Saturday, December 5, 2009

country fairs, thai style

Prang Sam Yot, the 1,000 year old Khmer temple is the main attraction in Lopburi.

In recent emails to friends, I mentioned that I had gone to a Monkey Festival last weekend and thinking it was somehow self explanatory, I did not elaborate. When they immediately wrote back...Monkey Festival?????...and wanted to know what, exactly, was a Monkey Festival, I knew that I had achieved a certain degree of cultural acclimatization. Welcome to Thailand where amazing happenings are an everyday thing. The monkey festival is basically a tourist attraction but at its heart is the buddhist practice of making merit or Tamboon. To gain points you feed monks, help the sick, release captives or look after animals. The big event at the monkey festival is feeding the macaque monkeys that live around the temple.

The trip to Lopburi where the Festival was being held was sparked by a plan to rendezvous with my friend's charming neice who has a 6 month teaching stint in Thailand. She was going to the festival with some friends, so I thought it would make a good place to meet. My friends Bon and Mike made arrangements for the hire their brother-in-law's brand spanking new taxi and I talked them into coming along for the ride. I had companionship, Thai interpretation, tour guide services and a stream of interesting conversation. All the makings of a perfect road trip.

As we got closer, I wondered if we had the right temple. I didn't see any monkeys.

And then I saw the stonework move. The little critters were everywhere.

The place was infested. Crawling with 'em. I could hardly tell what was monkey body and what was stone.

Ever since the great 1993 Pant Removal Incident in Bali, when my shorts got between a monkey and a pocketful of peanuts, I have given monkeys a pretty wide berth. Their teeth are sharp and they know how to use them. One of them briefly used me a springboard while I was busy taking a photo but I kept my shorts on.

I really should have been worried about the monkeys without hair. While I was taking this shot, someone was busy slicing open my bag with a razor. Miraculously, they did not get a thing. Camera, money and phone...all remained in the bag.

Bon led us in to pay our respects at another temple where we lit incense and placed little gold leaf squares on the Buddha figures.

The monkey festival coincided with the Sunflower festival and we drove through fields of yellow.

Sunflower fairgrounds were set up along the roadside where the fields were in bloom. Like other fall fairs, it's all about the harvest and tables were set out selling toasted sunflowers hot out of the wok, rice wine and all manner of sunflower bric-a-brac.

Instead of wagon rides, you climbed up on an elephant for an amble. I just caught the top of this guy.

And they had birdmen too. I was hoping to come across one of these merit salesmen in my Thailand travels. These guys do a steady trade in catch and release. They get these little sparrows into cages and you pay for the privilege of giving them their freedom. Talk about a business with a low environmental impact. I put my baht down for a box of three and Bon went whole hog and bought a half dozen.

Bon told me I had to make a wish before I let them go, so I thought of Susan who has been so recently released from the cage of her loneliness. I wished that she will fly free in the clear blue sky until the end of time.


Susan said...

Merci mon ami !! snowy skies here today but lots of blue, blue sky forecast. loveya xo s

Big Shamu said...

Awwwwww that's so sweet. Wait where are you? It sure looks like Kansas with all those sunflowers. Hmmm, maybe I'll try a catch and release pigeon program to make some extra money. Why pigeons instead of sparrows? Heck, we're Americans, we do everything bigger. (not to mention deep fry everything)