Saturday, February 28, 2015

King Narai Fair, Lopburi in February

Sound and Lights
Every February in Lopburi, on dates that shift about, a festival is held to commemorate the deeds of King Narai in an extravagant sound and light show within his 400 year old palace. Long long time ago, in this province far far away, this King, most famous of Ayutthayan kings, boosted the regions commercial and diplomatic .. . . ok this is getting to be boring . You can read all about him on Wiki. Lets talk about the experience.

This was a festival where there were a traditional dances performed, fireworks raining down on your hair, screeching male vocals of I-San male singers, food and then more. There was also a parade reenacting the glory days of Lopburi where royalties who sat high on thrones were carried on the shoulders of their loyal servants. And of course there were the crowds of visitors who came from Bangkok and all moo bans in the vicinity swarming the streets that were turned into night markets.

All Dressed Up
The only difference from all other festivities I had experienced was that for this occasion, visitors were also clad in traditional costumes of all sorts. I myself put on a Chinese coolie shirt. It was sort of out of place yes, but it beats trying to hold on forever onto a Thai Jong Ka Ben. I don’t want to lose my Thai loin cloth to result in un-volunteered indecent exposure within the crowd mayhem.

My friends the ladies, they put on traditional Pha Nueng (Thai skirt). It was easy and convenient. But it was a far cry from many of the other who went all out with a full splendor of glittery costumes and traditional gold pointy headdresses that you could skewer a ton of fish balls and some meat cuts.

Traditionally in Thai culture, Thai woman were naked from the waist up, I was disappointed that none in the crowd don this style I so looked forward to. There was however the more sexy few, they went bare shouldered. Those in the name of traditional village folks called chao ban. Their minimum age was a decade older than mine, and their flabby tummy, about the same extent as mine. Towards the extreme end, were the drag queens. Elaborately dressed in Thai costumes with likely an inch thick of make-up, they mingled with us crowd and welcomed photo sessions. They were true beauty and they confuse foreigners who wondered why Thai women have deep voices.

The Currency
On the fairgrounds were clusters and clusters of vendors selling that much needed sweet cold drink and a multitude of hot Thai delicacies. From the spicy and sour som tam with strong smelling pickled fish to the sweet aroma of caramelized barbequed meats on skewers, everything north eastern was there to fill our hunger. Interestingly we traded cash for seashells which in turn were used to purchase the food from the straw laden stalls. I was told seashell was the currency of old in the Kingdom.

A word of advice for you readers who are thinking of visiting next year. Parking will be hell. The fair actually started from noon, but the bulk of visitors arrived only towards the cool evening. Arrive four-ish or forever give up the idea of finding a spot 2 km in the immediate vicinity. We arrived late in heavy traffic, was coaxed into parking in an empty garage turned car park where all seemed too good to be true. The entrepreneur workshop turned parking area took about 8 cars max at 100 Baht each. Then they also took on about 10,000 bikes and squeezed them into whatever crevices they could find, even under your car if they had to. So, when it was time to go home, we waited the time it took a snail to cross a 6 lane highway 10 times for the attendants to shift the bikes about like a friggin Chinese puzzle.

My car survived the obstacle course out from the parking area without a scratch fortunately. It was after 9, the traffic was still heavy. Fireworks lit the skies as we crawled in heavy traffic out of the fair. On a dark Lopburi highway, cool wind in my hair (from the air con), warm smell of my sweaty foot, rising up through the air.. … Two hours there or so, the return to Bangkok.

Monkey God
And traditionally, they all use cell phones.....
The Old Wall
All Lit Up
Even the Vendors were Dressed
The Guard and the Crowd
He can break glass with his voice.
Men or Women?
High on Something...
Fair Grounds

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Somewhere Wintery - Wang Nam Kaew

A Sea of Flowers
Wang Name Kaew is situated between the lowlands where Khao Yai and Tub Lan National Park separates. Popular with Thais during winter months, they go there seeking the colder and fresher air away from Bangkok. Similar in nature to what Suan Phueng’s natural surroundings could offer, Wang Nam Kaew had more pastures of flowers then fields of rabbits, sheep and alpacas compared to the former. Also, since she is located between two parks, it means one will have more places to visit, explore and venture. There were scatters of foreigners spotted while I was there last month, they could have spilled over from the country roads that lead from Khao Yai, that which is definitely a more popular tourist magnet.

Wang Nam Kaew from our Resort
Manay roads lead to Wang Name Kaew. She is sort of centrally located in Thailand. South from the well travelled roads of Korat leading to Kon Kean, east through the meandering roads of Pakchong over touristy Khao Yai, or north through Chachengsao on the popular 304 where industrial estates some there were. We took the northern route towards Korat passing Saraburi and then down because Jim Thomson Farm in Pak Thong Chai was the first place we visited.

The Corn Tower in Jim Thomson Farm
Jim Thomson Farm opens to the public once a year for only a short month during winter. And the place will be packed, especially near the year’s end where Thais go on their long vacation. January, the crowd still a plenty, but had thinned down and it was pleasant. We did not meet Mr Jim himself, because he would have been 108 years old. And we could not pay tribute to him at his altar, because he vanished into thin air in Malaysia back in 1967. His legacy of being the most famous American in Asia, bringing to fame Thai silk, is now spread over 600 rais of land. There were loads to do within the farm and it took a good half of our day just exploring the many stations within. Fields of flowers were the attraction when we visited. Back in 2010, it was heaps of pumpkins I recalled.

Making of Silk Cloth
We watched how Thai silk was produced, from the sadistic boiling of silkworm alive to the final threads being weaved into cloth. There was a corn field, there were hydroponic flowers being grown. There was an Isan village where old folks from the surrounding villages were plugged in to play out their daily activities, cleaning rice the traditional way in contrast to mechanical rice mills. It was unfortunately the weekend of Thai’s children’s day and the place was packed with them squirming uniformed adolescence. The trams that brought us from one place to the other, was a uniform of blend blue shirts and chatter. The commentator up front, she went through her speech lethargically, knowing none paid attention to her.

Entrance to our Room
Veravian we stayed. Descending a dark stairwell into what seem like a bunker, our room. At any moment, the sounds of air raid sirens and expected the tranquility of Wang Nam Kaew to be clustered bomb into chaos. That was how it felt like when we entered the Moment Suite of Veravian, of very interesting construction indeed. While the bombs were not dropping, atop our room a sectored garden, we sat in the red swing and enjoyed the winter breeze. Looking out, the vast expense of farmlands, the mountain range beyond. These suites featured an outdoor shower and the skylight illuminated my bath into sparkles. Among the vines that got mixed with my hair I shampooed, the fresh cold morning air fought the steam that rose from the warm streams of water. This is what you will experience when staying here, the Moment Suite a chamber it was.

Dining Area at Veravian
We had tried the Minute Suite for another night. Equally appeasing our stay was in a room well furbished with large LED TV, lush bed and a sectored living room. There was the bonus of a huge bath tub we could soak ourselves in. However, hot water soon ran out in the night and throughout our block, every room had that same setback. We shared the same solar supplemented heater on top the roof, and it was overcome by demand with everyone taking shower at about the same time after dinner. It was a cold, really cold shower we had. The cold pipes made the water even colder. The reception we complained to had earlier told us to leave the tap on hot for 30 minutes in order for heated water to arrive. I found that illogical but desperately tried anyway. In fact I left it on for 2 hours, I could fill their swimming pool by then. Still no hot water came out from the tap. It was a delay tactic so that when we called the reception again, a different person answered.

Outdoor Shower
Dinner at the restaurant was popular with outside visitors, shared the same view as that swing atop my room. As darkness fell, the Thai cuisines served, my huger was satisfied and my taste gratified. My thirst quenched by cold beer. The windmills spun as the breeze took on. It was so very relaxing indeed. Breakfast was basic, selection was not extravagant. But it served our purpose of a quick meal before heading out fast to explore the many attractions in the region. Minus the ordeal with the cold water, Veravian was a pleasant stay, and was one of the only few resorts located high with a pleasant view of the surrounding areas.

There was never a lack of fields for one to frolic with in flowers in Wang Nam Kaew. On the roads here and there were pastures of yellow flowers grown and harvested. We intruded one and spoke to the harvesters who told us they were preparing the yield for some upcoming religious festival. Then there was also Flora Park, it was hard to miss. They had huge signs everywhere. And so we strolled in during the early morning where crowds were less and undergone photosynthesis together with the millions of flora in her mostly un-shaded compound. Red, orange, white, and blue, the saturated colors engulfed us all.

Shooting Seeds
Venturing off the beaten track, there was Khao Phaeng Ma. Required some adventurous driving on gravel roads through the forest. We stumbled onto a viewpoint manned by a national park ranger. And there, we were encouraged to help with the reforestation by buying a bunch of seeds and catapulting them deep into the hillsides. I tried to shoot passing birds but fortunately, all my projectiles missed their mark. The ranger told us of another interesting ranger base off-map that was located some distance away. Said there we could watch the wild buffalos in the ever diminishing wild. Again, it was gravel roads which I enjoyed much up revving my engine and turning roads to dust, the sound of my wife constantly whining “slow down slow down” interrupting my fantasy of being a rally driver.

Wild Buffaloes
The rangers told of the encroachment by farmers into the native wildlife’s territory. To which, this is life in rural Thailand and everyone had to make a hard living, so the farmers were not evicted on the grounds of some mutual understanding. From a distance, we spotted a small number of wild buffalos roaming, eating grass and eating more grass. They ate all day long and farted methane. Some who prefer not to have a sun tan lay themselves comfortably beneath the shade of trees. That was until one drunken folk reeking of alcohol bashed downhill through the foliage. Interestingly, a horde of buffalos were driven out of grassy pastures to the delight of visitors looking down from where we were. The rangers, who knew him, were not pleased and complained they animals did us no wrong and why we humans have to annoy them. The buffalos dashed over a hill top beyond our sight with the drunken on tail. Okay, time to go home, no more buffalos. No more sight of crazy guy too, hoped he got gang raped by the bulls.

A Cup of Love
I have a feeling that very soon, sheep will be the national animal of Thailand. Everywhere we went adventuring Thailand, there will always be sheep, sheep and more sheep. The Thai flag will most likely be re-designed to have an iconic sheep in it. A Cup of Love, a distinct cafe located along the roads into Khao Yai loaded with cars and crowd. They had a paid in section for visitors to run around with grass held high being chased by a large number of marauding crazy wooly animals. Wonder when will someone get overwhelmed and run over into a pulpy mess making national news. A Cup of Love also featured accommodations which was fully booked over weekends. And there I had A Cup of Espresso, watching in anticipation for the screaming girls to be wrestled down by Shuan the Sheep and then some.

Mister Mushroom
To stay away from sheep driven domestic violence, there was Mister Mushroom. Yah it was a mushroom farm where we could buy mushroom produce and not be chased by mushroom all over the place. They even made body lotion from mushroom and that I never knew. In fact the creamy white compound truly smelled like mushroom and I wondered, was it really a marinade of some sort placed in the wrong section and mislabeled. Anyway, wife bought it and I am waiting to see if I could harvest mushroom from her body in the morning before she wakes.

Canteen in Khao Yai
On the return trip, we took the route into Khao Yai and out onto Pak Chong. This beats the mundane drive along the normal roads that lead back to Bangkok. We did have to pay a small entrance fee for entering the national park and it was well worth it. The only dismay, it was a Sunday and the narrow roads were packed with slow cars. There were monkeys along the road begging for food, there were wild deer roaming about. The deer seemed too friendly as we spotted some next to the tents and with the campers trying to reach out to pet them. Interestingly right in the heart of this national park, a large canteen filled with many foreigners, with very large dishes of papaya salad served.

Hew Suwat Waterfall
Signs directed towards many attractions within, too many waterfalls and viewpoints we did not know which to choose from. Hew Suwat Waterfall, one we had chosen randomly to pay a visit. Required some trekking, required some extreme panting when I had to ascend the steep steps on the return journey till my vision turned black and white. In fact for the many natural attractions in Thailand, they are off the beaten track and the fittest gets the best pictures. For me, I am always longing for the - I can park my car and step out to enjoy the awesome view type. Had we arrived earlier in the morning in Khao Yai, we would have witnessed an epic event - Khao Yai Elephant raped a Car.

These Steps Killed Me
Thailand is amazing indeed, I just have to share what I heard on radio regarding the elephant attack. The elephant approached and mounted the front of the Toyota, and he was swinging his huge penis wildly left and right in front of the wind screen. Then he f**ked the bonnet. There were request from people who offered to buy the damaged bonnet from the car owner (as it was like the first time in the entire history of mankind that a car was actually f**ked by an elephant). The owner refused to sell and also, amazingly decided not to wash the car. He even pointed to the reporter to the section where the giant penis had left the dents and scratch marks (must have been pretty hard huge and powerful erection). He even showed where hairs were still left attached (what hair?????????).

It is February now this blog of the past month’s travel is created. Jim Thomson farm had closed for the season till the next onset of winter. The hordes of metropolitan visitors up north had thinned to nothing more than speckles in the wide plains. The sun will transcend from her lazy glow to a scorching fireball in the coming months. Days will be longer, the sun sets later. Cool mornings will be a thing of the past and fog marks the change of seasons. The cool holiday chapter had closed for Thailand. The northern folks will be back to their everyday lives, the sheds that targets visitors on many of the mountain markets will ceased. All here look towards the next major festive epoch - the hot and wet Songkran in April.

Flooded Fields beside Jim Thomson Farm
And this is the Less of Crowds in January
Just Flowers
It got Quite Hot
Isan Village in Jim Thomson Farm
Flora Park, Wang Nam Kaew
Hungry Sheep
More Sheep
Khao Phaeng Ma
The Lone Ranger
Off the Beaten Track
Mister Mushroom
Breakfast at Veravian
Looking for Wild Buffaloes
On top of Buffalo View Point
A Random Cafe we Stopped
Canteen in Khao Yai