Tag Archives: Thailand

Temple Run in Ancient Ayutthaya

About 70 kilometers outside of Bangkok, is the city of Ayutthaya, the ancient, former capital of Thailand. It is currently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is managed as a historical park.

Clockwise from top right: The reclining buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam; The most popular scene in Wat Mahathat of the buddha head enwrapped by tree roots. As a sign of respect, when taking pictures, you mus not stand over the Buddha head; The wide expanse of Wat Chaiwatthanaram; One of the very few intact buddha figures in Wat Maha That

Clockwise from top right: The reclining buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam; The most popular scene in Wat Mahathat of the buddha head enwrapped by tree roots. As a sign of respect, when taking pictures, you must not stand over the Buddha head; The wide expanse of Wat Chaiwatthanaram; One of the very few intact buddha figures in Wat Maha That

The city was founded in 1350 by King U-thong but was razed to the ground by the Burmese Army in 1767, consequently prompting Bangkok to be proclaimed the new capital. Yet, to this day, one can still see traces of the grandeur that must have been Ayutthaya.

I reached Ayutthaya from Bangkok via minivan stationed at the Victory Monument. I left about noon time and reached the former capital in about an hour for 70 Baht (versus a cab service offered to me, priced at 1000 Baht roundtrip). There are a lot of temples, monasteries and interesting sites in Ayutthaya and should take an entire day at the very least to enjoy. But, since I was pressed for time and could only spare the afternoon at the time before flying back home by evening, I had to make the most of what few hours I had left. So I hired a tuk-tuk and a guide to take me to the temple sites at 200 Baht an hour which wasn’t such a bad going rate from what I’ve read and researched.

A map of Ayutthaya and the list of the stops within the historical park.

I only made it to 5 sites because I wanted to take my time and enjoy the experience especially at the sprawling Wat Chaiwatthanaram, where I found myself enchanted, sitting on the seemingly-endless grounds of the wat, listening to the echoes of birds chirping and basking in the afternoon sun, all the while doing my very best to ignore the unforgiving, oven-like heat and humidity. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So please, join me in reliving my experience with the pictures below. I’ve posted a picture link of a map I found online which will show you a list of all the temples and stops within the city, should you find it helpful.

Wat Maha That

Built in Khmer -style architecture, this temple is quite possibly the oldest one on the block.

One of the satellite viharas. The blackened pieces of rubble were once figures of Buddha.

Background: One of the satellite viharas. Foreground: The blackened pieces of rubble were once figures of Buddha.

Wat Benchamabophit

A little more recent among the other temples, this wat was built some time in the 1900’s hence the more modern architecture.

In retrospect, I should have gone inside...

In retrospect, I should have gone inside…

Wat Phra Sri Sanpet

This is the temple within the premises of the royal palace and each of the 3 main stupas house the ashes of kings of long ago. minor stupas house ashes of royal family members and latter kings.

Beautiful and Grandiose stupas.

Beautiful and Grandiose stupas.

Wat Lokayasutharam

An 8m x 32m long reclining Buddha.

An 8m x 37m long reclining Buddha. Quite huge, really.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

This was built for King U-thong’s mother and was patterned after Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

I enjoyed this temple the most, with its serene courtyards  and beautiful red brickwork. If only those walls could talk and tell me of the hundreds of years it has weathered...

I enjoyed this temple the most, with its serene courtyards and beautiful red brickwork. If only those walls could talk and tell me of the hundreds of years it has weathered and witnessed…


Close Encounters in Chiang Mai

March 19, 2013

Chiang Mai was like a breath of fresh air from the pulsating and almost-dizzying energy of Bangkok. I felt as though the people were more gentle and there seemed to be more minutes in an hour. I flew into Chiang Mai at about 10 pm and was very pleased to find that the airport was just about a 20 minute drive to the city and to Amora Tha Pae, my hotel. I was glad to have included Chiang Mai in my Thailand trip. Before retiring for the night, I just had to squeeze in a visit to the Night market to get a little more feel of the Northern Thailand city but I didn’t stay out too late. The next day was to be a full day and I was going to need to rest.

An early morning stroll by the city's moat.

An early morning stroll by the city’s moat.

Morning came and I just had to take an early morning stroll out by the moat and get breakfast at one of the diners close to the hotel. On my list of things to do for the were the following: 1. Maesa Elephant Camp 2. A visit to the tribes village 3. Tiger Kingdom It was a stroke of luck that the hotel had an in-house tour company, Siam-Lanna Travel. It was even more good fortune, that my guide for the day, was no less than the very  accommodating proprietor of the company himself (which he only revealed to me later in the day), Mr. Nong.

Maesa Elephant Camp
The elephant show started with a parade of these gentle giants

The elephant show started with a parade of these gentle giants

Starting with a pleasant drive to the Elephant Camp, I thoroughly enjoyed the activities lined up for me. Especially the Elephant Show where you’d get blown away as you witness the elephants painting pictures beautifully. More than the show however, I enjoyed the awesome 45-minute elephant ride which took me to the hill-tribes village.

The elephants painted these themselves. It was truly a unique experience to have witnessed their talent and intelligence in action

The elephants painted these themselves. It was truly a unique experience to have witnessed their talent and intelligence in action.

After the show, I got ready to meet my ride for the day, Mae Hamphong. She’s already 32 years old and has given birth to 5 babies. At first the ride was a bit bumpy, but once I got the hang of it, the Mahout (the elephant driver) and I casually made conversation in friendly, broken English.

The Hill-tribe Village
About to start the 45 minute journey up the mountains of Maerim to see the hill-tribes.

About to start the 45 minute journey up the mountains of Maerim to see the hill-tribes.

Mae Hamphong dropped me off at the entrance of the village where Mr. Nong was waiting for me. We walked into the village and met with the different indigenous tribes. Some have been relocated here from Myanmar (Burma) and have been given this area to settle in.  It was fascinating how each tribe had their own elaborate and distinctive costumes especially the Akha and the Padaung (the Long-Neck tribe).

An Akha selling hand-crafted souvenirs.

An Akha woman selling hand-crafted souvenirs.

The origins of the metal coil around the Padaung tribes' necks are more for protection than for aesthetics. When tigers attack, they usually go for the neck area, so to protect pregnant women and children who could not climb trees as fast as the rest, they wore these metal coils to protect themselves.

The origins of the metal coil around the Padaung or Long-Neck tribes’ necks are more for protection than for aesthetics. When tigers attack, they usually go for the neck area, so to protect pregnant women and children who could not climb trees as fast as the rest, they wore these metal coils to protect themselves and over time, the prolonged wearing of these coils caused them to have long necks, hence the English name of the tribe.

It took about an hour to go around the village and interact with the tribes. As per Mr. Nong, instead of giving the kids or the tribes-people money, it was more encouraged to purchase their wares instead. Giving the kids some candies would have been a great idea too but we didn’t bring any with us at the time. One more interesting thing I noted was that on top of the hill in the village, there was a Catholic Church made–apparently, these tribes-people have already been converted and baptized as Christians. Indeed, everywhere in Thailand, the mix of culture and religion is commonplace.

Mae Sa Butterfly and Orchid Farm/Restaurant
Beautiful orchids to behold while waiting for lunch.

Beautiful orchids to behold while waiting for lunch.

Famished after the activities of the first half of the day, Mr. Nong took me to the Orchid Farm, were a sumptuous lunch buffet was being served. The break from the heat was wonderful and gave me time to re-energize before I hit my next stop for the day, which will be in my next post, Tiger Kingdom.

An EXTREMELY Spicy Papaya Salad from tthe Orchid farm Restaurant.

Mr. Nong had me try an EXTREMELY Spicy Papaya Salad from the Orchid Farm Restaurant. I don’t know how many glasses of water I finished after. I could swear I could feel steam coming out of my ears.

In retrospect, the day was hot and tiring but it was energy well-spent. I cannot wait to come back to Chiang Mai with my family! Chiang Mai just has so much to offer.

If you’d like to know more about Siam Lanna Travel, you can call +66 88 400 6428 or like their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Siam-Lanna-Travel/515915851787620?fref=ts


The Red Car Driver

March 19, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

A view of the golden chedi at Wat Doi Suthep at night

A view of the golden chedi at Wat Doi Suthep at night

D
uped. Deceived.
I was screaming all sorts of curses in my head while my calf muscles throbbed from the 309-step descent (and prior ascent) from Wat Doi Suthep. I was sweating profusely even with the cool, mountain breeze, stifling the panic that was rising from the bottom of my gut. I nervously noted the souvenir stalls closing up for the day. Night had fallen.

Save for a Thai lady who I came down the steps with, there were no longer any tourists around and no other vehicles for hire. I saw only one other red car but I wasn’t sure it was the same one. I should’ve remembered to note the plates. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that man. I shouldn’t have paid him 200 Thai Baht in advance. I felt like such a rookie. He said his name was Matthew. Maybe that was made-up too.

The Red Car Driver, Matthew--A Chiang Mai Local

The Red Car Driver, Matthew–A Chiang Mai Local

Then the slow, bladder sphincter-loosening realization crept in: the red car I had hired to take me here and back to the city had abandoned me.

I mentally skimmed through my options:

a. Walk the entire 15 km-descent back to Chiang Mai. In the dark. NO.
b. Talk to one of the locals who seem to own a scooter and propose a deal. Do they speak English?
c. Go to the police station and ask for assistance. Are they still open?

A view of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep Mountain

A view of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep Mountain

I had to clear my head. Before I left for this trip, I had read about the unfortunate plight of a tourist in India. I gave myself a mental smack. I should not have traveled to this country solo. I sat down on the curb and struggled to get the stress hormones down to not-so-toxic levels.

How was I going to get myself home?

I got up and checked the only red car parked by the road. I prayed to the gods that the driver was just taking a nap inside. I couldn’t have taken that long up in the temple! Yes, I was entranced by the monk’s chants and the solitude of the temple over sundown but I couldn’t have been more than an hour!

I peered through the car window. It was empty.

I paced back and forth ranting silently. Then, unceremoniously, there he was, coming down the steps from one of the buildings. In seconds, all the fear dissipated and I resisted the urge to grab this petite man/boy and hug him. I thanked him repeatedly and I was so overjoyed I told him I’d take him to dinner wherever he liked. Of course, I said this with more gestures and in broken English so he could understand. Smiling an unassuming smile, obviously clueless about what I had been through for the past fifteen minutes, Matthew opened the car door for me and asked if I was “happy”.

I told him yes.

Getting to the market, Matthew invited me to make an offering to Buddha at the shrine. He then taught me wai phra and he smiled taciturnly as I lit the incense and silently thanked Buddha.

Lotus blloms for Buddha

Lotus blooms for Buddha

Earlier I had told Matthew he could go anywhere he wanted for dinner and it was on me. That was mostly relief, talking. As we sped away, I berated myself. Again.

We slowed to turn towards a dark alley. My heart jumped to my throat and the tourist in India flashed through my mind one more time. But as we rolled in to a dimly lit parking area right next to a swanky sports car, my fear turned into suspicion. I was getting royally ripped off tonight. The restaurant looked exclusive.

The facade of Huay Kaeaw Restaurant looked rustic and inviting

The facade of Huay Keaew Restaurant looked rustic and inviting

We walked through the restaurant hall while Matthew kept saying this place had “the champion kangsom in all of Chiang Mai”. In my head I thought sourly, “It better be the best, if I’m going to splurge on it tonight”.

The restaurant overlooked   the Huay Keaew waterfall

The restaurant overlooked the Huay Kaew waterfall

Nothing could prepare me for what awaited us though. As we entered the receiving area, I couldn’t help bust gasp at the most beautiful sight that night: we were to dine right next to the Huay Kaew waterfall! Matthew was right about the kangsom too and no, I didn’t spend a fortune.

Buddha must have been smiling down on me that night. And Matthew, well, since that night, he officially became a friend.

It’s a great thing to take precautions for safety but let’s not forget that there are still good people among us. I’m glad to have befriended one along the way.

Beguiling Bangkok

March 18, 2013

To the uninitiated, Bangkok can either be scathing and unforgiving or just plain overwhelming. From the moment I stepped out of the taxi from the airport, arriving in the city on a red-eye flight, I smelled the craziness of the city and that was already 2 in the morning. It seemed that the district where I was to spend my first night in, knew no sleep. I was in Khaosan Road afterall–Bangkok’s party central for tourists and locals alike. The same Khao San road where Leonardo Dicaprio’s character in the backpacker movie The Beach, stayed while in Bangkok.

The party spilled out into the streets mingling with the exotic food (fried scorpions,crickets, cockroaches, etc...) hawkers, souvenir stalls and makeshift stalls selling varied wares.

The party spilled out into the streets mingling with the exotic food (fried scorpions,crickets, cockroaches, etc…) hawkers, souvenir stalls and makeshift stalls selling varied wares.

Delicacies of deep-fried creepy crawlies are aplenty in Khao San Road at night

Delicacies of deep-fried creepy crawlies are aplenty in Khao San Road at night

Entering the Floating Market

The next morning, I felt like I paid too much for the long-tail boat-ride (5000 baht) since my original tour was canceled, but in all fairness to this part of the trip, the morning’s mishaps melted away in the murkiness of of the floating market’s waters. I had the boat all to myself anyway. Yes the Floating Market IS “touristy” but how else should the locals react to the influx of tourists wanting to experience what used to be a way of life in this part of the country for Thai people? I can’t blame them. Although, I have to say, if you don’t want to buy anything from the market, you’ve got to be firm and say NO. If you do say “No” all through out, then expect your tour to be shorter than average.

Many of the items in the floating market are a little pricey so your haggling skills are a must!

Many of the items in the floating market are a little pricey so your haggling skills are goign to come in handy!

Lucky for me, my long-tail boat operator Mr. Mong went out of his way to make this solo-traveler happy. Mr. Mong detoured from the usual tourist route and brought me to the Damnoen Saduak Temple and to a shed where we lazed about for an hour, feeding the fish. Slowly, the not-so-nice impressions and thoughts about this Thailand trip in general, dissipated as Mr. Mong and I patiently–and clumsily–gestured at each other in an effort to communicate.

This Buddhist temple is off the beaten tourist path

This Buddhist temple is off the beaten tourist path

Our long tail boat docked here at this shed so I could walk towards the temple. this spot is very serene and relaxing.

Our long tail boat docked here at this shed so I could walk towards the temple. this spot is very serene and relaxing.

I went back to Bangkok more calm and determined to acquaint myself with the city’s quirks by walking from Khao San Road to the temples beginning with the Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw. My excitement could no longer be dampened, not even by a scamming Pigeon-Feeder at the park who demanded 100 Baht for a handful of corn she handed to me (I thought she had GIVEN it to me to help her feed the pigeons). “Keep calm and carry on”, I thought to myself over and over after handing her 20 Baht and taking off. There’s too many sights to see, I couldn’t let any bad vibe ruin the experience.

This shot of the stupas of Wat Prakeaw was taken while I walked through Sanam Luang (The Royal Field).

This shot of the stupas of Wat Prakeaw was taken while I walked through Sanam Luang (The Royal Field).

Wat Pho - Temple of the Reclining Buddha is also knows as Wat Phra Chetuphon.

Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha is also knows as Wat Phra Chetuphon.

My visit to the temples had me mesmerized and regretful that I had to leave the city too soon to fly out to Chiang Mai. I was only able to visit one other temple after Wat Phra Keaw, and witnessed the magnificence of the 15 meter-high and 43 meter long reclining Buddha in Wat Pho. I stayed for bit and mulled over the paradox that was Bangkok. I looked forward to coming back, after Chiang Mai–and that’s another story.