Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Break 2011 - Thailand: Rangsit and Ayutthaya

This spring break was one of a select few trips in my life that I log in the "epic" category. Marisa and I decided to venture to Southeast Asia for the first time to visit our friends, Buck and Mae, in Thailand! Buck and Mae have been working in campus ministry at Thammasat University in Rangsit (just outside Bangkok) over the past two years and we were very excited to catch up and travel with them for two weeks.

The Grapevine campus ministry at Thammasat University.

Our first two days consisted of adjusting to 90 degree temperatures (it's been a while), easing our way into the spicy Thai cuisine (Germans don't really do spicy), touring the Thammasat campus, visiting the Grapevine ministry, and venturing up to the ancient city of Ayutthaya to see Buddhist temples. The first 72 hours were sensory overload for me as my senses took in a culture and surroundings so new to me - I was thrilled to be in Thailand.
While driving around Thammasat we came across these guys in an intense game of "sepak takraw ". It's a cross between volleyball and soccer using a woven ball and these guys were legit. "A loose groin is certainly a happy groin"....especially when you're getting your leg above your head like this guy.

My college campus wildlife mostly included squirrels, but in Thailand you might run across a Monitor Lizard.

Buck refinished a beautiful "samlo" (rickshaw) for Grapevine and gave Marisa a ride around campus. He hooked up the neon lights and had a sound system in this mug too. Did I mention that he makes custom furniture and has also made his own acoustic/electric guitar.....from scratch? Definitely one of the handiest guys I know.

Every night is karaoke night in Thailand. Buck and I got the party started our first night there by singing some country and classic rock. Thai people love singing along and the guitarist/singer was a pro at shredding American songs.

After getting settled in and touring the campus and grapevine ministry, we spent our second day taking a train north for a full day in Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was a very pleasant city with tons of Buddhist "wats" or temples and not too many tourists. We rode bikes around town, ate lunch at a water market, visited a few temples, and saw part of an elephant show. It was a busy start to our trip.

The train to Ayutthaya - not electric like the Deutsche Bahn ones that we usually ride.

Made it to the station.

One of my favorite pic's from the trip with Buck and Mae traveling like locals packed on the train. Through that smile, Buck is wishing he had a t-shirt saying "Don't hassle me, I'm a local."

Outside our hotel in Ayutthaya

Wat Mahathat with this famous Buddha head entrapped in the tree roots. It's one of the few heads that remain from the statues since the near destruction of this temple by the Burmese (from Myanmar) back in the 1700's.

Wat Mahathat - apologies for the awful blue coloring due to an incorrect ISO setting

Feeding water buffalo at the local "water market" in Ayutthaya. I've never seen animals get so excited about grass.

One of the cultural shows at the water market.

Some of the female performers arriving in style.

While at first I thought this guy was supposed to be Yul Brennar in a re-enactment of "The King and I", it turns out that he is supposed to be representing some sort of spirit or something.

Check out the fingers on these girls. Apparently they train to be able to bend them backwards really far as part of the traditional dancing.

So they have this underwater platform made out of bamboo and reeds for the sweet special effects here. I tried it out after the show and its more difficult than it looks because there's a lot of algae built up all over the platform. One wrong move and they're fish food.

Marisa and Mae enjoying lunch and entertainment at the water market.

You thought I was kidding about the fish food thing. These guys were ruthless when spectators starting feeding them.

The second show was more of a comedy and included lots of fire-breathing which is always cool.

Ladies from the second show.

Elephant show holding area. It had been a while since my last circus, so these guys were a little intimidating. They would randomly reach out and touch you with their trunks if they thought you might have food which scared the mess out of a bunch of unsuspecting spectators.

These elephants had talent. They played pop music and the elephants would all dance enthusiastically and wave around props like this guy.

As a finale they let people walk laps under this huge elephant (after his boner when down,which was kind of awkward). Apparently there is a lot of respect for elephants in this culture - all of the people were mouthing prayers and touching the tusks as they made their rounds.

You could buy corn, cucumbers, and other food to give to these guys who never seemed to get enough. It was amazing how far they could reach and how quickly they could take food to mouth and get it back out there for the next piece.

Ayutthaya is a city that is especially known for making a certain type of Thai candy called "roti saimai" that resembles fibrous cotton candy. It's basically sugar and flour with no other additives or preservatives.

We stopped by a place that was making the candy which required repeated stretching of this candy, almost like stretching taffy or something like that. After watching this lady in the apron do it like a pro a few times, she asked me to come down and give it a go. I got the job done with encouragement from the guy in black, but I was struggling much more than the girl. This is a great example of how friendly and awesome Thai people are.

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Chai Watthanaram

All of this happened within the first three days of our trip which kept me overwhelmed. The Thai people have some crazy shock and awe tactics that they unloaded on us upon arrival. Next stop.......Chiang Mai!

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