The begining of my winter holiday
Trip Start Aug 02, 2006
31Trip End ??? ??, 2007
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We began our trip taking the train to Ayuthaya, the ancient capitol of Siam. I have taken the train in Thailand before, but never during the day. The look out the window provided a beautiful tour of Thailand's stunning landscapes. It was interesting to see the terrain change, from small villages, to huge empty fields to lush green mountain ranges. We arrived in Ayuthaya at sunset, observing stunning views of some of the minor ruins by the train station, illuminated by colored lights.
After checking in to the guest house the house's owner recommended we check out the carnival downtown, being held to honor the King's birthday
The next morning Shana and I rented bikes and set out to see the ruins
Around the middle of the day we met with our friend Helen, who had been working in Chiang Mai, but who finished her contract and was now returning back to the U.S., making stops in Scotland and Sweden along the way. It was a bittersweet lunch as we were excited to see her again but saddened knowing we would not see her for awhile (as she will be leaving for Peace Corps in West Africa in late spring). After a good deal of stalling we said our goodbyes and Shana and I continued our tour of Ayuthaya.
The bikes gave us an extra bit of freedom and Shana and I were able to explore some of the less touristy spots
That evening we took our guest house owners "suggestion" and signed up for a sunset cruise around Ayuthaya. Shana and I had promised ourselves that we would be tourists for the week, so it was fun thinking in dollars instead of Baht (making everything seem extremely cheap) and falling for this woman's commission motivated suggestion. At least it was a terrific suggestion, and we really enjoyed the trip!
The ancient city was built within what is essentially a natural moat, as the river creates a small island. Most of the city was located on this Island but a few of the largest ancient temples and palaces were located outside, on the river. The first temple is still in use today, and featured some of the more interesting Buddha's I have seen. I saw one of the oddest things I have ever seen at this temple, two Buddhas, one sporting a Jewish star and another a Swat sticker. Apparently both images are actually ancient Buddhist/Hindu symbols that later made their way west, representing very different things. It was quiet a shock seeing both at this beautiful Buddhist shrine
Perhaps what struck me most about the boat ride (besides the pollution in the river and large barges) was the fact we passed not only Buddhist temples, but a mosque and two Christian churches. While not everyone in Thailand is Buddhist, the large majority is, and I am usually surprised to see, in such a small area, so many monuments to other faiths.
The last temple ruins we visited were possibly the most stunning, due in part to the magnificent sunset that was occurring while we toured the area. While I don't remember the name of the temple (it was three weeks ago already!) myself and a travel companion decided it reminded us distinctly of Rome, as the ruined Stuppas where much more intact then in other temples we had seen, and they layout of the entire area was very lined and structured. Perhaps the only downside of this temple was when our entire group got scammed out of money. A man with a "Police" shirt had asked us to pay a fee before entering the higher rungs of the temple. While we had been told there would be no extra fees, we all grudgingly paid and went in. I didn't really think about this "entrance fee" again until we left the temple, and noticed people walking in without paying a fee. The rest of our group got angry, looking for the man or someone else to complain to
While Ayutaya was fun the bikes had allowed us to see everything we wanted in just one day and the next morning we were on our way to an entirely new experience in the small town of Sanklaberi.
From Ayutaya two bus rides got us to Sangklaburi. Sangklaburi is a town in the West of Thailand, sharing a border with Burma. The Mon people, a hill tribe in Burma, have had a long standing peace treaty with the Thai government, and as a result have an intact Mon village in Thailand. Sangklaburi is a small, rural town, as was constantly emphasized, "They don't even have a Seven- Eleven"! Laura, a fellow AJWS Fellow works with a Mon women's group in Chiang Mai, and had invited me and Shana to stay with her. When we met her in Chiang Mai she had been in awe of the size of Chiang Mai, since its really not that big a city we were both nervous and excited to see what where she was living was like.
Laura lives in "the mansion" of Sangklaburi, meaning her beautiful house has two stories and running water
After dinner Laura took us to meet "Grandma" and her family. Grandma is a Mon woman who lives in Sangklaburi with her two daughters. She has adopted most of the town's ex-pat population as her own, and quickly welcomed Shana and I into the fold. Within minutes she was plying us with food, asking us about our families and showing us pictures of the rest of her family, who are scattered across the world. One of her daughters knows some of my co-workers, and we instantly fell into conversation. Within half an hour I felt as if I had known them all for ages. When we had to leave we promised Grandma we would be back the next day, as most of her "children" would be at work.
The next morning Shana and I ventured out to see the "famous" Sangklaburi Wang Kha Bridge
Uttama, a Mon monk, passed away a few weeks ago. He had been held in high regard with the king, and is largely credited with creating the peace treaty that allows the Mon to live relatively well in Thailand (at least by Burmese hill tribe standards). His body was laid out in the large room in the temple, and of course no Buddhist celebration could be complete with out food, free food in fact! In order to honor Uttama the nuns are preparing large feasts for the hundred days following his death. Being the only foreigners around, Shana and I received a lot of attention at the festivities, as we were constantly having our plates refilled with more and more delicious Mon food! Following the magnificent feast we toured the new section of the temple. While we loved the fish filled moat and marble architecture, the laid out body was too much for us and we soon grabbed a ride back to the bridge
That afternoon Laura and her friend Feral took us to visit some of the abandoned children's homes and other shelters that are too prevalent in Sangklaberi. The political situation, the poverty, plus the fact that the area seems to attract some truly amazing, idealistic people, means that many such homes have been set up. A group called the neo-humanists has set up a few centers in the area, and after picking up some cookies and sweets for the kids, we stopped by. The kids at the orphanage were heartbreakingly cute. I am not sure if orphanage is the right word, since none of them are up for adoption (trust me I asked) but abandoned children doesn't describe them right either. Anyway, we played for awhile, and they showed us their school, (where they learn four languages!)and play area. Our next stop was a home for disabled people, both mentally and physically. Once again I was struck with the thought of how amazing it is that the people who have the least always seem to give the most! All the people were extremely friendly and welcoming. They have a small income generation store, and my friends and I had fun buying some handmade Traditional Burmese clothing.
Our last stop on our trip was certainly my favorite. Another "children's home" this time sponsored by a neo was even more rural, located down some dirt roads
The ride home was even more stunning then the ride up, since we now had an unbelievable sunset to accompany our trip through the mountains. Unfortunately we did not have much time to stop, since we had more festivities ahead!
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one of the largest NGOs in the area
The next morning Shana and I went to explore more of the town's history. Sangklaburi was actually created when a nearby river was dammed, flooding the old town. Parts of the old town are still visible, including the top of a beautiful temple. We rented a boat and floated around for awhile, savoring the clear skies, interesting sights, but most of all the FRESH air! After months in Chiang Mai, it was amazing to be able to breathe such clear air. Shana and I thought of ways to trap such oxygen in our lungs, since I warned her she was really going to miss it in Bangkok. Unfortunately, since we could think of nothing, we enjoyed our boat trip and went on our way.
Sangklaburi has some interesting income generation projects, many of the organizations have taught local women and children to weave and sew, creating beautiful garments unlike anything I've ever seen. All of the income earned goes to continue such projects, as well as fund schools, children's homes, health care center and a variety of other good causes. With such motivation, and it being the holiday season, Shana and I had a great time buying presents for friends and family, as well as ourselves!
Finally, after another yummy Mon meal, and some goodbyes, we were on our way to Kanchunaburi. Tales from the town of The Bridge over the River Kwai coming soon............