Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Today for the first time I felt like I was in tropical country. The weather was hot, humid, and sunny. According to Yahoo it was 95. And I was bicycling around the island that contains the old city of Ayuthaya. Maybe not my first choice for weather (or lighting conditions for photography) to visit the ruins of the old city, but it was my only chance. So there you go.

It's hard to describe the amazing sight that these ruins are without showing photographs. In 1767, the Burmese army invaded what was then Siam, later to be called Thailand, and trapped the Siamese army in the capital, Ayuthaya. After a short heroic stand, the Siamese army collapsed and the Burmese sacked the city. They literally burned it to the ground and melted down nearly all the golden Buddhas that inhabited the many wats in the city. What's left has been designated a UN World Heritage Site and it's easy to see why once you experience the ruins.

There is one wat left standing. For some reason it escaped the fate of the other temples. It's on the oppoite side of the river and was used as a base for shelling the king's palace. Perhaps in some poetic justice, the Burmese king was mortally wounded when the cannon he was setting off exploded and injured him. The story is that he died as soon as he left the protection of the wat.

There is a huge golden Buddha in the wat and another stone one. Very impressive. It really made me wonder about a "might have been" if the Burmese hadn't sacked the city.

I had my first roadside lunch today. I wasn't anywhere near restaurants so I stopped by bike in front of a stand and bought some fried chicken. At least he said it was chicken. I plopped myself down on the curb and started to open the bag when another food seller tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a chair under her tent and a small area of her table. She also ran next door to get me some sticky rice. So I had fried chicken and sticky rice in the shade. I ate the rice in native fashion: with my fingers. And the chicken was great. I gotta admit that the mystic of Thai cooking had eluded me - until I ate this chicken. It was sweet and sour and spicy, but not too spicy. I could have eaten more. And I really appreciated getting out of the sun and having a bit of table to sit at.

Next I did my first really touristy, tourist trap sort of thing: I rode an elephant. I figured I couldn't come all the way to Thailand and not do it. So I plunked down my 400 Baht and took a ride. Of course, like tourist traps all over the world, it's way overpriced and very hokey. But what the hell. It was fun.

Time for my afternoon repast: a bottle of Singha. The propieter of the pub/restaurant/guest house next door to this Internet cafe speaks nearly fluent English and he said I was to stop by after I finished. Who am I to refuse? Yesterday, I had too much beer and wound up falling asleep at 8:00 p.m. with James Bond on TV. At least I now have a couple of English language TV channels, in addition to BBC World. One of them is ESPN Asian edition. I get to see rugby, cricket, and all sorts of things alien to the United States. Oh, yeah, there's live major league baseball, too. That would be at 7:00 a.m. I'll pass.