Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Land of Siam

Sawatdee Ayutthaya
With lots of adventure (link 1 2 3), bad feelings and Mihai’s skill, finding our bus in a huge terminal, we arrived in the old capital of Thailand. It is a change of plans, we didn’t know we wanted to come here, because we didn’t read about it. While at home, Mihai tried everything, except bribing, to make us find more about where we wanted to go, but we procrastinated. For one reason, I can’t remember all the details and I didn’t want to read about something that later would prove that we were not going to visit. We wanted flexibility and that’s what we were doing: deciding that we don’t want 5 days in Bangkok, but two in Ayutthaya.

As we step out of the bus we hear “Welcome friend!”. My barriers shoot up immediately, preparing for anything, but it was just a rickshaw driver, who very politely asked us where we wanted to go. He offered his services for the next day if we wanted. That’s what people do in this part of the world. We accepted and he catered to our needs and adjusted to our schedule. 
The ruins in Ayutthaya didn't impress me, maybe just because they were brick buildings stripped of their adornments, still standing. Because of the flood, they were entry free and cordoned with yellow tape in many parts.

Wat Maha That Temple, the rest of the statue is hidden by the roots.

 The earth was still squishing water. In some parts, stupas were leaning dangerously out of line, like multiple leaning towers of Pisa. 
Ayutthaya continued to exist, even if it wasn’t the capital anymore. So now you find those archeological treasures dotting the old part of the city. The contrast is stark, especially when you have a new temple for Buddha, immaculately white, with trims of colored glass and mirrors. They look like a modified Chinese pagoda, taller, slimmer, with curlier corners. People enter all the time, light incense, bring white lotus flowers and cover the statues of Buddha in gold leaf, one square inch at a time. They buy these double paper leaves of gold, choose a spot, say a quick prayer, stick it, rub it and then throw the paper on the floor. 
Wat Na Phra Men, built curved as a boat.

The day is hot and muggy. Our inward compasses don’t work so we take wrong turns and visit temples in a different order than the one that we wanted. They must have looked ravishing in their heyday. They are still impressive with their floor plan, their architecture, the decapitated Buddhas (thanks to the Burmese). 
The model of Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the image of it adorns the 20 baht bill

One temple escaped the fury of conquest and its walls are still adorned with frescoes of Buddha’s life.
Interior of Wat Na Phra Men
In the 70’s the authorities noticed a higher traffic with gold, and going backwards, they recuperated just a small part of a treasure hidden in one of those temples. It is now on display in the museum votive tablets, elephants, statuettes and part of the model of the temple. Opposite of this air-conditioned room was another one, in which we could admire the intricate stupas that interred a grain of Buddha’s remains. This was another treasure, with other things, delicate craftsmanship, to delight our eyes.
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
Our hotel was on a quiet street. I noticed that there were dogs, their anatomy complete. They don’t have a master, people are taking care of them, so the dogs defend their territory. Growing up with dogs and living in a neighborhood where they organized themselves in nocturnal packs, I was wary of them. As we were leaving the hotel for visiting, I looked for a solid branch or something. Finding one, I left it at the corner of the street, hidden. Returning, I picked it up again, and not 20 feet on our street, the dogs noticed us, started barking and gathering. They would have attacked but seeing the stick, they were keeping their distance. A local girl got out and started throwing stones and they left us alone. A French girl congratulated us for being proactive.  She was the victim of an attack and she had a ripped skirt to prove it.
From the bus station we took a taxi to the hotel and cooped up there for the rest of the day. In the evening we visited the Kao San Street, the one that we were not supposed to miss.  There were so many people, walking up and down, hanging out at the bar, or the restaurant, or just perusing the clothing kiosks, having their hair braided or made in dreadlocks. We found a restaurant out of the main way, but we still couldn’t enjoy our dinner because of the hawkers trying to sell us bracelets, trinkets or sleeves with fake tattoos.
We had to do the second round of Hep A vaccine so we went to a clinic, where it was funny to see the bureaucracy of yesteryear at work (link Maria).
Wat Pho 

Mihai would visit more of this city, but we stayed put in our hotel rooms; we were tired. The last day we will visit quickly the Wat Pho temple where the longest reclining Buddha from Thailand resides besides the massage school, 
His soles are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

and the Royal Palace with its crowded buildings and temples. It even had its own Angkor Wat model. The attraction here is the Emerald Buddha, a 2 feet statue made of green jade, that was found hidden in another one that cracked. It is perched in a high pagoda, almost lost in the decoration. The statues and the gardens have a Japanese feeling.

Garuda, to safe-guard the temple.

On the steps are handpainted tiles, the doors are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the decorations  on the walls are colored glass and mirrors.

Having decided that we go to Koh Tao, we take the train and sit in the freezing air-conditioned compartment. The beds are on both sides, up and down, on the long side of the wagon, with blue drapes on which is sewn with yellow the number of the bed. 

In Chumphon we have breakfast on the platform waiting for 6.15 am to come so we can take the bus to the dock. We witness our first Thai sunrise as we walk on a shaky, uneven planks dock, toward the ferryboat.
The catamaran moves very quickly and in an hour we see the postcard picture: on a white sand bar beach chairs and blue water on both sides.
Koh Tao is a crowded place, with two sides: one that comes here for distraction, drinking, diving and the other one that provides these things. We were there for diving and you’ll read these adventures in a following post.
And then... beach—Bottle Beach. Its name comes from the way they marked the road toward it, with bottles. It is easier to reach it by boat than by land. It is a cove that has a hotel and numerous beach houses on its whole length. There are four restaurants, but just one seems to be preferred, and its waiters are something else. 

They seem drunk most of the times, they sit at your table to take your order and their comments are not my favorite, “I’ll see you when you see me”, “Now I know who you are!”. The food is expensive for Thai standards and is not that good. What else? Oh yeah, tourists. They come by taxi-boat for some hours on a quiet beach, and leave before sunset. I don’t know what the people who live here are doing, because there are just a few soaking sun, and sometimes I see others at the restaurant. 
My chair and two people on surf boards.
I just watch the waves, and the clouds, and the crabs, siting on a chair next to the sea. At 7 am besides the yoga person and the jogging woman there is no one else to see. At 9 am is already hot, my tanning done, so I take a dip in the clear, soup-like waters and disappear on the porch of the cabin. I try to catch up with the blog, or the pictures; we’ve taken so many, but I am tired, I am on vacation. The children have their own cabin, away from us, we see them when they need something from us or at dinner (the rest of the meals are if and when we feel like eating). There is nothing to do on this beach and I am happy with this, it’s what I need. I sleep at least 10 hours a night, but I am still tired. I move myself from bed to the beach, from there to a chair, and back to bed. It seems like I have waves of tiredness, my body recuperating in stages. 
If you look around you see blue, calm waters, white sand, palm trees, ten more tourists far away, you hear birds, sometimes the bass from the restaurant’s music. It is what I like (actually, I could do without the music and the people). It is a dream come true, to live on the beach, to hear the waves. Why have I told you all of these? Because I had everything that I wanted: vacation on a secluded beach, few people, time to read and books to be read, my family, no obligations and I was unhappy. I felt useless, no one needed me, I had no plans, even if I made plans, they would be changed because of the numerous factors that affect the dynamic of our travels, and I didn’t have a subject for plans, and why do I need plans? In my paradise surroundings it dawned on me, and accepted, that what I have is only today, now, so I should cherish it for what it is.
I still need reminding.
Can you see multiple hazy rainbows?
One afternoon I heard children voices. I looked and there they were, three of them, playing in the waves. Confident young ones, the whole world belonged to them. I couldn’t figure out who were their parents. Our children hearing them, renounced at their interests and joined them. Finding out that we’re Romanian, Meanabadeena (8) asked “Is there something romantic in Romania?” At dinner time, Tintin (8) asked his almost 5 years old brother, Snowy, “May I please have a sip?” This came in total contrast with two little French girls who were stretching their mother’s patience and a brother and a sister who were asking their mother’s attention all the time, just to ignore her when it suited them. Who are these people? They are the “Going anyway” family, that includes besides aforementioned Chris, Jill, Sparky, who has to travel in a stroller, because she has cerebral palsy, and Baby Boy, who is only 10 months old. Talking with them we found out that they are from Australia, they homeschool, and they are taking advantage that they are still young and the children want to travel with them. We spent wonderful days together, sharing stories and I hope that our paths will cross again, soon enough.
We stayed longer than planned. We renounced to stay a week in Penang, Malaysia, we had to take the train instead of flying to get there. As we were waiting for the train to arrive, we took turns sleeping on stone benches. There were huge cockroaches moving around our sandals and rats, following sewer pipes to get to the garbage bags. We’re not reacting, we just take care not to let them too close to our luggage. Because we were soaked in citronella oil, the mosquitos left us alone. Our train was late by almost two hours. It seemed that all the trains are. A group of young men descended close to us. They were telling their stories, how they left for a month, and now have been three already, how their mothers ask when they will return, would they recognize them with their tattoos, and now they have to return, they barely scrapped some money for a return ticket, beside cigarettes and beer. 
Tattoos are wherever you turn. They are beautiful ones, careful design, shading, for each taste: faces, Buddhas, strait lines, dragons and so on. They even go around moles, leaving them alone or including them in the design. But I still don’t understand what makes people go through that pain, to have something etched permanently on their skin. For the tribal people is like a code, it tells others about one if he’s a chief or killed so many animals with his hands. What am I supposed to understand about tattooed people in a western society?

Good bye Thailand and korp khun, thank you for the vacation.

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