We’ve had the good fortune to have had a bicycle tour guide for the past two days. A former work colleague of Eric’s in Malaysian is from Thailand. He happens to be on holiday at the exact time we are here. He is crazy about cycling and knows his Thai history very well. As a matter of fact, I feel so lucky to have had this personal guide that I almost feel we should return to Aytthaya with a rooster statue, it’s purpose I’ll explain later.
Our day started at the train station with plans to catch an 8:00 am train. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the Thai citizens, it was one of the king’s birthdays. It seemed that most Bangkok had also decided to take the 8:00 am train and there were no seats. Keeping our chins up and our happy faces on – even though we’d only had about 5 hours of sleep, our guide 3 due to holiday traffic jams at 11:00 pm – with our extra hour to kill we located a cozy little breakfast spot serving up western breakfasts, hot espressos from a high quality German espresso machine, good jazz purring at a smooth, relaxing early morning decibel level, and a sense of humor from the Chinese owner. Ahhhh, the joys of real toast , bacon and Ella Fitzgerald.
The open-window- for-air-conditioning train ride ended up being a perfect time to check another item off my bucket list: Thai lessons. Four giggly, happy high school girls plopped themselves on the vacant seats across from the three of us. Their favorite English words, once they got past their shyness, were “wonderful” accent on the “won”, and “awesome” accent on “awe” and “cool” with both thumbs pointed up to indicate OK or cool.
It was like hearing my teacher voice parroted back to me from the past few years of ESL. Yes, they had the ‘“music” of the language just perfect and yes, we got a lot of laughs, but omg they must have had a clone of me for their teacher. I sound overly enthusiastic and kind of stupid, to be quite honest.
But, I digress…Seeing as these girls had a 10 hour train ride ahead of them and I was trying to break the ice, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask them to be my teacher: to learn to count, to say “How are you?” and “I’m fine” and the most important phrase of all……”I’m hungry.” Eric and my sign language for food and wanting to eat hasn’t been working that well, so I figure, if we get right to the point, maybe we’ll get quicker results.
The results of this impromptu lesson were both hilarious and helpful. Because the girls could not agree on the phonetic spellings of many words, and because, to my hearing, they each sounded soooo different, my pronunciation is not too good. But, my goals were accomplished and have already come in handy. I got two train tickets today instead of one.
After the train ride we unloaded our bikes and started riding to many important historical sites around Auyutthuya. (If you think this word is hard to spell, you should try pronouncing it.)
Our tour guide filled us with lots of information about the history of Thailand and I won’t tire your eyes with too many details. Actually, I can’t remember most of it. But here are the things I remember, or as I prefer to say, my version of what I heard.
Thailand has been a kingdom for a very long time. They’ve had 9 Ramas (kings) including their current Rama 9.
Before the Ramas they had another king who was a really good fighter. (Or it was Rama #5, I’m unclear about this). This good fighter Rama held off Burmese attacks 7 times in a period of 10 years. There are temples built on every spot where he beat the Burmese.
This good-fighter-ruler-leader Rama built schools to teach sword fighting. Students still learn sword fighting but with practice swords. Many of the small children visiting the temple were playing with cute pink and blue swords.
The same Rama from above liked chickens (I call them roosters) when he was a little boy so the Thai people love roosters and have statues of them at many temples.
All the Ramas built/build nice parks that are filled with people enjoying the out-of-doors. In Bangkok, for example, because the traffic is so bad, lots of people leave their homes at 4:30 am, drive to the city parks to jog, cycle, walk, or practice yoga. Then they shower and head to work. If they stay home and opt for more sleep, they get stuck in traffic and don’t get to work until 9 or later.
The Burmese used to burn the Thai temples to find the gold hidden inside the Buddha’s. Therefore, in Auyttuhya – UNESCO World Heritage Site – the foundations of many temples are the only things that still remain. However, the temples that are still standing are really cool and worth seeing.
The newest temple for the good fighter Rama (could he be called the father of Thailand? )boasts of collection of roosters about 20 deep and 200 meters long. Apparently when the Thai people go to pray and their prayer has been answered they return to the temple grounds and place a rooster to show their thanks.
I know we only scratched the surface of Aytthaya but I definitely recommend it for a destination. Riding the train to avoid the chaos and danger of Bangkok to get there made for a nice nap, a good place to read, and a good opportunity to watch people. Having our bicycles for the 30 or more kilometers cycling around the ruins was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.
And back to the rooster….Our thanks to our guide are so great that, should we return one day to Ayuttuya, we will bring a rooster to show our appreciation.