#Lopburi #Ayuthaya #Thailand: Monkeys in the Windows, Ruins Down the Street…

Not-so-still life with Ruins and Oncoming Train in Lopburi, Thailand

Not-so-still life with Ruins and Oncoming Train in Lopburi, Thailand

Lopburi sits only a stone’s throw from Bangkok, but hardly any tourists go there, even though the ruins are everywhere, and require no more than a walk down the street to get there. It took me over twenty years to get here. All the trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai stop here, but no one gets off, even though the railroad station is right in the center of town. Ayutthaya is the big tourist destination for ‘ruins-porn’ in the neighborhood, that and Sukothai up the road to the north.

Monkeys at the gates in Lopburi, Thailand...

Monkeys at the gates in Lopburi, Thailand…

Lopburi in fact was the seat of Khmer administration of the region and formed something of a ‘triple capital’ with Ayutthaya and Suphanburi—Thai, Chinese and Khmer—back in the formative days of the Kingdom. So today it’s something of a diamond in the rough, along with Phetburi on the road south, a destination only for those ‘in the know’. As it is there’s a little ‘backpacker strip’ of two or three cafes and a similar number of cheapo hotels clustered together for protection, in which a Farang can get his American breakfast and Leo Beer, all ordered in Modern Standard Pidgin English—lovely.

But you’d probably need a copy of Lonely Planet to know that’s there—yeah, right—so I just stumbled into it by accident long after I’d gotten accommodation elsewhere, complete with monkeys at the window. I don’t care much for foreigner enclaves. That’s not why I go to Thailand. I’m looking for authenticity, though I wouldn’t want to get self-righteous about it—different strokes for different folks, ‘ey?

Thai food, anyone?

Thai food, anyone?

And Lopburi is all that and more, authentic, that is, Thailand whole hog, on the half-shell, in the flesh, on the brink, quartered and fried real nice and tasty if you know which sauce is which and which side of the bread to butter. I recommend almost anything with sticky rice and fish sauce that you can eat with your hands. Beware of anything that requires a fork (read: American food), because they don’t generally use them.

There ARE spoons, if you must. A little sober reflection leads me to think that forks only exist to stab meat. Here in Asia that usually only constitutes of about ten percent of the diet—perfect. To be sure sticky rice is mostly a northern and northeastern thing—old Thailand—but you can usually find it elsewhere as street food, or as dessert, frequently with mango and coconut sticky milk (Warning! Monitor your morning movements!) ‘Nuff said.

Ayutthaya: Cradle of modern Thailand...

Ayutthaya: Cradle of modern Thailand…

Ayutthaya down the road halfway to Bangkok is a different story, ruins well-defined and heavily exploited by tourism, only problem is that I came up by bus from Bangkok and by prior arrangement with the local tuk-tuk mafia, the vans drop you off on the edge of town and leave you to the predations of rapacious three-wheelers. We decided to wing it and ended up walking long and hot in the midday sun, older but wiser, christened by hard knocks and chastened by the experience. Homemade ice cream helps cure most bothers in Thailand. Uber should soon clear up the tuktuk problem.

The ruins at Ayutthaya are splendid, though, and I saw much more in my circuitous walk than I had ever seen before, they being part of a rather large ancient city. The quickie vans from mid-City are much faster than the ‘real’ buses, but always subject to the temptations of corruption, i.e. dropping off from a prearranged point different from the departure point. Now I know. It’d be fun to stay here overnight, just to see where you could find ruins popping up and around; should be as much or more so than Lopburi.

So I find my kicks in small pleasures and Thai food, forego any drama to save myself the trauma. Things are almost back to normal after the coup, and this trip’s almost over. I’ll spend a couple days in Bangkok, and then move on. There’s just one more train line that I haven’t been on this trip—the line west to Kanchanaburi, immortalized in ‘Bridge over the Kwai River’, or something like that. Stay tuned.
June 2014

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