(Sometime in April 2011)
I am supposed to be studying as I type this, (in a cold study room somewhere in the Northern part of Singapore). But the internet is sort of , and its taking forever to load lecture notes, and peering over diagrams of the ear and naming arteries isn’t too fun, hence my post..
Now if you have grown weary of the sights of Bangkok, the noise, the honking, the shopping, the buffets, and want a place to think about your life, or contemplate on important decisions, Ayutthaya is the place for you.
I didn’t plan to go to Ayutthaya during my time in Bangkok as I assumed I would be contented shopping and eating, but then, something my feet have grown sore because of the walking, and I just want to sit somewhere and stay quiet for awhile.
I met a girl from Indonesia in my hostel. She is from Jakarta, and she tells me she is going to Ayutthaya. We can communicate with simple English, and she tells me she is going to Ayutthaya. “Can I come? “ I asked. “Ok”, and this is how I ended up taking a 80km trip on a local train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, with no plans at all.
All I know that Ayutthaya used to be one of the first Kingdoms of Siam. It was rich and prosperous, but was robbed by the Burmese army, and left to burn. All that is left are the ruins, and now the 50 baht Wat (temple) ticket collectors and ice cream man.
At the local train station, we pay 20 baht ($0.60) for the ticket to Ayutthaya. Its quite cheap considering that is the price of a subway ticket for one station.
The local train is non-airconditioned. It is hot. The seats are made of PVC and very narrow. There are automatic doors that close and open just like in the MRT. When it moves off, it is funny how I did not feel the usual sense of excitement when the train moves off. I just felt sleepy. The train passes by rows and rows of houses with their corrugated rusty metal roofs and wooden floors. I see a dog lazing in the “balcony”. Down below, a lady is cooking at her make shift stall. The smell of fried onions and the bubbling sound of frying fill my ears.
This is perhaps a part of Bangkok that most tourists don’t see. Beyond the glamour and glitter of MBK and Siam shopping malls, there lies in the outskirts of the city, slum-like houses. They are better off than the slums in India, but they do exist.
The wind enters the train, messing up my already messed up hair. The train passes rows of green fields. I don’t know what they are planting. Sometimes, wooden houses pop up right in the middle. My head is groggy. I check for gel imprints (the kind you can find on Singapore MRT glass panels). There is none. Soon, I fall into a light sleep, with my head leaned against the window ledge.
I hear some noises, the anticipation noises of the train reaching a station. I peer out of the window. The sign “Ayutthaya” whizzes pass me.
We get down from the train. Like in all places in India and South East Asia, there are tuk tuk drivers to “welcome” us. “Taxi Taxi.” As usual, “no no” was the reply.
We look at the map. We have to travel 3 km to reach the main attractions in Attuya. “Let’s take a bike”, my friend says. I agree, despite having some doubts as my cycling standards were only acceptable in the boundaries of East Coast Park (Singapore), and not the main roads of other South East Asian countries. But having cycled in Bagan, Myanmar before, I was willing to give it a try.
Little did I know how dangerous it was. My friend and I had to cycle up a bridge to get to the main attractions on a narrow pavement. Halfway up, I lost my balance and had to get down to push the bike up. I had really “thrown the Singaporean face” (embarrassed my countrymen?).
Going down was even more worrisome. At one point, I was 1 cm from the ledge that could lead me crashing right into the railings that prevented me from flying into the river below. My friend stopped to ask me if she should cycle me instead. I thought “YES PLEASE,” but decided it was rather selfish of me. How tiring it would be for her. Hence, I shook my head, and continued down that nerve wrecking , narrow road.
When I reached the intersection, I had no idea how to look out for cars coming from three different directions. On foot it was easy, but on a bike it was different. What if I couldn’t kick start and lost my balance? I couldn’t take it. Once again, I got down and pushed the bike across the street.
Luckily for me, we continued down a straight road after that. It was really unnerving to have cars passing you within a close proximity. Thank goodness the roads were much emptier than the ones in Bangkok, and cars, sensing my amateur cycling skills shifted to the middle lane.
At the junction, we were supposed to keep to the left, but my friend shifted to the middle lane. I wondered why. Then I noticed the turning arrow, and realised the outer most left lane was limited to turning vehicles. I followed her.
Now I think it was a great decision to go for night cycling a few years back. It is also good that I went for the cycling in Bagan. These experiences have come in handy. My only close shave was that it was at the junction, and I had difficulties kicking off and nearly swerve into the path of an on coming car. But Ayutthayians are not like Singaporeans. They are not in the hurry to press the horn. They only tap the horn lightly to let you know they are coming.
Later, when we were resting by the side of the ruin temples having a “potong” ice-cream, I ask my friend if she cycles a lot back in Jakarta, the city where she is from.
“I have a motor-bike which I used to cycle to work,” she says.
“Ah!” I exclaimed. That explains why she is able to cycle with one hand, pull out a map, look for directions, cycle really slow and yet maintain her balance. I even sore her cycling/taking photo with her blackberry. What I would do would be to cycle, stop at the junction, think of which direction to go, close the map, cycle, then stop and look for directions again. I can’t cycle well with two hands on the handle bars, much less one hand?
“When did you start to learn how to ride the motor bike?” I asked.
“15 or 16? My father taught me once, and I went out on my own after that. Its pretty easy. Once you know how to ride a bike, you can manage a motorbike easily,” she tells me.
“So do you need a license to ride?”
She laughs. “I don’t have any. But you need one. Some times the police will catch, but so far, they have not catch me yet.”
“It cost about SGD2000 to buy a bike in Indonesia. How about in Singapore?” she ask me.
I am not sure. That is probably less than the fee I have paid for my driving lessons. For Singapore, maybe “SGD10,000”?
“So when did you start learning how to ride a bike?” I asked.
“Very young.. Since.. kindergarten?”
I thought about myself, and how I was still crashing into plants at the void deck of Friend W’s HDB flat at 12 years old, and was rather ashamed of myself.
We carried on our journey, visited some nice palaces and ruins. For each ruin, we had to pay SGD2 to enter. Hence, we only chose to enter one. At another Wat (temple), we took pictures from the outside, and sat by the pavement under that warm afternoon. It was nice. The whole walkway was lined by trees that seem to stretch out their leaves to shade you from the heat. It was quiet, with the sound of the birds, insects, and a foreigner’s accented voice. A man wearing a straw hat was pushing a cart. A grey dog with white spots stops in the middle and scratches himself.
I find out more about my friend.
She is 29 years old, an architect from Malaysia.
I learnt that she has been travelling in Phuket before with her friends. “But they wanted to go to Hongkong. I thought I had to see more of Thailand”, hence she made her way to Bangkok by herself.
Its time to head back to the railway station. She is staying for the night. But I am not. She leads the way, once again single handledly holding the map, looking for directions, cycling at a really slow speed, (I nearly loss my balance and fell off the bike once).
We went up the bridge and once again, I could not make it to the peak. Had to get down and push the bike. Down hill, it was so stressful. My hands clutched tightly to the handle bars revealing the whiteness of my knuckles contrasting against my otherwise brown hands. I braked incessantly.
Wild thoughts filled my mind. What if.. I suddenly loss my balance and get flung into an incoming car? I need to tell my family I love them. I still want to live! I need to bring back my Tao sar pias from Penang! AHHH”
“Phebe Bay CHILL!”
I said a prayer and continue down slope.
We reached. I look back at the highway of roaring cars and tell myself, Phebe Bay you are really really AWESOME.
“Sorry I think we have got the wrong way.” My friend tells me.
Another upslope and downslope? I shivered under the hot setting sun.
We continued back. My hands got shakier from fatigue. The handlebars of my bike knocked against someone’s bag. When are we reaching??? I asked myself.
I don’t even realise it when she says, “We are here.” She looks at me and smile.
I look at her and smile back, heaving a sign of relief.
“Thank you for bringing me here and back.”
We sit in the railway station for a break. She is drinking Ice Milo with two oreo cookies, and I am eating the Thai version of Yong Tau Foo.
Time has come for her to leave. Like all travellers I have met through my travels, it is time to go our separate ways. We will keep in touch by Facebook, or maybe meet up some time.
Its all up to fate.