Friday, December 31, 2010

2010, Day 362 - Back to Bangkok, Day Two

Today is our last day in Thailand and the only full day Manuel is going to get in Bangkok. Yes, I know, he has had two partial days but that really does limit what you can accomplish. With that in mind, about a week and a half ago I contacted a guide and reserved this, our final day, with her. The object of our adventure today was to see Ayutthaya, the former capital city of Thailand.

Imagine our surprise when we went down to the lobby this morning to discover that our guide was a Thai leprechaun dressed in blue! Actually, her name was Vimonrat, and this distinguished older lady was our guide and driver for the day. When she isn't leading foreigners around the country she is a taxi driver and that was our mode of transportation today.

We first went to the Bang-Pa-In Palace which is really more of a compound of multiple small palaces built by the king and his family over generations. It still gets used but it looks as though the use is really only occasional. There are western-style palaces, Thai palaces and even a Chinese influenced palace on the grounds. It was all very nice but it felt a little too much like a museum, too cold and sterile, not a lot of warmth from use. So we kept a good pace and finished there quite quickly.

The European-inspired palace at Bang-Pa-In.

An observation tower from which all of the grounds can be seen.

The Chinese-style palace.

After the palace we decided to have an early lunch. While I managed to get up in plenty of time for breakfast my traveling companions were rushed just to get out the door on time so we had nothing to eat. I confessed my vegetarianism to Rat who then set out to find us a suitable place to eat. We were given a choice, we could eat at a western-style buffet or find a good roadside diner of the type the locals favor. Seeing as we were in Thailand we opted for the latter and, with Rat's help, we ordered lunch.

I will be the first to admit that pad thai is probably my least favorite Thai dish but with limited options that was my only choice. As it turns out the pad thai was quite good and with the help of a little crushed peppers it had enough heat and flavor to keep me happy.

While we waited for our food I had espied people selling fish on the roadside and went to explore. That in itself it no uncommon in Thailand but these aren't the kind of fish you eat, they are ornamental fish. There were small striped catfish and eels and turtles and snails of all manner of other aquatic life. I asked Rat about these roadside stalls and she explained that people buy these animals to set them free in the river. When you release an eel it is meant to take with it your illness and ailments whereas when you release a turtle it is supposed to give you a long life.

A roadside vendor of aquatic offerings.


Repetilian offerings.

The competition...

Our bellies full we then headed to the object of our adventure, Ayutthaya. As the past capital of Thailand the architecture in the area is really quite phenomenal. There are walls, shrine and chides littered throughout the area in varying states of disrepair. Some are merely worn by weather and lack of upkeep but many of the images of the Buddha are vandalized so that they heads may be taken and sold to dubious collectors of Thai art.

Stop number one was at Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. This temple was initially constructed to serve primarily as a monastery and was quite prosperous. As this monastery flourished people flooded here to pray as is evident in the stairs that show bowing and cupping from the heavy foot traffic.

A reclining Buddha in the out-of-doors.

Tourists climbing the steps worn down by the feet of the devout.

One of the Buddhas housed inside the temple.

A view from the back of the temple.

One of the temple's wards.

The blossom of a crazy flowering tree.

As the first temple became crowded we took our leave and went to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The was the site of the palace belonging King Ramathibodi I and is significant because of the three main stupas that contain the ashes of King Boroma-Tri-Loka-Nat, King Boroma-Rachathirat III and King Ramathibodi II. As the royal temple of the kingdom of Ayutthaya it was the site of not only official ceremonies but it also served as the royal family's private chapel and because of this honor no monks resided on the grounds. The sprawling size of the compound is only matched by the obvious decay and disrepair.

Just a short distance from this historic site is another modern temple that is still in active use. Within the temple is an enormous Buddha, one of the largest made of bronze in Thailand, and just beyond the temple preparations are already beginning for the lunar new year. There are stalls and temporary shops set up with all manner of food and good for sale. While we were visiting the market a group of what appeared to be school children flooded the market and with their arrival we beat a hasty retreat.

An abbreviated view of the three stupas.

The tremendous bronze Buddha.

A vendor in the market behind the temple.

A woman making Thai crepes that are then filled with strands of silk-like threads of spun sugar.

Our flight from the children took us to Wat Chai Watthanaram. Built in the early 17th century by King Prasat Thong in honor of his mother's hometown this temple is reputed to have relics of the Buddha encapsulated in the central prang. The style of this site differs from others because it was meant to serve as a reminder of the triumph of Ayutthaya over the Khmer and thus was build with heavy Khmer influences.

All the structures are settling causing them to lean to one side or another.

A Buddha whose head has not yet been looted.

Temple puppy lounging in the shade.

Continuing our tour of the temples of Ayutthaya we next visited Wat Na Phramane. What makes this temple of particular interest is that the bronze Buddha that resides here is wearing jewelry. This anomaly is explained by the period of significant peace and exception prosperity during which it was sculpted. Here we were blessed by a monk, something I find comforting as tomorrow we're facing countless hours of travel by plane and an extremely small window to make our connection in Tokyo.

Buddha with bling.

Our final stop was Wat Maha That. This is the site of one of the iconic images of Thailand, the stone head of the Buddha emmeshed in the roots of a tree. It was also once the home of the Supreme Patriarch of the Buddhist order in Ayutthaya but was abandoned in ruins after the Burmese attacked and conquered in 1767.

Iconic Thailand from a slightly different angle.

As the length of the shadows across the ground grew longer we headed back to Bangkok. There was probably a lot more to see and I am sure we could have spent the entire evening in Ayutthaya but we have an early flight in the morning and still need to get ourselves fed, packed and rested before tackling a long day of travel tomorrow.

The rest of the day was unremarkable. We found a nice European bistro for dinner and went to bed early in the hopes that we wouldn't be too exhausted at five thirty tomorrow morning when the car shows up to take us to the airport. I expect there will be a delay in getting the images from today processed and posted but I hope you all bear with me as I travel back in time (we leave Tokyo at five o'clock on the afternoon of the thirtieth and arrive at nine o'clock the morning of the same day in San Francisco). Goodnight!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010, Day 361 - Back to Bangkok, Day One

Another day of travel, this time from Koh Lanta back to Bangkok just briefly before leaving to return home for New Years. We were once again picked up at our hotel by a man in a van. These men, it must be noted, are completely insane. The speed limit is whatever their vehicles are capable of with their foot pressed all the way to the floor, they make a third lane on top of the center divide and they brake only when absolutely necessary. With that kind of man at the wheel we made what we were told is a two and a half to three hour trip in two hours flat and that is stopping five times to pick up additional people.

The driver was so fast that we couldn't even check our bags when we got to the airport. Having only had breakfast and not expecting to arrive in Bangkok until six o'clock or later we decided to take our bags and locate food. Unfortunately the only food available at Krabi International Airport is made by Thai Airways in their kitchen used to prepare meals for their flights. Oh well, I guess we're eating airplane food...

The industrial grade scaffolding used at the airport for washing windows.

When we arrived in Bangkok we gathered our bags and headed to the train station at the lowest level of the airport. It was, after all, rush hour so we decided to get as far from the airport as possible. We weren't the only people with this thought and the train was completely packed, there was literally no place to move and the only way to get past was to crowd surf.

Finally we reached the stop on the line closest to our hotel and after two cabbies declined to take us we found one that would. The reason for not wanting a fare you ask? Bangkok traffic which was pretty much a parking lot. Almost an hour later (we could have walked fast and would have if we weren't burdened with luggage) we arrive at our hotel. After getting settled we went out in search of food and found the place recommended by the woman at reception.

The restaurant where we ate dinner.

Yes, my army continues to grow, this is my scout who is keeping me safe.

Somebody's dinner.

Ohh, I want THAT one!

You could even have mantis shrimp. My only regret is that I couldn't save them, they would make great snipers in my army.

It was a nice traditional Thai dinner and, completely stuffed, we walked back to our hotel. I stayed up long enough to take a couple pictures of the city from the rooftop pool and then showered and went to bed. Tomorrow we're being picked up by our guide early in the morning and will have one last day of adventuring before we leave.

Bangkok at night.