It was a market, a place where you buy stuff naturally— but I wasn’t interested in acquiring things that I wouldn’t be able to keep. The sound of people bargaining rose and fell as I made my way down the planked walkway. I slipped past people admiring the goods in each booth, my position inches from open air and water.
Did I mention that the market was a floating one? It’s called the Ayutthaya Floating Market and Elephant Village.
Beyond the sharp smell of exotic baked goods lingered the subtle scents of a lake. Shuffling along I noticed the fish slipping through the water beneath the planks, making a lively carpet.
A cannon fired.
I straightened as curiosity coursed through my blood as energetically as a shot of adrenaline. Or maybe it was a touch of adrenaline, I couldn’t be sure.
I spun around looking for the source of the explosive noise. As my eyes skipped along they were caught by the sight of two people being confronted by a man in leather armer.
And exquisitely pointed shoes.
He sneered at the visitors and then allowed them to pass.
I found the entrance to the bridge and stepped forward to confront the troll-mimicker myself.
He gave me his trademark sneer but wouldn’t let me pass. I cocked my head in confusion, wondering if I had to pay him and what I would be paying for. He made a ripping-apart gesture and said, “boom.”
A man behind him scuttled about and another waved a stick set aflame. Leaning to the left I spotted a small cannon behind the guardian of the bridge and caught his drift.
I covered my ears and watched with wide-eyed fascination as the cannon was lit.
While smoke poured from the cannon the guardian stepped aside, waving for me to enter.
I felt like a wayward traveller caught in the midst of a battle in a foreign land. Curiosity led me forward, my eyes scouted for the main event and my fingers itched as they anticipated describing whatever I would witness next. Peering from around a pillar as I would from a tree at the edge of a forest, I gasped at the scene before me.
People were being slaughtered. Defenceless and frightened they fell like vines before a machete.
Those who lived were then dragged from the stage by their long, limp hair. A man hidden beneath a coat of dark armour surveyed the devastation with satisfaction dancing on his lips.
He then called forth… a cockerel?
Puzzled I watched as another armoured man stepped stately onto the stage and waved another cockerel forward.
The two birds began to fight.
The fight was as dazzling as an approaching thunderstorm. The two birds circled, randomly striking lighting jabs at each other before clashing heads in a dipping dance.
Weeks after witnessing the play I’d go online and dig through my memory. I’d heard of a famous cockerel fight before… but where had I heard it? Who was it connected to again? Sighing in exasperation at my fickle memory I tried my hand at consulting Google; when your memory is as terrible as mine you quickly learn how to correctly manipulate Google’s searching capacity.
In moments I found what I was, well who, I was looking for: Naresuan the Great. He’s a Thai national hero for basically winning his country’s independence (once called Siam) from the then-brutally-powerful Burmese kingdom (known as Myanmar today).
In 1592 he and Minchit Sra (the Crown Prince of Burma) fought each other from their elephants (yes ELEPHANTS) and Naresuan won when he cut the prince in half from shoulder to waist (according to the story of Yuttahadhi: The Elephant Battle).
But, now I’m off topic.
So the story that this play reminded me of is one from Naresuan’s youth.
As a kid he was held hostage in the then-Burmese-capital, Hongsawadi, and so grew up alongside the Burmese Crown Prince.
They had this royal cockerel fight at one point and Naresuan’s cockerel won. Frustrated the Burmese Crown Prince called his playmate’s cockerel a “war slave animal” and at that moment Naresuan truly comprehended his and his people’s subordination to the Burmese. He dove into studying Burmese military tactics, was eventually sent home to Siam in exchange for a sister who became a royal consort for the Burmese king, and then eventually turned on the Burmese.
History continued to unfold and ultimately led to the great elephant battle and then victory.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of killing and fighting to be had between the two events.
The photo above, while looking completely serious during this capture was actually hilarious. I’m sure you noticed the sumo-type gentleman in the photos above—the one with the safari hat, shades and tumbling belly (you can see him laying on the ground by the cannon in this photo)?
He provided laughs throughout the play, humour that translated across all languages.
At the moment of the photo he had fallen off the stage and into the straw that littered the floor. After rolling a bit he came to a stop and lay still. A siren sounded and these two fierce men came barrelling into the scene, grasping a stretcher between them.
They set the stretcher down, grunted as they strained to roll the fallen comedian onto it and grabbed the two ends once more. Snapping up they took off with two poles, ripped fabric and empty space. The poor stretcher had given up before it’d even started!
As they dashed off the comedian lifted his head in surprise, gathered himself up and chased after them, calling for them to come back!
Of course, the clouds rolled through once more as the play turned violent again.
A great swashbuckling battle took place right before the audience, and I mean RIGHT before the audience. The performers kept glancing back to make sure they wouldn’t smack anyone by accident! Swords clashed, limbs were struck and the fighting ebbed and flowed.
And the pouring of water? That would make sense because Naresuan the Great is often depicted pouring water onto the ground as he proclaimed Ayutthaya’s independence.
Upon the show’s completion I was then instantly recruited and have been travelling with this group ever since.
Just kidding, I’m a pacifist at heart. 😀
P.s. This event was FREE!
They only asked for donations afterward and they totally deserved it.