When work takes you to Thailand, and you have a free weekend, you should definitely use that weekend to get out and see the country a bit. This is my second trip to Thailand. Of all countries I have been to, Thailand is one of my favorites, right up their with Nepal. They are very different countries, but I like them both in different ways.
Thailand is great for street meat. Little out of the way shops and vending trucks are the way to eat. A lot of westerners don’t like them because they are afraid of getting food poisoning, but my experience has always been the exact opposite. The street stands are the safest places to eat because everything is roasted on charcoal, boiled or deep-fried right before your eyes. In fact the only time I’ve ever gotten food poisoning was in Nepal at a Five Star Hotel. I have never gotten sick at a street food stand.
We set out for a waterfall that our interpreter found on a list of attractions in the Lop Buri area. We saw pictures of it on the internet that looked pretty good, but we had a hard time finding it, and spent a lot of time driving around the middle of nowhere. Directions in the boondocks in Thailand are not always very precise. We asked for directions but a lot of the locals had never heard of the place. When we did finally find the spot the sign didn’t look very promising.
The bathrooms along the “trail” looked even less so.
Which did not stop us from using them, by the way…
When we got to the river the water looked as if it was carrying the run-off from those toilets. We had a pleasant chat with the gang of local boys who were sporting around in it and learned that the “waterfall” was actually a series of cement cascades and pools that the town had built into the river to create a tourist attraction, but that some years ago a flood had come through and wiped it all out. We saw the chunks of concrete lying in the water throughout the river.
So instead of glittering waterfalls leaping merrily over the precipices and plunging into crystal pools below, as the internet photos showed, instead there was a dirty brown river slowly sliding through a small, rural Thai town whose citizens were utterly unconcerned by its lack of tourist appeal. Indeed, they seemed more amused than otherwise by us.
We did buy some excellent corn on the cob and chicken-on-a-stick.
So then our driver (who doesn’t speak English) chimed in with an “I told you so” expression on his face, and volunteered to take us to the real waterfall. Apparently his sister had told him about the “waterfall” some time before and he had told our interpreter, Jib, that it was not going to be worth seeing. She, however, can be very stubborn and she didn’t listen.
So then we drove to the Pa Sak Cholasit reservoir to find a swimming area, but it has been a very dry year and the rainy season hasn’t really kicked in full bore yet, so the lake was low, the beach was a mud flat, and the tents were deserted.
At that point we were going to call it a day. Fortunately, we decided to take the long way back, and on the north end of the lake we drove past a Buddhist temple with a giant statue of the Buddha still under construction. Inside the courtyard of the temple complex there was a decent sized street market of the kind I love best. It was the night market (so called to distinguish it from the morning market) with tons of local produce and food carts.
Of course I had to stop and patronize some of the stands. I got a lot of surprised and pleased looks because I said “Sawadee-Kahp” (hello) and “Kahp Kum Krahp” (thank-you) and greeted people with the traditional Thai bow, although I messed up the protocol a bit by initiating the bow towards people younger than myself. The younger are supposed to bow first. Still, Jib said they thought I was a “cute” foreigner because I was so polite. (I wonder if they were surprised by comparison with other foreigners?)
I bought some Dhwoi Khai which are tiny little bananas smaller than my thumb (the name means “egg banana.”) I think the egg bananas are the sweetest and most flavorful of bananas, as if they cram all the flavor of a big banana in a tiny package.
I also bought a little baggie of sweet rice cakes in coconut milk. Jib said you don’t see them around much anymore because they are very time consuming to make. I thought they were a little too sweet, but I love the chewy rice cake texture.
And I donated some change towards the completion of the Buddha statue.
I’ve always thought that if I wasn’t a Catholic I would be a Buddhist. It’s the second most badass religion.
But I am a Catholic. By God’s grace we were able to find a Catholic Church not too far from where we were staying (one of the guys is also Catholic). No matter where I go in the world, as soon as I find a Catholic Church, I am home.
We ascertained what time Mass would be the next day, and then went sightseeing in downtown Lop Buri.
Lop Buri city is an interesting place. It was the capital of the kingdom over a thousand years ago, long before the King of Siam unified the country and transferred his capital to Bangkok. At that time the area was under the control of the Khmer empire, and traces of their architecture can be seen randomly dotted all over the city in the temple and palace ruins. As the city grew the ancient sites were allowed to fall into disrepair, but still held in enough reverence that they were not torn down. The city simply grew up around them. A good example is this Brahman temple (circa. 1500’s A.D.) in the middle of a busy intersection.
The old town is chock full of temples and palaces, such as this Chinese influenced Buddhist temple built by King Narai the Great (1633-1688).
A view through the wall of the Royal Palace complex.
And then there was this magnificent view right in the heart of downtown Lop Buri, between the biker bar and Moon’s Guest House (a local Hippie boarding house).
A perfect view with the moon in the background.
It may seem that the day started out as kind of a bust in the sightseeing department, and turned out pretty spectacular, but the truth is no day lived with an open heart can ever be a bust, even if you never see anything new in it the whole day long.