Monday, October 28, 2013

Thailand: Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya: the ancient capital of Thailand that did not disappoint my hopes of history, ruins and an elephant ride.

For the poor tourist: You can look forward to either practicing your bartering techniques when hiring a tuk-tuk for transport or you can walk and subsequently look forward to re-discovering the phenomenon of seriously considering the possibility that you went swimming in the past 10 minutes and didn't know it. "Why am I soaking wet? Is this my sweat or the air's sweat?"
This mystery may never be solved.
Look forward to attempted elephant bribing by offering them your everlasting friendship and copious amounts of haphazardly gathered hay in exchange for a free ride that may or may not end in an attempt at an epic escape to freedom. It worked in The Black Stallion right?
Finally,  look forward to money saving by foregoing audio tours and filling in history, free of charge, with your own imagination.
Among spiraled and crumbling ruins my imagination saw me as empress and kind ruler of this city with my three traveling companions as loyal and honored subjects. I even gave them the pick of the smaller ruins as their respectable posts.
I discovered my three companions are ingrates.

Don't let political differences keep you from uniting, however, as an efficient group of travelers for the cause of completing the tourism check list of the day.
A real picture with a real elephant.
Lonely Planet site seeing suggestions: Check.
Ride an elephant amongst ancient ruins: Check
Get run over by a motorcycle: ...Check?

Perhaps getting run over shouldn't be on the activity list, since getting run over usually ensues fatality, but I felt so accomplished in surviving with a comeback that I decided to add it anyways.

How did this happen? Well...
I may or may not have made a misjudgment on the "gap in traffic" that I thought was our chance to cross the road. Unfortunately, the moment I realized my error of estimation was the same moment that I realized converse shoes have no traction when one needs to skid to stop to avoid getting run over.
But there I was, marveling at the whites of this man's eyes through his tinted helmet that was coming at me in Matrix slow motion.
Before I could even think of a logical word to follow "ooohhhhssshh" I had already gone through all 5 stages of grief and settled, just in time, on accepting the inevitable as the collision knocked me off my feet and sent me pirouetting in the air like an overzealous ice dancer who has no idea what they're doing.
I was the picture of an idiot in action.
The bike wobbled, regained balance and I, who luckily recovered, was up on my feet and on the other side of the road in no time, like a stupid stunned deer who in prancing away thinks he's ingeniously evaded an automobile predator with prestigious grace and ease.
I was so embarrassed and honestly cannot tell if it was the shame or adrenaline that left me numb to any other urgency other than regaining whatever little bit of pride I had left.
 To "avoid" further embarrassment I followed through with a plan (that I concocted in mid-air) of acting like both getting run over was a regular occurrence for me and that it wasn't me who was to blame for the traffic disturbance but the motorcycle, who should have known better. Luckily I'm a tourist with a disposition of being able to remain in control and pull off such a genius plan.
I couldn't do anything about my inappropriately loud laughter, no doubt heard across town. That was uncontrollable. But I'll be darned if I let that motorcyclist ride away without my inquiring after his health first. Even if he was rapidly disappearing out of ear shot after seeing I wasn't dead.
"It's alive! Just keep driving!"
"What?! No are YOU okay! I'll take the fact that you're just driving away as a 'yes'! It's okay, I'll make sure everyone else isn't traumatized!"
But, since I am confessing, I suppose I should say the poor motorcyclist got hit by me.
 At around 40mph I guess I understand there was probably no time for him to slow down, let alone dodge, a crazy white Jack-In-The-Box surprise from behind a bus.
 The Thai locals now know what it feels like to have a surprise diabolical deer cross the road and hit your car.
And now I know what it feels like to be the deer.

But, the best part of it all was seeing the true colors of my loyal subjects.
As my backpack's belongings were scattering about me in a perfect 360 degree circumference, Andrew was somehow plucking them from mid-air before I could even hit the ground, thereby promoting himself in my imagined empire. My amazement at his quick thinking quickly turned to shame as his pale, traumatized expression made me think that my jovial laughter was severely inappropriate. So his promotion was a modest one.

Charlotte on the other hand...well her name could be changed to "Charlatan"...
Let's just say her right-hand-man position hangs in the balance since I'm conflicted over her shameless uproar of disappointment at having missed the collision with her own eyes. "What?! I MISSED it?!!"

And Jeremy? Well, Jeremy was fired as my body guard.
He was okay with that as long as my dad wouldn't immediately find out that his daughter almost died on his watch. His transparent relief of his pardon was evident after my first reactionary words of, "Nobody tells my father that just happened!! Nobody!"
We ensured no bone was broken, only my ego and Charlotte's hopes of being able to see it and I marveled at adrenaline's power because I felt absolutely nothing.

Until the next temple.
Jeremy, trying to regain favor, promised he'd help as he "luckily" was carrying some excedrin. 

I declined the offer. 

And THAT'S why you travel with a pharmacist. Even if she wants to see you get run over.

That's also why you don't tell your dad you nearly got yourself killed until you can argue your common sense is still reliable.

Left sprained ankle. Right traumatized shin. I'm an invalid!
Back home it proved difficult to explain to my coworkers at the urgent care exactly what it was that I came in for to get treated.
"What do you mean you "kind of" got run over."
"Well it wasn't ALL of me. Just my leg."
"So you sprained your ankle in Thailand."
"No, in India."
"From a motorcycle."
"No, from walking...then standing."
"But the sprain is this right leg."
"No, the sprain is the left leg, the motorcycle is the right. From Thailand."
"So it got in infected in Thailand."
"No, it got hit in Thailand and infected in India."
"...What are we treating today?"
"I don't know."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thailand: Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park

If you happen to fancy national parks then I would probably recommend Thailand with great enthusiasm.

This may be because I wasn't expecting it to be so satisfying or it may be that there was just that much craved freedom available to explore exotic and adventurous terrain.

Whatever the reason, it's worth the miles traveled and the money spent.

So grab your bug repellant,
adventure pack,
clothes that will be soaked through within an hour from sweat and humidity,
precious tourist camera,
park map,
hop on a scooter and get used to the left side of the open road.


First stop:  
Kaeo Cave

God never ceases to give fuel for the imagination in moments of wonder and yet, simultaneously, puts human attempts to shame. The architecture of fairy tale daydreams is pushed to brave heights at the act of being so humbled by the reality of His creation.
I know of only one man who's words could give description to the wonder of caves.
Took me 3 times to read Tolkien's trilogy till I finally began to see the beauty of the earth's depths from Gimli's descriptions and now come to find that his descriptions are the only ones that will suffice in conveying the other-worldly glimpse of it.

"...when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light flows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, Legolas, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities, such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! a silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in the grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber and another dream. There is chamber after chamber, Legolas; hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair, and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains' heart."

The thought of going deeper is claustrophobic if you attempt to understand the weight of the mountain on top of you. But beneath the earth you feel the ceiling is immeasurably high, the columned rooms quiet, open, safe and enticing, away from the cares of the world. You FEEL out in the open. You feel like the clutter of your mind has been hushed into a calm and is able to take up new thoughts of wonder as your light reflects, like stardust, against crystalized formations. 

 The only thing I can compare it to is le Louvre. Quiet, clean marbled statues displayed in endless high ceiling rooms. Every item a masterpiece, every turn a new discovery. And no tour groups, railings or restrictions to make you feel as if someone has been there before you.

"...Caves! The Caverns of Helm's Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them."

The rest of the park is enough to lure you out of a mountain of treasure onto the next discovery.

Second stop: Phraya Nakhon Cave

A mountain of a sink hole that makes you keenly aware of depth, perspective and how incredibly tiny you are.

And then home by way of island weaving.

When did my backyard begin to feel so small...