Quiet days. Simple food. And Monks playing hide & seek…
Right now I’m in Thailand, bumming about in a small town called Phetchaburi which is about 80km from the Myanmar border. It’s a place I’ve visited before, but I chose to come back mainly because of the guesthouse I’m staying in. (I wrote about my last visit here, including details of this cute little guesthouse in case you wanna come). My room is amazing and costs £9 a night, and I’m only spending about £3 a day on food, with meals costing about 60p. Most nights I have to ‘cycle for my dinner’ which means I don’t really know where I will eat. I just get on my bike and ride around town until I see some people selling stuff at the side of the road. Phetchaburi has no ‘restaurants’ in the traditional sense: at the very most you will get a few plastic chairs on the pavement but in the most part it is just street carts or local vendors at the night market. The food is amazing, especially the som tam (papaya salad). There are no English signs. There are no tourists. There is no public transport. No one speaks English. As far as authentic Thai towns go, it’s pretty much perfect.
IKIMASHO! isn’t the type of blog that documents the top ten things to do in a certain place. Many travel blogs do this, and while many would argue they are more informative and give the reader more information, it just doesn’t suit my style. I can’t be arsed reducing my travels to a list of things. Logistically, all I want to say is that Phetchaburi is a town 1.5 hours south of Bangkok and you can catch a bus down here from Victory Monument in the capital. So I’m not going to do a generic list of all the separate shit there is to do as it just seems like work. But I hope by talking a little bit about Phetchaburi and sharing some pictures and experiences I have had, I can convince some of you to come. Because travelling should be about your own experiences, not just following other people.
Nit, one of the sisters who runs my guesthouse is an absolute gem. A great breakfast is included in my room rate so I usually go down to the garden about 8.30pm and chat to her while I’m eating. It’s mid-October so the rainy season has just finished. It may rain a bit during the night but the days are clear. After breakfast I cycle into town with no real agenda and just get lost. This town is absolutely jampacked with wats (temples) in varying states of disrepair, along with plenty of traditional wooden shophouses. Despite the attractions of the old quarter, not many people spend the night in this town, deciding instead to come here on a day-trip from Bangkok. Even still, I haven’t seen another western face in five days.
One day I cycle past flooded rice fields up to Khao Luang Cave and dodge monkeys as I descend down into the cavern. I arrive at midday and it appears this is the perfect time to visit, with the light shining down through the cave in a single beam and splashing the Buddha with a golden glow. Down here you will find local people praying, along with nuns dressed in ceremonial white robes. Entrance is free.
Just down the road from here I find myself walking around a neglected temple graveyard. Vines and jungle growth have begun to swallow the once-ornate tombstones, and I walk while staring at my feet in case of snakes. It’s hot and humid, and the overnight rain has left the place looking even more dishevelled than usual. I have a close encounter with a couple of stray dogs but you have to just look confident and walk past them. (Temples in Thailand often have about 20 dogs roaming the grounds – abandoned by their owners, the monks at the temple take them in and feed them but as a result they become fiercely territorial and don’t like strangers threatening their space.) I spot a monkey climbing on top of one of the houses trying his best to get inside a coconut. He doesn’t seem to be having much luck.
One day while ‘cycling for my dinner’ I end up in the grounds of another temple complex. This one is very quiet but it’s absolutely beautiful, with a a flock of sparrows flying amongst all the statues. In the distance I see a huge gleaming white stupa which I later find out to be called Wat Mahathat Worawihan. I have to cycle through a small row of houses to get to it, with local people pointing the way. Inside the grounds of this stupa I can smell incense and the silence is only interrupted when a monk starts ringing a bell and chanting. A group of young monks run past me who are playing hide and seek. I watch them for a while with some of them climbing up the huge structure like a makeshift climbing frame. The next day I would see these kids again at a different temple, all of us smiling at the fact we met again.
If you visit Phetchaburi now, you shouldn’t miss Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair on Khao Wang hill. It’s a yearly event. This year, the fair goes on until tomorrow (21 Feb, 2016). Various entertainments are performed at night. You can also have a close look at how Phetchaburi’s master craftsmen do their handicrafts, including Khon mask making, stucco, leather engraving, banana stalk carving, gilding & glass decorating and etc. The admission is also free this year.