Today we were supposed to go to Ayutthaya, UNESCO World Heritage site and former capital city of Thailand. But apparently there's been some flooding there lately, so we changed plans and headed out to Chachoengsao. While not exactly off the beaten path, Chachoengsao is a town about an hour from Bangkok that tends not to be on anybody's "Top Ten" list. It does, however, have a beautiful Buddhist temple that's worth visiting.
After breakfast, Ma Tuk, Zoe, Mark and I piled into the van and Pop drove us out towards Chachoengsao. Along the way we stopped for some lunch at a lovely riverside restaurant serving river prawns and other delicious seafood. During lunch we got a crash course in Thai cuisine: how tom yum soup incorporates all three primary flavors (sour, salty, sweet); which noodles are typical in southern dishes; how to make coconut milk and curry paste from scratch like Zoe's grandmother used to do on a regular basis. Lunch was, of course, stunningly delicious and overabundant. The local river prawns were nearly the size of lobsters, and the mango sticky rice was LIKE BUTTAH. Whew.
Next stop was Wat Sothornwararamworaviharn, which is thankfully also known as Wat Hong, an enormous gleaming white and gold Buddhist temple. Inside, a group of two dozen monks sat chanting at the head of the temple. Later on we found out it was a graduation/initiation ceremony for new monks, and family members posed for pictures with the initiates just like at a high school graduation. It was another beautiful day -- say it with me, so much nicer than Singapore! -- and we strolled around the grounds for a while. Next to Wat Hong was a Chinese temple, which we checked out as well. And I finally found out what all the stick-shaking is about! You're supposed to say a prayer and shake the container until one of the wooden sticks falls out. Then you take the stick over to the desk and the attendant pulls out a corresponding paper with your "fortune." Mine said something about having many offspring, so I guess it's not something to be taken too seriously.
That night we took a river cruise along the Chao Phraya. The food was great (of course) and atop the roof deck we got a preview of some of the boats all lit up for Loy Krathong tomorrow. The cruise was a nice way to see Bangkok sparkle at night, including several of the gorgeous suspension bridges that all seem to be named after one of the many King Ramas (the current king is number nine). And as an added bonus, downstairs was a cheesy wedding-singer-ish band doing goofy songs for the kids.
On the way back we stopped at the night flower market. Sheer madness. Crowds and vendors crammed into tight spaces, sometimes spilling out into the street, all vying for bargains and mass quantities of fresh flowers. They set up around 9pm and go till about 9am. It's crowded on any given night, but since this was Loy Krathong eve, it seemed as though all of Bangkok was shoving its way through the market at once. We picked up armloads of fresh flowers and piles of palm leaves to craft our krathongs for the holiday, and tried to get out without being completely mowed down by armies of determined Thai shoppers. Yikes!
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