Way back in the beginning of September, we took a field trip to the small town of Phimai to see one of the finest surviving Angkor temple complexes in all of Thailand. This turned out to be an amazing trip; I think I can comfortably say it was the best field trip we have taken all season. Of course it’s been busy here, and without a doubt I have been procrastinating like crazy, but finally I am ready to tell the story. It was Sunday, Sept. 1 and we had almost no frogs at the time. I think we may have had 1 pair in the shed - that was it. The Upper Dam Pond was dry, and we had pretty much all day to do whatever we pleased. That seems like ages ago now that the UDP is overflowing with water and we have housed over 150 clutches in the shed since then. Oh how the times have changed. Anyhow, we started the day around 10 am or so, and we headed to Korat first to grab some lunch. We decided to stop at a nice little café called Café 16, which advertised some of their menu items in English. Boy am I glad we did!
|Inside Cafe 16|
It was a quaint little place that was fashionably decorated with empty glass bottles and other things you wouldn't let a toddler touch. They had comfortable chairs with fluffy pillows, and the menu was in English and Thai, which is always nice. It gets better. I opened the menu and on the first page I saw what I had been craving for many weeks… Pizza! Needless to say I had no trouble making up my mind. We got some drinks, and then relaxed and perused the guidebook to see what we had in store for us that afternoon. I have become a huge believer in green tea since I've been here, and I've even learned how to order it in Thai! Here they make it very green, and usually with lots of milk… I think it’s delicious. J
|Green is good!|
While we were waiting, I read up a bit on Phimai and its history, so I will share a bit of that with you now. All of this comes from my Lonely Planet guidebook; I would be so lost without it.
Phimai was once located on an ancient Khmer trade route, and it linked Angkor Wat with some of the more northern reaches of the territory. Building started in the late 10th century by Khmer King Jayavarman V and was finished by his successor King Suriyavarman (could you imagine his mom yelling that out when she’s angry?) in the 11th century. It’s a Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist temple, so they’ve covered their religious bases. Around this time period, the pizza arrived.
After we were all finished and extremely satisfied with our meal, we piled back into the car to continue on our journey. Just the pizza alone would have been enough to make this day wonderful, but it only got better. We arrived at the ruins a little after noon, and it was pretty hot outside. So we decided to kill some time and educate ourselves while enjoying free air conditioning in the visitor center.
Inside there were actually a number of nice displays informing you about the park’s history. Most of the exhibits had English transcriptions as well as Thai, although some of the translations may have needed an edit or two. At one point they used the word defecate instead of decapitate, oops. We learned a bit more than the guidebook told us though, such as the fact that Phimai was Thailand’s biggest Mahayana Buddhist temple, and that Angkor Wat was actually modeled after it. That last part might be wishful thinking, but who knows. They had a bunch of ancient artifacts on display as well, which was neat.
|Prehistoric tools at the visitor center|
After a while of meandering around the halls of the visitor center, we ventured back outside to explore the ruins. Just like we saw at Phanom Rung, one of the first features of the temple was a naga bridge that led to the entrance of the temple. As we crossed over this symbolic passage between heaven and earth, we entered the temple on the south side of the complex. This is unusual, since most Khmer temples face east.
|Temple worker sweeping the naga bridge|
Once inside, we discovered lots of ancient window frames (that’s the best way I can describe them) that were perfect for photo shoots. There were also long hallways with empty door frames, offering lots of cool opportunities for artistic pictures. Unfortunately I don’t have a very good eye for things like that, but I imagine the people who are in charge of taking senior portraits would have a field day at this place.
|Fit to be framed!|
Once inside the temple, we took even more pictures (of course) and goofed off quite a bit. It was nice to have ample time to explore. Since the temple is located within the Nakhon Ratchisma (Korat) province, it was only a little over an hour’s drive from Sakaerat… so we were in no rush.
|Entering the temple...|
There were many similarities between this sanctuary and the one at Phanom Rung, which isn't surprising considering they were both constructed in somewhat similar time periods by the same society. Detailed art adorned the rafters above our heads as we entered the center of the temple complex, where a tall monument stood solemnly. Pigeons flitted about, attempting to squeeze in a nest here or there in the various nooks and crannies, despite the wire mesh designed to deter them.
|Wai, Hello there!|
As we approached, we passed through a grassy courtyard that featured a series of large ancient stone pits that were presumably once the location of lovely lotus pools, similar to the ones we saw at Prasat Muang Tam.
The center shrine, constructed of white sandstone and standing approximately 28 meters tall… stood out quite clearly above the rest of the temple. Even though we were there on a Sunday, there weren’t too many people there. Most of the people that were there were Thai, since this place isn’t exactly on the well-worn tourist track. That made the experience even better!
Throughout the temple, we saw workers raking leaves or sweeping the walkways. Some guys were even up on a ladder near the main tower, fixing some bricks. It’s no wonder this place is renowned as one of the best-maintained Khmer ruins in Thailand. Clearly these people took pride in it, as they should. According to my guidebook, the place was originally restored by the Fine Arts Department… pretty nifty.
As we approached the inner courtyard, we passed through an arched gateway that was part of a rectangular gallery surrounding the center of the temple. There were various placards throughout the temple explaining the significance of the different forms of architecture. Most of them seemed to say a lot, without really saying anything at all. I think something must have been lost in the translation.
|Approaching the center...|
Once inside, we thoroughly explored the various structures inside the center courtyard surrounding the main tower. Within one of the many prangs, there was an armless statue sitting cross-legged and leaning forward slightly, looking quite pensive. According to my guidebook, this was not actually a meditating Buddha as I first thought, but a stone replica of the Angkor King Jayavarman VII.
|A somber silhouette|
Inside the main tower, there were other statues and one of my favorite features… more ornate lintels that told stories of ancient Hindu and Buddhist deities. Playing Pictionary with these guys would be intense!
|An ancient battle immortalized|
The outside of the temple was no less ornate, with many of the outer walls being exquisitely carved. They were so detailed and striking, that I think they were probably replicas of the original carvings. Still, they were quite captivating and very attractive… especially to Sara.
|Hmmm... how did they do it?!|
In the spirit of being super tourist-y, we took some group photos to document our time together on this marvelous day. Some were sillier than others…
|Are we having fun yet?|
We wandered around the grassy courtyard area surrounding the main temple for quite a while, each of us attempting to take the perfect shot. I made many attempts, even going so far as to lay down on the grass to get a different angle, but most of them ended up looking the same. Still, my motto is always to take more pictures rather than less… since you can always delete them later (which I never do) but you can never go back and take more.
|The primary prang, the main monument, the center shrine... this is it!|
I fooled around with my panoramic setting for a bit, to try to capture the total size of the courtyard. The outer wall apparently stretches 565 m x 1030 m, so there was quite a sizable amount of room to goof around in within the walls. This place would be an epic setting for some lawn games. I wonder if they ever hosted any ancient family reunions here. You never know!
|Lawn darts, anyone?|
After a while of relaxing in the grass and taking lots of pictures, we exited out of the north entrance of the temple to investigate a small building just outside the walls. I believe it was just a fancy backdoor, minus the door. I bet all the people who didn’t want to buy tickets to the temple would sneak in here.
|Backdoor to the temple|
Looking back towards the temple from this angle provided some pretty awesome views of the area though, and it’s easy to see from here why Phimai is featured on so many postcards. Some of you may have even gotten a postcard from me with this view (or one very similar) on it!
|Old-timey setting is appropriate for an ancient place|
We took a couple more group shots from this angle, thanks again to the self-timer setting on the camera and a few precariously placed rocks. This one is my favorite.
|What a lovely bunch!|
After a while, we left the temple and headed to a nearby café to grab some refreshing drinks and relax in the air-conditioning while there. Of course we were cracking jokes and fooling around like we always are, which led Rooney to make the fantastic one-liner that I have used in the title of this blog. She deserves full credit for such a fantastic pun. This is the face of a super-genius.
|"That's so funny, it almost made me Phimai pants!"|
Hahaha what a great one. Anyhow, I’ll get on with the story. We left the café and decided to go try to find a place that was listed in the guidebook called Sai Ngam. Lonely Planet described it as Thailand’s largest and oldest banyan tree… so I bugged the others to take a detour so that we could go see it. We had a bit of trouble finding it though, and ended up going in circles for a while. We explored a few back roads, and found these dudes out for their afternoon stroll.
|Why did the cows cross the road? ... To get to the MOOOOvies!|
Eventually we found the turn that we had managed to pass by at least twice, and we pulled into the parking lot quite relieved. According to the guidebook, this tree… which is really was more like a bunch of trees intertwined, is over 350-years old. I was amazed. It was really hard to capture the magnitude and greatness of this place on camera, but I tried. The whole place was more like a forest than one tree.
|Within the "Beautiful Banyon"|
|Wood ya look at that!|
But to truly appreciate this breath-taking tree, I couldn’t just stay on the ground. I had to climb it!! So I scampered up into the trees faster than Sheila could say “Squirrel!” I was in heaven. I love climbing trees, but this was something else. It was like an entire playground up in the sky.
|It doesn't get better than this!|
I wanted to sneak up on the others since they had gotten further ahead of Sheila and I, but the network was so huge that I had to get down and walk… they were far away and unfortunately I can’t scamper through trees faster than I can walk. So I dropped back down, careful to avoid being seen by some of the nearby Thai worshipers in case they found my behaviors offensive. We strolled through the shaded pathway until I spotted the other three by the edge of the reservoir.
|A walk in the woods|
I clambered back up into the trees to try to surprise them, but Sara spotted me. So then I switched tactics to trying to get everyone to climb the trees with me, instead of just calling me crazy from down below. Eventually I was successful!
|Sara and Sheila, sittin' in a tree...|
I was bounding about the trees like a monkey who has just escaped from the zoo. I had plenty of hoots and hollers to match. The only thing slowing me down was the need to pay attention to the trails of large fearsome red ants marching throughout the branches, but I was so happy I hardly paid them any mind. A few bites here and there weren't going to ruin this magical place.
|Just hanging out!|
I was having so much fun, I hardly noticed that I was working up quite a sweat. I’m gonna go out on a limb here (did you really think I wasn't gonna use that one?) and say that this was the best part of the day, by far.
|This is the real jungle gym|
Some parts of the tree actually extended out over the water, so of course I had to go and scope it out.
|I could live up here|
Alas, eventually it was time for us to leave… so I slipped down from the branches and said goodbye to this magical forest. I felt like a little kid or a dog, very happy and worn out from playing at his favorite park all day.
|"May the Forest be with you!"|
Speaking of dogs, this little guy greeted us as we exited. He looked like he could use a friend.
|"I like you. You like me? You are my friend?"|
But alas, there’s a strict no-pet policy at Sakaerat, so we couldn't take him with us… even though I was very tempted. On the way home I relaxed and thought about how lucky I am to be here, in such a beautiful place with such great people. I've grown used to driving on the left side of the road and seeing buffalo in the fields as we drive by. I’m not looking forward to having to say goodbye to it all so soon.
|Buffalo grazing in the countryside|
On the way home, we stopped for dinner in Korat… and while we were trying to find one of the places listed in the guidebook, we ended up stumbling upon a restaurant named “Hansa” which we all thought was an awesome coincidence, given that the species of frog we’re stuying is named hansanae. So of course we ate there, and it was actually quite nice. Good food, excellent service, and a tropical atmosphere.
After dinner, Sheila treated us to dessert (she is too kind) and then when returned to Sakaerat to resume our froggy duties. This was definitely a day to remember. Until next time, Peace out!