Jan 052010

Ayutthaya (January 5, 2010)

After a simple breakfast at the hotel buffet, Kasma related some of the history of the Thai kingdom when it was centered at Ayutthaya. We also discussed our itinerary for the day, which in its essence was: ruins, shopping, temple, ruins, shopping, snacking, ruins, ruins, ruins, drive, lunch, drive, snack, drive, hotel. Unless I missed something.

Our first stop was a forest monastery off the island, spared destruction in 1767. The site features a large reclining Buddha in a small garden area. With pigeons on his head and gold leaf applied randomly to his arms, and torso, the Buddha probably does not look the way his builders intended, but at least he still had all his parts. Around the corner was the impressive Great Chedi Chai Mongkhol, built to commemorate an earlier victory over Burma. Surrounded by numerous seated Buddha figures, the chedi offers a good view of the area for those willing to get a bit sweaty climbing its tall staircases. A spirit house on the temple grounds, filled with dolls and stuffed animals, is dedicated to the spirits of deceased children. Out front, we browsed the souvenir stands and bought our first refreshments of the day. Even without direct sun, it already was quite hot.

Our second stop was the relatively modern Wat Mongkhol Bophit, built to house the only Buddha “on” the island that survived the destruction of the kingdom. Although burned, the (hollow) bronze Buddha was only charred and not melted. In the past several years, the striking black surface of the Buddha was re-leafed with gold, apparently by some people from Burma attempting to pay off their country’s perceived karmic debt from having destroyed so many Buddha images more than 200 years ago.

I had visited the adjacent ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, one of the main royal temples, in 2008, so I wandered into the market that surrounds the temple on three sides. Starting the the souvenir section, I was “forced” to buy two carved elephants. I tried to explain innumerable times that I was not interested in buying an elephant, I was only looking, but nothing worked. Meanwhile, as I kept walking and saying no, the price declined from 450 to 300, to 200, to 150, and then to 100. At that point, I figured if I bought one the guy would stop following me. Immediately, a second vendor rushed forward to sell me a second one at the same price. Such a deal! Perhaps I should wear darker glasses so they don’t catch me looking?

After extensive browsing, we met up with Kasma to try a few of the local specialties. First, because we met next to a coconut ice stand, we had crumbly coconut sorbet served in the shell of roasted coconut, with our choice of jelly-like palm fruit and/or crushed peanuts. Next up were four savory deep fried fish snacks accompanied by a spicy-sweet red chilli dipping sauce. There were whole little fish, two different kinds of fish skin, and crispy fish skeletons. This would be hard to sell in California, but it somehow seems right here. We then sampled roti sai mai, a very thin round reminiscent of a mu shu pancake, colored green with pandanus extract, which you fill with cotton candy-like threads of palm sugar, roll up and eat like a slim burrito tasting very much like a waffle cone. Okay, back into the vans to see some more ruins.

We paused briefly to photograph the reclining buddha at Wat Lokayasutha, whose minimal ruins featured a prang in the Khmer style. We then proceeded to Wat Mahathat, another of the main royal temples that lies in ruins. The most famous image in Thailand might be the head of a sandstone Buddha that became lodged in the roots of a bodhi tree at this temple. I got my photo in 2008, and it didn’t seem worth another $5 entry fee to take it again. I doubt much has changed. We skipped the third site because the heat of late morning already was oppressive. Time to move on.

The Road North (January 5, 2010)

The drive to Sukhothai takes a few hours, but we would have to stop to eat, and to buy snacks to eat between the formal eating stops. It’s just that kind of trip. We pulled over at a truck stop for lunch. Part cafeteria, part snack shop, the restaurant dished up pretty good red curry fish mousse, beef curry (a bit watery), yellow curry with astringent acacia (cassia) leaves, pickled mustard greens with a egg (and little stealth chillies), and deep fried chunks of the local farmed fish. In the shop, I looked for beer snacks and sweet sesame seed snacks. Successful on both counts, I was still too full to sample them, so they go into the snack bag for future consumption.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention my GPS project. I had the idea that I could create a little map of our track through Thailand. After trying a couple of sites, I settled on GPSed as the best fit for my needs. Its software runs well on my Windows Mobile device, you can upload your tracks privately (no forced sharing with the world), and its viewer provides both Google Maps and Google Earth capability. The problem has been that I’ve forgotten to start recording or I’m not able to get a satellite fix inside the van. And when I’ve succeed in capturing and uploading a track, I found that in Bangkok, the tall buildings led to some aberrant recordings. Well, hopefully I’ll have something for you soon.

Meanwhile, we stopped at a roadside stand that fries up banana slices into crispy chips. Near the wok of bubbling oil were banana chips of various shapes and flavors, and a tall stack of crispy taro sticks. I couldn’t resist a bag of pumpkin chips; I’m going to have to start a new snack bag.

Buddha Image at Wat Chai Mongkhol, Ahutthaya

Minah Birds Seeking Enlightenment, Wat Chai Mongkhol, Ahutthaya

Bronze Buddha Image at Wat Mongkhol Bophit, Ahutthaya

Bronze Buddha Detail at Wat Mongkhol Bophit, Ahutthaya

Roti Sai Mai, in the market adjacent to Wat Mongkhol Bophit, Ahutthaya

Bananas frying in the wok, on the road from Ahutthaya to Sukhothai

Young banana slicer, on the road from Ahutthaya to Sukhothai

Sukhothai (January 5, 2010)

We pulled into town and within a few blocks arrived at the Rajthanee Hotel. The “Ratchathanee” offers basic amenities: only bath towels, no tissues, and long spells between paint jobs. Still, with cold water in the fridge and a reasonably effective air conditioner, we should be fine for the two nights we spend in town.

For dinner, we headed a short distance down the street and sat at a long, dimly lit outdoor table with a smoldering mosquito coil at one end. I sat next to two trip members doused in the startling fragrance of citronella, which could explain why the bugs found me much more interesting. But I digress. First up was an enormous plate of fried fish salad topped with shreds of sour green mango. In this preparation, a cottonfish (trevalley) was fried to a crisp, then its flesh was flaked into short fibers and fried again, producing crumbles of crunchy fish. Often this salad quickly becomes soggy due to the amount of dressing being poured over; here, in my opinion, there was too little dressing for the large quantity of fish, making the salad a bit too dry. At the other extreme, our next dish to arrive was a steamed fish in a bubbling sour broth (kept very hot over a charcoal burner). Tender and clean-tasting, this fish could be eaten over rice or, with a scoop or two of broth, as a soup. We filled out our menu with stir-fried Chinese broccoli with garlic and Thai oyster sauce; whole shrimp in a red curry sauce; and crab in yellow curry. A discussion ensued about how it was possible to eat crabs in the shell without using a lot of napkins (since the napkins offered at this restaurant are the small, square, connected ones more commonly seen dangling from a roll by a commode). Perhaps we can agree that all methods require practice, and hopefully we can practice some more soon.

Before turning in, I visited the hotel’s bar to see whether I could get into the karaoke rotation. Although no one explained this very well, based on the fact that the people operating the karaoke system were also eating and drinking with the other customers, it seemed that I had walked into a private party. Whoops. Better luck tomorrow?

  One Response to “Snack Attack”

Comments (1)
  1. I’m intrigued by the pumpkin chips.

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