Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 4 : Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol

The East side of the main chedi at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol

[This is Part 4 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find part 1 here part 2 here and part 3 here.]

After leaving the Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in we drove another 20 kilometers or so further to our next stop, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol, stopping for lunch along the way at a typical roadside eatery.

As you can see below, many of these restaurants are open-air affairs, with the sides open to allow circulation. The kitchen area and the dining area weren't divided and the flavorful scent of food cooking would waft through the area with the breeze. Trying to follow my own advice to folks about staying healthy in Thailand I was eating carefully that day so I had chicken over rice, and stood there and watched the woman prepare it; putting it into a mesh ladle and dunking it into very hot water to heat it before putting it over the rice with some green herbs. Quite tasty!

Watching my lunch being prepared at a roadside restaurant

As is often the case with alliteration and translations from Thai to English there's some question as to the spelling of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol; some sources list it as "Mongkhon," too. When you try getting an accurate date as to when it was built using the Buddhist Era calendars and variations on that theme things get more confusing than this old fool can follow, so I'm going to stick with the spelling on the sign out front (Mongkhol) and say it was built somewhere in the neighborhood of 1360 AD, although it's believed by many that there was a settlement here even before the "old" capitol city of Ayutthaya was established in 1351.

There's an interesting site on the History of Ayuttaya that goes into much more detail than we will today, so if you're interested you can click on the link above to read more - but don't forget to come back! For you cartographers, the map below (tweaked slightly) is from that site. Yai Chai Mongkhol is the greenish spot to the lower right on the map.

The two main sights here are the reclining Buddha statue (above), draped by the monks with cloth, as are some of the smaller chedi. For reasons I can't recall I didn't climb up the stairs on the East side of the main stupa itself, pictured up top today, but my guess is that the view is impressive.

As you can imagine, thousands of the faithful have come to this spot to make merit. There were dozens of flower offerings and plenty of gold leaf, as you can see on the Buddha statue above. And yes, I looked: there was indeed gold on the back of the Buddha.

My guide Suphot had more of personal connection to the temple than I knew about before arriving there, although if I hadn't walked right by it he might not have even mentioned it, unassuming person that he is.

While I was wandering around he pointed to a marble base beneath a Buddha figure in a glass case. I was a little puzzled as to why he'd be pointing out that specific detail - as nice as the marble work was - until he told me that he and his brother had actually worked the marble and made the base when he was somewhere around 26 years old. He said they'd also worked a month smoothing the marble floors of the monk's hall, but it was locked and I couldn't get a proper picture through the windows.

Suphot in front of the marble work he and his brother did for Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol

The grounds here were of course no where near as extensive and elaborate as those we'd seen a few hours earlier at the Royal's Summer Palace, but they were of a different era and picturesque, nevertheless.

The rows of Buddha statues you see in the panorama above and the picture below are not the originals, as weather and circumstances over time had left them in need of replacement, but it was nice to see some with heads for a change; so many at historical sites there have been trashed by marauders, political upheavals and the likes.

After I'd had enough sun and heat for the time being I asked Pot if there was something at the site I'd missed (after all, he'd spent plenty of time there during his marble-working days) and when he said we'd covered it fairly well I told him I was ready to go.

We climbed back into his pickup and headed back out along the highway, stopping briefly for a re-fueling before leaving town on our way towards Lopburi, our scheduled stop for the night. The truck he drove then ran on bio-diesel fuel that not every filling station stocked, so we looked at a few before pulling into a station for the 38 liters it took to fill the tank.

One last look at Yai Chai Mongkhol. I'm rather fond of this image.

Now about 22 kilometers from Lopburi we sailed along the well-maintained highway at a reasonable clip. We had no reservations at our destination but Pot was confident we wouldn't have any trouble finding a place - and we didn't, really. We ended up about 2 kilometers away from the crowded downtown area at the Sabai Hotel, a surprisingly large place that I'll probably do as a separate item for the "Accomodations" series.

We arrived there about 16:00/4:00pm and I booked a room for each of us, telling Pot I was going to go lie down for a bit and that he could come knock on my door to wake me whenever he felt like finding dinner. Two minutes after I lay down on the bed to watch TV I was sound asleep. Maybe less.

I awoke at 19:00, found Pot on the phone with his brother and we went downstairs to have dinner in the small outdoor restaurant at the hotel. Simple country cooking, shared with good company beneath the already dark Lopburi sky. The Isaan moon was full and bright as it rose over the trees to the East, and as I waved good night to Pot and climbed up the stairs to my room I stood on the landing and looked at it for a while, smiling a self-satisfied smile as I said to myself "Now this is really Thailand."

[Next up in Part 5: Monkey Business at Phra Prang Sam Yot]


krobbie said...

Good to see Suphots smiling face face. I have only been to Ayutthaya the once and I was a little unwell during the period we were there but we had stopped at Bang Pa In on the way and I was greatly intrigued by it.

WE went on to see the ruins (I felt awful at that stage) and then enjoyed a leisurely luncheon on a boat and returned to Bangkok by way of the Chao Phraya.


khunbaobao said...

Yes, Suphot's a fine guide that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone. You'll see his face a few more times before the trip's over.

Ayutthaya itself isn't all that far away from this site, but it's two different stops (for those who don't know - I know YOU do). :-)