Daily Archives: August 28, 2005

A Trip to Chachoengsao

Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan

In my library, I probably have just about every guidebook that has ever been published about Thailand. My rough rule of thumb to judge a good guidebook is to look up my home province of Samut Prakan. If the guidebook has it, then I consider it to be a comprehensive guide. Another place to look up in the index is Chachoengsao, a province about 100 kms east of Bangkok. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Moon, Footprint, National Geographic and many others don’t feature this province. To the credit of Lonely Planet, they did give it half a page about ten years ago. But, not any longer. Joe Cummings did tell me once that he was under pressure from the publishers to cut out little visited provinces as the guidebook had reached its limit in number of pages.

In the old days, it was the foreign guidebooks that were leading the way in Thailand. However, things have changed. Spurred on by the Tourist Authority of Thailand’s “Unseen Thailand” campaign, Thai people have now taken a greater interest in exploring their own country. As a consequence, over the last year or so, we have started to see some good quality, Thai language, guidebooks. One of them on my desk at the moment is “Unseen Thailand” and this book has several pages of places to see in Chachoengsao. This is where I went today. I strongly suggest, that any guidebook writers reading this, should take time out to visit some of these lesser known provinces.

Life along the Bang Pakong River

For most people, it is easy to reach Chachoengsao from Bangkok by train or bus. However, I drove there via the Bang Na-Trad tollway and the 304 highway. It took just over an hour to travel the 80 kms or so. I was actually going today to visit the Thai Food Festival in Phanom Sarakham District. But, as this wasn’t due to start until late afternoon I decided to visit the township first. The main attraction in Chachoengsao is Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan. This lies alongside the Bang Pakong River. The new ordination hall is massive. It has only recently been completed. The spire is an amazing 84 metres high and is probably the tallest ordination hall in Thailand.

Behind the temple you can join boat tours of the local area. During the weekend and holidays, tours leave hourly and only cost 100 baht for adults and 60 baht for children. The scenery on both sides of the river is very beautiful. During the tour you will be able to witness people going about their normal daily life. You will see humble wooden shacks and exquisite teak houses. You can catch a glimpse of the old city wall and many temples. One of the stops takes you to the hundred year old Ban Mai Market and the Chinese temple at Wat Leng Hok Yee.

Luang Pho Sothon

Back at Wat Sothon, I went inside the newly opened ordination hall to pay respect to the sacred image of Luang Pho Sothon. You are not actually allowed to take a photo anymore, but I managed to take this one on my previous visit while construction was still going on. Like other important and royal temples, you need to cover up if you are wearing sleeveless shirts. A gown is provided free of charge. There is an interesting legend behind Luang Pho Sothon. Apparently, he was one of three brothers who were Buddha images. During one of the conflicts, towards the end of the Ayutthaya period, the three brothers just got up one day and walked down to the river. The strong current took them downstream. One of them ended up at Samut Songkram. Another ended up in Samut Prakan on my doorstep. The third arrived in Chachoengsao.

There is a lot more to see in this area but I didn’t have enough time today. Maybe next time. I will share my photos with you of the Food Festival another day.

More pictures can be found at our sister site: www.thaibuddhist.com

Of dogs and men

My Thai friends have been continuously teasing me saying that I could apply for a position as an “accidental expert”. Not that I ever wanted to apply, it was rather by karmic appointment I guess. I do believe in karma to some extent, that there must be a reason why anything happens to us, that there is a list of lessons to be learnt and feelings to be experienced, which cannot be escaped – many Hungarians consider this approach as a comfortable way of not taking the responsibility for your life and basically an “easy way out” for cowards…. and it is a lot of trouble trying to explain how it is meant to be…. Anyway. I have never had to spend a minute in a hospital outside Thailand…. but once I’m there…. I don’t dare to set foot in the land of smiles without an insurance.

It was my last day in Thailand before leaving for a new life and job in Taiwan, and I went to Wat Po to pray – might be a commonplace tourist “trap” again, but I do love the place – , and then wandered around the abandoned parts of the complex – there is a school, with a pingpong table and basketball court, and there were some renovations going on, with heaps of rubble. And there was this furious dog near the entrance that charged straight at me, for no reason whatsoever. I collapsed immediately after the bite, later it turned out to be a two-centimeter deep wound, which took months to heal. My leg was bleeding like a fountain and I was in shock. I don’t know how much time passed before there was a crowd of about thirty people around me, all Thai. They collected my bag and bandanna. A man gave me a mobile phone to call someone, a guesthouse, or anybody I know, and then realising I was unable to push the buttons or speak, he just took the piece of paper with my Thai friend’s phone number from my hand and called her. A monk turned up and gave a preaching (or tell-off) to the dog, one of the temple dogs, and apologised about a hundred times, he was almost in a more miserable shape than me. A woman got me by the arm, pulled me outside the gate, flagged a tuktuk, and ordered it to drive to the nearest pharmacy at breakneck speed, where I got a generous dose of iodine or some other disinfectant on the wound and fainted for the second time. The woman paid for the tuktuk, I remember she was yelling at the driver, who was trying to overcharge the farang. But she refused to accept a single baht from me in the end, and I didn’t have the strength to insist. Then my friend arrived at Wat Po – we were about to meet anyway for a farewell dinner – and she took care of me. I was taken to a hospital, where I got some more rinsing, lots of penicillin, and the first of five rabies shots (the remaining four turned into an adventure tour in Taiwan, a country where rabies is unheard of, so it took the authorities and my new boss a lot of trouble to track down the vaccine.). Since then, I have been panic-stricken if a stray dog looks at me. If it heads for me, I just start screaming, I cannot help it, whether it works or not. It’s a lousy, sneaky bunch of beasts, lying seemingly helplessly during the heat of the day, but coming to life as the sun sets, when they can scare the hell out of innocent passers-by in the gloomy streets….

And then I had the case of being hit by a motorcycle on a subsequent visit. And then getting some rashes and a horrible sunburn after elephant riding, being unable to walk for a day . And then severe dehydration caused by a pizza in a horribly expensive Italian restaurant where I took a Thai friend because he had never eaten a pizza in his life – well, he had quite an experience at the first try, he’ll never forget it for sure. (I got a bed in the hospital with a magnificent view over Doi Suthep, he got away more lightly and wasn’t hospitalised.) And every time, strangers helped me, took care of me, took care of my belongings, visited me in the hospital, brought a dinner for me. It was never the other farangs around, but always the Thais. A guy who brought some lotion for my sunburn and rashes after that elephant ride even fell in love with me, apparently, and proposed to me after two days, which I had to turn down “reluctantly” 🙂 First I thought it was just some practical joke, it turned out he really meant it….

Just “try” any of these accidents over here and see what happens. Consider yourself lucky if after a simple fainting in the street due to a sudden drop in blood pressure you still have your bag when you recover more or less, sitting on the pavement, with all the indifferent people passing you by or remarking that you shouldn’t drink so much so early in the morning. Ok, maybe one in ten would ask if you’re fine…. but they would expect yes for an answer so that they can walk away feeling relieved. That’s kind of what I was trying to refer to when I was talking about the fabric of society in Thailand. It’s not just a bunch of indifferent people who turn a blind eye to each other if anything unexpected happens. They are humans.

Or is it, again, just a facade for the farang? I have no way of being certain, but I don’t think so.