Monday, July 11, 2011

Thai diaries 1

This being my second visit to Thailand, I thought there would not be much of an issue getting around.However I forgot that the ‘eleventh commandment’ around hereabouts continues to be -‘Thai’ shalt not speak English !-Most Thai people you meet don’t speak English at all and many of those who speak the language are not quite fluent in it. In a country that depends a lot on international tourism this seemed a bit strange.So if you want to get around by yourself makes sense to brush up on a little basic Thai language…and a little trick I learned is speak real slow.Slow as in S…L…O…W.For example if you’re ordering coffee you don’t really get coffee till you say COF (1sec) pause for half a sec and then FEE (1 sec) – total duration of 2.5 seconds - and incidentally tea and coffee around here is cold tea and cold tea by default, so if you want your daily cuppa hot coffee you have to specifically say H-O-T (1 sec) - half sec pause -COF (1 sec) – half sec pause -FEE ( 1 sec)…..and whatever you say add ‘Khap’ ( If you’re male) or ‘Kha’ if you’re female at the end of the sentence….it really doesn’t translate to anything specific in english, but is a sign of good manners.(The general courtesy and manners of the Thai people really needs to be appreciated)

The last Sunday me and a friend ( who’s been in Bangkok for over a year now), decided to pay a visit to the historical town of Ayutthaya.In spite of my friend being a so-so Thai speaker, we had trouble at times negotiating our way through.We ultimately reached Ayutthaya by taking a direct bus from the Bangkok bus terminal (chatuchak/mochit).Ayutthaya is around 80 km from Bangkok.The other options are mini-vans, taxi, train and even boat, but the bus seems to be the most convenient,cheap and comfortable option.Taxis cost around 1000 Baht one way and mini-vans around 175.Train tickets depend on the class …the bus costs only 50 Baht one way.
In Ayutthaya we had to rely on our ‘friendly neighbourhood’ tuk-tuk man for the local sightseeing.For those not in the know the tuk-tuk is basically a three wheeled vehicle – a distant cousin of the ‘Auto-rickshaws’ you find in India.The tuk-tuk guy I think ‘took took’ me for a ride literally and figuratively charging about 650 Baht for a 4 hour whirlwind tour (I wonder if this was how the name came to be?After a tuk-tuk ride the common refrain is that the guy took a lot of my money and also took me for a ride!) , but we really didn’t have too many options though.There are bicycles available for 40-50 Baht and hour , but the weather was quite hot and humid, also we had no real idea of where to go and how to go…..and cycling is kind of like exercise, and me and the concept of exercise don’t really get along well.

Important sights to see in Ayutthaya mainly include – a lot of Wats like - Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Thammikarat (before you wonder ‘wat’ the heck is going on, ‘wat’ basically alludes to temple in Thai, and Ayutthaya is basically famous for what remains of it glorious temples after it was ransacked by the Burmese somewhere in the latter half of the 18th century. The ruins of the old city now form what is called the Ayutthaya historical park, which is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.One of the interesting aftermaths of this ransack program is the large number of ‘headless’ Buddha statues you see across various sites in Ayutthaya.The other attraction in Ayutthaya is the interesting ‘floating market’ – a good place for food, shopping and general fun activities – including elephant rides, snake parks, traditional thai dances based on the hindu epics and so on.If you are the real nerdy encyclopediaphilic nut there are a couple of great museums around mainly highlighting the history of Ayutthaya.

If you do opt for a tuk-tuk I would suggest that you take a quick round of the different ruins and when your time is up ask the driver to drop you off at the floating market, where you can have grub and simply walk around.After that you can pick another tuk-tuk to drop you off at the bus-station or train station.

Food is a big problem in Thailand if you are not the carnivorous type.Even the selective carnivores like me find things tough.The one thing in abundance in all food stores seem to be ‘moo’ (and if you like me immediately conjured up an image of a lazy cow….sorry ‘moo’ in Thai means pork….though a well raised conventional pig according to me should go ‘oink’ as in the Asterix comics).I don’t eat pork so one of the staple diets for me while in Thailand has been ‘Pad Thai’ (or Phat Thai), which is basically is an odd but tasty combination of rice noodles, bean sprouts, tofu and eggs. Normally either shrimps of chicken are added to the combination….and in the ‘floating markets’ of Ayutthaya too I resorted to good ol’ padthai. What was different was the setting…with all the cooking and serving done on little boats parked next to longitudinal piers which were decked with tables where people could sit and eat. It was a real novel concept.Another good thing about such an arrangement of course is that you can wash your hands right in the river water before eating( If you’re one of those dumb hygiene freaks who don’t get along well with the poor germs on your body) …….and even lovelier is the fact that if you end up eating something that does not agree with your stomach you can easily throw up in the river without bothering other people too much..though the fish in the river would not think very highly of you!)

All images copyright - Feroze Kaliyadan - please do not copy without permission.

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