Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nakhon Pathom - Thailand

This is said to be the oldest town in Thailand and we were extremely surprised that it wasn’t more popular with tourists.  We certainly arrived on the right day.  Having departed the bus (the trains were out of action owing to flooding in the south) we looked around to find ourselves by a massive Buddhist temple surrounded by large but mostly empty grounds and not much else.  It was an impressive sight, but we needed to find accommodation as the bags were getting heavier and the sun hotter!  We found a cosy but not necessarily cockroach free guest house for about four pound per night which had two extremely lovable pooches in house that could do a load of tricks for treats.  We were also positioned right next to the temple. 

Nakhon Pathom had been labelled as being sleepy town, but on our initial wonderings we came upon a parade-like celebration.  We had been walking around the town’s friendly streets which were indeed sleepy but still interesting when the sound of drums being banged and guitar music (not as we know it) came over loud and typically substandard speakers from down the street.  At the front of this procession were a group of people holding up and swirling round a dragon on sticks.  The band followed, but the main event and in fact the reason for all of this was the group of young monks all dressed in white making their way to the temple with their orange mentors.  Their fathers were at the back carrying their robes and offerings, the mothers were at the front with the band partying.  It was a real carnival atmosphere!  We followed them and Kate was physically persuaded to join the dancing to my full appreciation.  Kate and the gang danced all the way to the temple with me alongside snapping away with the camera. 

The dragon leading the monk procession

The mini-monks

Party time

When we arrived at the temple we separated from the young monks and watched the ceremony take place.  I had managed to lead a couple of the young monks astray by blowing a big raspberry at them earlier which they loved.  I couldn’t have recognised the same monks if my life depended on it as there were about two hundred of them that when together resembled an open box of Maltesers, but luckily they remembered me and blew raspberries back at every opportunity when getting their photo taken.  I was slightly concerned that I might be ruining a precious day for their parents; hopefully they managed to get a photograph with their tongues in!  After a while the procession started up again and headed away from the temple this time.  We followed them for a while until we decided we had had enough walking and partying and decided to head closer to home.

approaching the temple

Climbing the stairs for the ceremony

Check out the cheeky monkeys sticking their tongues out

That evening the grounds of the temple came to life again when one of the best night markets for food we had seen on our travels sprang up.  What’s more was that we hadn’t seen any other foreigners since we left Bangkok!   It was a real novelty for others to have us ‘Falang’ knocking around again.  After circling the stalls we settled on the one with the chefs who looked like they enjoyed their food the most which turned out to be great reasoning.  We shared a pork dish that was so good that we instantly shared another one!  There was so much life in this town and we immediately fell in love with it.  They laughed innocently at our attempts at speaking Thai and made us feel utterly welcome, what a first day.
The grounds of the temple come to life with food stalls at night

Kate in front of the temple at night

Posing with a gigantic jack-fruit

The guys who cooked our dinner

To prevent cabin fever for when we would be campervanning in New Zealand, we set about using the great internet connection of a nearby café in order to download as much music and media on to the laptop as we could possibly do over a few days.  A lot of time was therefore spent hanging out with the friendly staff in the Retro Café which had a nice enclosed outside area for us to do what we needed to in comfort and style! 


We set aside a day to visit the most photographed floating market in Thailand.  It was about an hour from where we were or two hours from Bangkok, so we hopped on a bus and made our way there.  I’ll come right out with it now and say it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience.  We knew that these things could be tourist traps but we assumed that we were far enough outside of Bangkok for this to be one, unfortunately it was a bit of a scam from the start.  The ‘public’ bus took us to a largely price inflated area where it was clear that you needed to take a boat in order to visit the market.  We later saw smaller man-powered boats which would have inevitably been cheaper but our bus driver wouldn’t have received such a good cut.  My idea of a floating market was that the sellers of produce used boats as a means of reaching a vaster clientele, not the public cruising round on boats to shops which could only inconveniently be accessed by water…

We haggled the price of hiring a boat down to half the price which was still equivalent to over two night’s accommodation and boarded the boat with a big petrol engine on the back.  The driver gunned it down the scenic canals where we would have enjoyed the trip and took us from shop to shop which sold the same touristy tat you could find in the shops around Bangkok.  There were floods of western faces all around the crowded narrow canals as boats jostled amongst the choking engine smoke to get to the next shop.  The driver was overtly grumpy that he wasn’t going to receive any commission from us as we were strictly looking and not buying, yet this still didn’t prevent him from trying.  The shops were water facing and the store holders were nice and understanding enough, although they did have a bit of a moan with the driver from time to time that the tight-fisted falang didn’t want to buy any of their knickknacks.  Quite simply we felt exploited, kind of how I imagined a bad Bangkok tuk tuk ride to be and couldn’t wait to leave.  Disappointing but no tragedy, I wonder if many other tourists we saw felt the same way.        

Jostling for photographs with some of the tat in the background

The remainder of the time in Nakhon Pathom was spent wandering around finding new amazing places to eat of which there were just too many to be able to try them all.  Our food highlights were all street food again (surprise surprise), pork was massive here and pork farming was one of the most common lines of work in this area.  An excellent place we ate involved receiving a hot pot on coals to which we were to concoct our own pork broth.  We were provided with water, vegetables and a slab of chopped pork along with spicy sauces.  We got by with a little help and the end product was as delicious as the process was fun.  We also shared a large beer and after we paid the bill it felt like we had robbed him.  In a Chinese restaurant practically next door to where we were staying there was a great host who allowed us to watch the Man United against Fulham match over a large Sea Bass which was delicious.  United won too which made it all the more sweet.  There were also the usual suspects such as the cheap and delicious noodle soup joints along with the amazing squid on a stick stands.

Waiting for the pot to boil before adding the ingredients

Enjoying a pancake for desert from a nearby stall

Our flight to Christchurch New Zealand wasn’t until the afternoon on our final day in Asia, so we managed to have a nice noodle breakfast before getting the coach to Bangkok.  We were told we could leave this bus by a friendly local and when we passed a largish bus station we got off on her assertions that we would be able to get the bus to the airport from here.  This wasn’t possible so instead we opted for a taxi to the MRT train station as opposed to paying all the way to the airport, even if the taxi driver did continuously press for the full fair to the point of teeth being grinded.  The rest of the journey went pretty much as seamlessly as public air travel can be, albeit the confusing process for VAT refunds meant that although we were told we could recover the tax for the laptop after going through security, when we finally got through we were told the contrary and that it had to first be inspected on the other side with no option to go back again even if we had the time… We had ensured that we had all the necessary paperwork when we bought it but some more bad advice had stumped us.  Oh well, more gritted teeth and we made our way onto the plane for our journey to Christchurch via Sydney, fifteen hours or so in total.  On a lighter note here is an amazing picture Kate took of the dogs from the guesthouse.

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