Our second day in Thailand begins with a road trip to Ayuttaya (the ancient capitol) by way of the Queen’s craft center, the Bang Pa-In summer palace, a lunch cruise, a bustling local temple, and an elephant ride (see photos).
Joe, our earnest young guide from Thai Friends, works valiantly to keep our group of dedicated shoppers together. (As one local saying goes, that’s a bit like trying to keep live fish in a shallow basket.) At the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts center, we stream off in all directions, browsing silks and handmade pillows. I spend all of fifteen baht (thirty cents) on a wicker fan … which proves to be my best purchase of the day, as it can serve as both a parasol and a portable air conditioning unit. (It also turns out to be a “napping fan,” used by old grannies as they try to cool off enough to go to sleep. No wonder people grinned when they saw me using it!)
At one point, the little tram around the craft center pauses for far too long beside one roadside vendor’s cart. There, a woman ladles ice cream cone batter into perfect discs the size of coasters. To this, she adds a layer of hot marshmallow cream. Finally, she garnishes the cookies with fresh coconut, scoops them up, and folds them in half. (They look like tiny tropical tacos.)
The smell is hypnotic. All warnings about food saftey go out the window, and I buy my first street cart food. Others in the group are dubious, but my orgasmic moans soon have everyone pawing through my grease-spotted paper bag. So sweet! So sticky! So fresh! We decide the cookies are worth the risk (and at three cents each, they’re the bargain of the day).
At Wat Phananchoeng, dueling loudspeakers broadcast monk chants and huckster sales presentations. People squeeze inside to see the massive Buddha image, pray by divination (shaking cannisters full of sticks until an answer falls out), and buy gifts and offerings for the monks.
The energy of the place amazes us, and we’re all caught up in it. Barbara and Jeri shake sticks and get answers (Jeri now has no worries about having more babies!), and several of us pause for prayer in front of gleaming, beatific Buddha images.
Lunch on the river is surreal. After placing our orders, we’re loaded onto a party barge. We float down the Chao Praya, eating spicy Thai food … and singing karaoke. Barbara and Lisa dance. Clyde and I laugh. Phil takes the microphone and belts out “I Will Survive.” Behind us, ancient temples drift by at lazy speeds, and children (bathing and brushing their teeth in the river) wave to us, point, and giggle.
Late in the day, we prepare for the highlight of the trip: elephant rides. We buy our tickets, line up, and await our turn. Young Thai women load couples onto the backs of the massive beasts, and the mahouts, or drivers, take the tourists on a twenty-minute stroll.
Clyde and I climb the stairs to the loading platform. Clyde clambers onto the elephant, and the locals begin to chatter. The question, it seems, is whether the two of us will be a heavier load than the elephant can bear.
I get on, and the elephant sways from side to side. “No, no, no!” the women say. “Off! Off! Too big! Too big! Get off!”
We get off. The woman assesses our size, looking us over from head to toe. Finally, she says, “We are going to have to get bigger elephants.”
Ultimately, Clyde, Phil, and I all are forced to ride the elephants solo. Around us, the guides grin and giggle; this is, apparently, the first time the drivers have been forced to carry single passengers. The Thai people love to laugh, and our mahouts pantomime our condition to each other, puffing their cheeks and exaggerating their bellies by patting imaginary pregnant stomachs.
We’re good natured about it, too … but for both Phil and me, I think, the idea of being so big we have to ride elephants solo is a sobering experience.
We get back home Wednesday … and the diet starts then.
(Update: our experience wasn’t too traumatic, by the way, to prevent our plowing through the Shangri La dinner buffet at full speed. Grilled lobster, flash-fried samosas, and crispy shrimp proved to be too tempting … and by the time I finished my chocolate mousse, cappuchino gelato, and chocolate wafer layer cake, I probably gained enough weight to rule me out from riding elephants entirely.)