Part I of my trip to Thailand can be found here.
On our way home from the beach, we stopped at Seacon Square, a huge shopping center, not far from Moddang’s house. Here, I managed to get a few gifts for my friends and family back in the US, and we also bought Bubble Tea for Moddang’s family. Back at the house, her maid Na Aw had made me a birthday dinner of pad thai. If you’ve only ever had pad Thai in the US, then you’ve never had pad Thai: this was supreme.
(I also tried a variety of fruits I’d either never heard of or had never tried: more cham poo, mangosteen, lon gon, and lom yai [known as longan in the West], as well guava and pomelo, and the famed king of fruits: durian, but more on that later.)
On Wednesday, Moddang’s parents took the two of us north to the old capital, Ayutthaya. We left before sunrise, stopping at the open market near their house. Many of the vendors were either still setting up or already cooking chicken and beef, and deep frying. Moddang’s mother bought us each two drumsticks and a bag of sticky rice for breakfast. It was the first day one might call “balmy”.
In Ayutthaya, we visited the Buddhist temple Wat Yai Chai Mongkorn. I was spectacularly unprepared for the awe I felt there. Much of the temple was ruins, and a giant Buddha statue lying on its side was exposed to the elements, its torso and legs protected by a large sheet. We climbed steep steps to a small room where a man sat and handed out folded pieces of paper with square golden strips inside for a donation. Moddang told me you unfold the paper and press the golden square onto one of the several statues of Buddhas in the corners of the room. We looked down on a garden with a large white Buddha statue.
The second temple we visited was Wat Pananchoeng, which was built to honor a Chinese princess who took her own life. The Buddha inside was huge and golden. I lit candles and incense; I again pressed gold-painted paper onto many Buddha’s hands and chests and legs; I was swatted with water by a monk.
Moddang’s father asked me if I wanted my fortune told. He told me to sit on the right side of a small ceramic elephant with a handle on its back. The first time I was to think of what I wanted and that I would succeed in picking up the elephant by the handle with just my pinky finger; the second time I was to think of the same thing I wanted and that I would not succeed in picking up the elephant. So I did, and the first time I was able – though just barely – to pick up the elephant with my pinky; the second time, however, I couldn’t even lift it a little. A good thing.
In the Chinese princess’ shrine, I shook a box of sticks to tell my fortune. According to this fortune, I will not be successful in the short run in what I want to do, but if I keep working and work hard, in the long run, I will see some success. Not exactly promising or inspiring for a lazy American growing up an instant gratification world.
Outside of Wat Pananchoeng, we searched along a row of vendors for trinkets and gifts for the folks back in the US. I found a couple of things but had many gifts to go.
Ayutthaya is located in the valley of the Chao Praya river. For lunch, Moddang’s parents rented a boat that took us along the Chao Praya while we ate. We had fried rice, a beef dish, more fish, and spicy soup, and washed it down with Coke. The river was dark green and mostly calm. We saw a man and presumably his son fishing with nets. The boat passed the royal family’s house situated on the banks of the river; it was very modern and stylish.
We also saw perhaps the most interesting of sights on the river: a Catholic church, a Buddhist temple, and Islamic mosque all within hundreds of feet of each other.
(As the boat returned to the dock, the captain let me pretend to steer.)
Wednesday evening, the other maid P’Tik had cooked us a fresh and powerfully spicy dinner. It consisted of beef with a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, chili peppers, and cilantro poured over it; a dish called yum made with shredded white mushrooms, black mushrooms, lettuce, fish, squid, and shrimp.
Earlier that day, between Wat Pananchoeng and the boat ride, Moddang and I visited the cultural center of Ayutthaya where we learned a little of its history. There were lots of old maps – by both Thai and Dutch mapmakers – of the old palace before it was burned to the ground by Burmese warriors. We visited the ruins of the old palace and temple. The scorch marks along the red and brown bricks of the remaining buildings and walls were still evident. Moddang and I climbed the ruins. As upon entering Wat Yai Chai Mongkorn, the sense of awe I felt at witnessing the ruins was tangible; conversely, however, where I felt something akin to the spiritual at Mongkorn, at the burned palace my awe was tinged with its loss.
Part III Coming Soon.