Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thai kindness.

We are no longer tourists, we live here.  So we will never pay more than 15 baht for a smoothie. We know the white van to Bangkok is and will always be 60 baht. We have learned a ‘please-kah’ will knock off 20 baht on a bargain. We have also learned that almost everything can be bargained.

Thais trying to give us the “farang price” does not come at a surprise; but we stand there and repeat ‘no-kah’ until they realize that they can’t pull one on us. That’s the silly thing about this Land of Smiles - they’ll give you a warm, wide smile while ripping you off.

The practice of locals trying to take advantage of the tourist crowd is to be expected and can be found everywhere. However, when you mix getting ripped off and the infamously inconsistent Thai transportation into an early morning – the result is a very cranky farang.

A few weekends ago we wanted to visit the sunflower fields in Lopburi and then make our way to Ayutthaya. We woke before the sun and walked to the van station where we find our sketchy white vans that take us to Bangkok. To get from Point A to Point B in Thailand require 5 changeovers, 18 pit-stops, and double the planned amount of time. I often have to remind myself that Thailand is the size of France and I cannot travel everywhere as quickly as I hope. So once we arrived in Bangkok, we took the BTS Subway to the Victory Monument and searched for another seedy white van to take us to Lopburi. The prices they were quoting us were more than what we read on blogs online and our bargaining skills were failing us; so we bitterly agreed to one van’s price and piled in. Squished, tired, and cranky, we dozed in and out of consciousness during our ride out to Lopburi. FINALLY after 6 hours of traveling (that should have only taken 2 ½) we arrived in the city of Monkeys.

There are monkeys everywhere - hanging from the power lines and cockily walking the streets. They rule the city. These furry tricksters congregate at the Khmer - a.k.a. Monkey - Temple. I am not quite sure why the monkeys remain at this shrine and do not venture out to other towns. Perhaps they have been conditioned to associate Lopburi with food from tourists, or there really is a connection to the Hindu God from the legend; nevertheless, Lopburi is a real life Jumangi game with troops of monkeys crossing streets and jumping on people.


Immediately after we piled out of the van and stretched our legs, a wave of uneasiness swept over me. The agitation faded away once we were bombarded by a group of Thai girls promoting a brand and giving us free food. It was lunch time, so why not.  The girls with too much makeup and not enough clothing asked for some selfie shots with us so we gave in and laughed about how the day was turning around. 


As we started to walk away, that uneasy feeling returned in a sharp pain. Then all of a sudden a massive Macaque monkey swooped over on the power lines and jumped into the middle of our group. He stole our food and climbed on Mikaela. Once he reaped his rewards he sat on the stoop and opened a wrapper like a human. Staring at us with a sly grin, this monkey with massive balls knew he got his way with these foreigners.


We just wanted to see some sunflowers.  The city of Lopburi gave off this devious vibe and I was ready to escape Monkey Kingdom.

Startled, creeped out, and desperate to leave, we asked these lounging motortaxi men how to get to the sunflowers. They responded with “okay-krap, we get sunflower man”. Five minutes later a beat up Songtaew pulled into the parking lot and a small man with a toothless grin and cowboy hat got out. Here is the sunflower man. For a very fair price he agreed to take us to and from the sunflower fields.  We happily said yes and thanked the toothless man, checking over our shoulder if our big-balled bully was watching us.


This kind and charming man brought us to sunflower field after sunflower field. He simply parked his truck and played some Thai-Latin fusion songs and relaxed. There were no tourists, no shops, and no hawkers – just some friends in fields of sunflowers. The sunflower man completely changed our day and our attitudes. He gave us sunflowers and happiness.


After lunch from the cutest Thai family we decided that it was time to officially leave Lopburi. Even though it was a hassle to get to the town and we were paid an unwelcomed visit by an aggressive monkey, the sunflowers made the trip worth it.  Our next stop was the ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya.




Thai kindess was wrapped up with a bow and graciously handed to us in Ayutthaya. We spent that Sunday biking around the ancient city and encountering the most generous people. We started our morning with coffee at a lovely family café and returned there three times in that same day.  Our first stop was at the ruins of Wat Mahathat. We crossed paths with a tall, dark man and carried a brief conversation about how to enter the temple. That brief interaction fell into our memory as we were consumed with the intense presence of the massive and meticulously organized ruins in front of us. Once again, we beat the tourists and were able to wander through the ancient temples and absorb the peacefulness. 




As we unlocked our bikes we noticed a wallet on the ground, right next to the spot where the tall, dark man’s bike was parked. There were some dodgy men standing nearby and we didn’t feel right about leaving the wallet so we searched the grounds and called out the name on his ID, Roland, but to no avail. Our next best bet was to head to the next ruins site and pray that he would be there. As we dodged traffic in our bikes, a frantic looking Roland was peddling down the road. We flagged him down and returned his wallet to him. We accepted his many thanks and just said we would hope a stranger would do the same for us.


The day continued on and we biked around the city, carefree and giddy like children. The last sight we hoped to see was the Reclining Buddha statue.  Every time we looked up directions we were pointed in a different way. However, getting lost did let us find a gorgeous park that reminded me of Central Park on a crisp fall day. We traveled up and down this main road trying to find a hidden alley. A bike race through Ayutthaya was taking place at the same time and we joined it by default. Race participants cheered us on and took pictures of the crazy farangs lost on bikes. 

Finally we gave up and stopped at a bodega to ask for directions. The store owners giggled when our faces showed utter confusion as they explained to us in Thai how to get there. 


A young man with a smoothie cart stood nearby and watched this comical failure of an exchange of information. Finally, he tapped us on the shoulder and motioned us to follow him. We had no other option so we hopped back on our bikes and chased him as he weaved in and out of traffic, dodged elephants, and passed the bike race - again.  We stopped at an intersection and he pointed to the alley we needed to go down. After several kòrp-kun-kah’s and waves we attempted to find the illusive alley. 

As we crept slowly on our bikes down a quiet road an elderly man watched us. Perhaps many travelers get lost in his neighborhood or he sensed our desperation because he pointed to another old man on a bike whom I instinctively followed. He was silent and turned around a few times but happily chauffeured us to the Reclining Buddha.

I was in awe. Not from the giant Buddha resting on its side, but from the immense hospitality and friendliness we had experienced that day. Out of the kindness in their hearts several strangers decided to help us. We all noted that this rarely happens in America and it was such a sad realization to have.


We returned to the bodega to thank the owners for helping us and buy some of their goods. Rather than accept our words, they handed us free dessert.

This generosity runs rampant in Thailand. They simply want to share their love for their country with you – whether that is having you try a new fruit at the market, a guided tour to a landmark, or background music while you dance through sunflower fields.  Give them a smile and they give you their heart.

Thailand will give me days of being ripped off, late buses, or canceled trains. However, the days when Thailand introduces me to helpful strangers, generous vendors, and friendly drivers make up for any battle.


We need to put good into the world to get good out of it.  The fruits of our soul are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. Share these simple yet treasured gifts with one another and this world will evolve to what it can be – a shared place filled with people living in harmony. 



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