Friday, July 20, 2012

The Road to Bangkok Is Full of Monkeys and Ancient Cities

After a few days in the wilderness, it is no surprise that Ryan and I needed time to relax our badly blistered toes. With a morning to spare before our night train to Bangkok, we decided to go to the most obvious place for a relaxing afternoon: a spa run by the women's prison.
Seriously, the women's prison in Chiang Mai runs a wonderful spa where you can have a 2 hour massage for the price of a few hamburgers. Ryan and I were led to a lavender scented room where we were told to put on a pair of tiny, see-through underwear and a towel. Being an oil massage amature, I didn't realize that I would be quite so nude in front of these strangers and left my underwear on under the pair that was provided to me in a final, futile attempt at modesty (and because their provided underwear barely covered half a butt cheek). This caused quite the moment of hilarity for the two masseuses when they came in. They excused themselves from the room as I corrected my error, giggling profusely. Needless to say, any tension was broken. While it may seem a little unnerving to be in a room alone with ex convicts, laying extremely vulnerable in a flimsy pair of too small, paper thin underwear, never fear. While I will opt for the traditional thai massage over the oil massage from now on, it was worth every butt crack chuckle.

A very happy Ryan procures some legit Thai Tea after our massage

Corn Pie and Terriyaki Chicken at Mcdonalds

The bowing Ronald

A family on a scooter with their daughter. Fare well Chiang Mai!

The night trains from Chiang Mai to Bangkok are surprisingly clean, air conditioned, and cozy. Each car is set up in bunk bed style with a bathroom between each car. While I spent a good deal of time worrying about having to use the train bathroom after a day of eating spicy and foreign curries (because really, trying to hover over a squat toilet on a cramped, bumpy train is nobody's idea of fun), I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bathroom stall had no smell at all - I'm sure due to the fact that there is no waste storage on the train. That's right, the bathroom on the train is simply a hole that releases onto the fast moving tracks below. This makes for an awkward experience when you are at a train station and are made suddenly aware that someone on the stopped train is using the bathroom. Yeah.

Before getting into Bangkok, Ryan and I had planned to make a stop at a tiny town after sunrise, Lopburi. Lopburi is not particularly beautiful, and would not be worth mentioning if it wasn't for one particular feature - monkeys. As the train pulls into the station you start to see them, hundreds of macaques crawling the streets, climbing light poles, tumbling across phone lines, and swarming the temples. A giant golden monkey statue welcomes you into town. 

So rude.

It's hard to get over the initial shock of being surrounded by hundreds of fearless monkeys. Breastfeeding mothers scramble over temples and trashcans to grab remnants in grocery bags beneath our feet, males hump females on the sidewalks, babies tug at my shoestrings while I am photographing a tussle on the telephone pole. A pitbull behind a glass store window pounds and slobbers all over the glass as a gang of macaques mocks him from the outside. Babies are everywhere. I see one mother laying on her side with a fresh, wet, baby nursing from her. A rotund male chews casually on something he picked from between his toes. An elder, hunchbacked, liver-spotted female sits against a brick wall of a temple while a baby stretches the skin on her arm and tugs on her nub of a tail. Her skin hangs around her like a shawl, the fur having fallen out in patches. She looks so human. Watching them is mesmerizing. 

You can click on these to see all of them fullscreen.

We hopped back on the train for our next stop, Ayutthaya - the ancient capitol city of Thailand. No longer being on the air conditioned confines of the sleeper cars, we were wedged onto the too upright, stiff, wooden seats of the commuter car - 90+ degree humid air washing over us from the giant windows. Every few minutes, people selling juice, beer, and pork balls walk up and down the aisles hoping we have changed our minds about buying food or beverages. "Sawatdee kaaaAAAAaaaaaaaa" becomes the soundtrack of the train ride as the vendors try to get our attention. Apparently a longer extended "Ka"(for females) or "Kup"(for males) is  more polite and respectful, but it gets so long that it becomes an endless whine that only remind you how hot the train is and how long you have been there. KaaaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaa. After an hour of being on the muggy train, we gave in and bought a water from a boy who must have been no more than 7 or 8. Having few common words between us to show our appreciation for the water, Ryan and the boy shared a universal sign for gratitude - the fist bump.

Ayutthaya was gigantic, so gigantic that we couldn't possibly hope to see it all in a matter of a few hours. We picked a place on the map that seemed particularly promising, found a tuk tuk and pointed to a spot on the map. The ruins surround you so much that it is hard not to imagine what it must have been like when it was still the capitol city. Beauitful.

Next stop, Bangkok.

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