Category Archives: Central Countryside

Blessing a New House

The extended family that I visited in Ang Thong in April are in the process of turning a vacant lot into new accommodation/businesses. While I was there we had a blessing of the first stage by monks from two of the local wats.

I was afraid that this would involve an incredibly early start, but the scheduled time was quite civilised: around 8am. Of course, this meant that the women started cooking much earlier, but for a man the main responsibility seems to be to await orders.

Eventually the time came to load food and other equipment on the pickup and we were off. The equipment included mats for the monks, who arrived later in a couple more pickups.

The ceremony was similar to various celebrations I’ve seen back in New Zealand. But it is enjoyable to see these things in their natural environment.

After the chanting it was time to serve the monks. So, finally, at this stage it’s an advantage being a man, since we can hand the food across, whereas the women would have to place it on the monks’ receiving cloths. Of course, being Thailand, there was enough food to feed a small army, so once the monks had taken what they needed no-one went hungry.

The final part of the ceremony was blessing the individual rooms and some sprinkling water around. Then the monks were back on the pickups and the workmen who had been politely waiting could get on with the rest of the job.

Road Trip to Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi is famous for the “death railway” and various National Parks. But how do Thai experience it? And how do they get there?

By bus of course! Early in the morning about 35 of us packed into the bus and sped off across the Ang Thong and Suphan Buri countryside in the general direction of Kanchanaburi. Across the dead-flat plains with the smell of burnt stubble always in the background. In my last blog I mentioned the panic that Thai feel if they are going to be separated from food for more than a few moments. But not to worry, we stopped for lunch boxes, then at a 7/11 at the rest stop a little later. No one went hungry. And there was plenty to drink…

I am slightly puzzled that these “fun busses” (my term) have (according to the writing on the side) 330 HP, a multi-KW sound system, but no air conditioning. Never mind, I’m sure 35C heat is good for us…

After that heat it’s good to cool down a little. We spent a tranquil few hours at Namtok Sai Yok Noi (Little Sai Yok Waterfall). Nice walks with nice views and some caves.

It was nice to be away from Bangkok, where you sometimes feel that Farang are seen as an easy source of income. Out here I was somewhat of a novelty, but in a pleasant, friendly, sort of way: “Hey, Farang, come over here and swim with us…”

Late afternoon it was time to head for our accommodation, which turned out to be a barge that was towed up and down the river by a small boat.

As we loaded the barge with various food and drink supplies there was a huge downpour. This did little to dampen the sprits, and was a welcome respite from the heat.

The bat above flew in sometime during the evening.

The barge was equipped with a sound system that would put a 1960s music festival to shame. I can’t understand why the entire nation is not completely deaf. It is a strange contradiction that the soft-spoken Thai have such a penchant for megawatt sound systems.

There appeared to be dozens of similar barges out on the water and sometimes they would drift close to us. Particularly notable was a raucous barge populated mostly by exhibitionist lady-boys, but good taste prevents me from going into details…

After partying into the night we “parked” by the side of the river, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Well, there was a shower block, and some food for sale in case we were still hungry. Everyone eventually flopped out on the mats on the floor of the barge. Thankfully, the music finally stopped, since I find it difficult to sleep when my whole body is vibrating.

The next morning was idyllic, and the trip back to the town was very pleasant.

We stopped at various places, including Wat Tham Mangkon Thong, famous for the “floating meditating nun”. Unfortunately, due to some misunderstandings about timing, I missed out on the performance, but I had a nice walk up the hill. I believe the photo below is from Wat Tham Phu Wa, which has more interesting caves.

Finally we were back in the town of Kanchanaburi. After loading our things back on the bus most of the Thai headed off to the markets (and the restaurants) but I took the opportunity to see “The Bridge”. It’s a lot smaller than I expected, nice stroll across the river.

Finally, we were back on the bus and off back to Ang Thong. But not before stopping at yet another market.

An interesting experience. Not many of the sights mentioned in the guide books, but a great insight to how to holiday Thai-style.

Wat Phra Non Chaski

Wat Phra Non Chaksi in Sing Buri, is famous for its impressive 46m Reclining Buddha, one of the largest in Thailand.

It is difficult to grasp the scale of the Buddha. In fact, it’s not easy to see the whole thing, because it is behind the columns on the right of the picture below.

As a result, you only see it in slices, until you go behind the columns, where you can view the whole thing, but from a rather oblique angle. The difficulty of seeing the whole image at once is, perhaps, a device to add to the mystery of the experience.

Beyond the head and behind the back of the Reclining Buddha there are dozens of Buddha images of various sizes, with different hand gestures. At least one was in a non-lotus position. I did not really think about this at the time. I was busy just soaking up the atmosphere. The whole experience was rather overwhelming. Next time I’ll be able to pay a little more attention so such details.

Before venturing into the building that houses the Reclining Buddha we passed though the other areas of the Wat, lighting incense, making offerings, and being blessed by a monk. I was pleased that I had learned enough before I went to Thailand that I didn’t have to bug my friends with endless questions, which would have tended to destroy the mood. With a little prior knowledge and judicious observation I managed to not make a complete fool of myself.

At the feet of the Reclining Buddha there are statues for each day of the week. Here I realised that my preparations had a fatal flaw. You are supposed to make an offering to the statue corresponding to the day you were born. The amount of the offering is different depending on the day, as you can see from the list on the wall. I had a vague recollection that my birthday was either Friday or Monday, so I figured I had a 50% chance of getting it right but, of course, I guessed wrong. I hope that the Monday statue appreciated the gold leaf and the 15 baht.

Viewing this spectacularly impressive Reclining Buddha and experiencing the other aspects of the Wat was a very satisfying experience and a wonderful way to round off my first trip to Thailand.

Some Suphan Buri Sights

In my last blog I talked about the defeat of the Thai by the Burmese in the 1760s. Conflicts with Burma are a recurring theme in this area. A short distance away, at Don Chedi in Suphan Buri, is a memorial to the 1592 victory over the Burmese.

We spent a pleasant day taking in some of the sights in Suphan Buri, but really just scratched the surface. Writing this blog, I realise that one of the themes for the day was animals.

Our first stop was the complex of attractions at Bueng Chawak. There are many things to see here, an aquarium, various animals, birds, and plants. Of course, we only saw a fraction of it. It would probably take a whole day to do it justice. It was a popular place, full of children, parents, and mini-van loads of monks. Even a talent show. Though it wasn’t the destination I would have picked if I had been on my own (I would have gone for more history) it was a nice feeling: Thai families having a day out.

Our next stop was the Buffalo Village. This has been described as a tourist trap, and it is true that they charge farang prices, even though my Thai friends bought the tickets.

The village contains some pleasant gardens and examples of traditional Thai houses, but the main “attraction” for me was the buffalo show. It occurred to me that this is the sort of thing that we sell to foreign tourists in New Zealand. In our case it is demonstrations of sheep shearing, rounding up sheep with dogs (sheep are big in New Zealand), and ploughing (with tractors). But here the buffalo do the ploughing and I didn’t see any foreign tourists, just local Thai people, including the ever-present monks.

It would be easy to make fun of the show, but, like the shows back in New Zealand, it is always interesting to see real animals at work. And of course we got to feed them in at the end. Feeding animals, especially fish, seems to be a popular pastime in Thailand.

The sun was getting low by the time we got to Don Chedi. It was immediately obvious that this was a popular and important site. To get to it we had to pass a gauntlet of stalls selling everything from electronic equipment to handbags. My friends insisted that I try the fried bugs so I was soon wandering around with a bag full of grasshoppers and various other invertebrates. I’ve eaten bugs at “wild food” festivals back home, so I was a little disappointed that in this case the cooking process had vaporised all of the flesh. Only the exoskeletons remained and the mixture was sprayed with syrup. Not unpleasant, but very sweet and I did not manage to finish the bag.

But on to the monument. There is a lot of detail about King Naresuan, and his 1592 victory over the Burmese in an elephant battle here and in this blog. The impressive pagoda was constructed in the early 20th century, over the remains of a much older monument.

Inside the monument there are many displays, in Thai and English, and some very realistic-looking models of the battle. Almost like being there. Of course, the Burmese are the ones in red in the picture above getting the worst of it.

Outside there were some real elephants, giving a better feel of the scale. And, of course, we got to feed them.

After that it was time to feed ourselves, at yet another excellent roadside restaurant. Another interesting day in Central Thailand. And not another foreigner in sight.

Bang Rajan: From movie to real life?

One of the joys of visiting a country is the opportunity to get a feel for the history first hand. In preparation for my April trip I watched two movies based on important events in Thai history: “Suriyothai” and “Bang Rajan”. Both involve conflicts with Burma, the former a victory, the latter the “last stand” in the 1760s, before the Burmese finally conquered Thailand and destroyed the capital, Ayuthaya. The “Thai Alamo” is one way of describing it.

The monument to these events is in Sing Buri, at Khai Bang Rachan. This was only a short drive from where I was staying in north-west Ang Thong so late one morning I set off with one of my hosts.

The site includes an impressive monument, with characters immediately recognisable to anyone who has seen the movie. What is even more impressive is how many Thai people who turn up to this monument to pay their respects, which you can gauge from the number of incense sticks in the photograph.

Around the monument is a reconstruction of the village. The bamboo floors of the sleeping huts looked familiar from the movie, and were much more comfortable than I expected! There is also a building with various posters and models.

As well as the reconstruction there was, of course, a pleasant restaurant. Some lunch fortified us for some more sightseeing.

Across the road there are more artefacts and shrines. The weapons below are supposed to be from the period.

The images in the foreground of this photograph are also supposed to be originals from the time.

And, of course, there is a shrine to the chief monk of the village. Note the prominently-featured sword. Engaged Buddhism?

Of course, you do not need to see the monument to feel the history of central Thailand. The entire countryside in this area reminds you of the movie. The heat, the rice, and the flat landscape that seems to go on forever. It is not difficult to imagine the villagers frantically harvesting rice between Burmese attacks.

It is interesting to put these events into the historical context that we are more familiar with in the West. This was just before Cook’s voyages to New Zealand. Not long before the American revolutionary war and the French revolution. This was not some event of prehistory.

I was interested to have a close look at the Bot. I posted some photos of the recent ordination of a Bot in my home town here. Our Bot does not yet have the markers that you see here in front of and to the side of the building, above the buried Sima balls. The eight markers outside a Bot indicate the consecrated area.

I was pleased to have seen this monument to Thai history. Without some pre-trip preparation it might not have been so compelling. Of course, my preparation was watching a movie, a reconstruction. Still, for whatever reason, it was a moving experience.