Asia

Pit Stop in Phitsanulok

It was hard for John to leave Lopburi behind…he fell in love with those little monkeys. I was right with him, up until the point when one of them ripped a handful of hair from my head and then discarded it on the ground like trash. After that, me and the monkeys were quits.

The original plan was to leave Lopburi and head to Sukhothai, a small city, chock full of temples much like Ayutthaya. Getting to Sukhothai required a 3 hour train, then a transfer to a bus for an hour. After a quick meeting on the mound, we decided to skip the addition hour and settle into Phitsanulok for a couple of days instead.

Phitsanulok sits right on the main north to south railway line, and our final destination in Thailand, Chiang Mai, is a straight shot 6 hour up the tracks. It was a combination of these logistics and the fact that we were a bit ‘templed out’ after Ayuthaya that landed us in Phitsanulok for two nights.

Visits to past Thai train stations have been relaxing, breezy affairs and the Lopburi station was no different. Dogs rolled around in the morning sunshine, and we sat and sipped our cokes through straws (given out with every beverage purchase here).2015/01/img_3613.jpgOur train travel so far had consisted of 3rd class carriages, a pleasant option for shorter journeys, click-lacking through the countryside with the windows fully down. For our next three hour journey, we splurged and upgraded to a 2nd class air conditioned carriage. Although it cost a bit more, the price of the ticket did include a luke-warm meal consisting of a big pot of rice and two accompanying side dishes: red curry and fried mackerel. The curry was pretty delicious…the mackerel tub was quickly pushed to the side after a brief inspection. They appeared to have not been de-scaled.
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When we arrived in Phitsanulok, it was clear that it’s not really a tourist town. Most people jump directly to Sukhothai and leave this little bustling town far behind. I’m glad we stuck around…it was nice not to be harassed by tuk-tuk drivers everywhere we went and we settled in along side the locals for a couple of quirky experiences.2015/01/img_3632.jpgOur first stop was to check into the Golden Grand Hotel, which is stuck firmly in the 1970’s with zero upgrades since then. We appeared to be the only guests in this 100+ room hotel, which included a set of private VIP karaoke rooms for hire. John, who has been fighting a ‘summer’ cold since Kanchanaburi took a rather long nap while I read on the Kindle. We finally stirred around dinner time and headed down to the night market for some delicious street food.2015/01/img_3635.jpgI know we’ve raved about street food before, but I must say again…it’s my favorite thing about Thailand so far. Wandering through a maze of stalls, each offering a different selection of sumptuous smelling meals simmering in pots, is quite an experience. For the bargain price of about $4, we devoured satay pork and chicken on sticks, some fried chicken, a bag of watermelon chunks and the best macaroons I have ever eaten. Seriously, these macaroons were out of this world, they were the filet mignon of macaroons. We went back the next night to buy 12 more…and they have been strictly rationed for the remainder of the trip, that is until I wake up in the middle of the night for a macaroon feeding frenzy.2015/01/img_3634.jpgThe night market is a busy, busy place…everyone pushing through the tiny rows of stalls. Not surprisingly, the fried insect booth was not seeing a lot of action.2015/01/img_3622.jpg Stuffed to the rafters, we walked across the river for a couple of beers on a floating barge where we could barely take a sip before our waitress was back at our table topping off our glasses. It turned into a bit of a pressure situation…so we started to hide our glasses from her eager eyes so we could enjoy the moment in a bit of peace and quiet. On the plus side, there was live music provided by a boy-and-girl-with-guitar act who crooned though a collection of Eric Clapton and Backstreet Boys covers.

On the way back to the hotel, we encountered three young, beautiful blonde German girls, who were hopelessly lost and trying to find a way to get to Sukhothai. It was 10pm, and the last bus left about 3 hours before. Seeing some friendly western faces, they asked us for help. While we were trying to figure out their options, an enterprising tuk-tuk driver tried to get them to take a ride with his friend (maybe stranger), who he literally just flagged down off the street. Watching three young ladies get into a big, black SUV with tinted windows and speeding off into the night was not on the agenda for the evening, so we stuck around with them until an actual metered taxi showed up. Wishing them good luck, we watched them drive into the night, fairly sure they weren’t going to get butchered. Thankfully, we spotted them downing some beers outside a 7-11 in Chiang Mai a couple of days later, so it all worked out.

The next morning we took advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast, which had a couple of western-style options. The only thing that the Thai’s can’t seem to get a grip on is the breakfast sausage. It’s so odd…they do pork so well in every other format. I’ve seen sausages on street stalls…I know they have them. However, every time we’ve eaten an ‘western’ breakfast, we’ve received hot dogs. Pale, almost translucent, luke-warm hot dogs that taste of, well…just processed hot dog. It’s bizarre.

A couple of showers and a Lopburi blog post later, we headed off to the main attraction for the day: a quirky collection of museums created by the remarkable Sergeant Major Thawee Buranakhet.

The Sgt. Maj. was born into a poor family in the Phitsanulok province. He started collecting (his wife would say hoarding) anything he could get his hands on at the age of 10. After the end of his service as a military cartographer, he had amassed so many rural Thai artifacts that his wife feared he had some major OCD problems. She convinced him to move his collection from their house into an outside location; the Sergeant Major Folk Museum was born.2015/01/img_3625.jpgThe collection, spanning 5 houses, includes everything from inherited Buddha amulets to pottery, kitchenware, household items, farming tools, irons, cowbells and trapping devices. There’s quite a detailed description of bull castration, complete with pictures that made John’s ankles hurt, which goes a little something like this (men folk, you may want to skip this bit):

1. Bribe someone to castrate the bull. This part may have been lost in translation, although I would imagine a bribe would be necessary for any non-castrated male to perform this task, as it gets pretty rough from here on out.
2. Wedge a young bull in between two trees so it cannot escape.
3. Pick up a tool that resembles a large, wooden tuning fork made of bamboo, and place the top of the scrotum in between the tines.
4. Give the stick a couple of twists, capturing and twisting, much like tying off a balloon.
5. Whack scrotum repeatedly with hammer until they fall off.

I repeat: WHACK SCROTUM REPEATEDLY WITH HAMMER UNTIL THEY FALL OFF.

You learn something new every day.

Just across the street is another of Sgt. Major Thawee’s creations: the Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry.2015/01/img_3630.jpgAlthough small, this free attraction is very cool…we got to see craftsmen work on all stages of the Buddha making process. It was less of an organized display, more of a free-range, wander around a construction site sort of thing…the workers didn’t seem to mind our intrusion and continued dremmel-ing away on the statues.2015/01/img_3626.jpg2015/01/img_3631.jpg2015/01/img_3629.jpgAttached to the foundry is the Garden Birds of Thailand collection, the main attraction being the helmeted Hornbills. These buggers are big, the scale of their impressive beaks is matched only by their intense hatred of each other.2015/01/img_3627.jpgEach of the 5 varieties of Hornbills were housed separately from each other, but they spent the majority of the time snapping at their neighbors through the chain link fence. I mean, they were really going at it…embroiled in a never-ending “f*ck you/no f*ck YOU” brawl that was a bit intimidating to watch.2015/01/img_3628.jpgHaving seen all that Sgt. Maj. Thawee had to offer, we walked back to our hotel, stopping for a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant. No menus, just look into a variety of bubbling pots and point. A young English teacher came to our rescue and steered John towards the spicy option and me towards the peanut sauce.

Later that evening, we wandered down to the Woodstock bar. Woodstock, as you may have guessed, is a swinging 60’s themed bar, furnished with a huge collection of period furniture and fantastic light fixtures.2015/01/img_3636.jpgAt that point in the evening it was us, 5 waitresses and a super mellow yacht-rock band who brightened my evening by covering ‘I Want It That Way’ BSB two days in a row!

Our visit to Phitsanulok was a fairly relaxed affair…no temples, no tourists…just laid back wandering and plenty of naps. It was a good place to recharge before heading to bustling Chiang Mai the next day.

Back at the train station the next morning, I was reminded how few tourists there were in the town. Nothing for tuk-tuk drivers to do but sit back and read the paper.2015/01/img_3623.jpgAs we rode the rails up north to Chiang Mai, we watched the sun set over a completely different landscape…gone were the flat lands of central Thailand, we’ve officially arrived in the highlands!2015/01/img_3624.jpg

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