A dose of French toast, cha yen (Thai iced tea) and lounging in the ‘gangster’ shelter just by my bedroom window where the ‘cool kids’ usually hang out was a good way to start the day. This was further improved with a reasonably long cycle ride/ rather unsuccessful mission in photography. As it turns out taking pictures while sitting on the back seat of a semi-fast moving bicycle is not the best way to capture the natural beauty of Wangsaipoon and its surrounds. I was very excited (to the point of suddenly and unexpectedly slamming on the shoddy breaks of my bike) to see glimpses of bright blue from a tree on the edge of a small, stagnant body of water. It was far away, but caught my eye and when I trained my camera in I saw a very small, quite impressive looking blue bird. Though the picture does not do it justice I’m glad I managed to capture it at all. I pedaled my ‘vehicle’ as far as the little shelter from the sun where I finished reading “Stoner” a couple of weeks ago. It was just as beautiful as I remembered despite the weather being distinctly greyer, one could say that this added to the atmosphere and made the field, with the rolling hills in the distance, even more scenic. As did a solo field walker who gave us a familiar nod.
There are about 8 buses that go from Wangsaipoon to Phitsanulok over the course of a day. By the time I looked at my watch it was 1.40pm, which meant there would be no way of catching the 2pm bus unless it was late. It is consistently at least 15 minutes late but I got the feeling that ‘sod’s law’ would intervene, the bus would come on time, and we would miss it. As such the only option was to wait to get the next bus at 3.30pm, much to the surprise of Doi and Ally. It appears that our plans were much too loose; Doi quizzed me as to whether it is normal in my country to be so vague as suggesting meeting up at the weekend with no set time, or even day. Meeting up this weekend got narrowed down to Saturday, then Saturday afternoon and finally 5pm (when it turned out that the 3.30pm bus was the only option).
By the time we got to Wang Thong it was about 5pm. We piled straight into the truck and headed across to the temple. It transpired that it was closing at 5.30pm so it became a bit of a flying visit. Ally, the Texan girl on a Rotary Exchange Programme, exclaimed about 10 minutes in, “Oh, is this a Chinese Temple?” Doi, Nick and I couldn’t help but mock her gently; there were copious red Chinese lanterns, Chinese characters, Chinese Statues etc. Bless her. This was definitely one of my favourite temples so far, partly because it is located on the top of a hill meaning that the views are pretty amazing. We could see as far as Wangsaipoon in one direction, and if we had arrived earlier we would have been able to look down onto Phitsanulok. There was also a garden full of fake flowers, decorated benches with love hearts and large photo frames to appease many a Thai’s need for taking plentiful photos. I realised that I had actually seen photos from this garden as Teacher Tim and Teacher Frenelly visited a few weeks ago. My camera ran out of battery just as I had taken the last picture of the view. What a lucky person I can be sometimes.
Thai towns seem to be reasonably suited to vegetarians and Doi took all of us to a ‘Jay’ (V) restaurant. I was surprised to find a packet of ‘crispy Jew’s ears’ (mushrooms) and was distinctly un-adventurous in my choice of dish: roasted cashews with rice, whereas Nick and Doi had something much more exciting. Ali, however, had already eaten (and proceeded to laugh at Nick and I for our lack of spice tolerance.
Despite having visited Phitsanulok a fair number of times I had never visited the ‘Walking Street’ night market. It takes place every Saturday and the stalls take up a large long stretch of road beside the river. As with the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok there were live animals for sale; puppies, kittens, but also some eels/ other fish in plastic bags filled with water. The highlight of this trip, however, was the ‘circle dancing’. Doi had quite casually mentioned earlier on that there would be a ‘circle of old people doing traditional dancing’. We walked right to the end of the street and installed ourselves on the top row of the metal seating waiting for the action to begin. There were lots of Thai women (mostly round middle, aging, quite eccentric) wearing matching pink and white polkadot skirts, white frilly shirts, huge brightly coloured flowers in their hair and white sock/ white canvas shoe combinations. They all assembled in a big circle at 8.45pm and each of them were taken as partners by random people from the crowd who had to pay 5 baht (about 10 p) to be part of the festivities. There were lots of different rounds, the first one being traditional that dancing. They also had calypso, salsa and various other types of dancing that basically involved shaking a bit of booty. Doi told us that this kind of dancing was only for ladies and lady boys, not for men (his excuse for not dancing… at least until the last round). However Nick (male, not lady boy), Ally and I were fairly quick to ‘book ourselves a dance partner’. Mine was quite a short, plump woman of about 50 years old with an enormous, illuminating smile. I rather loved following along with the steps and got so into it that this rather effeminate little boy in the crowd would fan me madly to cool me down as I danced on by him.
Next up we had to drop Ally off home (because she has a traditional, very protective host mother- and she is only 17) before heading off to Doi’s ‘quartier’. He showed us a little bit of the nightlife right beside his university. Living in such a small place as Wangsaipoon (an entirely different story from London, but still) I was amazed by the bright lights, the loud music, the large number of young people/ people my age and by the short clothes all the girls were wearing… including me actually. It was more like something out of a film than something that was real. As soon as we arrived we were beckoned over by a group of Thai students who gave us whiskey and introduced themselves. Slightly embarrassingly Doi lent me some of his sexy (I imagine) Thai girlfriend’s clothes because the wardrobe that I had available to me in my rucksack consisted only of two obscenely long teacher skirts and two ¾ length work shirts. As such I turned up, shyly, in a white playsuit adorned with black lace. Though I don’t like to admit it I felt like a bit of a ‘sexy mamma’ and didn’t actually want to give it back to him at the end of the night. Nick was also encouraged to change from what is actually his favourite shirt to one of Doi’s oversized stripy shirts (it was big on Nick, and Doi is a lot smaller than him, so that was a little odd.) What I didn’t mention before was that Doi had brought me 5 outfits to choose from, which was incredibly sweet of him.
I would agree with people who say that the best way to get to know a place is with the local people! I feel so privileged.