My Trip To Thailand

Pictures and words can not begin to describe how deeply this trip affected me.  It's been a week since I returned and my mind is still trying to processes everything.  I was looking through my pictures and realized it would take hours to try and describe what was going on in each one of them... pictures can't show you the heat of the sun, how wind felt as it came in during a storm, the sound of the ocean at night, hearing the roosters in the morning, being greeted by hundreds of smiling faces, being submersed in a foreign language, my difficulty in finding a bathroom with toilet paper, the hundreds of tourists buying knock off brands, the sound of Bangkok outside my hotel room as the sun sets behind the city and the bridges light up along the river, the smell of car exhaust at five in the afternoon, walking through cities that are primarily Buddhist, the smell drying squid, the sound of the children as they play in the river, getting completely lost in China town and trying to ask directions, doing yoga on the beach, the crunching sound I heard as I ate my first cricket, trying to figure out the currency difference between a "bat" and a "dollar",  and sex vendors presenting diagramed menus of things man was just never meant to see.  

So I'll place a few pictures on here and try to explain the world around them.   

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Our first week was spent in Prachuapkirikan, a small village south of Hua Hin at a bed and breakfast owned by a very nice Canadian man and his wife.  It was here that we would spend thirty hours learning Thai massage and the rest hanging out on the beach, hiking through the national forest, riding elephants, getting to know each other, shopping, and eating very good food.  The food was probably one of the most memorable parts of this trip as Bill's wife could not only cook, she could cook well.  I haven't had food like that in years and we quickly got spoiled during our stay there.   

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(above) The group, minus Scott and Lek, just before we go into class.  There is a story behind each person that would take hours to type, so I'll just say that I was very fortunate to have gone with such a wonderful group of people.   

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This is the first group of Buddhist temples we visited, they were set in the national park just outside Hua Hin.  Again, this picture can not show how the sun shown against the tops of the temples, how quiet the air was, the trees moving with the breeze, the sound of the river behind me as I took this picture.  Off to the left, behind the temple, is a monastery inhabited by several monks and a whole lot of monkeys.  Monkeys everywhere... knocking down chairs, tipping over water, and trying as best as they could to get a good look at us from the roof as we walked by.

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This is the balcony of the middle temple.  There are bells that surround it that emit a deep base like tone when hit.  The monks take one of these wooden mallets and walk the perimeter of the temple hitting each bell until they have made a complete circle.  I did this and it was amazing how the sound echoed off the cliff walls.  

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This is a view of the rear temple.  Most of it was created with pieces of pottery donated by the people of this community, this is done throughout Thailand and easier to see on some pictures I'll show later.  Again, the silence and the wind blowing through the trees was very peaceful... I could have stayed here all day, but we were on a time constraint in an effort to fit as much into this day as possible before going back to attend six more hours of Thai massage class.  

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This is my attempt at creating an artistic picture without a digital camera... in fact, mine was the only non-digital camera on the trip... while everyone else was taking hundreds of pictures of just about everything they could... I took only one and hoped for the best.  This is a picture of the boat we took through the fresh water marshes of Sam Roi Yot.  There were three of us on the boat including the driver who could speak English as well as I could speak Thai.  On the front of the boat were flowers strapped to pictures of the King and Buddha. 

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After we finished our tour of the marsh, we hiked a trail through the national park to Phyraya Nakhon Cave, a series of sink holes with a two hundred year old payer pavilion built in the largest of them by King Rama V... this was our destination.  Along the way we hiked up and down several hills... loosing some of our group to exhaustion along the way.  Above is a picture of the top of the first hill, below is a picture of the payer pavilion.

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Again, this picture cannot describe what it was like to hike for an hour through beautiful and lush scenery, breathing the ocean air, climbing down to the bottom of a cliff wall to find a small opening that lead through three large caverns to find this small prayer pavilion sitting in the middle of a large cavern where part of the roof had collapsed letting beams of light shine down to the cavern floor.  It was beautiful and this picture can not show how high the cavern was, or how far it went back into the darkness.  And... unlike most caves in America... we were allowed to roam freely without supervision... it's kind of nice to just to sit and enjoy something without some park ranger telling me to keep moving and not touch anything.   We walked through the cavern for about an hour then made our way back... dead tired from our trip we made it to class by four- thirty and practiced until eleven-thirty that night... that was a long day.  

The rest of my stay in Prachuapkirikan was either learning Thai massage, walking on the beach, riding some elephants, partying with the locals, swimming in the ocean, or just sitting in a chair and listening to the waves crash against the shore.  I passed my final exam and became certified in traditional Thai massage... it was a lot to learn and I still can't believe how much I was able to accomplish in just one week... a week that seemed more like a month.  After we took our final, the rest of the group decided they wanted to go to Phuket (a tourist beach) for five days then spend the reaming three days in Bangkok.  I struggled with this because I wanted to spend the rest of my trip submersing myself in the Thai culture... not nursing a frozen drink with umbrellas sticking out of it.  

So I separated from my group and went to Bangkok with Lek, a student in my class, born in Bangkok, who's father allowed me to stay at their home for five days.  I was very excited.  I could never have dreamed that I would have the opportunity to stay in a traditional Thai home right in the middle of Bangkok.  The home was nestled far away from the central business district in a more rural part of town.  It would take more time and space than I have to describe one block of this city, so I will just go through a few more pictures in effort to keep this flowing smoothly.  

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Above is side view of the home I stayed in.  Large palm trees and orchids surrounded the home with a variety of other plants and trees.  The house sat over a large pond with large gold fish and there were birds in every tree.  The house itself was very old and becoming worn with age.  Like most traditional Thai homes, a majority of the living areas are open to the elements, making them more susceptible to weathering.  The main part of the house was completely open... reached by the white bridge in the picture above.  My area, seen below, had an upstairs that was closed off.  The kitchen was in the down stairs area where we ate at the table in the bottom right hand corner of the picture. My laundry was done in a bucket off to the right from a garden hose... the same hose I used to brush my teeth each night.  Showering was interesting as I had to fend off the mosquitoes... and going to the bathroom was always an adventure... one night three toads decided to hop inside to keep me company.  The room I stayed in was in the upper right corner... you can see the mosquito net through the windows.   

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This is a picture of the inside of my room.  I slept at night under a mosquito net on a very thin mattress.  There was no air-conditioning, but it got down to about eighty-five at night so it wasn't too bad.  Just laying there, at night, under the mosquito net, with all the windows open, dogs barking, rooster crowing... it was amazing. 

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To the right of where I was staying, down the street, and passed a neighborhood temple was the Chao Phraya River.  While I stayed in Bangkok, I mostly used the river busses to get around during the day.  This is a view of the dock that leads to Wat Po and the Royal Palace.  I took the river buss to the dock, then took another boat across the river to explore Wat Arun, or "The Temple of the Dawn".    

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The towering prang of Wat Arun that you see to the right was built after the Burmese army destroyed the old capital city.  It represents Mount Meru, the mythological home of the Hindu gods.  The smaller building in the lower left of the picture is one of four lesser prangs that have statues and scenes depleting the life of Buddha; his birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and moment of entering nirvana at his death.  You can't really tell in this picture, but the entire surface of the temple, except for the statues, are lined with pieces of Chinese porcelain donated by the people of the surrounding areas.  They used these pieces of pottery to make flowers, and different designs all along the temple walls... through in some areas they used the complete dish, which made it interesting to see someone's complete set of dinner-wear lined up next to each other. In the picture below you can see two of the guardian statues that circle the lower level of the temple.  It would have taken an entire roll of film to capture even a hint of the beauty and intricate designs embedded into this amazing structure.  

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I stayed at Wat Arun for about two hours trying to take in every thing.  Afterward I took the river buss down to Chinatown.

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I hadn't planed on spending the rest of my day hiking through Chinatown, but there was so much to see that I decided to just walk the streets and look at how the people lived... plus I was lost and no one could speak English well enough to give me directions.  Above is a picture of one of the alleyways I walked through in an effort to find a street sign that was readable.  There were several of these alleys spanning all across this part of the city where thousands of people pushed there way through in search of something they desperately needed.  This was in the afternoon on Thursday... and the streets were crowded with Japanese tourists... I was one of the few Caucasians.  It was hot, smoky, smelled like dried fish, and the carbon exhaust from the main streets made it very difficult to breath... but the energy in these places was amazing and well worth getting lost.  Finally, unable to walk anymore, I found a cab driver that could understand the writing on an address card I had for a massage place near Silom Road (a more touristy area of Bangkok).  He took me there and I ended this rather long day with a massage... then dinner... then a facial... then a thai massage... and finally dancing at a club in Patpong until two in the morning... it was one of my more wild days in Bangkok and will probably take my brain a few more weeks to process completely.     

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The day before I got lost in China town, Lek, Sterling, and I made a trip about two hours north to Ayutthaya, the old capital city.  Before it was destroyed by the Burmese army, the city had a population of over a million people, over seventeen-hundred temples and thirty thousand priests.  Now it has about fifty temples that remain, though each are in some state of ruin. I have more pictures and information on the history of this area on my history of Wat Po page.  This particular picture was taken at Wat Lokaya Sutharam, the temple with the sixty-seven foot reclining Buddha.  To the left of this picture was a group of Thai elementary students being taught the history of the Burmese invasion.  Behind the temple was an active Buddhist monastery and several small huts for nuns... women who are very old, have no family, no friends, some in poor health and have come here to live in peace until they die.  Though some see this as a tourist attraction, many of the local residents still come to the remains of this once great temple to meditate and pray.  Up the steps to my right is a prayer room with several meditative Buddha statues lining the walls.  It is customary to light incense as you kneel down in meditation... it is also an old tradition to offer water to the spirits that inhabit the temple.  Below is a blurry picture of the inside of that room.  You can see a Buddha in the background and the ledge where incense is placed.  The smell was amazing and I thought it very nice that someone not only brought the spirits water... but provided them with straws.  

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On Friday, my fifth day in Bangkok, Lek and I took the river buss to Wat Po so I could get some herbal medicine from the massage school.  The picture below is of a street leading form one of the docks where several vendors were preparing small boats for people to set in the water later that evening during the "Loy Frathrong" celebration.  The celebration, an all day event held in November during the full moon, honors the ancient water spirit of Mae Kong Ka.  In the middle of the picture you can see a row of what looks to be flowers.  These are small boats created from various plants with a candle and three incense sticks sitting in the center surrounded by flowers... mostly orchids.  Later that night, the people of Thailand would take these boats, light the candles and incense, then set them free in the river after making a wish to the river goddess. 

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The group arrived from Phuket that night.  I met them at the hotel after saying goodbye to Lek's father and thanking him for his hospitality.  I would be staying at the Royal River resort hotel for the remaining three days of my journey.  The Royal River Hotel is a very high end, stuck up, greet you at the door and kiss your shoes kind of hotel... quite the opposite of what I had been staying in for the past five days.  The contrast was almost unsettling, but I will say the first hot show I took in this rather opulent hotel was probably the best shower I've had in years... and lasted for over thirty minutes.  Afterward, I met the others down in the lobby where we all went to eat at a restaurant along the river.  It was there that we purchased our own wishes and gave them to the river goddess.  Interestingly, my wish was created from the experiences I had during my trip... and it will be my wish for every wish made hear after. 

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The picture below is from one of my favorite moments on my trip.  Scott, Sara, and I were riding the boat bus back to the hotel.  It was night, and all the temples were lit up along the river banks.  We had a wonderful day together exploring Bangkok, and the boat ride was just a great way to end the day.  

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Below is a picture I took from the Balcony of my hotel overlooking the Chao Phraya River.  You can see a river buss in the lower right corner.  From my balcony I could hear the sound of the boats, the traffic, and at night I could hear music. This was taken on my last evening there, I was sad to be leaving, but I was ready to come home.    

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So, that is a very brief account of a few events that happened during my trip. I have never been outside the country except on vacations where I sat on a beach and worked on my tan.  This was much different.  It was my goal to learn their massage techniques, then spend the rest of my time learing about their history and their way of life.  It was a crash course in not only their culture, food, beliefs, but also how they're being affected by the influence of western civilization.  I think it was a lot to pack into only two weeks, but it was well worth it.  My understanding of the world has changed... and I am sure it will take several months for me to process everything I've learned.   

Now I know what they mean by a "once in a life-time opportunity". 

Steve Reedy 12-14-2004

 

 

 

 

 

 
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