Thursday, October 16, 2014

New day, new city.

It's a new day and I'm in a new city. Warning: if viewed on a phone, it'll look strange.

Yesterday, I navigated Bangkok early in the morning (during rush-hour no less. I would have taken a picture of the BTS Skytrain when I was in it for 25 minutes, but it was so packed that I couldn't even blink my eye. Also, I may or may not have been sitting on someone(s). While standing. Yeah, I know, how does that even work? Well, go to Bangkok during rush hour. You'll understand how and the image will never leave you) to escape in order to take a bus to Chiayaphum.

But before I move on, I have to digress like I do on every single post, and have a nice little one-way chat about buses and stations with you. Alright, shall we then? If you've been reading this blog, you'll know I've had hit or misses on the the quality of buses in Cambodia - as the first one terrified me and the second was full of drunken, beach-bound Americans. I was ready, and scared, to see how Thailand stacked up in this mode of transportation. Long story short, it did alright. Thailand has pretty fancy buses - very legit in terms of driving and comfort and danger level (no game of Chicken was played). Before the trip though, everyone and their mother (really, at the bus station, I had a guy's actual mother tell me this after he did) inform me to watch out for the A/C.

Are these people crazy? I thought. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard! Never in a million years would I curse A/C after being in "two-season" Southeast Asia (I'm dead convinced the only two seasons here are hot and hotter). By the end of the five hour bus ride, I had four levels of clothing on. It was that cold. I tried to sleep, but the self-contained ice-cooler destroyed that idea, and I shook like one of those annoying small, purse dogs the whole way. Before that, I stumbled through the Bangkok bus station even though I was the only non-Thai person there and the only English I heard was "Coke, yes?" when I bought a pop/soda (this isn't true, but it was close to it). I got lost on the way there, too, per usual. By the way, if you ever go to Bangkok, ALWAYS ask for a metered taxi and if you must use a tuk-tuk, make sure you 100% agree upon the destination or believe me, you'll somehow end up at a tux shop (uh, I got hustled into buying a tie this way. It is a nice tie though so I wasn't too mad). The bus station wasn't too bad, but sometimes traveling solo is rough, because you have no one to bounce your insane ideas off of (which I have a lot of) or double-check if you're doing something smart (I'm usually not).

For example, this sentence popped into my head while navigating the train station (and yes, I did follow the logic at the time):
"Oh hey, let's go down that dark staircase because I think that's totally the right way! I don't why, I just know."
If that was a real sentence said out loud to my partner-in-crime traveler, I could graciously get a sobering response such as:
"Nick. Stop talking. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Unfortunately, without anyone to keep in check my complete lack of direction and logic, I go down said dark staircase.
It was a long morning.

Back to Chiayphum (you'll see me mention the name a lot, because I love the way it rolls off the tongue. Try it now: Chi-ya-poom. I'll wait. Okay, did you say it out loud? See what I mean? Like butter). So you're probably thinking, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego and why is she in Chaiyaphum? Because, let's face it, no one knows where that is. Chaiyapuhm (say it out load again, I promise it just gets better!) is not for tourists. And I'm not really in a new city because this certainly is a town, with only 37,000ish people living here (at least that's what Wikipedia says). It's very much "out there" and I couldn't be happier to be away from the glitz and pollution and heat and commercialism that had wrapped Bangkok like a smothering blanket. This, I felt, is what the real Thailand was all about (though that's silly to say, as the major cities are just as much a part of what this country is about, too).

I've come to the house of my parent's friend's cousin. His name is Dan and he's been here for about 7/8 years. Dan's from the United States, where tragically his wife died years ago. He met a woman online here from Thailand, Amporn, who also lost her significant other. To say they are a perfect match would be an understatement. You know when you can hear a couple talk to each other, see the glances they give back and forth, and just their tiny (almost unnoticeable interactions), and you know they're madly in love? That's them. They are my hosts for my couple days here before I head to Chiang Mai. And I couldn't be happier. Both are kind and generous and, yeah, the best.

The next day we drive through the countryside, through villages, and through the part of Thailand I really wanted and need to to see after the sensory overload of the city. It's also cooler here, thankfully. Well, not really, but without the pollution and exhaust and hot concrete, it feels like heaven. Here are some of the places we go:

A wat I can't pronounce in a nearby providence
This is where Anon meditates at.
In my last entry, I shared a little about the experience with the monk from Wat Worachanyawas. It was so strangely earth shattering, that I couldn't even finish that entry. I was a mess. A few days later, here I am again, in front of a holy man - this time in the middle of practically nowhere, sitting on my legs beneath him, and putting my hands together in greeting. This associate abbot, named Anon, knows little English and we use Amporn to translate. I won't go off into a continuation of how majestic it feels to be in front of a man who dedicates himself to others always more than himself, so I'll just say this about Anon: he's just as holy, generous, and kind as the last monk I met. We bring him food, because a monk here can't eat anything after 11am (though it could be 12 though, my memory is a bit spotty). 
Beautiful tourist-less temple
He gives each of us a present (though I get one additional gift - a Thai phrasebook, because, well, let's face it, I suck at learning new languages and I stumble through the language and butcher it like nobody's business. I basically say a word and mumble to the end so it sounds like my mouth is full of cotton). My gift is a red plastic key chain with some ancient language written around the inside. Anon doesn't know what it says (he believes it's in Khmer, but it's hard to really pinpoint), but it is supposed to bring good luck and belonged to the monk who built this temple were at over thirty years ago. Again, I still can't describe the feeling yet. How does one describe the feeling of getting an ancient good luck relic, from a holy man, in a jungle in the middle of Thailand? Answer: I can't. At least not yet. Gotta let it simmer for a bit more time.

After meeting Anon, we drive around this very large "campus" of temples and houses. This area is sacred and exempt from the government building on it. So, that basically means it's gorgeous. Anon wants it to be a future refuge for animals as well.

Bones.
We visit the main temple here. The monk who built this temple (of which I now have his good luck relic - and it really is a relic being that it is "a part of a deceased holy person's body or belongings kept as an object of reverence") must have been very important, as this is the only temple I've visited that has a collection of bones of famous and important monks and holy men throughout history. It even has a bone of Buddha in it. Again, I'm glad to be out of the city and be here, away from tourists, in the heart of where Buddhism thrives (this place is very close to the center of Thailand), uninterrupted by the flash of cameras.

And I'll say this now and not bring it up again (edit - that's a complete lie, Nick. Why would you say that, because we both know you ramble). You don't have to be Buddhist to admire the dedication, the love, the passion, and commitment of the people who follow Buddhist principles. I'm not Buddhist, but I love, appreciate, value, and admire their beliefs. A lot of religions could most certainly take notes.
By the power of Zeus!

Police Checks
Now, this certainly isn't a "sight", but it something interesting nonetheless. In random spots, at random times, there will be police checks. You roll down your windows and they either wave you through or they motion you to pull to the side. It reminds me of Arizona law where they can pull over anyone that looks suspicious.
No additional comment on this. 

Yet.

Stonehenge of Thailand
We continue our drive through the countryside and visit Amporn's school (she's been a school teacher for decades. Although she can retire whenever she wants, she loves the kids too much to leave). We then visit the Stonehenge of Thailand. I have no idea how they got this name, because it looks nothing like it.A It's basically a natural rock formation that looks really cool. I'm no scientist though, so I have no witty and intelligent explanation as to why these rocks are here or how they got this way. Actually, I do have an explanation, and I'll leave it as this:



Afterwards we go to a coffee shop run by a fantastic set of ladies (I haven't mentioned this yet, but there have been quite a few beautiful women in Cambodia and Thailand. Like insanely so. Just saying), eat sticky rice and chicken at a stand on the side of the street, and visit the site for what will become the largest Buddha in the world (we barely get in, because I'm wearing a dark shirt, in hard contrast to the white or light colored shirts required by workers and visitors).

And other things happened, like when I went to a street market and ate silk worms. 

This is Chaiyaphum (best town name ever).

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