I left Bangkok today, for an organized tour to Ayuthaya, the old capital of Thailand, this was something I had really been looking forward too. After yesterdays effort, or lack there of I should say, I was not, however, looking forward to a bungling local guide. In either regard I was not disappointed.
I was picked up at 6:10am and then we drove around picking up people from two other hotels. The guide could not find the last hotel and we drove around in the cities worsening traffic for about an hour looking for it. We finally picked up the last passenger, who needless to say was not impressed. The guide then introduced us to each other not by name but where we were from. Australia, Argentinia and Holland. Odd.
We drove out of the city and into the countryside all the while the guide talked, not about the place we were going to see, but about football. I put my head phones on and watched the scenery go by. Now I know you all think I don't like being lectured on what I'm seeing, by guides, but that's only in places like Egypt, where I've studied everything intensively myself. Imagine going to school for eight years and learning about something and then when you finally get to see it, your forced to stand there and listen to someone talk about it and they don't have a clue what they are talking about. There has really only ever been on exception to that sentiment of course.
My point is, that here, I am blissfully ignorant and have no idea about any of the things I am seeing, so some basic information would have been nice.
Our first stop was a place called to Bang Pa-In Palace, the Summer residence of the King of Thailand, Rama IX. There you see, I did learn something, I didn't even know Thailand had a King. It was a pretty amazing complex, it just seemed to have buildings of all places and time periods scattered around it.
The main building in which the king resides when he is present is an old colonial looking building. There is also a miniature Cambodian type stupa, a Chinese temple, a Thai Temple, floating in a man made lake and a Portugese style Pagoda. We spent about an hour here and despite my legs, which were aching from yesterdays effort, I climbed the spiral staircase to the top. It was a spectacular view of the rest of the complex.
We had about an hour here and then went back to meet the guide at a table in the souvenir shop, where he told us to meet him. I as usual, was the last one back. The guide was not there. We waited around for a bit and then elected to go and stand by the van. We waited there for a while, before he came running around the corner, from anther direction. The guy from Holland looked at me and said, "Isn't this the easy part of the day for him, You guys go have a look and I'll meet you here later". "Indeed" I replied, knowing that this was the easiest part of the job from my days as a tour leader.
We got back in the van, enjoying the air conditioning after the unbearable humidity and headed off to Ayuthaya. After about twenty minutes we started to see some really old Stupas in the distance. We arrived at the site and I was absolutely astounded. It was not only magnificent and impressive and all those other wonderful things, but it was almost pleasantly deserted.
The palace part of the city was built in the 1700's by the King to commemorate his victory over the Burmese. We walked around all the temples and saw another reclining Buddha, which looked spectacular with the ancient stupas in the background, and unlike the one in Bangkok, this one's temple was in ruins, so I could take a picture of the whole statue.
We were also allowed to climb up inside the main stupa, after taking one look at the very steep long stairs leading up to the top and thinking, screw that, I managed to talk myself into it. Inside the stupa at the top there was a circular niched room, each niche contained a gold statue of a sitting Buddha. There was also a well in the centre for throwing offerings into.
I climbed down and we went to see another giant reclining Buddha, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This one was about twice the size of the one we had just come from. We then went to see elephants, the couple from Argentina went for a ride, but me and the other guy didn't like the look of the way they were being kept and so we refused. It was awful they were just chained up to posts and dressed up. They all looked kind of sad, we were even less impressed to find a shop selling ivory in the complex. It had a sign out the front saying that all the ivory was made from elephant tusks that had fallen off naturally or broken off in trees. How stupid do they think you are really?
The guide said we would have 45 minutes here. Seriously? 45 minutes here and only 35 at the temple we had just come from. He must have seen the look on me and the other guys face, as he said, "You want to see sitting Buddha". We both said yes and he basically ran off and when he stopped near and old Thai house he pointed to a temple in the distance. You go there and meet me back here in 30 minutes and ran off again.
Alright then, I thought and we walked off to the temple. We reached it and went inside, the Buddha was huge and everywhere there were people kneeling and praying and shaking these tubes with sticks in them. Wow, I thought that guide was just going to let us miss this! I sat in the temple in front of the Buddha, with the worshippers enjoying the fan and looking up into Buddha's face. The temple, again was only just big enough to contain the statue and it hit me that this is what Greek and Roman temples would have looked like. Only with a big marble statue of Zeus or Minerva in the place of Buddha.
I then went to meet the guide by the old Thai house with the other guy. He was not there, he arrived sometime later and took us to wait near a fan while he again ran off. The couple from Argentina who had elected to ride the elephants came to join us and then the guide returned. He took us back to the van and again ran off. He came back with a pill jar and said quite proudly, "Ah this 600 baht in Bangkok, here only 300 baht. This make you a man all night." Unbelievable, he was giving us the run around so that he could go off and buy cheap Viagra!
We then went to see some more ancient stupas and a Buddha face that was grown into a tree, which was quite fascinating. The guide did give us some information here, while pointing at pictures (my pet hate) and then let us roam around for half an hour, though not before pointing at random things and saying, "You take picture here!" Annoying.
We met him back by the marketplace and he bought us all ice cream, which everyone but me threw away while he wasn't looking. I actually loved it, it was coconut flavored and the best thing the guide had done all day. We got back into the van and went off to have lunch. As expected lunch was a buffet style affair with absolutely no Thai food to speak of. The guide said "Take your time" to us, which we all knew to mean, take your time so I can sit with the other guides and chat. We ate lunch and actually had to go and retrieve the guide, as he did not sit with us.
We made our way back to Bangkok and I fell asleep in the van listening to my music the whole time. I was woken with a start when we stopped, not at my hotel, but at a jewelry shop. Ah the obligatory shopping stop, up until now, the fact that we hadn't had one of these had been the guide's only saving grace.
After a brief demonstration of how the gems were cut we were ushered into a huge room and expected to buy pieces worth thousands of dollars. They must think we're loaded, I thought. The guy from Holland and I had, had enough so we went to wait in the van. We had been sitting in there in the heat for about half and hour when the guide came over and said, "Not this van, another van". He ushered us into another van and told the driver to take me to Asoke. He was supposed to being doing this! Our time at the jewelry shop had cost us dearly and it took us a whole hour to travel a journey of about 10 minutes in normal conditions.
I finally jumped out at Asoke Sky Train station and went off to get a foot massage. I'm making a habit of this everyday as they only cost about $7 for a full hour and enable you to keep walking around for the rest of the day. It was only 4pm so I still had plenty of time. I enjoyed McNuggets with McHot Sauce. I then went back to the Sky Train station, via the Nana markets at which I saw many weapons for sale, including hand guns and even a bazooka. I then got the crowded Sky Train back to the hotel and had a swim in the beautiful roof top pool.
I couldn't believe how much energy I still had. I could feel my old strength returning, I had walked and climbed all over the place in the last two days and now I was swimming laps. I think being in Australia makes me soft!