Thursday, October 23, 2008

Further into Isan

I did wonder whether I just might be overdoing it, visiting even more Khmer ruins in eastern Thailand. But I'd left one of the best till last. Phimai, built about 100 years prior to Angkor Wat, is said to have been the model for it. It certainly is an impressive structure, with its numerous walkways, corridors and terraces.Phimai is smack in the middle of a small town of the same name. There isn't alot to do there besides visit the ruins and a nearby giant banyan tree which has spread into a mini forest. It being the wet season the island housing the tree is actually under water, so it requires some paddling in ankle deep water to get amongst the greenery. Quite fun actually.
For all the photos

I stayed at a quaint little guesthouse, all wooden with shuttered windows that opened fully on three sides, a mosquito netted bed and a shared bathroom with hot water (an unnecessary luxury in this heat). If there'd been more to do I would have stayed longer than one night, but surprised myself with my efficiency in doing the sites within about 3 hours. All I had left to do the next morning was a quick session on the internet then hop onto a bus to my next destination.The government bus network is extensive, and very inexpensive. It's just a matter of turning up at a bus station and someone will direct you to the correct bus. Mostly they are airconditioned and the seats are quite comfortable. They even have curtains for covering the window to keep the sun and heat out. Hawkers regularly hop on the bus to sell you snacks and drinks, and there are stops for toilet breaks every couple of hours. Very civilised indeed.

The back seat of the bus is reserved for monks, of which there are many travelling throughout Thailand. They also seem to hang out around Khmer ruins, I'm not really sure why. Well actually they hang out almost everywhere, I even saw a couple in a computer shop the other day. I haven't quite worked out what all these monks do, they are certainly very photogenic in their orange robes and shaved heads against a sandstone backdrop. But not when seen smoking or talking animatedly on their mobile phones - yes it isn't just the young with this accessory in Thailand, every granny has one, and so do the monks. I'm actually wondering whether being a monk is a profession for wastrels, lazy layabouts who couldn't be bothered getting a real job so they meditate and accept alms from the devout thai buddhists. But I'm just an ignorant foreigner, what do I know?
My next port of call was a smallish town called Chaiyaphum, where tourism doesn't really exist and life just goes on as normal. Isan (as north eastern Thailand is known) is the heart of the silk weaving industry, and there are numerous towns famous for their products. I'd chosen Ban Khwao, 13km out of Chaiyaphum, as the village I would visit to observe the process and buy some silk. But it was a bit of a disappointment: the museum wasn't open and I could only find 5 or 6 shops selling silk. When I asked about seeing the weaving taking place I was told it was far from here. So much for cottage industry!!

However that didn't stop me from buying up big on silk. I didn't end up going for the fancy designs, just bought buckets of different colours and will now have to demothball the sewing machine on my return home. Although tailoring is available, the styles available were not to my liking. Plus I'd had experiences with shoddy workmanship in Vietnam, so I think I'd rather do it myself. I'm not a bad dressmaker, I've had years of practice making my own clothes, it's just been a while! (another reason not to work fulltime on my return!)Having promised Warren and Imp I'd be back in Bangkok for the weekend, I decided not to venture further east but to return, by bus of course, to the capital a day early. It's time to bite the bullet and start exploring the city.

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