We arrived late Friday evening in Chiang Mai and were too late to pick up our Buddha statue from the Fine Arts Department. In order to kill time we decided to visit the zoo on Saturday. We rented a motorbike and drove through some serious traffic to reach the zoo which was only about 20 minutes from the city centre. The zoo was pretty small, but somehow we managed to spend the entire afternoon there watching monkeys, lions, tigers, and giant pandas. On Sunday we slept in and strolled through the city for the day. In the evening, the Sunday Night market was set-up along a long walking street. The market stretched for about a kilometer along a cobbled stone street with vendors along either side, some even spilling into side streets and open wats. Buskers in the middle of the street kept everything entertaining, and there were plenty of food stalls. There was even a live performance of dancers and breakdancers. Although the market was very touristy, it seemed as though a large number of local people frequented it as well. It was easily one of the best market experiences out of the hundreds that we have had.
On Monday morning, we were finally able to reach the Fine Arts Department over the phone. It had been 5 working days, and they told us that it still wasn’t ready. We explained to them that we had a train to catch that evening and we had to have the Buddha back whether the documents were ready or not. That seemed to get their attention, and the papers were ready by the late afternoon. We got the impression that the department never even bothered to process the documents until that day. We picked up our Buddha, with official export documents in hand, and caught the night train south to Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand in the 14th century until it was conquered by the Burmese in 1767. Eventually, it was re-captured by the Thai people and now ruins lay scattered throughout the city. We arrived, with very little sleep thanks to the brightly lit sleeping train, at 5:30 in the morning. The only people awake were those running the train station, some tuk-tuk drivers, and people setting up stalls for the morning market. Instead of paying a tuk-tuk 60 baht to drive us to our guesthouse in the inner city, we chose to walk only 100m to the pier and took a boat across a river for only 6 baht total. From there, it was only a 5 or 10 minute walk to the main cluster of guest houses. Unfortunately, nothing was open, and we sat inside a bar / guest house eating mangosteens until the city came alive. After checking into our room, we decided to yet again rent a motorbike and explore the city.
Most of the ruins in Ayutthaya are situated in the inner portion of the city which is surrounded by a moat and some small rivers. We wandered around several sights and tried to comprehend what they would have looked like before the Burmese ransaked them so long ago. One wat used to house a 16m tall Buddha covered in 340kg worth of gold, but the entire building was set on fire so that the gold would melt and could then easily be transported back to Burma. The ruins reminded us of Sukhothai, but more touristy because of how close the city is to Bangkok. At one point, we saw a long string of brightly decorated elephants carrying tourists along a loop through several of the temples.
We motorbiked around town well into the evening when several of the main wats were beautifully lit. We didn’t have much time to hang around though. Just before the sun had completely set, a massive thunderstorm hit us. We had to quickly motorbike to our guesthouse, return the bike, and find some dinner. As Tara was reading in bed back at our guesthouse, she noticed that dirt had fallen from the ceiling right onto her lap. She looked up and saw a massive spider staring back at her, suspended from the ceiling. This spider had a belly the size of a large grape, but a leg span of about as wide as you can spread your hand, and the sucker moved fast! We also think it may have been pregnant because it seemed to carry a white sack underneath its belly. After 5 minutes of chasing, Adam finally caught the beast in a trashcan which was then left outside in the rain. Despite Adam duct-taping all of the cracks in the walls and ceiling, Tara didn’t sleep well that night.
The next morning we woke up early and took a train to Lopburi, a town dominated by monkeys. The people who live in Lopburi undoubtably put up with the mischief makers for two main reasons: buddhists believe in treating animals with respect since they are people that have been reborn into that form, and more importantly to keep the flow of tourist dollars rolling in. Lopburi was also a former capital of Thailand, after Ayutthaya, and as in Ayutthaya there are old ruins scattered throughout the inner portion of the city. After stepping off the train, we wandered around town and visited several wats and shrines. Aside from a restored palace which at one point in time was used to receive foreign dignitaries, most of the temples were left untouched and in ruins. What was more interesting about the ruins and the town itself were the gangs of monkeys. Phra Kahn Shrine, a small shrine in the middle of a roundabout, seemed to be the home to most of the monkeys, and even had several rope ladders and a pool for their entertainment. Here, tourists purchased food to feed the monkeys, and there were many good photo opportunities. We had to watch our backs though because both of us were jumped on from behind by two of the little devils. We think they liked to see our reaction when caught by surprise. The thai grounds people had slingshots which they only had to hold up and fake a shot to keep the monkeys at bay.
We spent the whole day wandering the old portion of the city and keeping an eye out for monkeys running across roof tops. Most of them used the telephone and electrical wires as a sort of monkey highway with the poles serving as the on and off ramps. After an entire day of watching monkey mischief, we caught a train back to Ayutthaya.
We’re now in Kanchanaburi, which was a smooth and short three hour bus ride from Ayutthaya. Kanchanaburi is about 2 hours west of Bangkok and is the site of the bridge over the river Kwai. It is our last stop before heading to Bangkok and catching a plane to Hong Kong.