Archive for November, 2009

Amazing Ayutthaya Our second day in Thailand had our leg muscles a bit worked up as made a sidetrip to Ayutthaya about 85 km north of Bangkok, under the unholy, unforgiving sun. Yes, we ended up basically being roasted and drained but that’s quite a small price you pay for such a spectacle — the amazing ruins that tell us a tale of a once powerful kingdom that ruled a great part of Thailand, Laos & Burma.

When I was putting up our itinerary for our Bangkok trip, thanks to the miracle called Google, I’ve seen amazing photos of Ayutthaya. Incredible photos! But to see them actually come alive, in all their elaborate design and grandeur is quite an experience. No wonder it’s listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

A bit from Wiki — Ayutthaya was originally founded by King U-Thong (Ayutthaya’s first ruler) in 1350 and was the ancient capital of the southern Kingdom of Siam from 1350 until 1767. Located on the bend of the Chao Phraya River it became an important center for trade and agriculture, with its fertile land making it known for its rice production.

The city was once home to 1,700 temples and over 4,000 golden images of Buddha, a symbol of a kingdom at its mightiest. In 1767 though, most of the city has been sacked by the Burmese leaving mostly vestiges of what was once a great empire. I noticed during the tour that there were a whole lot of headless statues of Buddha. It is said that the heads were cut off by Burmese soldiers during the invasion. Only a few were spared.

Going to Ayutthaya

There’s plenty of ways to get to Ayutthaya. One is via the train, the cheapest way, from Bangkok’s Hualamphong Train Station. The feedbacks I read weren’t really very nice, many complain that this one just takes a bit too long (1.5 to 2.5 hours) & the hard, wooden train seats aren’t built for comfort.

Another way would be via the Chao Phrya River either by boat or through river cruises, the latter is quite popular to most foreign tourists, which is usually via a whole day river cruise c/o a luxury liner like Grand Pearl. It’s a bit costly, and slow, but the purpose really is to sail across the Chao Phrya River with enough leisure time to marvel at the beautiful temples along the river banks while learning a bit about their history. It also comes with a buffet lunch which I hear is superb. We didn’t take this route first because we already booked a Grand Pearl Dinner Cruise and second because with only 3 days left to exploit, we didn’t have that luxury of time.

Third one would have been a good choice for speed, convenience & comfort but would of course cost more.

And then you have the mini-buses, the smartest way according to most people. After some thought, we agreed this is just the right way for us.

We took a train from Asoke BTS Sky Train Station to Victory Monument Station, where the mini-buses going to Ayutthaya were queued up. The ride was quite a breeze (we got the front seats so leg room wasn’t a worry. It only took about 50 mins to get there.

When we reached the centre of Ayutthaya, a tuktuk driver offered to give us a ride around the place for 200 baht per hour, which as I recalled from my notes was reasonable enough. We ended up going around for about 4 hours, but the kind fella just asked for 600 baht. What a darling. His warm hospitality & cheerful demeanor remind me so much of our kababyans in the Philippines. I regretted though that I wasn’t able to have a photo taken with him.

There were quite a multitude of places to go to but we only had 4 hours. To make best use of our limited time, we had to go for our top picks. He had his map & some post cards which he flashed before us to help with our decision. Even with his inadequate English skills he tried his best to explain to us each of the places. Our tuktuk driver -turned guide knew the place by heart so we were able to move from one destination to another with ease & speed.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (The Great Temple of Auspicious Victory)

Our first stop and I was already thrilled. You know that ancient vibe going around, with the bricks and statues and chedis and ruins, I loved ‘em all! The temple was built by King U Thong in 1357 as a centre for monks of a strict order returning from study in Sri Lanka.

There are heaps of statues of buddha (big & small) spread out in the large temple compound!

We gave ourselves about 45 mins to go around and what else, take pictures!!!

We even climbed the steep stairs leading up to the towering chedi, built in 1592 to celebrate King Naresuan’s defeat of the then Burmese Crown Prince. This gave us a good top view of the compound. By the end of the day I can say this one’s my absolute favorite.

Wat Phananchoeng Woraviharn

Next stop was the temple with this enormous golden buddha, the oldest, largest and most beautiful Buddha image of all, the Phra Chao Phananchoeng. It is 14.25 metres wide and 19 metres high, made of mortar, primed with black lacquer and covered with gold leaf. It was a bad thing to go on a Sunday, as it was swamped with worshippers so we had a bit of struggle to go further in. That we need to leave our shoes outside, along with a bazillion of other people’s shoes worried me a bit coz I didn’t bring any extra footwear so I might be in a big trouble if it ever gets lost. Thankfully it didn’t. But while in, the humungous golden statue was just a wonder!

Wat Mahathat (Great Relic Temple)

From here we headed to one of the famous (most famous even) sights here in Ayutthaya, the Buddha’s head nestled in between the roots of a fig tree. This is in Wat Mahathat located almost right in the heart of Ayutthaya. Apart from being the symbolic center where the Buddha’s relics were enshrined, it also served as the residence of the Supreme Patriarch or leader of the Thai Buddhist monks.

The image head enclosed in the roots of a fig tree is said to be the most photographed site in Ayutthaya! Visitors are cautioned not to stand behind a headless Buddha and take pictures as it would be disrespectful.

Elephants!!!

While in Bangkok we didn’t make any plans to go to see elephants as we were a bit pressed for time and besides we were able to see some (and an elephant show too) at the zoo back in Singapore. But in Ayutthaya, there were quite a lot of elephant sightings around the place. Elephants throughout the Ayutthaya were used for work, carrying kings, and even during battle. Here though they were mostly exploited for tourism, you just need to pay to experience an elephant ride. I was gonna try it but I chickened out, so I instead just settled to feeding them with corn (for 20 baht). It was my closest encounter with such gigantic but kind babies!

Bonding time with the elephant!

Wat Lokayasutharam (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

This reclining Buddha was constructed of bricks and cement in the Middle Ayutthaya Period and is 37 meters long and 8 meters high. As the head is resting on a lotus, the legs overlap squarely to show the equalized toes. It was pretty much like the reclining buddha in Wat Pho, but this one was made of stone.

On our way home we dropped by Wat Phra Si Sanphet, used for royal ceremonies and for storing royal relics. The three chedis are believed to keep the ashes of three Kings : King Trailok, King Borom Ratchathirat III, and King Rama Thibodi II, as well as Buddha relics. There were a few more interesting temples nearby but our feet just gave up. This was our last stop, a quickie if I may add. We just had a few photos and off we headed back to the center where the mini bus that was gonna take us back to Bangkok was waiting.

It’s a shame we weren’t able to stay until sunset, I hear it can be a great photo opportunity with the ancient structures & the soft, orange ball descending…Maybe there will be a next time, who knows.


We heart Bangkok The decision, that this would be our destination for our first out-of-the country trip as a married couple was a no-brainer. Bangkok pretty much stands out in Southeast Asia as a tourists’ haven and we weren’t disappointed. Bangkok is anything but boring; a real charmer I can say and it was such a nice escape from living in a city that feels like a small box, if you know what I mean.

Jep says Bangkok felt to him like home sweet home Manila. Well the Subarnavumi Int’l Airport was incomparable (clearly a sign of its booming tourism), and so are the trains, but then a lot of things around the city just felt familiar. Bad traffic, public buses which reminded me of those non-aircon buses going to Novaliches, street food galore, friendly people who pretty much looked like us, opportunists for taxi drivers, the humidity that was merciless… But the sights were definitely promising. I’ve put together collage of photos we took in the Land of Smiles, let the photos speak for themselves!

Day 1: Early Birds

We were to leave Singapore at 7:15 am via Jetstar. At 5:10 am we were at the Changi Airport. Check-in only took about 5-10 minutes. The remaining 1 hr and 50 mins were to be spent waiting, a part of life I never liked except for the many opportunities for cam-whoring, which as always put the sun on my eyes. I’m never an early bird, but my husband is, in an exaggerated kind of way, especially during trips such as this one. He had a sort of a mental checklist of all to-dos and to-brings and until we boarded the plane it felt like everything’s been ticked with a check mark. Funny that during take-off he started to fumble for our house keys and he froze when it suddenly occurred to him that he forgot to take the keys out of the door lock. And the key to our luggage was there. It was hilarious.

The flight took about 2 hours; we landed at 8:15 am (Thailand is an hour behind SG) at the Subarnavumi Int’l Airport, which wasn’t amazing in the morning but at night looked grand and modern like a giant glasshouse. We took a taxi going to our hotel in Sukhumvit Rd, one of the major highways of the capital, after what seemed like a game of charade with the taxi driver who couldn’t speak decent English. Though via hand gestures we somehow read that he was bargaining that we pay a fixed price of 400 baht but we insisted on metered fare, it was a TAXI-O-METER for heaven’s sake. He gave in by the way.

We stayed at Premiere Admiral Suites, which was about 10 mins walk from the Sukhumvit MRT Station and about 5 mins by tuktuk (think tricycles in Manila), c/o the hotel. The room wasn’t bad, having that modern minimalist feel that had a functional kitchen, breakfast buffet was filling, the staff and crew were really warm people (thanks to the guy who solved our luggage problem!), the pool though a bit small was charming as the view of the Bangkok business district at dusk and at dawn and I especially loved the scent of ginger oil burning.

We had a satisfying brunch in one of the cafes near the hotel called “Old Dutch”, where Jep has just found an addition to his collection of best burgers evah!

We were supposed to do the Grand Palace Tour on our first day but we were out of time and it rained so we instead headed to Chatuchak Market, the world’s biggest weekend market selling practically everything under the sun! It is adjacent to the Kamphaengphet station of the MRT Bangkok Metro Blue Line, or about a 5-minute walk from the Mo Chit station of the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line and another MRT station of the Chatuchak Park. It’s said to cover 27 acres and contain about 15,000 booths selling every imaginable type of goods to catch your eyes. It was outrageously HUUUGE! And prices were crazy CHEEEAP! A real shopper’s paradise! Too bad we couldn’t stay long.

I consider the Grand Pearl Dinner Cruise the highlight of our first day in Bangkok. It was a 2-hour cruise along the Chao Praya River which looked majestic at night, especially with the riverside sights like Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and Wat Pra Kaew. The Thai and International buffet was just scrumptious (I wish I had an even bigger stomach!). After dinner we ascended to the top deck to marvel at the brightly-lit architectural beauties along the river, take photos, and breathe in the fresh evening breeze. There was a band playing which I frankly didn’t like. It was nevertheless a smooth way to chill the night away, and for 50 SGD (per head), it was pretty much a give-away.

Day 2: Royal Ruins

We gave up our plans of going to the Floating Market to go to Ayutthaya. We both agreed it shouldn’t be missed and we were so right. We started our day at around 6 am, with a hearty breakfast at the hotel’s “The Cinnamon” where I loved the Thai fried rice and a local dish which consisted of minced chicken, poached egg, mushroom and some leaves, the name of which no one in the resto knew of. We needed that heavy breakfast, if we will be going around the ancient capital of Thailand. I have put up a whole page about the majestic Ayutthaya in a separate post. There were just too many things to see.

From our exhausting yet enjoyable day tour, we were back in Bangkok at around 5 pm – the rest of the evening we just spent shopping around Victory Monument Market where I was able to get some funky earrings for 20 baht apiece, Siam Paragon Mall where we walked a little and Central World where we went Italian for dinner, had froyo at Red Mango and bought a few books at the Kinokuniya bookstore!

Our hotel is a few blocks away from Soi Cowboy so we took a little stroll along one of Bangkok’s lust-driven dens of sin where tiny-clad women were calling out on tourists, pretty much like selling meat in the market (but this time a different kind of meat, if you know what I mean). It had a different feel as the one in Amsterdam, but just the same there was a burning curiosity in me to actually go in and see what the hell is going on behind the curtains! My husband though said he wasn’t comfortable (I guess the burly bouncer intimidated him hehe) and he thought it wasn’t very safe so we decided to just do another round of walking and head back to the hotel. I understood his hesitation; I too would prefer to watch the pole-swinging temptresses with a bigger group.


Day 3: The Grandest of them all

Except for the heat that ferociously burned my already roasted skin and the little fashion misfortune where I was obliged to wear their traditional sarong while in the palace grounds because I was wearing tight pants which I didn’t know (and nobody mentioned in the travel guides) wasn’t allowed, I was totally in awe of the grandiose works in the Grand Palace. That’s why they call it grand. Going around such expansive complex (218,400 sq. metres) sort reminded me of castles I’ve visited in Europe, though this one has that unique touch of Thai style, ornate and lavish, with all the gold, the chedis, the prangs, mosaics. It just really sucks that I’m in such a beautiful place and I’m dressed like a folk dancer!!!!

Truly the greatest spectacle for any tourist in Bangkok, the complex consists of over 100 beautifully designed buildings, golden spires and mosaics. It served as the home of the King and his court and the entire administrative seat of government for one and a half century. We paid 300 Baht (9.00 USD)for admission to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Central Court of the Grand Palace which also includes an admission ticket to Vimanmek Mansion. It’s such a colossal complex, you would need a day if you’re really into exploring the details & history behind every architecture. We only did a half day tour due to lack of time but I guess we pretty much covered the more popular sites. It was a tiring & endless photo ops which of course I didn’t really mind.

As it is the top destination in Bangkok, expect that it’s gonna be a full house. We went on a Monday, and there I was complacent that it’s not gonna be as crowded as the weekends but voila, we still got drowned in the sea of tourists.

We’ve taken a bazillion photos and now it’s such a pain to choose which ones are gonna go to this page. To serve as a semi-guide for future travellers I thought I’d present it by location.

The Upper Terrace

I start from this point, first because obviously it’s the closest to the main entrance and second because it’s one of my favorite. It consists of four main monuments:

1. The Reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi (also by King Rama IV) which is said to enshrine the relics of the Lord Buddha

2. The Repository of the Canon of Buddhism with its mother-of-pearl cabinet that displays the palm leaf scriptures at various times of the year

3. The model of Angkor Wat (found in Cambodia) commissioned by Rama IV. Cambodia then was a state of Siam and this was the King’s way to show off the grandeur of his rule.

4. The Royal Pantheon where statues of past sovereigns of the ruling dynasty are enshrined

Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Next stop is considered as Thailand’s most sacred temple, hence everyone is expected to act with due respect when inside it. Despite the generally hot weather in Bangkok, long trousers/skirts are required to enter the wat. When one walks into the temple one should take off one’s shoes as a sign of respect to the Buddha, as is done in other temples in Thailand. It houses the small Emerald Buddha (between 60 and 75 cm) perched high up inside its glass box. I read despite its name, it isn’t actually made of emerald but rather of green jade or jasper. Just some history bites, this sacred buddha is thought to have been made in the 15th century and was the cause of several wars before ending up for good in Bangkok in 1782. The image is considered a talisman by the Thais. The ‘robe’ worn by the image is changed 3 times each year by the King himself, at the start of each season: A diamond encrusted gold robe during the hot season, a solid gold robe in the cool season and a gilded monk’s robe in the rainy season. Picture-taking inside the temple is prohibited, hence we just spent some time to pray.

There are murals surrounding the temple area – painted with scenes from the Thai version of the Ramayana mythology, the Ramakian. Several statues in the temple area resemble figures from this story, most notably the giants (yak), five-meter high statues. Thotkhirithon, giant demon (Yaksha) guarding an exit to Grand Palace

Chakri Maha Prasat

This is yet again a picture of grandness, I was quite amazed staring at such an elegant work of art. This building was constructed by King Rama V to commemorate the centenary of the Chakri Dynasty. It was designed by a British architect in the European style with a pure Thai Style roof. Construction took six years from 1876 to 1882. Here the King receives ambassadors on the occasion of the presentation of their credentials. Only the reception portion is now being used.

Dusit Group

Next to the Chakri palace is another fine architectural piece, built in the early Rattanakosin Thai style. I was absolutely stunned by the intricate & ornate design that speaks of pure royalty. The Dusit Maha Prasat Palace was an audience hall, where affairs of state were conducted and royal ceremonies performed.The palace was built by King Rama I in 1806 and renovated under King Rama III.

There are a few other lesser known temples we’ve toured inside the palace grounds and I’ve no idea what they’re called, so I’m just bringing in some of the photos. While doing the tour, I took some snaps of the people and things around me, some interesting, some just weird, some don’t even have to be part of this blog, but as for pictures, the more, the merrier hehe.

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Our last stop in our temples tour was the temple famed for its massive reclining buddha, a few minutes away from the Grand Palace. Boy it was ginormous! At 46 meters long and 15 meters high, this gold-plated Buddha image depicts the Buddha’s passing into Nirvana. The Buddha image’s eyes and feet are decorated with mother-of-pearl and carvings in the feet depict the ‘108’ characteristics of Buddha. Admission is 20 Baht and the temple is open from 08:00 to 17:00.

The search for the Tamarind

From Wat Po we planned to look for that special Tamarind candy to bring home to Singapore but the search has gone askew. We approached this person who was standing in front of a sort of Department of Tourism tarpaulin to ask for directions for any nearby market. We thought, because he had this neat ID, a big map and a kind demeanor, that he was like a legal tour guide. We judged poorly. The fake guide actually talked the tuktuk driver into taking us into this jewelry store where he was expecting us to buy diamonds. I’ve read about this scam before but I never imagined that we’d actually fall into this trap! Funny but annoying at the same time. And all these because of that freaking tamarind.

Finally Jep said we should try MBK mall and he was soooo right. In there were throngs of stalls that sell local goodies including our much-sought spicy tamarind!

Over-all our Bangkok trip was a real treat. The only regret we had was that we should have gone for at least a week. Three days was just a bad idea. There must definitely be a Part 2.