The past few mornings as I’ve been walking down the street, I notice there are still large puddles of water on the roads and the air is unusually clean. This leads me to believe that I’ve slept through some rainy nights.
This morning at about six o’clock (hok mong chaaw in Thai) a very loud clap of thunder woke me up. Looking outside, the skies were ovecast but becoming light. No sign of lightning, but we were treated to ongoing barritone rumbles of thunder.
The morning remained overcast and damp but not much cooler. Rainy season must be getting closer if it hasn’t already arrived.
Yestereday we drove up to Ayutthaya to visit my former classmates Ron and Kari. They’re Baptist missionaries from Texas, assigned to help set up Baptist churches in the central Thailand area. Considering the country is about 95% Buddhist and 4% Muslim, that doesn’t leave them a lot to work with. So they have their work cut out for them.
Located about 90 km north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam, from 1350 to 1767 A.D. By the late 1600s it was one of the largest cities in Asia with a million inhabitants. The accounts of European visitors from the time described it as an incredibly beautiful city. The city today has about 80,000 residents and is mainly a tourist destination. The central part of the city is an island that contains several historical parks, containing the ruins of the palace buildings. These are large brick structures, walls and chedis (pagodas) and Buddha statues, many of which are headless after the Burmese ransacked the city in 1767.
The ruins are interesting, but they are more awe-inspiring when you put them into context: the Grand Palace in Bangkok was modeled directly on the palace in Ayutthaya, so if you mentally superimpose that colorful, glittering architecture over the footprint of the ruins you can get an idea of how incredible they must have been.
We drove up to Ayutthaya with Jack and Eddy, Tawn’s friends. Jack’s parents own property about 20 km oustide the city which includes a restored northern Thai-style house. It is truly a beautiful complex, located alongside a khlong (canal) that allows for great breezes in the warm Central Thailand afternoons.
We originally were going to pick up Jack and Eddy at 8:30, but Eddy protested that it was too early so we settled on 9:00. Then we were delayed by traffic (Jack lives in the Northwest suburbs of Bangkok) and didn’t arrive until about 9:40. By that point Jack and Eddy were too hungry to travel so we went to a noodle shop in his village (which I’d describe as a housing development with lots of shops).
The noodle shop was funny because it is in a residential neighborhood typical of Bangkok: row upon row of similar-looking houses but in front of one of the them the owner had converted his carpark into a small noodle stand. The “kitchen” is actually a thatched hut that would seem more appropriate on an island. Concrete tables and benches are scattered throughout the garden with tall trees keeping them shaded. Each day from 9:30 – 17:00 they serve up noodles.
Above: Eddy, Jack and Tawn. Kwiaythiaw lek phiseet (“Special” small rice noodles with fishballs, pork patty, and wonton). Noodle Hut set up in the front yard of a row house.
So it was 11:00 before we finally hit the road. Fortunately there is a new tollway that leads most of the way to Ayutthaya so we made good time. First we overshot the city to drop Jack and Eddy off at Jack’s parents’ house. It is really out in the countryside. The Thai style house is back in a garden behind the main house.
Here’s a 55-second video I shot providing a 360-degree view of the main courtyard between the different houses. The first building is a main living space, glassed in with aircon. The second building is a sala, or pavillion, that overlooks the river and is open on all sides to catch the breeze. The third building has been set up as a wet bar and small kitchen, so you can entertain easily. The final building is a guest bedroom that is actually newer construction but was done in the same style. It can be open to the outside or closed up and have aircon turned on.
After dropping Jack and Eddy off, we backtracked to Ayutthaya, getting a bit turned around on the roads but eventually finding our way to the highway. We arrived at Ron and Kari’s place about 1:00.
The afternoon was spent eating at a riverside restaurant on the south side of the island and then driving around to see different areas of the city, visiting the whole while. The restaurant served really good grilled river prawns – very large! – that were so tasty. We also had a nice tamarind-flavored hot and sour soup, stir-fried brocolli, and a chicken som tum salad. The open dining room was above the river and well-shaded so we enjoyed the breeze and several bottles of ice-cold Coca Cola.
Along the river there were groups of locals – mostly children but not exclusively – who were playing in the river, diving off small docks, and trying to beat the heat.
One of our stops was at a current temple right along the river that features fish feading as a way to make merit. You buy three little bags of fish pellets for 10 baht (US$ 0.30) and then go to a little pier – there are hundreds if not thousands of fish swimming alongside the pier just waiting to be fed. Left: Tawn (with umbrella), Kari and Ron feed the fish in the Chao Praya River.
Behind the main building of the temple is an ancient chedi and some very nice opportunities for pictures in the late afternoon sun.
(Above L-to-R: Buddha statue in front of a 20 metre (65 feet) chedi, modern temple building glittering in the afternoon sun.)
At the end of the afternoon we stopped at Wat Monkhonbohpit to visit the talat (local market) behind it. Jack’s mother called to request that Tawn pick up some “three taste mangos” – basically, candied mangos that are bitter, sweet and sour all at once.
The storm clouds to the northeast of us looked threatening and just as we finished up and got into the car the first sprinkles started to hit our windshield. Just before this, I snapped this impressive picture of some of the old palace ruins backdropped by the dark clouds.
We dropped Ron and Kari back off at their house and then took a shortcut to the highway, winding our way back to Jack’s parents’ house in the rain.
Below: Interesting ruin at Wat Monkhonbohpit where a Buddha image has been overcome by the roots of a huge tree. The image itself is about 1 meter (3.1 feet) high.