It’s hard to wake up to the last day of the trip. We weren’t flying home until the next day but this was our last full dawn till dusk day of adventure in Thailand. On the agenda were temples, ruins, shopping, and eating. We already knew that the mid-afternoon would be too hot to accomplish much so we aimed for an early start.
Breakfast at Luang Chumni Village was easier today. We had already discovered that there was no actual difference between the omelet and the scrambled eggs. So we coordinated our order: four omelets with ham (carefully avoiding “sausage” a.k.a. hot dogs). We brought down all our left over fruit to finish up – some strange-colored pomegranate from the previous night’s market adventure and a sour new fruit from Mawn’s husband. An additional platter of watermelon and pineapple arrived plus warm milk for the kids, all the coffee I could drink, and Milo for Bill. Then we started out walking toward the big temple. How far could it be right? Everyone needed exercise right? It’s not that hot out yet right?
We got to the round-about at the end of street and turned left, crossed toward the park and surveyed the distance. The sun was now plenty warm and the distance expanded in front of us with only a (very far-off) small, rounded Khmer-type tower to guide us. We were laughing but the family was fairly annoyed. Looked like a very long, hot, dull walk. As we stood there debating in the sun, a tuk-tuk going the other way saw our predicament and his opportunity, banged a quick u-turn and negotiated a price – 80B to the reclining Buddha which was, it turned out, over 2km away. At the reclining Buddha, he pretty much refused to leave us. So we agreed on 20-min and a ride to the next tourist stop. An aggressive small metal Buddha salesman tried to foist a 300B little Buddha on us, we found the same ones for 70B in the stalls and felt victorious. The girls began their shopping adventures, we all took a lot of pictures, and we returned to our red, rusty tuk-tuk to negotiate the next destination.
At the next stop, we paid up our 180B and shook our friendly tuk-tuk driver. We bought admission to Wat Phra Si Sanphet where the royal palace was once located and an informational pamphlet. Inside were ruins of a large temple and lots of partial Buddha statues, a sad reminder of human nature. Zoey had the camera most of that expedition and I read from the brochure. It was getting hot so instead of lingering, we headed toward the more modern temple and got waylaid by a friendly (but very slow) cha yen vendor surrounded by bees that she claimed, in Thai, did not bite. Hmmm. But it was worth the wait. These were “the best cha yen we had ever had.” We tried to befriend a young girl who had a handmade grass insect-toy dangling from a stick but she wasn’t too interested in us. She had seen her share of farang.
Next stop, the more modern temple next door, with a large golden seated Buddha. We went around, snapping photos, and taking a minute for meditation then we headed out toward the couple of street vendors we had seen from our tuk-tuk. Our little cut through to the main street turned out to be the mouth of a huge and marvelous market, a tourist trap of the nth degree! Large swords, elephant placemats, t-shirts, musical instruments, straw mats, small Buddhas, little boats, big boats, baskets, pillows. One of everything for sale to tourists in Thailand it seemed. By the end, we were laden down with bags, hot, and hungry. I couldn’t stomach the hot, smelly market restaurant with few patrons and lots of flies so, pausing only once to sample and buy an unusual but seemingly famous in this area desert – a strange, stringy, yellow and green taco, we headed back to the row of tuk-tuks. Zoey wanted to ride in the pink one but the drivers shooed us toward an older one when they found out where we wanted to go – a restaurant that was delicious, not too expensive, and near our hotel. And we were driven to a lovely restaurant on the river that was, in fact, delicious and not expensive but we had no idea where we were. We were thrilled to discover Isaan sausage on the menu, satisfying our trip-long quest to find cyclaw. We enjoyed som tam and more cha-yen. We wandered out into the late afternoon sun, thinking we might be able to walk back to our hotel. But, first we made a quick stop into a 7-11 and purchased a round of ice cream and a whole bag of Thai candy – all for less than the price of a few ice cream at the reclining Buddha – to add to our enormous collection of shopping bags.
We crossed back and began to wander aimlessly along a fenced park. Logan and I up front. Zoey and Bill behind. There was a rustling in the weeds behind the park fence and Logan jumped a mile high! There in the tall grass and bit of rubbish trapped by the fence was a 3 or 4 foot long lizard! A Kimodo dragon? A monitor lizard? We have no idea but it was RIGHT there. Just hanging out. Amazing! And, hopefully, too big to slide through the park gate and eat us up. We stared and photographed until we had had our fill. And then waved down a tuk-tuk. Since we had no idea where we were, we just pointed to the map and he smiled, asking how much we were willing to pay. “80B” and he smiled again and motioned for us to hop in back. In about 1 minute, we were back at our hotel that, all along, actually had been, as requested, just a short walk from our restaurant. Oh well. The tuk-tuk driver smiled even more when we paid the ridiculously high fare that we had negotiated ourselves.
I went to the hotel desk and made a plan for the rest of our visit. What to see that afternoon and what to do in the morning and when the airport taxi would arrive. We all flopped for an hour or two in the shade or the air-conditioning, reading books, writing a hotel review, or showering off the heat and dust. We enjoyed that stringy, weird sweet rice desert in the hotel restaurant – a green pancake filled with yellow spun straw, like a cotton-candy taco – and wandered out to find a tuk-tuk on the main street so we could visit a park on the edge of town with more Buddha statues and a place for locals to exercise. There were no tuk-tuks at all. We wandered to the next big intersection. We got restless. We got hot. We talked to a policeman. Still no tuk-tuks. Finally one arrived. Phew. Off we went to the other side of town on our final expedition.
Wat Yai Chai-mongkol housed a second beautiful reclining Buddha and a temple where all the statues still had heads. In fact, the main pagoda had climbable stairs that took us up 4 or 5 stories to lovely views of the gardens and park below. Zoey took a zillion photographs, now experimenting with new angles and focusing in on new details. It was fun to watch her enthusiasm. We passed a turtle pond where a couple, presumably in love, released several bags of new turtle arrivals and gazed lovingly in each others eyes, and then we stumbled on a few giant roosters. Yup. Giant roosters.
And then we gazed into the place marked “Little Park” in the directional signs and saw 10s or maybe 100s of roosters. We pushed Logan up on a huge one and took her picture. Zoey grabbed the camera again. We wandered, amazed, until we came to the other side and found …. 10,000 roosters! Yes, maybe more than 10,000 roosters – big ones, little ones, tiny ones, glittery ones. They lined the walkway in unofficial rows for as far as the eye could see. What’s up with the roosters? I asked a passing businessman out for a walk (I picked him because he looked like he might speak English and this seemed far too intriguing for my basic Thai). He explained that a King of Thailand had had a fighting rooster and had matched his rooster against that of the King of Burma. The Thai rooster won. Now, when people win things, they bring a rooster statue to this park to say thank you. Fascinating.
It was now nearly 6pm, park closing time and so we ambled back to the street to find another tuk-tuk. We were well out of the tourist area and there were absolutely none in sight. We started walking. And walking. We crossed the street and kept walking past homes, small shops, casual restaurants, and hoped that we were actually heading the right direction. The sunset I had hoped to see from our restaurant was happening without us. We could glimpse it between buildings and I decided that this was a good omen – it meant we had to come back to see a sunset since we missed the last one (I can twist anything if needed and the monotony and frustration of the hot walk helped spur on my imagination). After 20 minutes or so we were getting tired but the streets were also getting more crowded. We saw a roundabout that looked familiar and headed toward the busy intersection, weaving between the street, sidewalks, pedestrians, and motorcycles. My ironaphobia was starting to act up – oh geez, the last day of the trip and everything is perfect and now we’re gonna get smooshed or lost or stuck or ripped off or …
There we were, on the corner. Still, no tuk-tuk in sight! Logan and I wandered to one side of sign. I asked a few people in Thai but didn’t get easy responses. My Thai might have faltered with my frustration? Finally a young girl with her dinner in a plastic bag in her hands asked in adequate English where we were going. I explained that we just needed a tuk-tuk. “Why not take a motorcycle taxi?” “I’m too scared”. She explained that there were no tuk-tuks here but that we might be able to find a white van. She collected us all together and started walking toward the bridge. She said she had a friend in Australia and that’s why she could speak English. I thought she was going to take us under the bridge and braced myself for a quick decision – she seemed friendly enough but going into the dark along a river with a stranger? But then the stairway popped up again to the main sidewalk and we arrived at something like a bus stop. She motioned for us to sit down and walked over to stare into traffic. She waved off some vans and then finally pulled one over and had a long talk. “10B each, he will take you to a tuk-tuk” and, waving thank you and goodbye, we squeezed into what appeared to be a commuter bus. Me in the front seat, Bill somewhere conveniently near the door, and who knows where the girls ended up except that I could hear giggling.
We crossed the bridge back into town and began what seemed like a cross-town migration. After 4 or 5 stops, with a few folks still left in the van, the driver hopped out and ran across the street. He came back and told us to get out, he had found us a tuk-tuk. Hooray! A pink tuk-tuk made a wide sweeping u-turn and came over to collect us. When I told him the name of our restaurant (I had now collected myself enough to speak broken Thai again), he smiled and asked “Weren’t you shopping today?” “Lots of bags?” Ha ha! It was the very same pink tuk-tuk we had wished for earlier in the day. In great spirits of adventure-survival, we headed back in the exact same direction we had come to the restaurant our hotel owner had recommended, one of the oldest in Ayutthaya. When the tuk-tuk delivered us, I wisely asked if he could come back and pick us up (no more wandering the streets needed on this day) but he had a date with his “fan” and couldn’t make it. He apologized and started shouting something at the traffic/parking cop across the street. I wasn’t sure if he was warning him “these crazy farang can’t get a tuk-tuk” or if they were simply old friends. I gave up and we all headed inside. Perfect! Bird cages and river views. Looking up the river at a bridge, we realized that it might (maybe?) have been about 30 yards from where we waited for that white van 45 min earlier but we’ll never actually know. The possibility made us giddy and we ordered up a storm, hungry for the first time in weeks. Fruit smoothies for the girls, big Chang beer for us (two!).
When the meal was over, we started thinking about how we would get home. And, before we could worry or wonder very long, our waiter came rushing up “Madame, your tuk-tuk” and we were rushed outside like movie stars. The tuk-tuk driver smiled and we negotiated a fair price to our hotel. We were feeling pretty cool, all giggles, proud of our adventurous last day, happy with our delicious meal, and then the tuk-tuk started up and … boom … disco lights! Hooray! We were flying in a disco tuk-tuk, a family on the loose, drinking in the enjoyment of a perfect last day.