Since I can’t sleep right now because of the fireworks, I may as well catch up on some blogging.
Ayutthaya was one of the sightseeing stops I made on my recent trip to Thailand. It is an historic city, and has been name an UNESCO World Heritage sight because of its role as the second capital of Siam and the many remains of temples and places that dot its landscape. It was also a day that emphasized the importance of having a clear communication with your interpreter before before starting.
I will start this out by saying first of all that I have an ambiguous relationship with sight-seeing to start with. I may write a blog about it some time.
Secondly, of all things to sight-see, tourist attractions are my least favorite. I dislike the crowds, the prices and the cheap spectacle. A day spent knocking about in the boonies or the jungle and happening upon an active temple or an unexpected Catholic Church, or a local night market, or even just people living their lives, this is my idea of sight-seeing.
Interpreters, however, often come to the job with a set of expectations about what Westerners want to see. So do drivers. They want to take you to the places where tourists go to do things that tourists do. So our first stop that day, which was suggested by our interpreter, was an animal show.
That wasn’t a bad place to see. The hawkers were selling baby bottles and bundles of grass so you could feed the sheep, or baby bottles to feed the koi fish. This elephant was chained in a corner so people could take pictures with it, and a lady was selling cucumbers to feed to it nearby (the ground was covered with smashed cucumbers, which apparently it didn’t want to eat).
They had a baby white lion that you could pose for pictures with, and further back in the same room they had a full grown tiger, heavily sedated, that you could also have your picture taken with.
However they don’t let you take a picture with your own camera. They take the picture for you and charge 20 baht. One of our guys got hustled into the room and posed next to the tiger before he knew what was happening. He doesn’t speak any Thai but he got the idea pretty quick when the man with the camera started demanding 20 baht.
He didn’t pay, which was only fair because he didn’t ask for or want the picture, but it made the owners angry.
I paid the 700 baht to ride the elephant. I love elephants. I would love to have an elephant as a pet. The elephants know their business pretty well. They walk a 30 or 60 minute circuit around this ruined prang. At a certain point the driver gets off and lets the passenger ride on the elephant’s head and makes the elephant shake the passenger’s hand with its trunk.
I was surprised how hard it was to maintain my balance with her shoulders going up and down underneath me, which is probably why the real elephant drivers actually sit on the elephant’s neck, or the back of her head.
On the one hand, it was awesome to be able to ride on her and just feel the power of her muscles. On the other hand, it wasn’t really what I wanted. It’s kind of like when I was a kid and I watched westerns all the time, and dreamed of being the Lone Ranger and riding all over the West. The guided pony ride at the fair, while fun in its own way, did not measure up. I wanted to be doing real things away from the safety nets, as it were. I always have.
Our interpreter wanted to take us to a “floating market” next but we declined. You can buy trinkets anywhere, and you can buy them cheaper almost anywhere. Instead, we wanted to see some historic ruins.
There was bit of a hassle finding any, which you would think surprising considering how many there are in Ayutthaya. Some of the guys were getting irritated with the driver, which I thought wasn’t quite fair for a couple of reasons. For one thing, we were having trouble making up our own minds, and then explaining that to him through a language barrier was bound to be confusing. For another, the American “hurry, hurry, hurry, we have to be there NOW!” is foreign to Thai culture, especially on a so-called day off. And finally, just because a driver is Thai doesn’t mean he knows his way around every city in Thailand. That’s like expecting someone to know their way around New York City simply because they are from America.
We made it to an old temple sight eventually, and that was quite worth seeing.
This temple had been abandoned for many hundreds of years. It was decaying, although the rubble and fallen bricks had been removed and all the buildings that remained were well cared for.
The city itself was founded in A.D. 1350 and destroyed by the Burmese in 1767.
This picture (above) shows the remains of the principle sermon hall with the rows of Buddha images on either side leading up to the principle Buddha image at the head.
The Temple is home to a Buddha image that has been overgrown by a banyan tree, so that only the face is now visible.
Ayutthaya, by the way, is pronounced “ah-YOU-tea-ah,” not “Ah-ya-Tai-ya” as I have always pronounced it.
The place is full of the remains of these small Buddha images.
You must realize, of course, that the pictures can be misleading. For one thing they give no good conception of the size of the complex, or the sense of its sprawling, yet organized layout.
For another, they seem to me to give the impression of a somewhat austere, mysterious silence, but that was not the case. It was very hard to get a shot without another tourist in it, and as for the noise, well, the park was surrounded by busy streets on all sides. The bicycles with their bells, or the hawkers shouting their wares, and the cars and trucks driving by and honking, generally continued pretty consistently the whole time.
The overall sense the whole site gave me was one of up-reaching. As if all those hundreds of years ago, thousands of men and women broke their backs raising this place brick by brick, bearing witness in stone to their instinct to reach up to something better, higher, and holier than themselves.
I daresay it is not an original thought, and bears application to any number of ancient religious sites around the world.
But I couldn’t help but compare the level of suffering and hardship, sacrifice and self-oblation, that went into building this place, contrasting it with my easy, effortless and (relatively) cheap “capturing” of it all on my iPhone. I compared and contrasted in my imagination, and I felt that I didn’t necessarily have the better deal.