|I just made it to an internet cafe near my hotel after a long, long day. Today is my last full day in Bangkok, and I was over the diesel fumes after yesterday, so I headed north of Bangkok on an early train this morning.
I went to a city called Ayuttahaya first, which was the capital of Thailand when it was called Siam between the 14th and 18th centuries. The old city is on an island that's about 3 sq. miles, and most of the island is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site, so the many, many temples are very well-preserved. It was really interesting because the temples are so old that they were first built as Hindu temples when other cultures had control over the area. When Siam became Siam, they converted them to Buddhist temples, so the architecture is really varied. They are a mix of brick and white stone, unlike the colored-glass spires in the relatively newer temples closer to Bangkok. It's definitely a much slower pace in Ayuttahay--I guess you could tell b/c the tuk tuks are much smaller and slower, and the drivers less aggressive. :)
I think one of the most interesting parts was the boat/ferry ride from the new town where the train station was over to the old town. It's only 3 Baht (about 1 penny), and it was 99% locals just going to and from school/work.
I still had some extra time after seeing a good chunk of Ayuttahaya, so I decided to take the train about an hour further north to Lop Buri, an even older and smaller town filled with ancient ruins. Apparently, a pack of monkeys came into town over a century ago and inhabited one of the more isolated and modern temples, sort of making it their own. The story I read said that at some point, they broke into factions, and the renegade monkeys decided it would be more fun to live in the city itself across the street. So now Lop Buri has wild monkeys running amuck - I guess the more dignified hang out in the trees around the temple, where the city has even set them up with a big pool for drinking water, and the others are crawling from balcony to balcony around the sidewalks in the city. Since Buddhism prevents the killing of most animals other than for food, they believe it would be bad luck to kill any of them, so it looks like they are there to stay.
I went over the one of the two temples they inhabit (now they expanded to two), and they were everywhere. It was really cool to see the babies hanging onto their parents' backs and hoo-ing. It really made up for the elusive monkeys that never came around in Costa Rica! And don't worry, Mom, I kept my distance so as to avoid the poop-throwing that they are known for. The worker at the booth in this particular temple was really cool and went with me to unlock the inside of the temple (they keep it locked up to keep the monkeys out). It seemed pretty untouched - there were still remnants of seated stone Buddhas and wood plank ceilings and floors, only with patches of grass and weeds poking through here and there. And don't forget the bats hanging out in the rafters. Yuck!
Oh-and I had some of the best Pad Thai ever. I was starving and went to a little cafe in the middle of town. The entire menu was in Thai, but the family running the restaurant managed to help me translate enough for me to find the Pad Thai. They were really, really nice. It's amazing how much communication can occur even though we didn't speak any of each other's languages.
Tonight I am taking it easy and doing some laundry (and emailing) before getting up early tomorrow. I want to check out the Weekend Market in the morning before my plane leaves to Ranong, in the southern part of Thailand. It will be nice to be in a more remote area with a couple of days' R&R before the volunteer work begins on Monday. I hear there are some hot springs there, so you know where I'll be!
Have a good one!