Lopburi, Thailand

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I spent my last few days in Chiang Mai attending yoga workshops and exchanging Facebook messages with my mom during the Cubs games.  Then it was time to start heading south to Nakhon Si Thammarat to begin my new life there.  I bid farewell as unceremoniously as possible by stealing a move out of my uncle Joe’s playbook.  In spite of being a Greenberg, the Joe goodbye can be summed up as the antithesis to the notoriously laborious classical Greenberg goodbye.  It goes something like this:  1)  Proclaim that your departure is imminent, devoid of any sentimentality.  2)  Employ a casual gesture of goodwill, such as a wave, but preferably a salute.  3)  Proceed directly to your Mazda Miata and get the heck outta Dodge.  (In my case, the getaway vehicle was the #2 Special Express overnight train to Bangkok.  As usual, I am not as cool as Joe.)

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I had purchased a ticket for a second class sleeper through an internet booking agency called 12 Go Asia, as there is currently no way to buy tickets online directly from the State Railway of Thailand.  To ensure you get a bed, reserve your spot several days—ideally, weeks—in advance, up to sixty days ahead of time.  Partway into the journey, the upper berths, which look like the overhead compartments on an airplane when stowed, were lowered to be prepped for bedtime, and the seats were folded down to set up the lower berths.  I slept in an upper berth, which at my height of a little under five foot three I found to be quite spacious and comfortable.  Not sure how my taller friends and relatives would fare, but I welcome them to come to Thailand and try it for themselves!  Shout out to my six foot seven Norwegian cousin Lars, who would like everyone to know that he does not play basketball, even though he looks like Joakim Noah.

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Rather than going straight to Bangkok, which is not my favorite city in the world, I wanted to stop in Lopburi on the way.  This meant waking up before 4AM.  Of course the train was late, and we didn’t get there until a little before five.  I waited in the station for a while until the sun came up and then walked over to Noom’s Guesthouse.  It wasn’t open yet, so I sat down at a table outside.  In order to watch the baseball game, I needed to find an internet connection, and the clock was ticking.  Always resourceful in a pinch, I discovered the wifi password on a slip of paper inside a menu.  Here’s me watching Javy Báez make a clutch play.  He has made so many this postseason that I can’t remember which one this was.

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Despite its convenient location along a popular train route, Lopburi doesn’t see many foreigners, which is one reason I would recommend a stopover here.  It’s a small town, and one day is all it takes to do a leisurely walking tour of the major attractions.  Most people come to Lopburi to be entertained by its flourishing monkey population, and rightly so.  But don’t overlook the opportunity to experience a slice of Thai culture unfettered by the usual tourist trappings.  The people of Lopburi are some of the friendliest I’ve met on my whole trip.

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None of the travel websites or books I regularly refer to indicated that Phra Narai Ratchaniwet, the seventeenth century palace which also houses the town’s museum, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  So now you know!  However, the two security guards at the entrance told me I was free to wander around the grounds, and naturally they wanted me to pose for a photo op with them.  The next time this happens, which no doubt will be very soon, I’ll have to get a picture with my camera, too.

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Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in Thailand.  An ancient human settlement was thought to have been established here between 3,500 and 4,500 years ago. The Dvaravati period circa the seventh to eleventh centuries saw the rise of Theravada Buddhism, followed by Brahminism and Mahayana Buddhism when Lopburi was ruled by the Khmer.  During the Ayutthaya period, King Narai the Great made Lopburi the second capital of the Ayutthaya kingdom.  I wrote a blog post about the city of Ayutthaya when I first came to Thailand three months ago.

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French and Italian architects were hired to design the palace, which is why the buildings feature so many arches.  In comparison with Ayutthaya and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, these ruins are not particularly spectacular, but they make for a pleasant diversion.  I was a tad disappointed to miss out on the museum, because I’ve read that it’s worthwhile.

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Science has proven that nothing puts the cool in gelato quite like a nerdy old Jewish guy named “Ice Stein.”  I didn’t experiment with their frozen concoctions, but I had to laugh when I noticed the Christmas wreath on the door.  Do they know it’s Yom Kippur?

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Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!  Phra Prang Sam Yod is home to a ridiculously huge troop of monkeys.  Every year, Lopburi throws a festival with a banquet feast for all the local simians.  Talk about party animals!

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Quieting the monkey mind through meditation

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There I was, minding my own business, when out of nowhere a monkey jumps onto my backpack and grabs my sunscreen from the open side pocket.  If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that I do not monkey around with my sunscreen.  You can steal my phone, you can steal my other phone, but my sunscreen?  ¡No, mijito!  No one makes a monkey out of me!

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Monkey see, monkey do.  As soon as one monkey would lose interest in chewing through the plastic once it realized that its contents was not edible, another would come along and take a crack at it.  For a brief moment, all this monkey business died down long enough for a staff member to swipe the sunscreen back for me.  Now I still carry the same bottle in the side pocket of my backpack, except it has to be turned upside down so the sunscreen doesn’t leak out of the monkey bite hole in the bottom.

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Eventually, I grew tired of having a monkey on my back, literally.  After I was nearly robbed of my sunscreen, I put all of my stuff inside my backpack and zipped it up tight, but the monkeys still kept jumping on me, one after the other.  Repeat this about seven times, and I went bananas.  I caged myself inside the ruins where they couldn’t get to me through the bars.  Who’s running this zoo, anyhow?

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Actually, they’re pretty stinkin’ cute.

 

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Another thing that constantly happens to me in Thailand is when English students approach me for school assignments.  This time, two girls from a local university interviewed me, and their friend recorded it on video.  They were really sweet and even gave me a little stuffed monkey as a gift for helping them.  I have a few monkey jokes left, but I’ll spare you the misery and end this post without any fanfare.  Instead of some sappy, drawn-out goodbye, I’ll borrow a classic line from my uncle Joe:  “Alright kids, I’m gonna take off.”  It’s cooler when Joe says it.


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