home of the madduck/ blog/
Restless travellers

We've been busy travelling, never spending more than a night in the same place. Leaving Bangkok on the "3rd class" train for Ayuthaya was an experience of its own kind. The platform was full with people waiting for the train to arrive, and when it did, we witnessed something totally unexpected for the Thai: they almost quarelled to get into the train first to catch a seat. Fortunately we got lucky in the otherwise crowded wagons. We stopped frequenly, and a glance out of the window would give you a peek into the lowest end of Thai civilisation: barracks built along the tracks with large numbers of people vegetating along. Inside the train it was hot and sticky, and we were surely happy to disembark in Ayuthaya about an hour later than planned.

Ayuthaya was the Siamese royal capital between the 14th and the 18th century (the name derives from Sanskrit and means "undefeatable") and a bunch of temples and ruins, most with strong Khmer influence, survived the various Burmese attacks until today, making the city a nice attraction for those who like "stone piles" (as I've heard them described). We had made arrangements from Bangkok with the Baan Lotus Guesthouse, run by a lovely lady who spoke good English. Apart from the broken light in our room, the setting, the friendliness of our host, and the cleanliness of the rooms were definitely worth the price. After visiting Wat Phra Mahathat, the temple home to a Bhudda's head embedded in twisted roots, we had a guide escort us to a remote Elephant camp to witness the preparations for the upcoming New Year celebration (Songkran) in a week from now -- we are definitely looking forward to that. Later that night, we met some locals at a bar for chatting and went to bed late, thanks to our host handing over the keys and making an exception to the 11pm curfew.

We got up to meet the guide from the night before, who took us around three temples before dropping us off at the boat stop for a short cruise around the island (Ayuthaya is encircled by a river). Our train to Khorat (Nakhon Ratchasima) was scheduled for 12:23, and so we had to forgo most of the temples due to time constraints; Ayuthaya is close enough to Bangkok to come back here again during a future trip. Reaching the station with ample time, we found the (express) train to be full, but did not feel like waiting for the slower train an hour later, so we talked the station ward into getting us on anyway. Interestingly, I think he would have tried his best even if I had not slipped him 100 Baht (2 EUR) under the table. We got on, and even had two seats in an air-conditioned wagon, so the trip was quite relaxing -- to the point that we almost missed our stop.

Shortly before reaching Khorat, we rode through a thunderstorm, and there was a light drizzle as we stepped out of the station. The distance from Bangkok showed, the Tuk Tuk drivers (Tuk Tuks are the infamous three-wheeled taxis you find all over Southeast Asia) didn't hassle us, it was in fact not at all easy to find one, and when we did, he did not know where the Tokyo Hotel, our chosen home for the night, was located. With a map in hand, we thus simply started walking, but had to run for shelter at an ice factory when the rain picked up and sent cats and dogs onto the streets that really aren't made to take that much liquid. Eventually, a Tuk Tuk picked us up and got us to the hotel safely, and an hour later, the rain stopped. We did not miss a beat to get outside and ended up at "The Mall", a magnificent American-style "shopping paradise" (as Aline would call it) which clearly showed that shopping is one of the top passtimes for Thais.

We ended the evening at Khorat Texas, a very nice bar in the centre of the town, with decent food and live music. As I was rolling a cigarette, a local from the next table curiously came over, and shortly thereafter, the two of us joined the three of them at their table for some cultural exchange in broken English. We picked up quite a few handy Thai expressions but also came to the conclusion that the Thai don't really know how to say things themselves and would often disagree with each other over the endings of words. But as the beer kept flowing, we seemingly got better at Thai intonation, although the language is definitely very hard for Europeans. I could not help but notice though that it seems to be better suited for cell phone conversations in noisy places while one of the three men we met kept chatting away to his wife for an hour while the band was playing in the background.

This morning, we weren't motivated to get up before 11, checked out, made travel arrangements for our next destination -- Phimai -- dropped off some laundry, and then headed for the national museum, which we only found through the technique of circling and spiralling inwards. Not much to see otherwise here. The Lonely Planet guide says this city is unexciting, but it grows on you if you spend longer periods of time. Sure, like most cities, I say. As it stands, we have reason enough to abandon the place and spend tonight in Phimai, close to the famous and beautifully restored Khmer temples of the area, so that we can hopefully spend as much time as possible in the temple area before the heat gets unbearable.

Nevertheless, speaking of heat, yesterday's rain shower cooled the air by 5 or 10 degrees, and it's very bearable right now. I have to point this out because in general, the month of April is not a month during which to travel Northern Thailand due to the temperatures approaching 40 degrees during the day. I know for sure that next time, I will be looking into clothing made out of fabric better suited to handle large amounts of sweat than cotton.

We hope to leave Phimai on a bus to Udon Thani. I expect that shall be the next time I get to write. Thanks for reading along.