Winding Down

A massive three-headed elephant sculpture stands over the gate to a temple

As my trip nears its end, I find myself jaded, uninterested in going to see most of the usual tourist sights. I've spent the last week hanging out in Khorat (aka "Nakhon Ratchasima") and Ubon (full name "Ubon Ratchathani") in the northeast of Thailand, just getting a feel for the towns. It's been a pleasure to be back in Thailand with its higher standard of living and easy-going people, so I've been enjoying myself.

I went out to Wat Ban Na Muang a couple days ago and was very happy to find myself staring at the place with my mouth open. Good to know there are still things that take me by surprise, surpass my expectations. This picture is the main entrance to the Wat, and, as I hope you can see by the picture, you can get a good sized truck under that elephant. It's HUGE. And inside the compound is more to fit with the scale and style of the gate: the main building is very large, and houses a really big seated Buddha. That didn't actually draw my attention, as I've seen it before. But one of the smaller buildings was wonderful: it's played as being on the deck of a very long, narrow, and ornate ship - complete with 40 or so large concrete rowers with big paddles held raised in the air. Unfortunately none of my pictures do it justice, so you'll have to settle for the text version.

Getting to the Wat was also one of my more bizarre adventures. Ubon has a good "bus" system, where the word "bus" actually means the modified pick-up trucks I've referred to before. As with other places in Thailand, these are big trucks well outfitted for the job they're meant to do - very different from the occasionally very small, underpowered, and overloaded trucks doing the job in other parts of Asia. A ride around town is just $0.20, so I caught a bus out toward the distant corner of town where the Wat is. Grandpa sitting on the bus convinced me he knew where it was after I asked him, even though he barely spoke a word of English. So I got off with him and Grandma, and he led me off in what I was fairly sure was the wrong direction, gesticulating wildly. When we got to his place he talked to his neighbours, and a couple minutes later I ended up on the back of a scooter driven by a young man who also spoke no English. It was indicated that he'd take me to the Wat. He drove me about five minutes from where he picked me up, and dropped me ... at a Muay Thai gym. No Wat in sight. A young woman from the gym said "Can I help you?" I explained where I was trying to get to, and that I had no idea why I was dropped here. She looked about as confused as I felt. But about five minutes later she materialized a guy from the gym on a scooter, and he really did get me to the Wat (about a kilometre away). He spoke almost no English too. But I remembered my manners and a bit of Thai: I bowed namaste and said "Khawp khun khrap!" ("Thank you").

People all over southeast Asia are polite to tourists, but rarely will you find them so consistently helpful as they are in Thailand. It's a pleasure to be back here.