I arrived into Bangkok at half past four in a complete daze with the bus driver continuously repeating that it was ‘last stop’. After pulling myself together as well as all my belongings, I exited the bus to find a man asking me where I was headed. It was too early in the morning and I was too sleepy-eyed to realize he was not affiliated with the bus company. He was a taxi driver looking to get me to where I needed to go at a “cheap” price. I figured I should go to the train station since it should be cheaper to get to Lopburi and faster from what I could recall but he was asking for 420 baht to take me there and that was the price it cost for me to get to Bangkok to begin with. He wasn’t going to budge and I certainly wasn’t either so I told him I would walk knowing full well that it would take several hours to get there. The whole game plan of these touts and tut-tuk and taxi drivers is to catch the unsuspecting tourists, namely the first white people they see, and bombard them before they’ve had a second to make an educated decision. After watching the man scurry away as quickly as he arrived at my footsteps chanting as he left that I was ‘crazy’ (which I am, but not crazy in the way to fall into such foolery), I began my search to find the ticket office so that I could buy my way to Lopburi. After doing practically the full loop around the bus station getting pointed in various directions with the sun still hidden, I finally found it with enough hand gestures to communicate the message. The minivan to Lopburi was about to depart and 100 baht later I sat in my seat biding my time to Lopburi. After several stops along the way to drop off Thais (me being the only white person in tow), we reached my destination and I knew so based on a singular macaque monkey tight-roping the electrical lines over the side walk. A sorngtaaou (apparently the name of the colored pickup trucks that act as mass taxis) took me to the old town of Lopburi. Once in the thick of it, I proceeded to the place that drew me to Lopburi: the monkey mansion in which macaque monkeys have taken over the Prang Sam Yot temple. Before even entering the compounds of the temple, which probably takes up a couple of acres of Lopburi’s downtown area, I saw those very monkeys littered in the streets and sidewalks climbing whatever and whoever they liked. These monkeys could be found on the telephone poles, atop buildings, etc., basically everywhere was fair game for these primates. I could see even a couple of those rascals hop into the bed of a pickup truck, to where they or I don’t know. Essentially it reminded me of a scene from the movie Jumanji, in which troupes of monkeys descend upon the streets. Upon entering the gated area which means nothing since not a single barricade could possibly contain this misfit crew of primates, a couple of them jumped onto my large bag which I was still carrying. After wriggling them off, I dumped off my bag at the ticket desk since I had no desire to put up with that anymore. Probably noticing I was one of the few white people they did not recognize, a group of Peace Corps trainees came by to talk to me. They ranged through all ages from just out of college to a retired married couple easily in their sixties. Today was one of their few days of freedom from training and so they came here as part of a cultural trip. Meeting so many Americans at once like this was a complete shocker for me but a welcome change to be able to talk to people with perfect English. I joined a small group of them (70 Americans were training for the Peace Corps in Thailand) and continued exploring the monkey laden temple. A few of the alpha males were more burly and muscular than the rest and rather intimidating despite their still small stature but they meant no harm. The youngsters or what I would call teenagers were the ones to keep an eye out for. Making the most out of my purchase of the selfie stick, I used it as shield/sword to keep the monkeys at bay. One monkey was crazy enough to hop on for a ride as I swung the stick to and fro, trying to wriggle him loose. When a monkey approached I had to stomp at it and say mai (or no, in Thai). With the hundreds of monkeys around I became quite paranoid, so everyone time a shadow shifted out of the corner of my eye, I would twitch or turn 180, even if it were just someone from the Peace Corps. Being around such craziness was a real treat since monkeys are probably my favorite animal. We went to a festival further away as we chatted about my plans for Southeast Asia as well as what really goes on in the Peace Corps. I have dabbled with the idea of joining the Peace Corps in the past so I was very interested to hear their story and reasons behind making such a long commitment. At the festival there were clothing and food shops, which comes as no surprise especially in Asia. The money exchange was interesting as we had to use a form of ancient currency to buy items. In exchange for our baht we received tiny shells, circular clay medallions, and pebbles, which represented different values of money. I ate some spicy papaya salad and coconut ice cream mixed with sticky rice, corn-like pops, and a caramelized citrus compote (based on how in depth I am analyzing this particular dish, you know it was heavenly). We continued walking along through ancient ruins and markets as the day passed. It is too bad they are in the Peace Corps, they would have made some great travel buddies. Eventually I had to leave to my next destination, which was Ayutthaya, a city immersed into the ancient Thai capital with its many scattered ruins. Upon exiting the train to Ayutthaya I was quickly surrounded by taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers curious about where I was headed, when in reality all they want is my money. I am starting to get tired of being the prettiest girl at the dance with everyone eyeing me for my attention. They need to know I have a name, I have feelings. After walking one of the shortest walks ever to a hostel, I scored the cheapest bed yet for a grand total of 140 baht (for those keeping score at home, that is just over 4 USD). Not wasting much time upon arrival, I rented a bicycle that would take me to a Wat I heard is great for sunsets but is clear across town. A French hippie asked me what the rush was and I have to say that yes I should probably relax and give myself a break from time to time but I can’t when I am itching to see and explore all this history and culture that is for all intents and purposes at my fingertips. I spun along on my shitty yellow bike with a basket in front humming to myself the song ‘In the Summertime’ by Mungo Jerry as its lyrics coursed through my whole body. After getting lost and crossing the river I found the temple I circled on my makeshift map, Wat Chai Wattanaram, a 13th Century Khmer piece of historic, architectural art. The weathered, age-old red bricks of the temple shined and glowed just as the sun did while its last hot embers shone upon it. The temple simply would not have appeared the same to my eyes without the sun drifting towards the horizon. The temple was modeled after Angkor Wat to signify in remembrance the king’s victory over the Burmese. At first I doubted my choice to listen to my fellow Ohioan’s advice to stop here but now that I see these ancient ruins I know I would have missed out on a piece of Thailand that makes it special. Either way, it will be a great precursor to my eventual trip to the famed Angkor Wat. Through the dark I rode my bike back to the hostel continuously thinking how stupid it was to ride on the streets of such hectic traffic. Regardless of the limited thought put into that choice, it worked out for the best and I arrived at my hostel unscathed ready for a full day of exploring ancient ruins. More than anything else, sleep is a prized commodity in which I have a limited quantity and quality of.
Thailand Day 66: Monkey Mania