April 16, 2013

Visiting wats and eating noodles in Thailand

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. But not before one of the birds put its long beak through the cage bars and tried to steal my lens cap. 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.

26 comments:

  1. Andrea, this trip through Thailand is amazing. I'm sure there are plenty of things you would have liked to have done if left to your own devices, but it seems that you had a true, Thai experience instead. You can always return as a tourist!

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    1. I know Abby, it was not a typical tourist trip, but it was pretty great. We had personal guides who really cared about us and treated us so kindly. Ironically, our hosts had a similar experience in China where they never knew where they were going or what was going to happen and at one point they were wondering if we felt that way. Why yes, sometimes we did. :)

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  2. What a lovely post and experience. I'm currently planning a second trip to Thailand this fall and this post gets me so excited!

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    1. Thank you! I kind of wish I were planning a second visit, but I guess it's too soon for that. I wonder where you'll go.

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  3. Another lovely post - what a great experience. I'm really surprised at the whole general lack of vegan food in Thailand - I sort of assumed that with all the tofu, noodles and veggies it would be plentiful...

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    1. Thanks, I hope I'm not getting too boring. I understand that in some parts of Thailand (Chaing Mai, for example) there are lots of vegetarian options, but most of the country is pretty meat-and-fish-centric. Fish sauce and shrimp paste play a big role in seasoning everything. Sometimes we were given a separate sauce to use when the regular sauce was fishy. Being vegetarian isn't a common idea.

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  4. Wow, another beautiful post about your trip! It does sound exhausting, although wonderful at the same time. Again, it really is too bad that most of their food is meat based, but it sounds like you were well fed.

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    1. Thanks, Molly. We were so well-fed some of the time that we may have been a tiny bit disappointed when the food was the same sort of rice and veggies we make at home. Always grateful, mind you, for vegan sustenance!

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  5. Have a wonderful time! I've always wanted to go to Thailand. Safe travels!

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    1. Thanks, Aimee, we did have a wonderful time! I'm blogging about a recent trip, but I sure wouldn't mind going again. :)

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  6. wow sounds like a truly incredible trip! glad you're having fun!

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  7. I've so enjoyed vicariously visiting Thailand with you. Really need to get there soon.

    I've seen so many stray animals in my travels and even in this country -- breaks my heart every time. But there are kind, compassionate souls everywhere who will try to help.

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    1. The dogs I saw in Thailand didn't look malnourished or sick, though I may not be the best judge of that. They looked sad, though, but it's hard to know what to do.

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  8. Wow, so many golden statues! The Buddha factory must be doing a swift trade! Thailand must be such an amazing place to see.

    Those noodles do look delicious! Thanks for the update on the rice...I was wondering about rice from other countries. Yet another food too contaminated to eat anymore. Sigh..

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    1. The Buddhas are BIG, too. It feels very peaceful to be in the company of a Buddha image.

      We're still eating rice in spite of the dire warnings — but not nearly as much as we did. I wonder what would be found in other grains if they were tested.

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  9. Oh, I am doing all my traveling vicariously through you! I'm a little surprised that Thailand wasn't oozing with vegan food. I always assume that Asian countries eat more veg food than meat. But, then I think about the fishing industry...and others. I would have a hard time, like you, visiting some of those "sanctuaries," too, like the birds. We'd hold hands together and run. :-)

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    1. I hope not all your traveling is done vicariously through me since I don't travel that much and I wouldn't want you to get bored.

      There were a lot of veggies in our food, but not so much in our friends' food. Thai people prefer to eat meat and seafood except 10 days per year during the vegetarian festival, which is probably the best time to visit.

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  10. What a great opportunity to travel, and what a colorful trip! Wat Phra Rattana Mahatat looks so impressive and brilliant. Mental note to self: never point feet at the Buddha! :D

    The Grand Palace complex looks spectacular indeed. Everything is so bright and colorful. I think my brain would have shut down with all that there is there to take in!

    The bird garden and the museum with the fish tanks sound awful! :(

    I had never heard of Jim Thompson or his disappearance before. I wonder if they will ever figure out what happened to him?

    You were very brave and adventurous to ride the tuk tuk. My scaredy-cat self is very impressed!

    The food you were served looks very tasty (and abundant!), except for the weird looking icy fruit bowl thing.

    I'm glad you survived the heat and the tuk tuk ride! Hopefully if you visit again you will be able to go to the elephant sanctuary. Thank you for sharing your adventures and gorgeous pictures!

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    1. Thailand is very colorful, for sure — even the buses are painted with extravagant illustrations, cabs are bright pink, etc. But the temples, while ornate, are peaceful and soothing. At least I think so.

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  11. Would you believe BW got a spam from that online Grand Palace a couple days ago?? Maybe they're not singling you out. Or maybe they're not only singling you out, they're somehow tracking down the spouses of your blog visitors! (I'm noticing more and more targeted ads lately, clearly based on recent online purchases. Not too savvy, really - if I just bought a reel mower, why would I be interested in reel mower ads NOW? Duh.)

    Wow, I am half-blinded by the dazzling gold of the seemingly endless array of Buddhas! It was almost restful to gaze upon those ungilded ones for a change! They're all really something, I imagine that as stunning as they are, photos cannot adequately capture the experience of seeing them in real life. How wonderful that you got to!

    Funny, we don't mind in the least when our guests wander off on their own if that's what they feel comfortable doing. We've often functioned happily as a "base camp" for visitors (even guests from abroad), and have been the same sort of guests when visiting our friends in England. And of course we also enjoy being tour-guides and tour-guided. It's the freedom to do both that we like, so the rebel in me applauds your renegade independent explorations. :-)

    I didn't see any "abundance" Buddhas, the ones with the copious bellies that it's supposed to be good fortune to rub! I wonder which country those are chiefly found in. I really enjoyed the part about the Buddha factory, and cannot imagine doing that sort of work in that heat and dust! I was most fascinated with the elderly Buddha. He really stands (or sits, as the case may be!) out among the others. In fact, he reminds me more of Confucius than of the Buddha. Did you know the story about that one?

    Okay, there's still lots of this post left, so this will have to be a multi-part comment again. Sometimes I think I should leave comments like the ones I get from a few of my fellow SkyWatchers and just write, "Great photos!" or "Interesting post!" But where's the fun in that? :-)

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    1. Yes, the targeted ads, especially for things I've purchased, definitely are annoying.

      I don't mind when my guest wander off, either, unless they wander off so much we start to feel like a B&B. But we're not worrying about our guests getting run over or ... I don't know what they were worried about. The Thai people are so kind and generous they were probably worried they weren't providing enough hospitality.

      Not sure what the elderly figure is but it could be one of the kings. More about that in the next post.

      I love your long responses, and wouldn't want to change them. Short ones are good too when people don't have time to leave longer ones. Just taking the time to acknowledge having read the post is appreciated!

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  12. I'm glad you love my long responses. As your reward, here is Part Deux. :-)

    Oh dear. I don't understand! Fish in a folk art museum? (Traps too, for that matter??) I could just picture the big fish stuck in the small tanks in that oppressively hot room (and I'm envisioning murky water), and all I can think of is the part in Ishmael where he describes the tiger in the roadside zoo who paces back and forth within the confines of his very small cage all day, every day, thinking nothing the entire time but, "Why? Why" Why?" over and over and over. And that's what I imagine is going through the minds of those poor imprisoned fish. Someone needs to tell Pema Chödrön, so her monastery in Nova Scotia, which does a lobster release every year (more feel-good symbolic than revolutionary, but I suppose it beats doing nothing), can go to Thailand and start a fish release program! And then a bird release one, too. How very upsetting!! I guess your hosts never got the concept of veganism beyond perhaps the food. (Happens here too, of course!) I wish you could have avoided ever knowing about those places, but they'd still exist and who knows, maybe there's a reason you were meant to learn of them first-hand...

    What intrigue at the Wat that Wasn't! I wonder what that lengthy discussion was all about, and why they abandoned the plan and didn't return to it like they'd said! But wait - maybe they noticed your reaction to the fish and bird captives and had a lightbulb moment, because was it the Vegetarian Buddhist Temple they took you to instead??

    Those noodles do look yummy! I had to learn to "see no evil" when it came to kitchen hygiene in a few Costa Rican "sodas" (roadside food stands). Guess we lived. :-)

    So did you get to "shake a stick" too? Or was that only for the Buddhists? I wish they'd do that at Chinese restaurants instead of handing out the fortune cookies I used to love but that aren't vegan. I wonder what sorts of fortunes they offered. "You will soon travel a great distance" or "Learn to live in the moment" or something useful like "You should go free the fish and birds and earn good Karma?" :-)

    Are those beautiful photos with all the flowers and lanterns at the Buddhist temple too? So pretty! And the view of the rice paddies, also taken there? It looks like you took that photo from the top of a mountain! (And yes, I'd heard about the high lead content in rice from China, etc, I think on a Dr. Greger video. So upsetting! We don't eat a lot of rice (and we only eat Lundberg Farms organic rice) but dammit - between the GMOs, toxins, and microbial contamination from livestock manure, they need to stop screwing up our food!

    The photo of the dog and the information you shared is heartbreaking. I hope you're right, I hope they do get fed at the temples - too bad they can't get spayed, neutered, wormed and vaccinated there as well! And given a comfy bed to sleep in. *sigh*

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    1. Fish in a folkart museum is unexpected. I avoid aquariums for all the reasons you mention. While some tanks are large, most are not.

      I didn't shake the sticks, but I did hear some of the fortunes. Unfortunately (!) I don't remember them but they were far more complex than fortune cookie one-liners, and seemed to resonate with the seekers.

      Yes, the outdoor patios were all part of the Buddhist complex, and I took the rice patty shot from the patio. We were very high up but I'm not sure it could be called a mountain — more like a high hillside.

      Too bad that Lundburg organic rice contains arsenic. We used to eat a lot more rice than we do now, though I think we consume more rice noodles so I'm not sure if we're getting less arsenic or more.

      I've been reading lately about dogs being gathered up and used for food. People are so cruel sometimes.

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  13. This all sounds so fascinating! As it was for you, it would be hard for me to sit idly by and wait to see where/how my trip would unfold. When you spend a lot of your life navigating restaurants as a vegan, it's hard to sit back and let someone else drive. I'm glad that you were well fed, and the whole experience sounds interesting, even if it wasn't the vacation you would have planned. I've never been to Thailand, and so this is an especially fascinating peek into another part of the world!

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    1. Exactly! Great trip, planned by our kind and generous hosts.

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