Thai trains, new foods, and other misadventures!

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, November 17, 2006

A quick 1-1/2 hour ride north by train takes us to Ayuthaya, once the capital and cultural center of Thailand. For such a short ride we opt to take the astonishingly inexpensive (30 cents!) 3rd class train which, though a bit crowded, makes for some fun interaction with the locals. I've been working hard at learning some of the basic Thai - numbers (for all the haggling), "Hello", "How are you?", "How much?". "What's your name?" always brings a response that's nearly impossible for me to remember - I have yet to meet anyone with an easy one or two syllable name! "What's that?" is a fun question to ask and on very rare occasions I can pick out some part of the answer like "plaa" (fish) or "khao" (rice), so I usually just nod and smile a lot. Since most foreign visitors here don't learn much beyond hello and thank you, I've received lots of looks of delight and astonishment, which they immediately follow by asking if I speak Thai, to which I sadly can only respond with "Just a little bit". Too bad "Pardon me for speaking like a 2-year-old" isn't in my phrasebook!

We stay at a clean, quiet guesthouse in a private room with fan and bathroom for 200 baht ($5). I'm not usually so fixated on prices, but the low costs are hard to believe and it's no wonder this corner of the world is so popular with the expat community.

The old town where our guesthouse is located is completely surrounded by the swirling brown waters of the Nam Chao Praya River. We enjoy taking in the sights during a 3-hour tour by longtail boat, which stops at several different wats so we can get out and explore on foot. The Thais primarily practice Vippasyana Buddhism, mixed with Hinduism and animism, so it's interesting to observe the different temples and customs. We've seen a number of people using divination sticks, which they shake in a can until one drops out.

The homes along the river, built above the high water level on posts or columns, are fascinating, especially during this time when the water has been unusually high and the yards are all covered by waist-deep high water. We've seen a number of collection points for flood donations, so it seems that conditions may be exceptionally high this year, but the language barrier makes it challenging to get the real scoop.

We also had fun cruising around to the different temples by bike while trying to be mindful of driving down the LEFT side of the street!

We take another train to Lopburi, one hour to the north. On the train, we met a nice French couple and Pascal, a French expat who now lives in Montreal, Canada. The group of us walks around town, visits another wat, and checks out the resident band of mischievous monkeys, who are fearless! There are hundreds of them, climbing and swinging around on the telephone wires and signs overhead, crossing the streets, and swimming around in cement tubs of water. The locals feed them and they are very accustomed to people. Todd got a little too friendly and threw his new camera when one of the monkeys jumped on his back!

The group of us decides to explore the market together. Being in a group makes me a bit more adventurous with the foods I am willing to try and my pre-preschool-level Thai is just enough to get us into trouble! We taste a delicious but unfamiliar fruit that you see at all the markets - spiky bright red and green outer skin that peels back easily to reveal a white fleshy interior with soft black seeds. Yum! A woman splits open long pieces of bamboo and, to my surprise, hands me an opened piece which is stuffed with a blend of sticky rice and some type of sweet brown beans - also very tasty! The locals all got a hoot out of watching us try new foods and we all get a good laugh. And the seafood is REALLY in still moving! Prawns skitter around in bowls of chilled water and at one stand a woman reaches into a bucket and holds up a 2-foot-long wriggling eel-like fish. And of course, I can't forget the barbecued squirrel, which I identify through a rousing game of charades with the Thai saleswoman.

The slower pace of the smaller town and cities has been a nice change. The further north we go the fewer people there are that seem to know any English, so I'm keeping the phrase book handy.

The announcements by loudspeaker are only made in Thai, which leads to another adventure when we board the wrong train and discover our mistake once we are already moving! Fortunately, the train is going the same route as ours and turns out to be a 2nd class express train, so we ride in cushy air conditioned comfort until the next station, where we get out to wait for our intended 3rd class ride. Never a dull moment!

We arrive in Phitsanulok, further to the north, then dine at a fantastic restaurant. Todd has a tasty roasted chicken dish and I order a shrimp and vegetable soup that has fire coming out of my ears it is SO spicy. We are literally crying in our soup from the peppers, but the heat feels good since we've both been fighting off colds and the soup is Drain-O for the sinuses. Guess I'll be learning the phrase for "not too spicy, please" next!

We'll spend another night here then head west by bus to Sukothai.

Thinking of you all and sending warm (but not too spicy!) wishes.
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