Wow, kind of a whirlwind weekend there. Haven’t even fired up the laptop in three days, or some shit.
Friday, it was off to Chachoengsao, about an hour-and-a-half east of Bangkok, by rail (thirteen Baht!). Purpose of Day-Trip: to visit Wat Sothon. I had, while in Chantaburi, been browsing Wikitravel to see if there were any more towns around that appeared as charming. In its Chachoengsao entry, it states that Wat Sothon is “reputed to be the largest Wat in the world”. Looking for confirmation, I found a book saying that it is “probably” the largest.
After a leisurely hour’s walk from the train station, the temple came into view.
Not as big as I’d have expected the world’s largest to be; but it’s pretty together. More than its heft, however, I quite like the restraint shewn in the design of the exterior. I love to look at the big palaces of glitz sparkling in the noonday sun – sure, who doesn’t? But it ain’t the only way to go, as we can see here. Rather lovely, too.
There’re a bunch of copies of this explanation sign posted around the grounds. Quite the little cliffhanger, cutting off in mid-sentence as it does.
Just in case one can’t find one’s way, from two feet in front of the door, into and/or out of the hall…
The interior is as restrained as the exterior. Unfortunately, the stairs to get up to the upper levels were locked out.
Best part is actually the floor, if you would believe it. It’s all decorated out in an oceanic theme.
And if you was wondering, “Dude, that shit’s nice and all. But in among all the elephant-fish and the tiger-fish the and buffalo fish; never could they find a spare bit of floor to lay down a god damned lotus-bearing merman?”
Uh, yes, they could!
Chinese temple on the grounds also gots a great floor.
Pretty cool shrine in there, too.
The best sign in the temple – maybe in Thailand entire!:
I asked Rata what does the sign say? It’s that the reader of the sign has reached the dead end of a dead-end street, and must be very stubborn/stupid to have come all the way this far. As stupid as a buffalo, basically. Now Rata wants to get one of these signs to put up in the hostel.
From certain angles, the temple looks architecturally much like a magic kingdom.
Wandered around the grounds for a couple of hours, checking everything out. Was just getting ready to leave, and thought I’d go over and look in that non-descript little shed over there. Figured it must be a food court; and being about lunch-hour, hoped there’d be some weird eats on display.
Turned out to be not a frickin’ food court, but rather the site of the all-important Buddha – the one described in the sign! I’d totally forgotten about that shit! There were so many pilgrims mobbing the scene that it was more difficult than not to get an unobstructed shot of him. But here he is; quite a nice likeness, I should certainly say.
Everybody and their brother was all hot-and-bothered to rub the little gold squares into Lord Buddha’s person. The looks on their faces were that in so doing, they expected to hereafter be on the receiving end of most excellent luck. So they’ve got that going for them.
Lo and behold (there’s one in every crowd, ain’t it?), one of the supporting Buddhae, up there on the dais, had got a gold square stuck into him like as though it were a freakin’ booger hanging down. Wasn’t me! (Wish I’d thought of it…)
Oddest thing going on in there was that everybody – I mean everybody – was offering up a basket of eggs.
I mean, in the abstract it’s no more odd than offering flowers, or bananas, or oranges — or certainly bottled water with a straw in it. Just that I’ve never before seen this particular offering. Huhn, I guess there must be a lot of brown-egg-bearing chickens (or ducks?) in Chachoengsao.
Anyhow, I arrived back to Bangkok in time for aerobics; so that was nice.
So, Saturday, as I mentioned before, I wanted to go up to this Durian orchard in Nakhon Nayok. I’d told Dree, the Korean Durian-head, of my proposed mission; and himself and his three Chinese friends joined me as well.
We busted out of the hostel at 6:15 in the AM, and caught a cab up to Mo Chit bus terminal (the taxis here are quite inexpensive when shared between a few people). The trip up to Nakhon Nayok took a few hours. According to the outline Rata’d secured, I was to moto-taxi it from the bus terminal up to “Durian Temple”.
As there were five of us and not one, now, we got a regular car-taxi; and I didn’t have to set my fear of motorcycles against my obsession with Durian. Which event brought me peace of mind – but I guess I didn’t, in the end, experience any kind of defining moment of personal growth. Looking deep into the core of one’s being to see just what it’s all worth, and all that. Oh, well; maybe next time.
“Durian Temple” is so-called because it’s located up on “Durian Mountain”. The mountain is so-called…well, I suppose it must be because the area is too right for Durian trees. Anyway, what do you think? Durian Temple is pink? Yes, Bob: Durian Temple is pink!!
Very beautiful, too.
Put in a call to the farm; and after some issues with the language barrier, we finally worked out that a representative from the farm would come and pick us up at Durian Temple. Turned out, the representative was the farmer hisself!
So what was going on up there, there was an NGO whose charge is something to do with biodiversity, and it had set up this field trip to the farm (if you didn’t read the article I linked to before, in short: it’s an organic farm begun about forty years ago, whose mission has been to preserve rare species of Durian). When we arrived, everybody was busy sampling the many different varieties of Durian grown on the farm.
That’s the farmer carving up the Durian there (it was his now-deceased father what started the farm); girl on his immediate left is from Scotland. I think she must be some sort of bigwig in the organisation’s structure. She was talking to us for a while, giving us the lowdown on the day’s activities. Everybody was pretty astounded that we’d just shown up, seemingly out of the blue, to chow down the Durian; and wanted to know how we even knew of the farm’s existence; let alone that we’d come all the way from Bangkok to simply check it out.
Here are some of the fruits the farmer had lined up to let us try. The fucked-up part was that all the Durian had been frozen, because Thais love to eat their Durian cold. (Crazy mofos that they are.) Not that they were rock-solid by the time we were eating them; but they were plenty damned cold. Still awesome and all, don’t get me wrong. But, shit…
After the Durian tasting, the farm served lunch to everybody. We were invited to join in as well; but I had a walk around the orchard while they were doing.
Oh my god Durian! There’re other fruits, including pineapples, interspersed with the Durian trees.
Check all the sproutin’ Durian seeds! Future Durian trees of tomorrow, yo.
After lunch, it was time to get down to brass tacks and open up the ol’ pocketbooks. I wanted to purchase this torpedo-looking one; but wasn’t permitted, as it had been brought out only for demonstration’s purpose. I think they were worried it’d be all suck-ass, as you can see that it’s quite well advanced in its self-opening.
I bet it’d have been great, but didn’t press the issue none.
After this, the farmer had a discussion with the attendees, presumably to do with his methods and results and whatnot. The discussion was all in Thai, alas. Would really loved to have been privy to the proceedings’ exchange. But, that’s that; I don’t speak Thai, so far as I’m aware.
Dree asked me how we would be able to get back to the bus station. I proposed that we hitchhike; and Dree very happily told me that he loved the way I think (or words to that effect).
We wanted to get a group shot with the farmer, but were somewhat shy to interrupt the ongoing tete-a-tetes for such a touristic conceit. Instead, we finally decided to just say goodbye; at which point the farmer broke away from the discussion, and we were able to wrangle a few moments to get a shot.
We asked a few of his employees from which road to hitchhike to the bus station, and they told us to go out to the end of the driveway, then go right, right, and right again, and we’d be on the main road back to town.
Just as we were setting off down the drive, bags of Durian (and in my case pineapple) in tow, we were stopped, and directed to enjoy a ride into town on the farm’s behalf. We went in the farmer’s truck, driven by one of his workers (I dunno, maybe it was even his son?). Here’s one of the Chinamen, standing up behind the cab. Just tell me this guy ain’t Livin’ The Life, Man!. (Or if you do tell me that, you’re a damned fool.)
We tried to pay our impromptu chauffeur, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
The bus to Bangkok was an hour late in arriving; but arrive it at last did. As we were boarding, the ticket-seller lady, who’d come out from behind the booth to inform us that our bus had arrived (was pretty obvious already), grabbed my bags of fruit and went off, I assumed, to put it down in the coach’s underneath storage. I watched her closely as she done so; and was horrified to witness her giving it to the driver of a second bus which had pulled in after ours.
I heard her calling out “Mo Chit!” while she was doing; but I didn’t want to be separated from my premium-priced farm-fresh Durian, so made mad-motion to go out and apprehend her little operation before it’d come to full (if one’ll pardon the pun) fruition. But the bus started moving, and we were just out of there before I even knew what was what.
So I spent a most anxious couple of hours, seated next to a maniacal nasal-spray huffer, who eventually shot up at least twenty times between Nayok and Bangkok. (The Thais are so crazy with this frickin’ nasal spray. I think it’s just for kicks; to have a nice scent in their noses. But you see them walking all around town with these damned spray nozzles jammed up their friggin’ nostrils. They’re nuts!)
So we pulled into Bangkok, and exiting the bus, Dree noticed my Durianless hands, and made as though to remind me to go back to my seat and grab it. “Where is your Durian?” he asked.
“Fuckin’, that lady took it from me!! I have to go find it!” They had not had theirs (one large one to share among the four of them) taken from them.
I very animatedly sought out the porter to inquire the whereabouts of my Durian. He held up one finger to indicate it’d be just a moment or two. “Next bus.”
“Next bus?” I happily executed a very heartfelt wai in his general direction, and began to try to explain to my colleagues what I knew (which was not much) about what had gone down, and what was still in future to go down.
Every few minutes, we’d look at the porter accusingly. “Next bus,” he always and ever smiled, holding aloft the one index finger. “Next bus.”
After about fifteen minutes’ time, the porter motioned for all of us to get back onto our bus; which was now of course fully empty, save for the driver, and this one lady dressed in civilian clothes, laughing her ass off at my plight.
“Where are we going?” my companions asked, after boarding (this time their Durian had been taken from them, and stored underneath).
“How the fuck would I know?? I don’t speak Thai!”
The porter used hand gestures to indicate that the Durian are too stinky, and thus the need to keep them locked up in quarantine. I asked why, though, did it have to be quarantined on the “next bus”?
I think he thought I was talking about my friends’ Durian, not mine. And, anyway, he didn’t even really speak English. So he just kept fanning his hand in front of his nose, to ward off the Durian’s supposed evil stench.
I hoped they might be taking us to Ekkamai terminal, to meet with the other bus there. Ekkiamai’s totally close to the hostel, so that would’ve been just fine. But instead, they just drove us around to the other side of the terminal! We could’ve walked in five minutes, but instead we drove, just the handful of us.
We followed the porter into the terminal…
…where he burst triumphantly into the carrier’s control booth, calling out for the Durian.
Naturally, neither his brethren nor his sistren had the faintest clue what the fuck he was on about. After debriefing them, he left us, smiling all the while, assuring us that the Durian would soon be produced, and we would be on our collective way.
We stood there waiting, in front of the ticket window, for five minutes or so; when at last a couple of layabout employees of the carrier asked us what we wanted.
I cried out, “I want my Durian!”
“Where do you want to go?” they asked.
“I don’t want to go anywhere! I want my Durian!!”
Following some moments of perplexity, they asked us to go out in the lobby to sit down and wait.
After several minutes’ waiting, I purposed to take matters into my own hands, and burst into the control booth myself, demanding to know the whereabouts of my Durian. After failing to communicate in mutually exclusive languages, the clerk typed into her translation engine that (as translated), “The Durian is yet to come.”
“How long?” I wanted to know. “Five minutes?” I wondered, holding up my five fingers.
The translation engine spat out: “Better yet, you will only have to wait up to one hour.”
“One hour?? Are you crazy? This is crazy!” I was kind of flying off the handle.
I demanded to know just what in Buddha’s holy name was going on. After a “farang”-laced cellphone conversation of some minutes’ duration, she typed madly away, and then very smugly pointed to the screen. “You like the car the fruit is driving.”
The look on her face said that not only had all of my questions by this statement been answered; but that all conceivable questions in the environs of this or any other universe had hereby been put to rest.
“You like the car the fruit is driving”??
She pointed insistently at the screen.
“What does that even mean? I don’t know what that means! That doesn’t mean anything!”
I grabbed her calculator and typed in the 360 Baht I’d paid for my fruit; telling her that I wanted to be reimbursed. At this point some people came up to the window wanting to purchase tickets. She turned to deal with them, completely disrespecting me from here on out.
Sulking, I went back out to the lobby and told my friends to go on without me; that I’d catch up with them later, back at the hostel. They decided to go have some dinner, and then come back and see what at that time would be what.
After about forty minutes’ contemplation of life without the Durian, an older gentleman dressed in the company’s (admittedly very smart) dark-blue trousers and light-blue oxford got my attention and motioned for me to follow him. Which I done, back out to where the first bus had dropped us off, and where a second bus was here waiting.
I took a deep breath, and he opened up the luggage hold. There it was. The Durian (and the pineapple) had been returned to its rightful owner. I thanked him profusely, and made back to the terminal.
Funnily, that older gentleman, my saviour, never uttered even a single word to me. (Usually, you can hardly ever shut these Thais up, propounding god-knows-what Thai-language oration upon the hapless farang; though it ought, one would guess, to be clear that not a word of said oration has been understood.)
When I got back to the terminal, the lads were just returning from dinner; noting my quarry, Dree held up his arms in exaltation. After making a point to thank the translation-typing-clerk for her all’s-well-that-ends-well services, we went out to get a cab; and as we were driving out of the terminal, I declared, “This has been…an interesting day.”
Little did I suspect how much “interest” was yet to come. To wit, best…cab driver…ever!!
After shifting gears or executing turns, he would make an exaggerated follow-through with his left hand, and then let the hand hang in there air like an apparition — to our ever-more-delighted giggles. “This guy is awesome!” I couldn’t help, after the third or fourth time, exclaim.
We entered onto the expressway, the driver apparently mistaking the tollbooth’s gate as the starting line for the Bangkok Grand Prix. Weaving in, about, and through Bangkok’s notoriously crowded motorways like a demon possessed, he thrilled and beguiled us all to pieces. I’m talking, he was just threading the needle, man! What a sight to behold.
From out of nowhere, he relaxed the pace a little, and turned on the radio…for about ten seconds, before turning it back off again. After which, it was back to the races. Dree professed his fear. But personally, I never felt in danger. This goddam guy, he was a dare-devil, no doubt; but he was so smooth. He seemed, to me, totally in control of his situation.
This clip is from near the end, after he’d slacked it off quite a bit. It’s still pretty good; but nothing nearly so spectacular as we’d earlier been given to experience.
And the son of a bitch delivered us to Khlong Toei in record time, too. Sixteen minutes from Mo Chit, right through the teeth of the rush-hour (yes, even on Saturday) traffic! Frickin’ superstar, is what he is.
For dinner, I et the pineapple and of the two Durian. Both excellent; though the latter wasn’t, in honesty, quite worth the one-hundred-Baht-to-the-kilo price for which it’d been procured.
Sunday I wanted to head up to Ko Kret. It’s an island formed a coupla hundred years ago when a channel was cut to shortcut a bend in the river. At the time of the cut, the area was a Mon (Burmese) enclave; and the island has remained so to the present day.
About twenty kilometres from downtown; but even so, I was a bit disappointed that the trip couldn’t be achieved all in one go. Instead, one must transfer buses from either Central World or Victory Monument.
The first bus kicked ass, ‘cause it was all decked out with images of the king, from various points in his life.
The island’s supposed to be a step back in time, with the inhabitants living much as they had done at the time the island came into being.
Arriving at Pak Kret Market, opposite the island, one boards the ferry (two Baht for the round-trip) ‘cross the river to be deposited at Wat Paramaiyaikawat (say that three times fast!).
This Burmese temple is most famed for the spire, located at isle’s northeast tip, which now lists in the river’s current. And yep, true as advertised, there it was.
Ah, whatever. For me, the real highlights here were two in number. First off, you know I’m gonna say, “The murals.” Lord help me, I just can’t get enough of these scenes from daily life. (As opposed to murals depicting scenes from Buddha’s enchanted life; which are great the first dozen times are so, but which can end up feeling all of a same same.)
Secondly, the many Buddhas throughout the grounds caught my fascination, but good.
The reclining Buddha here looks as stoned out of his gourd as does the Saturday Buddha back at Mt. Phousi in Luang Prabang – probably even a little more-so.
Then – I still can’t even believe I was privileged to have seen this shit – motherfucking Mullet Buddha!!!
He’s goddamned Lord Buddha, and he’s got a motherfucking mullet! With a frickin’ bubble on top, to boot. How wonderful is this world? Ironically enough, the fact of the existence of this-here Mullet Buddha kind of makes me believe in the existence of a supernatural god (though not necessarily a loving one…).
Okay, then, there’s this whole lineup of Black Buddhas with golden hair. Hain’t never seen that one before – quite striking, though, it is.
Then there’s a half ‘n’ half Black/Gold Buddha.
And a Black Buddha with a golden head.
And even a, like, Birdshit Buddha (with golden head).
The chandeliers in the Main Temple are maybe the most beautiful chandeliers ever have I seen – and I don’t mean, “Most beautiful in a temple.” I mean, “Most beautiful full stop.”
There’s also a little museum housing odd and interesting relics. Too bad many of them are behind glass, rendering photography a maddeningly difficult proposition.
This is probably the freakiest sight on the island; owing principally to those crazy marble-eyes.
And this, somehow, perfectly encapsulates my views concerning religion: an entire shelf of mass-produced Buddha images, having gone unsold, is left to gather dust in the corner of a little backwater museum.
Leaving the Temple grounds, there’s a walking-path around the U-shaped (if the “U” were filled in solid, I mean) island, with stopping points along the way to see locally produced handicrafts and whatnot.
Turns out, it’s just endless rows of the same- (to me) looking trinkets one can find in extremis throughout Thailand. Bleah. There were a few pretty good buskers strewn here and about, at least.
I can’t believe that all the crap the people here are selling is hand-made; but certainly it’s true that the lane fronts their actual houses. On the other side of the one row is the river, and of the other row, the interior of the island. The houses certainly seem authentically dated.
There’re several smaller temples along the path. At the first one, business is gotten down to in a suitable fashion.
The shrine here: is it the tackiest shrine ever, or is it simply the best? Maybe it’s both!
Meanwhile, this character — with the painted-on black haircut — looks less the wild hippie philosopher/Enlightened One, and more the straight-laced CEO of Buddha, Inc..
Adjacent the Temple entrance was a small amphitheater, at which the goings-on at the time were what I gather to’ve been traditional Burmese song and dance. The dance was pretty weird, with not really any hip shaking, but plenty of strange and fascinating hand gestures (believe it or not).
After this dance number, the band you see arrayed behind the dancers got to bust a groove.
Laid a quite-good-sized whipping onto the llama’s ass, too.
Apart from the trinkets, there were also of course plenty of eats for sale. Had not previously seen this ensemble anywheres on offer. Dig in, carnivores!
Was somewhat tempted to get this shirt. Took me a while of wondering what “kohkred” might be, until I finally was able to realise that it’s simply an alternative spelling of “Ko Kret”.
After this, the trinket-sellers fall away, and with them all the visitors. Those few choosing to walk the entirety of the island’s perimeter are treated indeed to a scene out of yesteryear. Country living, so close to the heart of Bangkok.
The smell of bittermelon is very strong in this area.
We had this growing wild over at Hawaii The Big Island. Its taste is certainly bitter enough indeed to earn its moniker; but the aroma is wonderful. It was always a treat to be tasked to working in an area with these growing nearby.
The walk would’ve been quite peaceful and soothing and the whole nine yards – had it not been for the fucking motorcycles roaring up and down the path every two minutes are so. I’m telling you, these god damned motorcycles: they’re the devil right through.
Another small Wat, on the south side of the island, was exceptionally cute.
The east side of the island is renowned for its many a “Pottery Village”, at which kiln-fired ceramics of very fine quality are supposed to be produced. But I didn’t see anything like this going on. It was all quiet as a mouse.
Weren’t even any vendors to speak of – excepting this awesome lady, hawking some sort of skin cream. She gave me a good, long spiel, all in Thai, as Thais are wont to do. In the end, I could only shrug and delight in the awesomeness of her being.
Around about this area exists this pretty strangely adorned residence. Number 8… Number 8… Number8… Number 8….
Back this side of the river, temple had a little hoedown going on. You can’t really see it in the photo; but whenever the monks gather in groups like this, they look so beautiful all decked out in orange.
At the market, this Durian vendor had clearly pulled an excellent trade of a Sunday afternoon. I like how organised their rinds-pile is. Down here at Khlong Toei, they just throw ‘em on the ground all willy-nilly-like.
One of the pleasures of travel: one just never knows what one is going to see. Even in a small corner of a decrepit out-of-the way temple…
…may be lurking a friendly local family of zebras!
Was actually able to get back down to the park without transfer; from where I could, after aerobics, walk over to the Durian Truck, and then on back to the hostel. Aerobics is beginning earlier now – about 5:00 in the PM rather that 5:30; I should guess to avoid the now-on-season evening rains.
I hadn’t supposed, upon leaving in the morning, that my remaining Durian from the farm would yet be quite ready to eat – hence my visit to the Durian Truck. Turns out that it was ready though, so I up and ate them both. Shared a good bit of them out, too.
There’s a Japanesienne here now who’s very fond of the King Of Fruits, after having first tried it in Indonesia a few months back. And of course the hostel staff love it, and were keen to try the farm-fresh. A Frenchwoman desired to try it for the first time; ditto a Belgienne. Neither of them were over the moon for it, the poor dears. And a very nice Taiwanesienne gave it the old college try, despite being averse to its most beautiful aroma. Said it tasted reminded her of eating garlic.
At dinner, Rata told us all about the Thai lady-boy phenomenon, in a manner which only she could do. Then she decided she wanted to go make a donation at her Temple, and invited us to come along with. It was a Chinese temple over near the Sam Yan subway station.
The scene was pretty crazy: even at 10:00 in the PM, zillions of people were there making donation. It was this whole big-deal process of writing your name out on a form, and then posting it onto a coffin, and sticking incense into various pots…
…(the former only to be a few seconds later snatched up and disposed of by this-here temple employee)…
…and ringing the gong and the bells – here’s Rata doing so…
…and finally burning the duplicate copy of your donation-form (to bring to god’s attention the fact of your having made a donation).
Ah, religion and sanity, they don’t mix so well. But for the godless rubbernecker, it’s a marvel to watch the wheels turning.
After all that rigmarole, Rata took us on a tour of Chinatown by night; showing us the Royal Palace and the rest of the famous sites, all lit up as they then were. She was almost at wits’ end when her favourite toast vendor was nowhere to be found (don’t even suspect that I’m shitting you!). She showed us the house in which she’d grown up; and gave a stirringly long-winded history of the Chinatown area, as well as her family’s immigrant experience. So much fun!
The scene at the hostel generally is as lively as ever. Nick, the Albanian/German, has returned from Krabi; and Chris, the Indonesian with the astonishing command of the English language, returned from…can’t remember where. He’s going to be managing a brand-new resort hotel a few hours’ drive from here.
Lots of very interesting newer peeps, too; including a lady, bit older than myself, whose parents are both from Seattle (though she’s never lived there). She rattled off a bunch off cool-sounding travel books which I’ve dutifully noted down for future purpose.
Couple of European gentlemen arrived back from a shopping blowout at MBK Centre, complaining hilariously of the taxi drivers’ incompetence. The drivers didn’t know from any of the proposed destinations (including MBK itself!), apparently, and kept having to stop and ask directions. After I verified that they understood the English just fine, but just didn’t know their way around the city; one of the Europeans concluded fairly resoundingly that the taxi drivers here “are shit”.
That was very funny, to be sure; but it most certainly did not jibe with my recent taxi-driver experience!
To-day, Monday, caught up on some much-needed sleep.
Down at the check-in desk, Rata was listening to some incredible old-time Thai Pop. I had her send me a link. Oh my gosh, just wait’ll you hear this stuff! Holy shit; wig-flipping is absolutely guaranteed!
I’d been planning keep it light on the Durian-consumption front, even though my big-belly situation has improved some since my return from Chanthaburi. Over at the market getting some lychees and some longkongs, and thought, “Okay, let’s just have this small little one, looks a bit underpriced.”
And that “small little one”, looks a bit underpriced, was so friggin’ delicious I nearly had to shit in my pants to see if I could even believe it! God damn that was good. So I promptly scurried back over to that same vendor, and got me two more small ones. And even they were pants-crappingly delicious as well! Almost went, then, to get some more; but finally decided to throttle it back a little.