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Visiting wats and eating noodles in Thailand

Posted Apr 16 2013 8:30am
Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

Ever since I wrote about visiting the Grand Palace in my last post , I've been getting junk mail inviting me to gamble at the online Grand Palace. Scary, isn't it, how all our online actions are being monitored? Oh well, undaunted, I continue with my travelog.

Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

On our third day in Thailand we were collected at our hotel at 4:30 a.m. and taken to the airport to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Phitsanulok City, in Phitsanulok Province in the north of Thailand. Phitsanulok Province borders at its northernmost boundry with Laos. 4:30 a.m. might sound early, but considering I'd been waking up at 2 a.m. each night, it really was kind of late. My husband was to give a talk at a university in Phitsanulok City the next day, and we planned to do some sight-seeing, including a visit to the ancient Thai capital of Sukkothai.

Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

We arrived at our excellent hotel in the morning and had a meal at the hotel restaurant buffet. The hotel room included a breakfast buffet the size of which I have never seen before. Every imaginable food, from roasted potatoes to local fruit to traditional Thai dishes filled an area the size of a large restaurant. It was spectacular and meat-based. We could have eaten potatoes and fruit and been full — in fact we were full — but our host had a long conversation with the staff, and the cooks prepared plates of veggies and rice for us. So we ate again. I regret not having photos of the food choices but it was all so overwhelming, and not vegan, and I admit it, I screwed up in the photography department. You'll just have to trust me that the restaurant was a huge vegan torture chamber — so much beautiful food based on animal ingredients. As Molly said in a comment on my first Thailand post , "Thai food has such great vegan potential."

Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat. The sign says that only monks can sit on the platform.

After eating, we were told we had a little while to settle into our room and rest before sightseeing began. While some of our group had flown to Phitsanulok, others had driven, and had not yet arrived as it was a long way from Bangkok. We were on a very different clock than our hosts, and while they were probably tired, we were too hyper to rest. We were sort of under the control of our Thai hosts, and didn't have much authority over the plans — seriously, sometimes we didn't even know what the plans were, or thought we did only to discover we were completely wrong, or the plans had been changed and we were clueless. I'm not complaining, only trying to explain why we didn't visit the elephant sanctuary, or the National Park, or other well-known tourist destinations you may have heard of. We were guests — my husband a "working guest" — and our hosts seemed unhappy when we went off on our own, as any host might be. We had an amazing experience with our hosts — one that ordinary tourists might not have. But, guests or not, here we were in Thailand, and we couldn't just sit in the room digesting our food. We'd been awake since 2 a.m. We were generally jetlagged and strangely hyper. We had to MOVE.

Phra Buddha Chinnarat at Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat.

We saw that Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat (also known as Wat Yi), a well-known Buddhist temple built in the 1300s on the banks of the Nan River, was walking distance from our hotel. It houses one of the most famous gilded Buddha statues in Thailand. The Buddha statue, called Phra Buddha Chinnarat, was molded more than 700 years ago. The people you see in the foreground are sitting cross-legged or kneeling on the floor, paying their respects to the Buddha. You never have your feet pointing towards the Buddha because in Thailand, feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body, and pointing them at the Buddha would be very disrespectful.

Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

The temple is really a very large complex of buildings, gardens and ruins surrounded by high walls. As you can see from my collection of photos, there are multiple Buddha statues, and many locations to meditate or pray. Each one I've shown you was from a different building. There are rules for entering any of the buildings — of course you must remove shoes and hats — but there are clothing requirements as well like no shorts or short skirts, no bare arms. I had 3/4 sleeve shirts that could be rolled up or down, and a long skirt or pants for visiting temples.
Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

We loved the temple so much we went back there two more times before leaving the city just to mellow out on the floor of our favorite building.

Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat

When our hosts finally decided it was time to do a little sightseeing, guess where they wanted to take us? They were a little surprised to hear we'd gone by ourselves. Since we'd already visited Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat, we headed to the other local spots of interest — the Buddha factory and a folklore museum.

The factory makes cast bronze Buddhas, and it was intriguing to see the multiple Buddhas in various stages of completion.

It was outrageously hot, and hard to imagine working on the sculptures without fainting.

There were people chiseling, scraping, and worst of all, soldering in the factory.

It was an open-air factory, but there didn't seem to be any air — or protection from the copious dust.

We left the factory and headed across the street to Sergeant-Major Dr. Thawi-Pim Buranakhet's Folklore Museum. The museum looked small on the outside, but it went on endlessly on the inside. It held an amazing collection of folk-arts, crafts, basketry, pottery, textiles, toys, traps and ancient kitchen utensils. There were also agricultural implements and machines and an unbelievable assortment of household objects. The strangest thing was the fish room, where there were tanks and more tanks of fish found in Thailand. I hadn't expected that in a folk art museum, and was a bit dismayed to see the large fish in the small tanks. The museum wasn't air-conditioned and while I like heat, it tested my patience after a while.

The last place we visited was horrible. It was advertised as a Thai bird garden, but it was more like a bird prison, and I got out as fast as I could. I feel very powerless in a place like that where I want to free the birds, not look at them cooped up in barren cages.

In the later afternoon, our party of three was joined by the other members of our group, and we headed out to see another Buddhist temple, or wat. We arrived at the wat, got out of our car (it was actually a limo) and suddenly, after much discussion in Thai that Ken and I didn't comprehend, we got back in the limo and drove off. When we asked for clarification we were told we were going to a different wat first and would return to this one later. (We didn't return.)

We eventually found ourselves at a Chinese Buddhist temple, which we were told was run by a foundation that feeds the poor. They earn money through donations and by selling food products like rice noodles, dried bananas, and an interesting product consisting of dried tamarind pieces coated with salt that people eat as a snack. We were also told that all food prepared in the temple was totally vegetarian.

Shaking sticks before the Buddha.

We spent quite a lot of time at the temple while various members of our group knelt before the Buddha praying,  paying their respects and asking for their fortune to be revealed. You shake a container of sticks over and over until one stick falls out.

A good fortune!

The numbers on the fallen stick are matched to numbers on small papers with fortunes, and the paper with the number that matches your stick reveals your fortune. I love the rattling sound the sticks make as they are shaken in the can.

The temple was presided over by an older Chinese couple who spoke no English, and only the woman spoke Thai. She insisted that she wanted to feed us and apparently wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She grabbed packages of noodles and headed to the kitchen. This was not a kitchen that would pass any sort of inspection, according to my husband, but I chose not to look too carefully. Why get myself upset.

A large pot of noodles with tofu, cabbage and maybe soy protein, was offered to us. We pulled rickety, mix-matched chairs up to a rickety table and enjoyed a delicious, light supper in a lovely place not too many tourists have probably been.

The noodles were just like something I might make at home only mine would probably have less oil. Oil sure does make things taste good, though, doesn't it? And the noodles themselves were far superior to what we usually have — perfect taste and texture.

From the patio, we could see the rice paddies below. Much rice is grown in the region. *

The last photo is of a Thai street dog, of which there are many. Someone told me the dogs like to hang around temples because they are likely to be fed there.I hope that's true.

In case you are interested in more about Thailand Thailand post #1
Thailand post #2

 *A side note on rice-related health issues: By now you must have read about the arsenic (and cadmium) found in U.S. grown rice. The latest news is that rice grown in China, Taiwan, Thailand and Bhutan has tested very high for lead , posing a threat to people for whom rice is a major dietary component, but especially dangerous for children. Rice from Italy, Czech Republic and India also tested high, and other countries will probably be added as testing continues. When I say "rice" I mean all rice products such as grain, flour and noodles.

Boston — my heart aches for you.
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