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Wat Hapnin? Wi-Fi On Hold; Search Ping Of Siam Later Joe

December 26th, 2011 · Tags:Arts · Cities

When I signed up to help with flooding recovery in Thailand, my thoughts immediately went to the bright lights of Bangkok — the modern, international city and the well-known seamy dark side as well — an adventure … mystique.

However, as I got more details, my assignment was actually in Ayutthaya City, an hour and a half north of Bangkok. Today, Ayutthaya is a bustling, sprawling mid-sized city, crawling with a million motorbikes and almost as many factories … major electronics and automotive players that opened shop here for an affordable, skilled work force and a fairly central location for distribution purposes.

These companies obviously didn’t foresee the events of 2011 — flooding from July to December, with damages estimated at $45 billion. During the annual rainy season, the Chao Phraya and Mekong river basins swelled well beyond capacity. In addition, one theory is that a bureaucratic decision manipulated the water’s flow at the dams in an attempt to prevent major flooding in Bangkok down river. You might say Ayutthaya took one for the team … a big one … the fourth costliest disaster recorded. Oh … and by the way, Thailand is the world’s leading exporter of rice. Pick up The Journal or one of the other financial papers to see estimates of worldwide economic impact.
So, hundreds of factories and businesses sat under nine feet of water or more, for weeks on end.

The Dirty Gig — the mission we chose to accept — is a grimy, sludge-filled waterworld of slime. Near one of our hotels, the locals are said to have seen and killed a large alligator, a flood borne visitor. In my current location — a manufacturing plant — we have been warned of cobras around the perimeter … eek!

My duties have taken me to a couple of factories, first supervising computer factory workers as they pressure wash and try to save their company. Now, I have moved to a manufacturing company where I am dismantling, cleaning and reassembling large cabinets with multiple hard drives. Yes … more than a little nervous about where all those coiled wires go … And you bet your arse I think about those cobras every time I open one of the metal boxes …

Outside, the city is flat. Because of the drying mud, it is extremely dusty. With the temporary and perhaps impending permanent closure of some factories, the city is under sever financial duress.  There is standing water remaining in the fields and in the ditches.  It is common to see guys fishing in the ditch, out in front of a gas station convenience store.

All of this is to say that I expected my Christmas getaway to be a little more glamorous than this industrial sump.

Welcome to Thailand.


However, with a little research, it became clear. This area is a gold mine of rich, rich culture. I have seen several brochures printed for tourists in Bangkok — enticing them to do a day excursion to Ayutthaya. Well … HA! I am already here!

Why would people drive from Bangkok to Ayutthaya?

Well, I’ll tell you … from the 14th through 18th centuries, Ayutthaya was the capitol of what Westerners called Siam. That’s right movie buffs, this contemporary, industrial city was once the jewel … the origin of the dynasty featured in the musical and the film versions of “The King and I.” (Yes i first typed “The Ping and I.”)

So … now things are looking up a little.

Because of its accessibility to China, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and more, this place is perfectly located for trade. It has been a hotspot of wealth, culture and religion. And, fyi, the first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Ramuthibodi made Theravada Buddhism the official religion.

Later, in the 1500s, those ever-opportunistic master traders the Portuguese established a colony, however, Thailand is the only Southeast Asia state to remain independent of European colonial rule. Ayutthaya is thought to have been the largest city in the world in the 1700s with a population of one million. (After a military coup in 1932. Thailand transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy … after more than 33 kings.)  Yes … there is some history here.

The city is surrounded by three rivers and therefor considered an island. The water that nearly destroyed the place in 2011, provided natural protection and trade avenues historically.

Nevertheless … bummer … The Burmese burned Ayutthaya in 1767.

But the fire and the floods have done little to erode the timeless treasure of Ayutthaya – the numerous historical ruins, and several magnificent wats — temples, monasteries or other sacred Buddhist sites — around the city. Collectively, the ruins throughout the city form a historical park which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

Bronze Buddha In Wihan Phramongkhon Bophit

Bronze Buddha

Ah “‘wat’ the hell.”  I can’t resist.  This is a perfect place to insert one of my favorite childhood jokes.  You see, back in Texas there was a gentleman name “Watt.”  He owned and operated a gasoline station in my hometown … So, anytime someone would ask the rhetorical “You know what?”  We would always respond by saying, “Yes, he runs the Texaco.”

I digress …

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

So, this Dirty Gig has a shiny side too. After a week wading in filth, I strapped on the Nikon, hopped on a three-wheeled tuk tuk (taxi) and went wat hopping … without Wi-Fi. (But of course, there will be more about Wi-Fi in future posts …)

Know what I sayin?

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Rachaburana