Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Myanmar

From that day on, Sam called twice a day.  First thing in the morning, when he woke up and late at night, right before going to sleep.  We were saddened by his persistency but knew there was nothing we could do.  It became a ritual.  When the phone rang in the morning, the girl nearest to the phone talked to Sam for a few seconds and then immediately handed it over to his “girlfriend”.  He pleaded to come back to Erawan but we knew our business there was finished and we couldn’t give him a chance to hope.  Since neither party spoke each other languages, the conversations were minimal. 

- Good Morning Sam
- Good Morning __. How are you?
- I’m good. And you?
- I’m fine. Thank you. I miss you. I love you.
- I miss you too.
- Are you happy?
- Yes. Are you?
- No. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you…

It was heartbreaking to hear the kid’s sad voice.  Alas, we had to move on.

Natalie’s time in Thailand was quickly approaching an end.  But we still had one more place to see before her departure.  An old city of Ayutthaya, a now UNESCO World Heritage Site that once was a separate kingdom. 

Ayutthaya was everything we imagined Thailand to be before our arrival.  Ancient stones whispered stories of old glory taking us back in time to honorable warriors and Buddhist rites.  We marveled at every citadel, statue, ruin and carving. 

Soon we were back in Bangkok.  We decided to spend as least amount of time as possible in the busy and polluted city.  Giving ourselves only enough time to stop by a huge market to buy souvenirs, meet with Valentin and take a ride on a water taxi to visit a Laying Buddha statue.

The next morning we were parting with another member of our “band of sisters”.  The parting was upsetting but we knew we would be seeing each other soon.  Natalie was planning to visit me in Tokyo in the spring, during my last few weeks in Japan.  She called us as soon as she landed.  And from that day on, she also called us every day (except unlike Sam, only once a day).  Spending two weeks in Thailand, bonded us even more than all of our trips to Italy, Greece and China.  We missed her terribly and she felt our absence ever so greatly.  It was only Olga and I left.  We had another two weeks in Thailand; deciding not to waste our time, we headed north.

Our destination was Sukhothai, another ancient city with many marvelous statues and ruins.  But before Sukhothai, we had to make an emergency stop in a hospital. 

When we stayed in Bangkok a few days prior, we rented a room on a second floor of a Pakistani restaurant.  The room was shabby but the sheets were clean. Or so we thought.  Olga woke up in the morning with strange bites all over her feet.  They were burning and itching.  Since neither Natalie nor I were bitten, we thought it was mosquito bites and decided to let them be.  But two days later, Olga started to limp. 
Entrance to the 2nd floor...through the Wash Room

We quickly found an emergency room and were taken to the doctor.  The Thai doctor spoke excellent English.  To our great surprise, we found out that many years ago, he did his residency in a university in the Bronx.  What a small world we thought.  In a small town of Chai Nat, in Thailand, we found a Thai doctor from the Bronx.  He had a few laughs explaining to us that many tourists complain about unusual insect bites when they come to Thailand but gave Olga four different prescriptions which eventually healed her feet but made my “GPS” (Olga) incompetent since one of the medications had antihistamine in it and made her drowsy.

By Sukhothai, Olga’s feet were a lot better but since she was still limping a little, we decided to rent bikes to see the large area of the ancient city.  The city was as beautiful as Ayutthaya. 

By now, we were only eighty kilometers from Myanmar (Burma) border.  Someone told us that the road to the border was exciting and had plenty of things to see.   We set off early in the morning, stopping by a National Park with beautiful waterfall and largest Krabach tree in Thailand.  Then we drove to a small village hidden in the mountains where we got lost.  And after getting help from the locals we were back on the main road.   

The closer we drove to Myanmar, the curvier and steeper the road became.  Trucks were driving at snail speed rounding dangerous corners. 

Suddenly, we saw three young monks standing on a side of the road and with their thumbs up.  Not believing what I just saw, I instinctively continued driving. 

- Olga, were the monks hitchhiking or am I going crazy?
- Weird, but they looked like they were hitchhiking.
- All those people who picked me up in Japan.  It’s time to pay it forward.

We pulled over.  Hastily cleaned up the car and turned around. 

- Where are you guys going?  Mae Sot. Perfect, that’s where we heading. Get in.

And that’s how I ended up with three monks in the back of my car.  It was almost unreal.  I kept turning around and looking in my rear-view mirror back to confirm I wasn’t dreaming.  The monks spoke decent English and we chatted for a bit.  However, soon they asked us to pull over and told us they were getting off.  We weren’t near our destination.  Puzzled, we asked why they were getting off and they said they were meeting two more monks across the road.  I don’t know if it was my driving, my staring, our numerous questions or the truth about two more monks but we parted our ways. 

Finally we made it to Mae Sot, a small town with a popular market and the last outpost on the Thai-Myanmar border. 

We didn’t realize how close we were to the border until we drove up to a bridge and a security officer stopped us.  (watch video)

- Hello. Where do you go?
- Straight.
- ?
- We are going straight. What’s there?
- Burma.
- Oh.
- Please turn around.
- Can’t we go to Burma?
- Please park the car.

They were willing to sell us exit visas.  But we didn’t know the procedure or whether we would be able to get back in so we parked nearby and walked over to the border.  The border was a dried up canal patrolled by armed soldiers.  However, we saw people walking back and forth continuously.  Not wanting to take our chances, we stayed on the Thai side of the canal.  The canal was doted along with benches full of people, selling cigarettes and other souvenirs.  We called them “Duty Free Shops”.  Hey, they were on the border. 

We didn’t spend too much time in Mae Sot.  Checking out the famous market and not finding anything of interest, we soon were driving back.  Our destination was 320 kilometers (200 miles) away. Chiang Mai.

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