Ruined Out

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Jan 022008
 

Sukhothai

I awoke before my alarm, and tried out the wireless Internet access. Sadly, it does not read the 5th floor, so I had to sneak down to the lobby under cover of darkness to check email. Racing through my morning shower I barely made it downstairs in time to depart for the day. Our first stop was for a noodle soup breakfast. A flavorful chicken leg nestled in next to some wide rice noodles in a dark broth. Each table had containers of dried chillies, chillies soaking in vinegar, and granulated sugar, which were helpful in making the soup more exciting.

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The Earliest Thai Kingdoms

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Jan 012008
 

Ayutthaya

Bangkok is only the most recent capital of Thailand, whose various predecessor kingdoms date back more than a millennium. Ayutthaya (also spelled Ayuthaya and Ayudaya, and pronounced eye-YOO-tea-yuh) was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was sacked by the Burmese. A few years later, the capital was re-formed in Bangkok and Ayutthaya’s temples — looted of their gold by the Burmese — fell into disrepair. Today, they consist largely of brick ruins with beheaded Buddhas (some were destroyed by the Burmese, while others were crudely broken off for the antiquities trade before the city became a protected site). Still, you can get an impression of the grandeur of the city during that time.

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There is a Market…

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Dec 312007
 

Before heading North to Ayutthaya, we snuck out of Bangkok under cover of darkness to the heavily touristed Damnoen Saduak “floating market.” We stopped along the highway for some serious shrimp paste and fishy snacks before rolling into the already busy market just at its 7 AM opening time. We rented three low boats, steered and powered by an oarsman at the rear. As we slipped up the canal, we quickly purchased some fried bananas and remarkably delicious coconut pancakes. Other vendors offered young coconuts for drinking, numerous fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and every manner of trinkets, especially at shops along the banks of the canal. I picked up the mandatory market t-shirt at one of these stops. Occasionally a smelly diesel powered boat would charge by, detracting from the otherwise pleasant ambiance.

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Into the Heart of the Tourist Beast

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Dec 302007
 

We rolled into Wat Traimit, the temple of the 5.5 ton solid gold Buddha, located in Chinatown, just before 8:00AM. Already the hawkers were in position and visitors were arriving in droves. Some came to pray or to learn their fortune from the roulette-like fortune telling machines; others were here to gawk and take photos. When tourists crowded in front of the devoted — to pose for pictures in front with the shiny Buddha in the background — the breach of etiquette was painful to observe. But they did not linger, as guides pushed each new wave through the temple.

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Life on the Canals

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Dec 292007
 

After an early session of email, I worked on some photos from Friday and prepared to meet the day. The group got together in the lobby at 7:15 to stroll the local market and gather treats for breakfast at the noodle shop. These included khanom krok, a pancake-like confection made with coconut milk and ground rice; chive dumplings reminiscent of dim sum, served with a sweet soy dipping sauce; roasted bananas doused at the last moment with a honey-like palm-sugar syrup; and ripe mangoes with sweet sticky rice. And of course we could choose plain or hot and sour noodles, with soup or dry style, as our main course. I feel full just thinking about it, but we were planning a late lunch, so the calories would have to stretch.

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Last Moments of Freedom

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Dec 282007
 

Today I would be checking out and checking back in with the group. But first I thought I would head back to Aw Taw Kaw market. The coolest way to get to the market is to transfer from the BTS Skytrain system to the MRT subway system. The hotter way is to walk from the BTS Mo Chit station, and that’s how I found my way to the market. I was shocked to find the large empty end of the market full of vendors showcasing handicrafts and other merchandise. I later learned that this was a temporary exhibition; the market is not much larger than it was on my last visit in February 2006. It did not take me long to find my beloved freeze-dried jackfruit chips (so addictive, let’s call them crackfruit). The ones I find at this market are not oily like the ones I find in the U.S. I am very happy, and I celebrate with a roasted young coconut. The seller waves off my request for a spoon, so I sip the juice and stash the coconut meat for later consumption. I also purchased a kit with all the ingredients for a miang, which is a snack consisting of a leaf you form into a little cup and fill with strongly flavored little tastes such as dried shrimp, ginger, lime, shallot, hot chillies, toasted coconut, and a little sweet soy sauce. The Swiss Army Knife will come in handy.

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A Day of Adjustment

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Dec 272007
 

Bangkok

Having departed the U.S. on Christmas Day, I touched down at Thailand’s new airport, Suvarnabhumi, late in the evening of the 26th. Featuring dramatic soaring ceilings, and lots of glass and metal, its baggage, immigration and money exchange counters are unfortunately no more efficient than the old Don Muang airport. Soon I was taxi-borne, flying down congested streets at insane speeds, weaving through traffic until we reached the hotel sometime after 1:00 AM.

The staff had my room ready, but it reeked of cigarette smoke. This is a problem I had forgotten, and I hadn’t brought any air fresheners to mask the odor. I do have disposable respirators (in the event I encounter people with bird flu, for example), but they are uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. I’ll have to find a solution in the morning; I’m beat.

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