Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya palace grounds at dusk

2 March - 6 March 

We took the train directly from Nakhon Chai Si, a local bus to a commuter stop, and all the way to Ayutthaya effortlessly. We crossed on the ferry to the island and were met at the boat by PU—pee-you--proprietor of the PU Hotel. We had agreed to splurge for a nicer room, maybe one with hot water and cable, and so we paid a little bit extra because she promised a swimming pool. After checking in we found out that the wall-mounted fan didn't work, the floor fan didn't rotate, and the swimming pool was an extra 50B per person, when I'd specifically asked if it was extra during check-in.

Of course I never fight these things. I just take them and speak with my feet, by walking down the street to a deluxe place that still keeps shared-bathroom fan rooms for the backpackers. I need to make a rule to only stay in teak houses from now on. The problem is I also love the small-town concrete hotels designed for Thais, with condoms for sale in the lobby and squat toilets. But in those rooms the fans are industrial strength and always work.

Decor at a farang bar
So in Ayutthaya we were away from real Thailand and back to Disneyland—with a row of piano bars and jazz clubs in front of a row of guesthouses. Ayutthaya is a small town turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Georgetown, in Malaysia, and these cities have a way of growing on you despite their flaws. I understand why they are chosen, although after they are chosen their character changes into something strange and different. In this place elephants are force-marched down the street in orange regalia for the amusement of package tourists. Twenty-year-olds dance macarena in the streets. Elderly Thai men play Billy Joel songs in bad English at top volume late into the night. In a town sacred to Thais, the original home of the ancient capital, the fabled fourteenth-century city.

I am having a lot of problems with elephant rides after reading how they are habitually tortured into submission.
We wandered the white-hot streets at noon, dodging tuk-tuk touts and finding our way to the green center of the city, filled with shady parks and ruined temples. We're becoming better and better at figuring out our way around the tourists, though, and it's shocking to me how easy it can be to get away from the crowds. On our first day we found our way into the depths of a park surrounded by ruins, and sat on the grass in the shade. There were no people around. We could have been alone. And this in the number-two site recommended by Lonely Planet in all of Thailand.

So I complain about all of the tourists, and how Thailand is ruined, but it's really not true. It may be true in some areas, but there are always secret hiding places, and there will continue to be. As there are in the urban US, as there are anywhere. The secret is in believing they are there and finding them. Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “And for all of this, nature is never spent—there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” True that.

Ruined temples and birds

1 comment:

Peter said...