Tag Archives: buddha

Wat A Cave!

While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat.  ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave!  In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling!  Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.

I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens.  The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road.  The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park.  The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!

I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade!  I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead.  But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared.  The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)!  I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.

As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi.  I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!).  Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat.  The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular!  I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff.  Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat.  A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.

Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :).  I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness.  I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out.  An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha.  As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor.  I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!!  They lived in the cave!!

I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid!  I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs…  Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave.  Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉

I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position.  Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there.  And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.

I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again.  I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness.  There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it.  There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.

As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed.  At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them.  As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water.  One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.

I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests.  Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi.  The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community.  After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.

I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch!  I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me!  One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet.  It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…

On to Hiking Khao Lommuak

Back to Thailand

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What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand

Bangkok ‘Gangster’ Scams

 

I don’t really know how close I was to the Palace because again there was no way to judge true distances on my map and to make things more interesting, maps posted along the street didn’t coincide at all with the map I had so I was kinda just going blindly most of the time…

At one point I came across a hilarious little squirrel.  People (I’ve noticed this elsewhere now too) hang little bags or full coconuts on the trees for the squirrels!  I didn’t know they had squirrels in Thailand before this!  He was adorable to watch as he dipped his head in the bag for a mouthful of shaved coconut, too cute!!

As I continued down the random street I was approached by a guy who asked where I was going.  The Palace, I said.  To which he replied that it was closed because the King was going to be there for his birthday.  What’s funny here is a friend of mine who’s been to Thailand said that these scammers always say the Palace is closed because it’s the Kings birthday… In this case, it actually was true, I just thought it was funny they always use that excuse!  Anyway, he insisted that the entire area was blockaded by police and there was no way to even get close to it.  BUT… he recommended several lovely temples each featuring Buddha (Golden Buddha, a temple with 8 different positions of Buddha, etc).  He said for 40 baht one of the 3-wheel taxis called “tuk-tuks” could take me around to 4 of them and bring me back!  That sounded like a good deal really… 4 Temples for 40 baht AND he would bring me back to where we started??  Sign #1 to not go- too good to be true.  But no, I thought “I could go on a little detour, rest my feet during the ride, see some Temples then walk to the Palace once we were back to start”.  Just as I got into the tuk-tuk, the guy asked where I was from.  I said the States, to which he replied “I love Obama”… I should have taken that as sign #2 to NOT trust this situation, lol!!

The first Temple was of the 8 Buddhas in different positions.  Unfortunately no picture-taking was allowed.  There was a gentlemen inside praying to one statue however that I found moving.  It wasn’t a Buddha statue but rather of a man depicted with sticks at his feet.  God of health is what the man said.  Pray to him for good health.  It was quite moving to wander around the Temple.  I’ve got more to say on that in a later post, but moving on…

I returned to the taxi after my walk around the Temple and he then told me that next stop was a Thailand factory where they make very good clothes.  Ok, I don’t need any clothes, but maybe it’s interesting somehow.  He insisted that these shops were good for the Thai people.  Ok… So we went.  The shop was, well, just a shop filled with tons of different fabrics and Giorgio Armani magazines with a variety of his clothing all ready to be tailor-made JUST for you!  As I wandered in, the sales vultures attacked asking me this and that and what would I like/need yada yada… I did one lap at a quick pace and headed out the door.  I did notice before leaving another gringo couple there signing papers… And as I headed out the door another tuk-tuk was pulling up with more gringos… Something fishy is going on…  Sign #3…

I got back in my taxi, the guy drove all of 10 feet then pulled over and stopped the cab:

Tuk-tuk man: You spend more time in there
Me: Um… I don’t need clothes.  They are very nice, but I don’t need anything.
Tuk-tuk man: Don’t matter if you buy, just looking, just LOOKING.  Must stay longer at next one for gas card.
Me: I don’t want to go to another one, I thought we were going to see Temples
Tuk-tuk Man: Yes, yes, Temples but factory first.  Must get gas card.  300 baht gas card for going to factory
Me:  No, I didn’t sign up for this, no.
Tuk-tuk Man: please, please, you do it for me so I get gas card.  10 minute, 10 minute just LOOKING

Sign #4… But he pulled the guilt trip… So ok, fine.  I can spare one more shop for 10 minutes so he can get a gas card.  So off we go… I wandered in and played my part listening to the sales pitch, flipping through the magazines “oh this is nice” wondering the entire time how/why any of these people think I have the kind of money to spend on those kinds of clothes with me looking like such crap after walking the streets of Bangkok all morning??  Anyway, I figured 10 minutes were up, so I left and got back into the cab.  The driver then turned to me and showed me on the map where we currently were (somewhere off of Nkhon Chaisi Rd WAY northeast of where we started) and proceeded to say “next factory is right here, then we go to Temples”.

Ok, I officially reached my limit.  “No” I very firmly said.  He tried his pitch to me once again begging and pleading but I had had enough!!  I told him to take me back immediately to where he picked me up.  He finally figured out I meant business, took on a sulky attitude, turned around and started to head back.  Thankfully I was paying enough attention to see that he was actually taking me in the right direction, but at a certain point we got stuck in traffic along Ratcha Damnoen Nok Rd and I just got out.  I payed him his 40 baht figuring the one Temple was worth that, walked across the street away from him and wandered the streets again.

As it turned out there was a ton of very interesting stuff along that road!  I’m not sure if it also was because of the King’s birthday or just coincidental, but according to some signs it said December 5th was also World SOIL day… They had tents upon tents displaying farm scenes, gardens, green growing, hydroponic setups, etc!  Very interesting stuff!  Also one of the tents was all about a gift festival. Not sure what that was exactly, but lots of fun stuff to look at and buy.

So really, had it not been for the scam I never would have been in that area to begin with to see all the random festivities.  But perhaps the part I thought was the funniest was when I was walking along Ratcha Damnoen Klang Rd where the Democracy Monument is located.  Yes, I was STILL trying to make it to the dang Palace, lol!!  I stopped at one of the street maps (which again didn’t look a thing like my map!) and another man came up asking me where I wanted to go… Repeat???  Thankfully not!  He was a professor at the University for Political Science and was legit!  He pointed the way to the Palace then asked what I had seen so far.  I told him “not much” just a Temple and random other parts.  I pointed on a map where I had been taken (by the scammer cabbie) and the first word out of his mouth: “Gangsters”!!

What???  Did I hear right??  “Gangsters” he repeated, then said “how many factory they take you to?”… Oh dear, lol!!!  I’d been scammed alright!  I laughed and said 2.  He shook his head knowingly and said that the police everyday get calls about that scenario or tourists walking into the police stations to file complaints about this scam.  I don’t know if the shops are part of the scam also, but I can’t say for sure.  He then went on to give me another couple good tips: Never get into a taxi (actual taxis are regular cars in a variety of colors; pink, green, blue with a “metered taxi” sign on top) if the driver does not turn on the meter.  If they try to negotiate a price with you before you get in, RUN!  Lol!!  His exact words folks!  The second tip was for the shopping areas: look at 10 stores before you buy!  Again, to avoid being overcharged or scammed on a price:)  Lovely guy and great information, I was truly grateful!!

I thanked the professor then headed on toward the Palace first running into the Royal Grounds where the side walk of the grounds were lined with police.  I asked what was going on and one guy said that in a half hour the King would arrive!  Seriously??  So I hung out in the gardens, which had a view of the Palace in the background (finally!!!) until the action began.  It wasn’t the King who arrived, but rather it was a very respected woman.  I’ve tried to look up in the papers something about what the event was all about but still can’t find anything.  Anyway, whoever she was, she was very heavily guarded and respected!  Everyone who approached her did so on their knees, never turning their back to her.  After viewing the event for a bit, I headed to the Palace (which was shut) then decided to just get back to the hotel.  At this point it had already been a 10 hour day and I was shot and ready for a shower!!

I approached some cops to ask the best place for a taxi pick-up to which they all lined up to hail a cab for me as I stood on the sidewalk (so polite and helpful!!).  I was taken to Phaya Thai (by a driver who did use his meter) which is the first stop in the Airport Rail system.  Last funny- I needed a cab from the Lat Krabang station to my hotel.  I hailed one and he stopped.  I showed him the card I had of the hotel and he nodded “yes”, so I went to get in and said “meter?” to which he then looked at the hotel card again and shook his head.  He pointed to his eyes and squinted as if to say he suddenly couldn’t read the address on the card… Scammer avoided??  Too funny!!

 

On to Temples and Monks

Back to Thailand