Well, I have returned from my class trip- to Ayutthaya. For those of you who don’t know, Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand (well Siam, as it was then called) before Bangkok. I was founded in the 14th Century and abandoned after it was virtually destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th Century. The city is kind of neat, because the ruins are located smack-dab in the middle of a thriving, modern city. The city is also a World Heritage site, my second, but certainly not last of this trip.
We left Hua Hin at 10am yesterday morning (Friday) for our four hour (well…less…they drove fast) trip to our homestay location, a bit north of Ayutthaya. We arrived around 2pm, and even stopped for lunch at a gas station that had an A&W (I’ve never been so happy to eat fast food)! Our homestay was in a little village near a town I believe was called Sena (no clue if I spelled that right), which I haven’t been able to find on a map either.
The village was an example of rural, old-fashioned Thai life, really untouched by tourism. The town was very small and the main mode of transit was via boats on the river that flowed through it. All the houses were on stilts and had docks onto the river. The house itself was one large room with a kitchen and bathroom added on. The room functioned as everything…dining room, entertainment hall, and bedroom. We all slept together on sleeping mats on the floor. It was an experience, though I’d rather have a matress any time!
In the evening, some school children came over to practice their English and they came with us and the director of the homestay program, the only one in town (except the kids) who spoke some English (which wasn’t very good), on a boat trip around town. The boat was piloted by the town policeman, who was also the homestay manager’s husband (really small town!). This town really is dominated by river life, as tons of people were out in boats, fishing, washing, and bathing. We stopped by the town’s Wat to take a look and feed the enormous catfish the Wat kept so that people could get merit by feeding them.
In the evening, the family prepared this amazing Thai dinner for us. It had 6 dishes and was served family style. After dinner, there was traditional Thai dancing, in traditional dress, complete with a band playing traditonal Thai instruments! After that, we had a demonstration in making a Thai dessert that I’ve had before in my Thai class, but I don’t know the name. It had sticky rice mixed with coconut milk, sugar, and black beans, combined with half a banana in banana leaves, which were folded, and then tied up, and then steamed for 45 minutes or so. It was very good, and different!
This morning (Saturday) we got up really really early (5:30am) to partake in the alms-giving….feeding the monks. The family had prepared offerings for each of us to give to the monks. And shortly after 6am a solitary monk came rowing down the river and docked at our hosue. One by one, we each went and put our offerings in his bowl. They emphasized to us that we couldn’t look him in the eyes nor could we touch him. We also got to watch a nice sunrise over the river!
After breakfast, which consisted of some sort of a boiled rice porridge with pork and mushrooms, and probably some other things as well, we set off for Ayatthuya. Our teacher had hired a guide, whose name was Mr. Pork (which is his nickname….nearly all Thai people have them and they mean odd things, like pork or other animals and stuff. It’s kind of like Gordo in Ajijic). The downside to travelling with a group is that we didn’t get to pick where we went, and we spent very little time in the places, but alas we did see a few sights.
First was a Wat that was built in the 14th Century and was home to the largest Stupa in Ayatthuya, and was still an active monestary (that also had nuns). The temple was largely in tact, despite the Burmese invasions. Secondly, we visited a chinese-style Wat, also still active. It was home to what we were told was the largest sitting Buddha in Thailand. However, it was difficult to see as they were renovating it and hence it was covered in scaffolding. We did get to see a neat ritual though, where people made offerings of robes, that were thrown thrown up to people on the Buddha and they used the to robe the Buddha, but in the process also dropped the ends over the heads of the people, in what we were told was a blessing.
Finally we visited one set of the many ruins in the Ayatthuya Historic Park (the other two weren’t part of the park and weren’t ruins). The Wat we visited was definitely ruined, but featured many elements influenced by the Khmer Empire of Angkor fame. Most of the Buddha images at the Wat were headless, as when the Burmese invaded, they apparantly burned the heads off the Buddhas. We did see the most photographed site in Ayatthuya though…a head of a Buddha that was tangled in tree roots…apparantly it had been underground and as the roots grew, it’s been moving the head up!
Unfortunately, just as things were getting really exciting, the group voted to go home, despite the fact that it wasn’t even noon yet! We agreed to stop at an old Palace on the way back, but when we got there, the entrance fee was 100 baht and not everyone had student ID’s with them to get the significant discount, so once again, the group voted to go home…ah the joys of group travelling! Anyways, I am home now and plan on relaxing tomorrow!
Ok well that’s all for now. I’ve already posted photos from Bangkok on my photo site and I’ll get around to posting from Ayatthuya in the next few days, so stay tuned! Next weekend I’m thinking of maybe going with some friends to Kanchanburi (probably spelled that wrong), home of the infamous death railway and the bridge on the river Kwai.