Luang Prabang: Kuang Si Falls and Unfortunate Events

June 4th, 2019

We all woke up to a very rainy morning and it felt like it was going to ruin the day. But luckily after an hour and a half the rain ceased and we all rented mopeds. We were going to Kuang Si Falls. There was more than a dozen of us and all from different countries: USA, UK, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy…

Some of the people in our group were nervous because this was their first time riding motorbike in a foreign country but we all fueled up and took off towards the waterfalls. We zipped through the citys’ brown roads and motorists, passing all kinds of houses made of wood and sheet metal. From the center of town it took us about an hour or so to get there. Outside of the Kuang Si Falls were a lot of stalls selling souvenirs and restaurants serving Lao and Thai food. We pick one and all sat down at a long wooden table to have lunch.

To enter we each had to pay 30,000 kip, about $3.40, and begin to walk through a path that led to a bear sanctuary that housed 6-8 Asian Moon Bears. They were rescued from poachers that capture them for their bile to be sold on the market. We then walk up some more paths and made it to a very beautiful cascading waterfall that fell down in steps. As we were a big group many of us got separated naturally and I continued trekking with Vincenzo, an Italian guy and an American girl. I put my valuables in Vincenzos’ backpack, take off my shirt and shoes and dipped quickly into the clear cold water. The floor of the waterfalls was very muddy and squishy, so I ended up floating and swimming around. Vincenzo and the American girl stripped down and got in very slowly… so I had to splash these kiddies a bit to get in.

The waterfalls were obviously very beautiful and relaxing. We swam a bit and jumped off some rocks and met up with the others which were at a higher tier of waterfall. There we found them jumping off a slanted stone column, some of them doing back flips into the water. We must of been there at the waterfalls for 3-4 hours before we headed back and jumped on our motorbikes. We all lined up and took a photo of all of us and sped off. We were all feeling good and confident and rode back the same way we came. Some were riding cautiously and others were going along fairly quickly, myself included. We go down the curvy roads and enjoyed the scenery along the way.We were probably about 30 minutes into our ride when suddenly, a pothole covered in brown muddy water jumps in front of me. I must of been going around 45-50 mph. The front tire dips into the hole and I went flying right over the handlebars landing on my right elbow and then my right shoulder, rolling over twice on the dirt road.

It happened so fast that the only thing that ran through my head and out my mouth was “Ohhhhh Shittttt!”

I had crashed in Laos.

My second crash while abroad. And my first in 10 years.

I coughed up the dirt in my mouth and quickly rose to my feet, picking up the motorbike. My first thought was, “I hope I didn’t fuck up the bike.” I then assessed myself. I was a horrible mess. My entire left leg was road rashed and covered in blood, both of my knees were deeply wounded and my entire right arm was wounded and also dripping in blood. I then began to feel a terrible pain radiate from my right shoulder up to my neck.

The others began to catch up and all stopped to help me. I was more pissed off with myself then the pain. I really didn’t want to be causing a scene let alone already embarrassing myself. I limped around for a bit and some of my friends put water on my cuts which stung and burned like holy hell. I said that I was okay but the entire group had a worried look on their faces. Just as I was toughening up and about to jump bike on my bike, which miraculously didn’t even have so much as a scratch, another girl from our group comes to check on me. As she made a U-turn towards me, another moped with two local girls smacked right into her and went flying.

I could not believe me eyes.

Two accidents within the span of five minutes.

The girl from our group wasn’t hurt. But the Laotian girl driving only cut her ankle but the other was on the road screaming and crying. With a gash on the bridge of her nose. We all rushed to their aid and helped them them with everything we could. Other locals began to show up and soon it was becoming even a bigger scene. We cleaned their wounds, had some people interpret between English and Lao and some people in the group drove them to a nearby clinic. I wanted to go with them but everyone advised me to go back to the city to take care of myself, cause I was in really bad shape.

I was dumbfounded.

I was a bloody mess and the pain began. And my whole body was throbbing.

We all drive back slowly (of course) to the city and some of the group splits off to eat. I went back to the hostel with an Irishman to drop off the bikes, where I clean it first and then walk around several blocks looking like a zombie in search for a pharmacy. I buy everything I would need: iodine, anti-bacterial cream, bandages and gauze, and then walked my pitiful ass back to the hostel, stopping at an Aussie Bar along the way. I walk up to the empty bar and order a shot of Jameson and a cold bottle of Carlsberg from the pretty bartender. I gulped down the whisky and the beer and ordered another Carlsberg. I small talk with the Laotian girls for a bit and in five minutes I was gone.

I take a cold shower and rinse off the blood. I then layed a towel in the middle of my cramped dorm and soak my cuts with iodine, biting my lower lip. I cleaned and dressed all of my wounds and collapsed on my bed.

I was out.

I knocked out for an hour or so and I got out of bed in worse pain.

But I decided to meet everyone at the beautiful Utopia bar, which overlooked the river, close to the hostel. There we all had some drinks and then everyone wanted to go bowling.

I tagged along.

I remember bowling very well, even though I was in bandages and in absolute pain.

And I was starting to feel drunk

but I kept on getting strikes.

Vincenzo was amazed

laughing the whole time.

He couldn’t believe I was winning.

So much for Luang Prabang, I thought.

Through the balmy night

A tuk-tuk back to the hostel

And the sweet British-Indian girl puts me to bed.

Slowly down the Mekong River

It was June 2nd when we all boarded the slow boat to begin our journey. We all settled in the long tail boat and the loud powerful engine started. As we began to make our way down the river, which was wide and brown in color, I noticed that it had spots of swirling trash here and there. On the shores of the river there were large hills covered in trees and small villages with children running around playing. Along the way every once in a while, we would stop at small wooden ports where some locals would get on and off and load and unload small cargo.

It took us about 6 hours to reach the small town of Pak Beng from the border town of Huay Xai. Once arriving, Marek and I decide to share a room together, since we didn’t have anything planned beforehand, like irresponsible backpackers. Most of the group settled in the same guesthouse as ours, which was also close to the port. Once there, after a quick truck ride, the kind ladies there took our breakfast orders for the morning and showed us our rooms. I then quickly settled into the room, showering first before meeting up with the entire group at a place up the road called Hive Bar.

As I made my way through the small shanty town, a young Laotian man approaches me smiling and follows me in the dark. Speaking broken English he asks where I was from and then tries to sell me drugs. First weed but then to my astonishment… Opium. I turn down the kind offer but he continues to trail behind me up to the bar. I then remembered that this area was the Golden Triangle, the area where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet and where Opium had been produced on a large scale since the 1950’s. I leave the drug pusher behind and pass by an older man that was burning wood and plastic on the side of the road, I guess getting rid of his trash. I then join the others at a long table where we eat, drink, dance and play music off the bartenders laptop. The night was warm and in the corner there was a beat up pool table with drunken westerners playing. The place was dingy with faded red paint and full of moths flying around. There I had some Indian curry and some Gin and Tonics, and partied well into the night with the young wide eyed travelers.

The following morning was our 2nd Slow Boat day. This time to Luang Prabang. We all had breakfast and I then bought some more beer and ice, sharing the cooler with the others to store their drinks. It was the same kinda fun from the day before really: a lot of chatting, jokes, playing charades, enjoying the scenery, drinking and overall merriment. At times when the group would get sleepy, I would pop in my headphones and play my new collection of Thai music, enjoying the view as we lazily chugged down along the famous Mekong.

Floating down the Mekong river was quickly becoming a memorable part of my trip. Not only because of the relaxing slowness and romance of it all but also because of being in the company of quite honestly, the most positive and healthy group of young travelers I had ever met. Their energy was incredible; and to me I felt that every single last one of them was happy and genuine.

And I was glad to be sharing this journey with them.

Stepping into Lao P.D.R-From Chiang Khong to Huay Xai

On May 31st, I took off for the border town of Chiang Khong from Chiang Rai. The day was overcast with small showers here and there and the journey was about three hours on a local bus; and like many times already, I was the only foreigner there. I sat up front with the bus driver and enjoyed the entire ride as we crossed the picturesque countryside that was full of hilly mountains in the distance dotted with rice fields and palm trees. As we made our way towards the Mekong River the bus would stop multiple times not only to pick up people but also food, laundry and other packages. Afterwards, he would make more stops along the way, this time dropping them off at stores and homes. The ride was peaceful and quite memorable in fact. Going through that lush landscape in the rain, with the quiet locals, on that old colorful bus, that would squeak and grind is something I still dream of.

We arrive at the local bus station and I began to walk north along highway 1020 and through a small neighborhood looking for a place to sleep. I find a chic looking hostel called Sleeping Well and checked into a 10-bed dorm that, through divine intervention, had all to myself. During the evening I went to a funky place called Rin Bar that had “Thai Tequila,” which is NOT tequila but strangely enough had similar notes. I then had a delicious Pad Thai down the street in a spot called Baan Yim. I retired to my bed and in the morning began to walk towards the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. About halfway, a tuk-tuk stops and offers me a cheap ride to the border. There I passed through the Thai customs and border police and bought a bus ticket that would take you across the Mekong River into Laos.

After waiting around for half an hour, I boarded the bus with a bunch of people and in 10 minutes we were dropped off at the Lao immigration checkpoint. There I filled out two security forms, gave my passport along with a photo and paid $36 for a month-long visa. 10 minutes later my passport was handed back to me with my visa and I officially stepped into Laos. After passing through customs, I see a sales woman selling a slow boat ride down the Mekong River. I had arrived a bit too late to catch the morning boat to Luang Prabang, which caused me to stay in Huay Xai for the night. I bought a ticket from her for the following morning and also a stay at a guesthouse for 1500 Thai baht. I sat at a small plastic table and had a Beer Lao waiting for my tuk-tuk ride. When it arrived, I joined three Thai people to the town center.

Along the way I received my first impression of Laos, a country that for me, was shrouded in mystery. As we drove into the center of town, I noticed the roads were made of red soil and that many of the village houses were made of wooden planks that were nailed vertically. In these small houses were people looking out into the dirt roads. I saw many people sleeping and young girls were selling snacks and drinks of all kinds. Everywhere I looked there was lush vegetation with lots of dogs and goats running around. The town itself was very small and rural, probably the most rural I had seen in Asia yet. Along the way, one thing that really caught me off guard was the sight of a young man around the age of 15 walking down the dirt road completely naked: no underwear and no shoes. Just strolling down happily without a care in the world in the middle of the day and with other people out on the street hardly giving him a second glance.

Wild.

The tuk-tuk drops me off at the B.A.P guesthouse where I check in. It was a big wooden house with many rooms and a dark cluttered living area with old stacks of paper and magazines and all kinds of trinkets, sodas and packaged snacks. A kind lady shows me to my room where I left my bag and went out for a stroll. I had to see more of this strange little town. As I walked up and down the dirt roads I would see the locals from their small houses and restaurants staring at me, some were housewives and others were groups of people watching my every step but I would just smile and nod and sometimes say Sabaidee, the greeting in Lao. I would come to learn that Thai and Lao have a lot of similarities.

I then ran into the Thai trio again and we had lunch at a nearby restaurant called Houyxai Kaew next to the Mekong river. In the river there was a large rusted and abandoned ship that was the same color as the river. There we shared a spicy papaya salad and a spicy mixed meat dish. Afterwards I walked the empty streets again and visited a temple on a hill with a steep staircase. There I made a donation and prayed for a safe journey through Asia. I then ran into an British-Indian girl also traveling through Laos. We walked around the town together and had a couple of beers by the river and then at a place called Terasse. There we talked late into the night and spoke about travel, life and everything in between. We then called it a night. We had the slow boat ride tomorrow.

A tuk-tuk picked us up in the morning from the guesthouse and then picked up other travelers along the way to the long boats. Apparently, this was a very popular way to get to Luang Prabang on a budget. We stopped at some small stores and I bought some beer and a styrofoam cooler with ice. On the tuk-tuk and on the boat I met Marek, a young guy from Weston, Florida and a bunch of young British people, some girls from Denmark and Iceland and a sweet girl named Isla from Scotland. We all got to know each other and pretty quickly we were all laughing and joking around, excited for our two day journey down the Mekong river. We were to stop at Pak Beng for a night and then continue to Luang Prabang the following day. Thus would begin my journey into Laos.

Chiang Rai: Wat Rong Khun

It was May 27th, and I had arrived at Bus Terminal 1, in Chiang Rai late at night. I grab my pack and step off the bus unto the pavement, looking around and trying to orientate myself. I was then quickly, of course, swarmed with a bevy of tuk-tuk drivers offering rides to me, which is one of my absolute strange loves in Thailand; always having the option for fun transport and being the center of attention for 3 minutes. With my phone being dead and not really sure how far my place was, I negotiated with one guy to take me to Mercy hostel, where I was staying and meeting up with Thomas, a friend I met in Pai days earlier.

The following day we took a grab to see Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun, also known as the “White Temple.” A temple designed by Thai visual artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat and one that opened its doors to visitors in 1997. As Thomas and I began walking up towards the temple the first thing I really noticed was how bright and shiny the temple was, especially in contrast with the blue sky behind it. It was almost a blinding structure to look at and one that was completely unique. In the distance I could see all of the traditional elements of standard Thai architecture, the tiered roofs and serpents but I knew this one was going to be very different.

We paid 100 baht to visit the grounds and as we drew closer to the temple we noticed a small pond and a bridge that led to it, known as the “Gate of Heaven.” In the front were sculptures of hundreds of outstretched hands in agonizing desire. Many people stood on the bridge and took their photos but loved to take their sweet ass time with it. Over a megaphone there was a repeated message in Mandarin and English saying not to stop on the bridge and to continue into the temple, but people still moved slowly. With the fantastical temple that can only be dreamed of behind us, we took our photos and of course, also crossed the bridge slowly. I then realized why the White Temple was so bright from the distance, it was completely covered in small mirrored tiles.

Continuing across the bridge and into the temple I began to feel a strange sense of peace despite the growing crowd of tourists flowing in. I removed my shoes and stepped inside. In the center I saw a beautiful golden mural and statue of the Buddha. I put my hands together and gave a Wai to pay my respect and then slowly looked at the interior walls. What I saw was the most curious and strangest thing I’d ever seen in a place of worship. It was very modern art. There were murals of swirling fire and demonic faces from Thai literature but also Michael Jackson, Kung-Fu Panda, Neo from the Matrix, a depiction of the 9/11 terrorist attack, a volcano erupting, Superman, a space station, an asteroid hitting Earth, the Terminator, Hello Kitty, nuclear warfare…

Pretty much all the shit that scares me.

The Mystique of Muay Thai: Chiang Mai

“I think we passed it” I yelled to Norm, my new Canadian friend sitting next to me as the wind whipped by. Our tuk-tuk driver was speeding down the busy streets of Chiang Mai, a beautiful city in northern Thailand known for its culture and cuisine. “I think he’s taking us to a different one,” I continued. I tapped the driver lightly on his shoulder not wanting to startle him. “Sorry. Thapae Stadium. Muay Thai.” He nods and pulls over to orientate himself quickly on his smartphone. “Okayyyy,” he said with a big smile as he began to drive again, taking the back streets. We were running late. The fight started at 9pm. And it was already 9:15. This was going to be my first time watching a Muay Thai match and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Our trusty driver takes us right to the front of the stadium and we pay the fare, tipping him extra for his quick skillful driving. I had bought my front row ticket earlier that day and I invited Norm, since he was into martial arts and also my hostel roommate. We step up to the ticket booth and Norm purchases the seat next to mine. “This way, follow me,” says one of the casually dressed employees. He leads us down a hallway filled with parked mopeds, paintings of traditional Muay Thai fighters and a restaurant. He shows us to the front of the ring. Around the ring there were long portable tables and foldable chairs. We sat were my spot was reserved with my name on a piece of paper. Norm and I order two Chang beers from an attendant and he brought it to us with paper cups explaining to us that it was a holiday and that we couldn’t drink out of the bottle. It was the Buddhas’ birthday.

At half past nine, a Thai gentleman stepped into the ring with an oboe with a microphone clipped to it. Two men from a tall stand began to play a steady rhythm from a drum and small cymbals. The gentleman then began to play a high pitched tune from his oboe to the drum beat which lasted for a couple of minutes. Norm and I cheersed to our first Muay Thai fight and watched the pre-fight ritual. I knew a bit about Muay Thai from back home and if you grew up in the 90’s like me, my first encounter with Muay Thai was in Street Fighter 2. Remember getting to Thailand to fight Sagat? That insanely tall and frustrating character that would incessantly throw “Tiger” punches? 

Muay Thai fighter.   

The music stopped and two young girls no older than 14 or 15 stepped into the ring. Both began to go around the ring counter-clockwise stopping at each corner where they would get down and pray on their knees bowing three times, paying respect to the judges, their teacher and to the Buddha. At each corner their coaches would finish prepping them and give them last minute words of advice. The bell rang and the live music started again. The steady beat of the drum and clanging sound of the two cymbals rang throughout along with the eerie high pitched melody of the oboe.

The two stone-faced girls draw near each other, both with their hair tied back and with a serious look in their eyes. One red, one blue. They throw light jabs testing each others distance and power all while tapping their left foot the beat of the music being played, which is known as Sarama. Suddenly, “Thawack!” a quick low right kick connecting to the thigh followed by another jab. They exchange punches and return to their stance sizing each other up and tapping their left foot again, keeping themselves light. Another quick exchange of punches and kicks gets thrown which then develops to a clinch: Legal in Muay Thai. “Swaap, Swaap, Swaap!” The girls pound each other in the torso with their knees and the art of Muay Thai begins to show itself. One girl throws an elbow to the face and the other pulls away, immediately throwing a roundhouse kick to her opponents face but not connecting. More punches to the face were thrown followed by a frenzy of kicks to the legs. The two girls trade blows furiously and become entangled. “Ding!” The bell sounds and the Sarama music stops. The two warriors retreat to their corners and sit down on small stools for their two-minute rest period. Their coaches and assistants place a large metal tray under their feet and dowse their legs with ice water, massaging them for the next round.

This is Muay Thai, literally meaning Thai Boxing. The national combat sport of Thailand which use stand-up striking and clinching techniques. The discipline which is known as “the art of eight limbs” because of the use of fists, feet, elbows and knees, can be traced back to the mid 18th century during the battles between the Burmese and the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). During this tumultuous time a famous fighter by the name of Nai Khanomtom was captured by the Burmese army and knowing of his excellent hand-to-hand combat skills offered him the opportunity to fight for his freedom. A boxing ring was set up in front of the throne and he was to fight against a Burmese champion skilled in the martial art known as Lethwei, or Burmese bare-knuckle boxing. Prior to the fight Nai Khanomtom performed a traditional pre-fight dance, which paid respect to his teacher, ancestors and spectators alike, slowly dancing around his opponent. When the fight commenced he charged towards the champion and dominated him with a fury of kicks, punches, knees and elbows till he was knocked out. The referee then stated that the Burmese champion was too distracted by the Wai Kru dance and that the win wasn’t valid. The King Mangra then asked Nai Khanomtom if he would fight another 9 Burmese fighters to prove his skill. After agreeing, Nai Khanomtom won every single fight…with no rest in between. Nobody else dared to challenge him after. The king was so thoroughly impressed that he then said, “Every part of the Siamese is blessed with venom.” King Mangra then granted him his freedom along with the choice of two wives or riches. Nai Khanomtom chose the two wives, stating that money was easier to find and then set out back home to Siam.

His fighting style was then known as Siamese-Style boxing, later to be known as Muay Thai. In the 19th century the martial art of Muay Thai then advanced and grew in popularity throughout all of Thailand. Today, it is considered to be one of the most effective and brutal of all the martial arts and is practiced by many all over the world. 

“Ding!” the bell rings again and the two girls rush to each other throwing punches and kicking, each sweaty and giving their all. 

A Muay Thai match consists of 5 rounds with three minutes each and a 2 minute rest period in between and the two girls fight all the way. Norm and I watch intently and he critiques a bit. “These girls are pretty tough” he says. I nod in agreement. But I must admit that when I first saw two young girls step into the ring for the first fight I was skeptical. But both girls fought bravely for all five rounds without either of them getting knocked out. This was my first experience with Muay Thai and I immediately became a fan. One girl is declared the winner and they both give thanks to the judges and the crowd.

There were 5 more fights that evening and I began to notice the effectiveness and brutality of this sport. Each following fight was with young men, mainly teenagers, and each one was won by a knockout. The blows that they delivered were very audible and their kicks were strong and precise. One was knocked out by a roundhouse kick to the face. One with a devastating cross. Another was knocked out with a menacing right hook and then a powerful downward right elbow to the forehead. Blood spurted out and he was knocked unconscious. A doctor rushed in to attend to him and he was carried out of the ring. Every single fight was fierce. And each started the same way. With the very interesting traditional pre-fight dance ritual.

It is known as Wai Kru or Wai Kru Ram Muay, meaning ‘war-dance saluting the teacher’ and it goes something like this: The fighters after entering the ring the circle it counter-clockwise and pray at each corner, bowing their head three times in salutation to the Buddha, Rama and the Sangha of monks. After this they both perform the Ram Muay dance, movements based on Hanuman, a god in Hinduism. Each Ram Muay dance is unique and personal to the fighter and shows respect to the fighters teacher, parents and ancestors. From what I noticed, the movements usually consist of slow spinning of the fists, slow stretching and bent knee movements. They can also contain clues of where the boxer is from and who their teacher is. All of this is accompanied by the aforementioned live Samara music. The boxers are also wearing a special headband called the ‘Mongkol.’ It presented to the boxer by the trainer once that he feels that the student has learned a great deal about Muay Thai and ready to represent the gym in the ring. After performing the Wai Kru, the trainer will take off the Mongkol and place it in the corner of the ring for good luck. The fighters sometimes also wear a special type of armband called ‘Pra Jiad’ which is usually made out of pieces of cloth by a close family member and is worn for good luck and confidence. The Wai Kru is a very interesting and special aspect of Muay Thai. Other than it being traditional, there is definitely a spiritual aspect to it that really grabs my attention. 

This is more than just fighting it would seem. 

There is something magical about it. 

As if somehow, the Wai Kru gave the fighters divine power in the ring. 

Finding Wat Phra Thart Pha Kaew

It was May 15th, my birthday and I was in Phitsanulok. A historic city in lower Northern Thailand with a population of around 84,300 and known for having one of the most sacred statues of the Buddha in all of the country, which is in the Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat temple, also know locally as Wat Yai . The city itself is very modest and not really visited by many travelers, so naturally it had a very local and authentic Thai feel to it. I was staying at a place called Karma Home Hostel which was owned by a friendly guy from England named Mark and his Thai wife Mint, along with their young daughter. They also ran a small school for children together. The night before I had met a young guy from Texas that was also staying there named John. Mark had told us about a temple with a large statue of the Buddha and we had decided to check it out. We weren’t exactly sure where it was but it was nestled in the mountains somewhere in a town nearby called Khao Kho, in the Phetchabun province.

We were looking for Wat Phra Thart Pha Kaew. We leave the hostel around 10 am. and take a tuk-tuk to the local bus station, where we jumped on a bus that took us down a highway. We drove by some nice towns and saw a great deal of the landscape. After enjoying the scenery for almost 2 hours, the driver slows down and drops us off on the side of the road with no bus stop. As soon we got off it began to rain very hard, so we went into a 7-11 that was in front of us. Inside we waited for the rain to lighten up but we also bought some disposable ponchos just in case. From where we were, we could see the mountains in the background. The rain stops and we begin our 2 km walk up some hills and through some villages towards the temple. The morning was damp and cool and it looked very nice with all of the vegetation all around. After walking for 40 minutes or so we find the entrance to the temple and walk up a flight of stairs that was completely covered in colorful glass mosaic tile. There we saw statues of a Hindu-looking elephant in a battle pose, another statue of an Indian monk in a white robe and a gilded statue of Ganesh. The stairs were beautiful and fairly symmetrical in design, and it was a good preview of what was yet to come.

The stairs led up to a pagoda which housed a beautiful golden Buddha in the center, yet what really caught my attention was the overall decor of the room. We take off our shoes and step inside. All around the room there were more statues of the golden Buddha but the center piece and the walls were unlike anything I had ever seen. The main Buddha in the room was flanked by two smaller statues and was sitting on a cloud shaped platform. Around the platform were flower offerings, two oversized electric candles and other ornaments. The wall directly behind it was a trippy mural of the galaxy painted in white, pink and purple. The entire area was definitely not your typical Buddhist temple but it was this psychedelic quality that made it special.

I pay my respects to the Buddha and exit the room to the left quietly. Across the way was a large building with an even larger white statue of the sitting Buddha followed by decreasingly smaller replicas of the statue in front of it. Kinda like a Matryoshka doll effect. The day was cool and overcast with the rain drizzling from time to time and in the horizon were the green misty mountains standing in complete silence. I stood there and gazed on what I had found. I was not expecting anything like this. The entire sight seemed otherworldly to me. I turn around and notice that the temple that I had just stepped out of was completely covered in more colorful glass mosaic tile, which even included some complete glass bowls, plates and teacups. The ground between the two temples was also covered in mosaic tile and had puddles of cool water from the rain which felt refreshing between my toes. I walked past some Buddhist monks and other visitors to the temple of the large Buddha statue. Outside there was a old man with sunglasses seated in a plastic chair speaking Thai into a microphone. I had no idea what he was saying but he would talk casually and slowly, ending each sentence with a little chuckle, which of course added to the bizarre factor of the entire place. Inside on the walls of the room were beautiful pictures of the story and teachings of the Buddha, many of which I took my time reading, trying to learn and attain some . . .

Enlightenment.

Afterwards we took a bunch of pictures of the temples and surrounding area, because honestly the whole place was so surreal and we just couldn’t get enough of it. John and I then walk back to the main temple passing some peacocks (Yes. Peacocks.) and climbed its spiraled staircase to the top which offered magnificent sights of the grounds and the mountains. The entire section again was all mosaic and so colorful that I felt like I was in some kind of candyland-funhouse. Very odd for a Buddhist temple. After spending a good while taking in the majesty of the landscape and snapping some more photos we walk back down, go up the road and walk into a log cabin style bistro called The Piney. It had a wonderful patio area and actually reminded me a bit of Colorado, with its thick wooden chairs and tables and spectacular views of the mountains. There I have some delicious Thai tea and we shared some green curry and vegetable dumplings for lunch.

We must of spent three hours there because the place was so tantalizing and trippy that it was hard to peel away from. We finally began to make our walk back to the main road and end up hitchhiking twice to a bus stop. There we waited for about 30 minutes till a bus pulled up and it turned out to be the same one that had originally dropped us off. Back at the Phitsanulok station we grab a tuk-tuk and criss-cross through the crazy streets during rush hour back to the Karma Home Hostel. John and I arrive late in the evening and we chill on the rooftop with the other travelers we had met the day before. There everyone wished me a Happy Birthday and we played music and had beers late into the night.

A Small Place called Lop Buri.

It was May 13th and from Ayutthaya I stopped in a small town called Lop Buri, popular for some of its ruins but one that really stands out for its inhabitants. The slow blue train pulls up to the station and as I get down I was immediately greeted by a rickshaw driver that offered me a tour of the town for an hour for 150 baht, about $4.70. It was raining a bit, so I agreed and decided to take a look before moving further north. I follow him to his cool blue rickshaw where I jump in and he begins to pedal me around. I felt bad that he didn’t have anything to protect him from the rain but it did lighten up. And he was cool with it. We squeezed between small cars and food carts towards some ancient grounds and temples where he would stop and I would walk around taking some pictures and soaking in the ambiance while getting wet in the rain. The first stop was at Somdet Phra Narai National Museum, the second palace of King Narai the Great, which was built in 1666 and is located in the center of town. The King would use the palace for relaxation, hunting and receiving ambassadors and other official visitors. On the grounds were the remaining sites of some storage houses, stables and what looked sleeping quarters. When the King died, according to history, the palace and the town of Lop Buri was abandoned.

After the ancient palace we went to a small gated Buddhist Temple where we paid our respects to the Buddha and then continued through the village. As he took me around the food market I could feel everyone looking at me as my trusty driver pulled me along. Some would smile and wave and others would stare straight into my soul. I would smile often and wave back, giving a respectful Wai with a kind hello in Thai. He took me down narrow streets and alleyways passing by street food vendors selling all kinds of produce, prepared foods, noodles, insects and a variety of live fish in buckets. The sight of the food market was so visually appealing and exciting that my head was turning everywhere. I took it all in… The damp street with the locals walking back and forth exchanging money and produce, the smacking of wet flip flops against their feet, the splashing about of fish in the buckets of water, the colorful array of local fruit and vegetables stacked together neatly, the sound of spoken Thai and the smell of different grilled meats in the air… It was and always is a sight I love to see.

After a couple of more streets he turned the corner that led to the Prang Sam Yot, where I began to see gangs of Macaques running across the street and jumping the fence to congregate at the temple. It was a real sight to see so many wild monkeys running around the city so freely. The temple itself wasn’t very big but had a nice tower in the center with a total of three Prangs. We get off in the front and I pay 30 baht to walk the grounds and to get a closer look of the monkey-ridden temple. I circle around and pass by some large pots of water where the macaques were jumping in and out of splashing around and playing. Some would approach curiously and looked like they were ready to pounce on me. After taking some photos I continued around, turned the corner and one came running up to me. He jumped on me and almost immediately, four others came and hopped onto my backpack and shoulders. I continued walking towards the entrance with these monkeys on me and took some photos with them but of course one had the audacity to grab my hat that I had just bought in Bangkok. He jumps off and runs up the temple with it and another monkey began to tug on my hair. I walked more and brushed them off without getting bitten with the help of a Thai lady with a stick. I then ran towards the temple trying to find my hat.

Prang Sam Yot in Lop Buri
with hundreds (1000?) of Crab-Eating Macaques.

I spotted him. He was a the tippy-top of the temple and had it in his mouth, ripping it up and dragging it through monkey shit. I had lost my hat but I just laughed at the whole experience and began to leave. As I walked away he finally dropped it to the ground. I go to pick it up and found it wrecked and dirty. More monkeys jumped on me as I left but by then I had enough fun. We the go to another temple with a statue of the Buddha covered in square gold paper. Inside was all kinds of fruit offerings and the smoky smell of incense. I take off my shoes and a guy calls me over to put some gold on the statue. I pay my respects and the leave back to the station with my driver where I paid and tipped him something extra. There I bought my ticket to Phitsanulok on a 3rd class train leaving at 12:30. And as I would find out, I was in for a long ride.