Renting a bike for about $1.50 for the day, I set out on my own adventure touring Ayutthaya. They drive on the opposite side of the road here, so I kept mistakenly getting into the wrong lane and getting myself into trouble. There are really no rules of the road here, so when you mess up, you REALLY know you’re doing something wrong. People are pretty friendly though, and many would see me struggling and give me the right of way. There were definitely a few times I let out a big nervous yelp after breaking free from some very dangerous traffic situations I got myself into. Definitely almost died a few times, but I came out the other side with a squeal to release the built-up tension and nervous laughter to greet the people that saw me revived.
The river around Ayutthaya is used by barges and tug boats transporting goods. I stopped at a particular section where two rivers meet with opposite currents conflicting one another. There was a floating ferry dock where the ferry boat would pull all the way up within the big blooming water hyacinths and wait for sailors as the plants packed him permanently into the dock. The currents sent smaller boats spinning and twirling uncontrollably toward a temple that stood at the fork where the two rivers met. I watched in amazement as two tugboat drivers, attached to opposite ends of three large barges, would maneuver the current. The front driver would launch the barges into the river-fork as the second tug backpedaled at maximum capacity to make sure the barges wouldn’t slam the banks. Then, as the barges quickly approached the temple, both tugboats flipped around to tug upstream. In the nick of time, the barges were straightened and no longer headed for eminent destruction of the temple. You could see the captains relax as they continued downstream.
The town is so small that I didn’t think biking around would take all day, but there are so many temples here! I think I’ve always assumed they were rock-cut-temples, but they’re actually all built from intricate multiples of brick, then covered with a white plaster (making it look like stone as it turns black with time). It’s really interesting to see the underbelly of the construction, the layers upon layers of brick with faint traces of the paints and pigments that would have completely adorned the temples. I got a little overzealous and decided to bike the perimeter of the island, then stop in the middle for the temples and ended up spending about 8-hours biking!
I ate “boat noodles” again for lunch (yes the pork, pork, pork noodles), and tried to get a Thai-tea bubble tea from a lady at a market stand, but she wouldn’t wake up from her snooze. It’s funny because at the markets they’re not actively trying to entice you to buy their goodies, they’re lounging, relaxing, sitting on the floor, picking skin off their feet as you pass their fruit stand, and often completely sleeping behind their booths! Vans packed full of school children cheered at me and said “hello” as they drove by. One van stopped to give me directions, and there was a little trickster inside that kept saying, “you can’t go there!” Bursts of laughter erupted from the children as he pointed and gave me wrong directions. They thought it was absolutely hilarious to see my confusion, but eventually they corrected him and sent me on my merry way.
I ended the day at Wat Maha That, the famous Buddha head entwined in the roots of an old Bhodi tree. What I love about Buddha is that it’s always happy. It’s eyes are always closed (self-reflecting) and there is always a serene smile on its face. I also like it because it’s really neither male nor female… and even more, its features are almost so general that you can’t really pin-point a culture or race that Buddha is associated with. It just sits at peace, pondering inwardly, smiling deeply, for all eternity. Contrast this with the Western portrayal of divinity–white, male. I was by myself in the temple complex and decided to do a little meditation while sitting in front of the Buddha tree. When I opened my eyes, the sky was dark, the gates were closed, and blue bats chippered as they soared out the mouths of the temples.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato