly what I was looking for in my Thailand travelling. As you walk deeper onto the grounds, the one building that is somewhat open to the public is the ornaments red and gold residence that was built in China and presented to Rama V in the late 1800’s. This palace is not commonly used by the royal family but it just happened that on this day, the queen was on her way to spend the evening there. I swear they bussed in the harried gardeners to tend the gardens into an immaculate state. Bright, and obviously brand new, blue flags (the color of the much-loved queen) lined the road entering the palace and all throughout the palace grounds. Yet still I was unimpressed and sitting with KH on the bus well before it was time to go. Pretty? Yes. But only in a pavilion in the middle of a manmade pond did I find any sign of the beauty of Thailand.

The real reason we had chosen this tour was for the next stop – Ayutthaya (pronounced I-u-tia). The city of Ayutthaya was the capitol of Thailand prior to Bangkok and still houses the ruins of all that is left of the original city during the Golden Age of Thailand before it was invaded and demolished by the Burmese in 1767. Many of the places in Ayutthaya are what you picture when you think about ancient Thailand. The wats (temples) embody the past splendor and glory of both arts and architecture in the Siamese region. Our first stop was at the main attraction, Wat Mahathat, which was a royal monastery during that Golden Age. Just walking the grounds brings out a sense of quiet respect, making you feel as if nothing above a whisper was appropriate while in this ancient monastery. There was one thing that really disturbed me about the Burmese sacking of the city. In their destruction, they decapitated the statues of the Buddha. Just about every one of them remains sitting where it was so many centuries ago when the city was thriving, but now headless. We were told that a few survived in the monastery but out of the hundreds of Buddhas we saw, we only located one with its head still in place. In an area where Buddhism was widely prevalent in the people, it is going to take me a lot of research to understand why the Burmese performed such inexcusable acts on a figure that was so highly regarded by people far and wide.

Back on the bus, we were taken to another spot of ruins in Ayutthaya, the Chedi of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, a royal temple that was built back in 1491 in honor of three different 15th century kings. While Kimono Hubby is happy to please me by allowing me to drag him along as I satiate my passion for architectural ruins, he was nearing a breaking point as the oppressive heat and humidity tried to push him over the edge. Instead of standing in the sun and listening to the guide fill our minds with another history lesson, I allowed KH to drag me back to the entrance of the ruins were elephants were decorated and waiting for tourists carrying big money.

One of the things KH had placed on the list to do in Thailand was to take an elephant ride. Here was our opportunity. We climbed up the steps to the platform and took a seat. It was only a brief jaunt but the view from on top of an elephant of the ancient city ruins beyond a vast pond covered in flowering lilies was one that will stay with me forever. For only 20 baht, which isn’t even a dollar, you can buy bananas to feed the elephants. The bananas were about half of the size of those back in the States and have a much sweeter taste. As usual in the Far East, there was no direction about what to do once we had our bananas so we simply sauntered over to a line of elephants resting in the shade and decided to take our chances. We quickly discovered that the elephants know what to do. You didn’t have to peel the banana, just simply hold it out and greedy trunks would push others out of the way, sucking up the banana and then shoving the whole thing into their mouths. The feeding went much quicker than we expected as our hundred pounds were apparently quite hungry. After the bananas were gone, we discovered some sort of pellet in the bottom of the basket. While I didn’t mind handing bananas over to trunks dripping a combination of snot and saliva, I wasn’t about to hold out my hand and let them cover me in that nastiness. The pleasure was all KH’s as I remained firmly planted behind a camera.

After a good washing, we climbed aboard the bus to be taken to the relaxing part of our tour, a luxury boat ride along the river back to Bangkok, complete with air conditioning and a fabulous Thai buffet lunch. There honestly wasn’t much to do on this couple hour trip but to sit and relax and enjoy the amazing and varied views along the river of both temples in all their gold, ornamented grandeur sitting right next to houses on stilts covered in makeshift cardboard and sheet metal roofs. While I knew poverty was prevalent in Thailand, costing along that river as a foreign traveler makes you realize just what poverty really is. I can’t imagine daily life in these buildings that so many calls homes and we would call shacks. There were areas where electricity was not running into the homes. It also looked like many of the homes only had one means of travel… on the river by boat. Here in Japan driving is not encouraged because of lack of parking, bad traffic as well as the expense of owning a car, but at least you have the option. In Thailand, so many just don’t even entertain such an option. It was truly an eye-opening experience.

And so ended our touring of Thailand. We arrived back at the hotel with enough time to head out and catch some dinner. Our trip to Thailand had coincided with the rainy season and yet we had been lucky enough for not a drop of the torrential pouring to occur, until this very last evening. A block away from the hotel, we were stuck huddled underneath an abandoned shop’s front stoop. We debated making a run for it to the nearest but realized we would be drenched within second. The fact that we had no idea which way to go to the nearest restaurant didn’t help us make a decision any quicker. After agonizing over what should have been a simple decision, we decided to bolt back to the hotel, change clothes and head to the airport for dinner there.

Of course, that turned out to be more difficult than we had hoped. Because of the delay in opening the JAL ticket counter, we were only left with enough time for Burger King, hardly the end to this amazing experience that we had anticipated. But there was one thing about Burger King that was truly fascinating for me and it wasn’t the fact that it made me incredibly sick to eat greasy burgers which I haven’t had for about a year now. I was able to see my first women ever in head to toe Muslim dress. One family walked by with father and son in shorts and t-shirts and the mother only showing the slant of her eyes. This was not the only family we saw this way. It made me realize just specifically where in the world I was and how many corners of the world I have seen and how many are still out there to see. I can no longer say I have a favorite place that I have been or want to see. Each place has left an impression on me that still shakes me to the core. Each place leaves me with a bigger thirst for the next adventure. If there is one thing I wish to pass along to the rest of the world through my roaming and my writing, it is that this world is just so dynamic and amazing and wonderful and not a tiny single speck should be missed. Get out there and see something, new or old, big or small… every single day.


Heather Meadows said...

I'm catching up on your posts, which is why I haven't commented on this one sooner.

I'm really enjoying your stories from Thailand. Your knowledge of history and your openmindedness really impress me. I hope you can always keep traveling and writing!

Karina said...

I enjoyed reading your blog.
You made me remember all fascinating moments that I had in Thailand, especially in Bangkok.
Yeah, the prices are not so expensive.
I liked to go shopping there, I bought so many bracelet, which were made of mussels, plastic, etc.
I would like to visit this wonderful country again. I really happy that it is developing for the sake of Thai people, really happy that international relations are improving by investing in Thailand property.