Wet and Wild

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

So Ayutthaya is our last stop in Thailand so we were sure we were going to make it a good one, we had planned months in advance that this is where we wanted to be to celebrate Songkran (Thai New Year).

Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam and in 1700 was the biggest city in the world with 1 million inhabitants. Ayutthaya was invaded by the Burmese in 1767 more or less burning the city to the ground, therefore leaving Ayutthaya today as a UNESCO world heritage site filled with the ruins of monasteries, temples and palaces which once stood proud.  There really are a lot of ruins in Ayutthaya we did our best to tour the main the sights but there are only so many ruins you can look at.  The first and possibly our favourite temple was Wat Mahathat, like many of the other sites it is filled with broken stupas and buddhas with no heads, however this temple has one Buddha head which has been swallowed by nature and is surrounded by the roots of a Bodhi tree.  I have seen pictures of the head all over Thailand, but I never realised quite how huge it is, it must be at least 2 feet tall and looks so serene. 

As Ayutthaya is essentially an island surrounded by the Chaophraya River, the best way to get around is by boat, the current roads were originally canals and have been filled in and paved over, but along the banks of the river the locals very much still live in and on the river, it is filled with people washing, fishing, playing and getting around by boat.  We were bundled into a long tail boat and set off along the river to see some of the temples on the outside of the old city.  First up was Wat Panan Choeng, an old monastery housing Thailands largest ancient Buddha, said to have been made in 1344.  We arrived at the temple in the middle of a ceremony so the temple was filled with people and incense so after a few pictures I headed out into the courtyard to play with the adorable temple cats.  Next was the Wat Phutthai Sawan, whilst this was not the prettiest of temples, the monks were doing the evening prayer and it was just beautiful to listen to the chanting being broadcast through the speakers around the temple.  The one problem with this temple is that it is overrun with dogs which seem to have a liking for farangs so I kept my distance and was more than happy to get back to the boat.  The final stop was  Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a ruined temple which as the sun was setting behind it looked like a miniature Angkor Wat.

Having toured so many ruins on foot and by boat we were a bit templed out, however the temples were more of a side trip in Ayutthaya, we were here for Songkran so we intended to make the most of it.

Songkran is the Thai new year ceremony, traditionally the Buddha statues in the temples and homes are bathed with scented water to bring good luck and prosperity. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 40C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.  The Songkran festival has become South East Asia's biggest water fight with Thai’s and foreigners lining the streets armed with water pistols, hoses, buckets and any other receptacle that can contain water and soaking each other and any unsuspecting moped, car or person that happens to pass by.  Having done Songkran in the usual tourist areas before, we chose Ayutthaya because it is not full of tourists and also because they have some additional water receptacles in their arsenal, elephants. 

Armed with our Mickey Mouse and mini super soaker water pistols we got a Tuk-Tuk to the main area of the water fight.  Our driver had the most fun driving us there and made sure he steered us towards all the groups of children lining the sides of the road ready to soak us. We were officially soaked and ready to get involved by the time we arrived at the centre of the action.  There was as we suspected a distinct lack of foreigners and we had a great time joining in with the Thai’s.  The atmosphere was so different to the usual foreigner filled water fights, there was no boozing, just families and children having fun.  I definitely think we got more than our fair share of a soaking with the children loving to get a Farang wet.  It was not long before the fight was in full swing and the big guns were brought out, beautiful huge painted elephants just plodded along like it was the most normal thing ever and joined in the fight.  I had the fright of my life when I was filling up my water pistol from a bucket and there was a punch on my shoulder.  I turned around to find a trunk trying to push me out of the way to get at the water.  Needless to say I moved out the way and re-joined the back of the queue.  The elephants were just awesome, I don’t think I realised just how huge they are, some of them must have been 20 feet tall with huge tusks.  The elephants really did put our water pistols to shame, the amount of water that they can squirt is just phenomenal.  They seemed to be having as much fun as the rest of us, as the Thai’s went past in their pick-up trucks loaded with people and a huge barrel of water, the elephant would snaffle his trunk through the people to their barrel fill his trunk and soak them.  We had so much fun and aside from potentially having some elephant snot in our hair we survived the day unharmed, albeit wet and a bit sunburnt.

We spent the rest of our time in Ayutthaya relaxing, eating our way through the night market and avoiding the on-going water fight, thankfully our guesthouse was the best we had stayed in during our travels so far, it was so relaxing and comfortable and the owners were like our Thai parents for the week, they even used to deliver us fruit to our room as treats, we didn’t want to leave.  If anyone finds themselves headed to Ayutthaya I totally recommend Tamarind Guesthouse!

We did have one more outing to see some more temples, this time by Tuk-Tuk.  Within 5 minutes of being in on the road, Tim received a bucket of water down the back and his sense of humour was washed all over the back of the Tuk-Tuk.  I did try to reason with him that he had been doing the very same to other unsuspecting tourists just 2 days earlier but he was not having any of it!  Regardless of Tim’s sulking we cracked on with our temple tour. First up Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, this was quite a cool temple, with rows of Buddha’s surrounding the temple, a reclining Buddha and even a shrine filled with cuddly toys.  The temple was absolutely full of locals visiting to light incense and offer flowers to be blessed by Buddha for Songkran.  Just before we left we headed over to a little pagoda over the river as it looked quite serene and we were greeted with a river full of turtles just bobbing around waiting to be fed, so cute.  Our next stop Wat Lokayasutharam, the temple ruins are pretty much non-existent, just a few piles of bricks where the walls once were, however the huge reclining Buddha here was awesome, it is 37 meters long and 8 meters high.   Again there were lots of locals making merit for Songkran which is such a treat as you don’t see this so much in the usual tourist spots.  We made a rookie error when we visited this temple and just got our Tuk-Tuk driver to drop us off as the map made the nearby temples look quite close, needless to say we were wrong and found ourselves stranded in the middle of nowhere with not a tuk-tuk in sight!  We used our map and headed to what we thought was the main road, we walked and we walked and we were getting a fair few odd looks from the locals, this was because we had gone totally the opposite way to where we thought we were going, navigation never has been my strong point!  Eventually we made it to main road and stood looking gormless and thankfully a tuk-tuk appeared on the horizon.  We didn’t even bother trying to barter the fare; we just wanted to get back on the road.  We had two more temples on our itinerary and the driver agreed to take us to both and wait to avoid us ending up stranded (again).  Off we went to Wat Phra Sri Samphet, yet more ruins and headless Buddha’s, but some quite cool stupas which we could climb.  Our final stop was Wat Thammikarat, which was meant to have some cool lion statues, but sadly it was closed for Songkran, so we called it a day.  I think we can be forgiven after so many other temples!

Our final day and we finally get to go to the town I have wanted to visit the whole time we have been in Thailand, Lopburi.  There is very little in Lopburi, except a couple of temples and a LOT of monkeys.  The town is total over run with Crab-Eating Macaques Monkeys, which is odd as I can’t imagine there are a lot of crabs around.  The monkeys have congregated and basically taken over one of the temple ruins.  Thankfully they are kept outside of the main ruin so you can go inside in relative safety and the monkeys peer in at you through the bars like you are the ones in the zoo.  They are the prettiest monkeys we have seen, the babies were just adorable.  The problem with these monkeys is that they are totally fearless; they will happily climb up any person to take their bag, their sunglass, any food or drinks.  Nothing is safe from the Lopburi monkeys.  I kept my distance and managed to stay a safe distance away from the monkeys, Tim on the other hand very nearly lost his sunglasses when a monkey scaled his back whilst he was taking a photo!  There are locals selling food so you are guaranteed a full scale monkey attack but I was not feeling that at all!  The monkeys are very well fed, the Buddhist temple opposite the monkey temple is also full of monkeys, they have built swings and ropes in the trees and have a pool especially for the monkeys, they also had piles of fruit, boiled eggs, peanuts and all sorts of good food for them.  Sadly the monkeys were not at all interested in the healthy offerings and they were munching on crisps, sweet fruit drinks and yogurt drinks. I don’t think that these monkeys would know what to do with a crab if they ever saw one.

We met a French man and his Thai wife at the station in Lopburi and they had checked their luggage into the left luggage at the station and unfortunately had all their credit cards, money, laptop and passports stolen, so were stuck in Lopburi waiting for the consulate to reissue their passports to be able to collect cash from their family at Western Union.  Broke with nowhere to stay and no end in sight we gave them enough money for a hotel and food, fingers crossed the good karma gods are watching and taking note.

Our final night in Thailand was to be spent on my favourite form of transport, a sleeper train.  12 hours from Ayutthaya to Nong Khai and then another train over the friendship bridge into Vientiane in Laos.  Thai sleeper trains are pimp!  A perfect little comfy bed with a bright green curtain to hide you from the aisle, oh how I have missed sleeper trains

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