Sep. 22, 2022

A TRAVEL GUIDE FOR LIFE Chapter 3: FURTHER INTO SOUTHEAST ASIA

Kanchanaburi is beautiful and tropical. I caught a comfortable bus from Nakon Putham Station to Kanchanaburi which was a journey of about two and a half hours. The bus was a good bus and everybody had their own seat. It took some effort to find the right bus. For one thing, there was no real bus terminal in Nakon Putham. There are many buses at the bus stand. Also, all of those buses have Thai characters on them; no english at all. I decided to tell a motorcycle taxi driver I was going to Kanchanaburi and it was a mystery to me which bus I could take to get there. He brought me to one of the roads that surround the bus stand area and after about five minutes he hailed down a large bus which stopped and picked me up. This road was the one that would take us north towards Kanchanaburi. I knew I did arrive when temple complexes started to appear and I was able to start exploring, first from the bus and then on foot, and soon à velo (on bicycle). After the bus pulled into the bus stand area, I remained on the bus for a while. I was surprised that we had arrived so quickly because I did not expect to arrive before sunset but we did. I just started walking after leaving the bus and soon came to a river that I crossed on a bridge. I found a shop that advertised photography so I went in and asked if they could process some photos for me. They said that they could and it would be ready the next day in the afternoon. "I will have to stay here over night then". They showed me a hotel just down the street. I went to the hotel and paid 150 Baht which is about $4.50. Having taken a cold water shower, I practiced my Tai Chi Chuan.

After the Tai Chi, I heard fireworks. They were just west of the hotel so I walked over and saw beauty incarnate. I saw a young girl, so beautiful dressed in one of those so beautiful cloths of ancient tradition, dancing one of those undulating dances of ancient tradition, to the accompaniment of some of that exotic music of ancient tradition. This went on for about half an hour and then some less traditional songs were sung by more modern singers who were singing songs of a more modern new culture; Thai pop music. It was getting crowded and I was getting tired from the long bus ride. I strolled leisurely back to the hotel and discovered a Thai lady of about 25 years old standing at the balcony outside the hotel room door. She asked me if I would like to have her spend the night with me; "All night, Sarm Roi Baht." I think sarm roi bhat is about $12.00. I decided to let her stay with me and it was through her that I found out that I was not even in Kanchanaburi. I was actually in Petchaburi. I TOOK THE WRONG BUS!!!!

This city is about half way down Thailands' east coast between Bangkok and Hua Hin. That is perhaps why I saw no indication of any tourism or english spoken. Nobody I met there spoke any english and I found no signs with english on them. Well, I made the best of it and relaxed there and decided to go to Kanchanaburi the next weekend. I did experience some unadulterated Thai culture and even ate some seafood that I could not identify. Although I could communicate a little bit with the help of my Thai/English dictionary, I did not bother to ask what I was eating because I figured that I would not be able to translate the Thai response. It was good so I just ate it. While we were traveling to Petchaburi, I had noticed that the sun was at our right side all the way down and I was wondering about that because the sun should have been at our left side because Kanchanaburi is north of Bangkok. The second day here, I went to a park to practice my Tai Chi Chuan and it was an invigorating 35 minute session. I have now done my Tai Chi in Petchaburi and not yet in Kanchanaburi.

The Thais play a game that looks like marbles but they are using balls the size of billiards balls. I watched them play the game in the same park where I just did my Tai Chi Chuan. After spending two days in Petchaburi, I returned to Bangkok to spend a day or two before proceeding north to Kanchanaburi.

The next morning, after I returned to the ISKCON temple, we woke up early in the morning for the Mangala Arati and Tulsi Puja in the ISKCON temple. For breakfast, we had a large feast of traditional Indian curries with large, luscious guavas and cucumbers. The guavas they have here are about the size of a coconut. There are many coconuts also. There are also fruits similar to the coconut but smaller. It has juice similar to the coconut but the meat is like a white fungus and not crunchy like the meat of a coconut. I am thinking that they are baby coconuts or a different species of coconut than the large ones I have been acquainted with all my life.

After eating the prasadam, I put on a saffron colored dhoti and kirta and went out with a Bengali devotee to Wat Pho where the giant reclining Buddha is located, much like the reclining Buddha at Nakhon Putham. UNESCO has recognized this temple complex because it has a long tradition of educational programs with marble illustrations and inscriptions This is the location of the first public education in Thailand and the original Thai Massage School. There used to be a french fort on the property but King Phetracha destroyed it and expanded Wat Pho. King Rama I also renovated Wat Pho and then stocked it with images from the fallen, ancient temple complexes from Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. It was King Rama III who created a center for learning around 1840. He had Supreme Patriarch Prince Paramanuchitchinorot with some 50 people from his court and monks write the marble inscriptions. There are more than 1,000 images of Buddha here. We entered the complex from Chetuphon Road, entering the North Entrance. Do not try to use the South Entrance because that is not open to the public. It is the residential area for the monks. There is also a wonderful Gold Buddha (Phra Buddha Theva Patimakorn). which was seated on a high, three level, crystal pedestal inside an exotically decorated temple (I think it is an Ubosot or a Bot). Concentrated light illumined this Buddha with its gold inside an aura of yellow. The Buddhist rituals are performed in the Bot. After we got tired of walking around the complex, we sat on some mats to relax. The mats were located under a canopy next to a side of the Reclining Buddha Temple. While we were relaxing there, a hoard of children were released from a school somewhere behind the Reclining Buddha Temple. Some of the children were running around the poles that held up a large canopy, some were playing hide and seek, some children jogged around the temple several times, and others started to play shoot the hoop. I noticed that the children who were running around the poles were playing something more than just chase. Although the canopy was held up by something like 20 poles, the children were just using four of them and there were five children playing so there was somebody always in the middle with no pole. The child in the middle shouted out a three syllable word or phrase which was a cue for the other four children to scramble to the next pole. As the children scrambled to the next pole, the child in the middle would run to a pole and try to reach it before the other four children reach the next poles. If the child in the middle reaches a pole then the child left without a pole goes to the middle.

The reason we went to Wat Pho was to distribute books for donations. We collected 101.50 Baht. We gave the ISKCON Temple 30 Baht, pocketed 40 Baht, and spent the rest on Thai drinks and some gold leaf. On the way back to the temple, we were on a bus and got stuck in traffic because there was a traffic jam. We should have taken the Chao Praya express boat because it took one hour and fifteen minutes to return to the temple by bus whereas we could have arrived at the temple in just 20 minutes with the boat. For me, though, it was not of real concern, because I saw a lot from the bus.

I practiced my Tai Chi Chuan in the temple room. That was the first time to practice in front of the deities. Another first for that day was eating a banana with seeds in it. There were two small, black seeds at one end of the banana. I never knew that bananas can have seeds in them!

The mosquitos were trying to eat me up when I slept in the ISKCON temple. The only nights I was free from the mosquitos were when I was at the hotel in Petchaburi. I was using up the mosquito repellant spray that I had and was thinking about buying a mosquito repellant skin lotion. Maybe that would be more efficient as a protection from those monstrous mosquitos. At least the Bangkok mosquitos are smaller than those out in the countryside and they do not carry malaria.

Anyway, back on the streets of Bangkok, I was noticing the groups of motorcycles and mopeds that are always passing by. Sometimes I thought I saw motorcycle gangs but that could have been my imagination because motorcycles and mopeds would be the best solution to the overcrowded streets of a city like Bangkok. Most of the cars I saw seemed to be Japanese but I did see a lot of German cars like BMW and Mercedes. I saw a lot of trucks were Tata and Mercedes so they must be quite dependable. Many people also rode bicycles but it looked too scary to me because they had a lot of crazy moving and honking vehicles to avoid. Walking was the best option for me to arrive at the boat and ferry piers where I usually started my daily journeys. The only thing I did not like about walking (besides all the honking truck horns) was having to sometimes walk past construction sites. When the workers had to break up a sidewalk they would sit around the area they were working on when they were resting and then they would pound it, slam it, and basically wack it with sledge hammers that have short handles.

I was quite exhausted after the morning excursion but I still took a detour before returning to the temple. I took a long tail boat to Wat Paknam which is on one of the canals west of Chao Praya. At Wat Paknam I bought an amulet that a monk blessed for me. The amulet had an image of one of the head monks of Wat Paknam. The amulet cost 100 Bhat which is $4.10 give or take a few cents. I wanted to buy a Buddha image but the monks told me that images of Buddha can not be sold. Then I went to the amulet market near Maharaja Landing on the East side of Chao Praya and I bought $20 worth of beads and old Chinese coins. One or two would be for Vanessas' mom.

After leaving the amulet market I went to a few more temples and shrines. I visited Wat Suthat, the Giant Swing, Bamrung Mueang, Sanjao Pho Sua, Lak Muang Shrine, Wat Mahathat, Wat Ratchabophit School, and a boat shrine. Wat Suthat is where the red Giant Swing is. The Giant Swing is in front of the temple. It was used in some kind of Hindu Brahmin ceremonies. Sao Ching Cha is the name of the Giant Swing. Wat Suthat is really beautiful with a memorial to King Rama VIII and cloisters with golden Buddhas along the walls. Wat Suthat is one of the ten Royal Temples Of First Grade. There are ten such temples in Bangkok and twenty-three in all of Thailand.

Bamrung Mueang is the street where I spent some time exploring after leaving Wat Suthat. On this street you will find Buddhas of a thousand sizes and you can also see the Giant Swing from Bamrung Mueang because this road is a circular road that surrounds the Giant Swing. Thanon Bamrung Mueang is an old road. The first road in Bangkok that was paved was Charoen Krung Road and the second road to be paved was Bamrung Mueang. It was bulit in 1863 during the reign of King Mongkut Rama IV. On Bamrung Mueang they are selling everything that monks need for their daily rituals. Religious statues of many sizes are sold here. Wat Mahathat is Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit on Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang. It houses the largest monastic order of Thailand and is an important center for Buddhist studies and meditation. There are even some classes on Vipassana Meditation for English speakers. The amulet market where I bought the amulets is right next to this temple. This temple is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and the university on the property is the oldest institute of higher education for monks in Thailand. It was at Wat Ratchabophit where I watched some girls playing at martial arts with a wooden sword in each hand. The girls were also practicing several kick moves and defenses. Boys were also in the area playing soccer. The soccer balls were about half the size as are the soccer balls we normally see. They are playing on a courtyard area. Basketball could just as easily be played here. Make shift soccer balls are just fine on a make shift playing area. There are so many children at this temple because there is a school there. It is on Fueang Nakhon Road not far from Wat Pho. All the places I have been visiting today are in the vicinity of Wat Pho in the neighborhood of Phra Nakhon. Wat Ratchabophit was built around 1870 when King Chulalongkorn Rama IV was in power.

Sanjao Pho Sua is something special. Actually all these temples are special with their gold gilded everything but Sanjao Pho Sua was culturally different. It is Chinese and not Buddhist. There is a resident deity which is a brown tiger and raw meat is offered to it. A pujari takes plates of raw meat from the populace and he waves the meat in front of its jaws while speaking a prayer. Huge red candles and incense are also offered to the tiger deity. Kong Fuzi is also here. He is gold with a black beard. Eggs, fruit, vegetables, and meats are offered as well as incense and scrolls to various figures including the resident spirit and Kong Fuzi. There is a pond with a load of turtles crawling around or just lounging here and there. It is a small, colorful, and smoky place with a hundred large, red candles burning (maybe more than a hundred candles). After visiting here for about one hour, I decided that I was tired enough to make my way back to the ISKCON temple for one last night there. I