Thailand - Bangkok & Ayutthaya
We waited for almost a month before our air tickets on Fin Air from Singapore to Bangkok moved from Wait-listed to confirmed and we just about had 1 week before the departure. We got hold of all the travel books on Bangkok and Thailand. We enquired with our friends and relatives on what are the "must-see" places. As our stay in Thailand was for just around 2 and 1/2 days we wanted to have a schedule drawn up so that we don't miss any of the
Friday evening we boarded the flight at 9.30 pm and reached Bangkok at around 12 midnight local time. Since it was visa on arrival, we had to spend a full 1 hour before we crossed the immigration to collect our luggage. We were picked up by our travel agent. We reached Bangkok City Inn at 3 am to find that our room booking was cancelled as we were late. The lady at the reception offered us a temporary room and we Slept for 3 hours before getting ourselves transferred to the "actual" room.
After refreshing and a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by our travel agent at 8 am. After driving through some narrow streets of Bangkok, we were dropped at the ferry point. We started a ferry ride along Bangkok's Chao Phraya river. Bangkok was a mix of old and the new. There were huge concrete sky scrapers visible from the river and also wonderful Thai buildings and river-side homes. The guide gave us a brief history of the activities on the Chao Phraya River. After a ride of about 1 hour, we stopped over at Wat Arun - the temple of dawn. This was the first Thai temple that we set foot on, hence our camera didn't stop clicking! The architecture was amazing. There was a tall (really tall) stupa in the centre which had steep steps on all the four sides. We walked around the temple, had some tender coconut before boarding the ferry again. After the ferry ride, we were transferred to a bus which took us to a leather factory. There were accessories made out of skins of every possible animal - elephant, goat, snake, etc. We were also given a demonstration of how to recognize good leather. From there we were taken to The Gem Factory, an ISO certified gems gallery. My mother had purchased lot of gems during her visit a few years back and she had given me sufficient tips/suggestions on what to look out for. We skipped the film show on gem factory and visited the different counters holding sparkling gems and jewellery of different colors and sizes! Finally we purchased a pendant with a pink coral and a garnet stone.
|After the gems gallery we were taken for a steam-boat lunch at the World Trade Center (WTC). There was a steamer with Soya sauce and some radish. Since we were vegetarian, we had some raw, cut vegetables set on our tables which we had to drop in the steamer. We had a good time trying out the different vegetables on our tables. We also had some fun trying out chopsticks! From there, we took a cab to the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha complex. We were told that these attractions close by 3. So we had to rush. (Note: Slippers aren't allowed inside the complex. Only shoes are allowed. You also have the option of buying a socks and renting a shoe at the entrance). The complex was a GRAND set of temples, stupas and buildings. Our camcorder's battery was out by this time and we were really disappointed! We had to compensate with our camera! There were ornamental works on almost all the buildings in the complex. The emerald Buddha, a 2 foot jade statue was set atop an impressive 7 foot structure. We walked around the complex a bit. It was almost 5 by the time when we walked out of the Grand Palace.|
We then took a can to the Pratunam market. This area is famous for clothes. There were a wide array of shops selling
Thai silk materials, the traditional embroidered Thai cottons, batiks, and also t-shirts of some famous brands. We bought some dress materials and some T shirts. Time just flies in the market! It was getting late for our Mambo show, so we rushed back to our hotel (just a few minutes walk from the market), refreshed and waited in the lounge to be picked up.
The van picked us up around 7.30 and we were driven to the theatre. We were told that the performers were actually males but dressed up as ladies. Unless you are told, it is hard to tell the difference. We did not know what to expect! But it was a grand show.. there weren't any vulgarity or obscenity. The performers danced to different types of tunes. There were traditional thai dances, western dances and other varieties. The show cost us 500 Baht per person, inclusive of a drink. After the show we were dropped back at the hotel and had some Fried Rice before dozing off.
We planned on a trip to Ayutthaya - the ancient capital of Thailand, about 80 kms from Bangkok. Due to the language problem, we wasted quite a bit of money. We were supposed to go to the Northern bus terminus but the cabbie took us to the Southern bus terminus and charged us 100 Bahts. Another cabbie took us to the northern bus terminus and charged us 120 Bahts! Phew... our adventure started on a bad note. We boarded an air-conditioned deluxe bus at the terminus. The ride cost us just 40 Bahts each. We were dropped off at some point (didn't know where we were) in Ayutthaya. We took a tuk-tuk (the Thai version of an autorickshaw) to Chandrakasem Palace from that point. We walked around the palace and took some snaps before we took another shared tuk-tuk to reach Wat Sri Saniphet.
|This temple houses an impressive Bronze Buddha about 55m in height. Spent some time at the temple and visited some ruins adjacent to the temple. There were three majestic stupas, all left in ruins. We also identified this place as the backdrop in the movie Mortal Combat. It was a hot day and our lunch was some Muffins that we bought at the 7-Eleven store in Bangkok. Had some coke and walked around the area for a while. There were some elephant rides and some more ruins were visible. Then we took another tuk-tuk to the railway station (the ride cost us 50 Bahts. The driver showed us a chart that listed the destinations and the cost). We purchased a second class train ticket at the railway station that reminded me of the "village railway station" shown in many movies. A calm, un-crowded atmosphere. The train was pretty decent and we realized that second class was air-conditioned. The journey took us around 2 hours.|
We reached Bangkok around 4pm and decided to visit one more attraction. Our map indicated that the Wat Triamit - Temple of the Golden Buddha was close by and after many wrong turns in the rain, we reached this temple that stood silent in a small lane. This housed a majestic 5 foot
Buddha made of solid gold! The history claims that some Thais had
encased this idol in concrete/ceramic to hide it from invading Burmese. Later, when this was being
transported, by mistake it was dropped and the casing dropped off to reveal this solid golden statue. We tried one more adventure... travel by bus to the WTC. But looks like we got into a wrong bus and had to take a cab (yet again) at one point. There was a heavy traffic jam and we got really hungry before we finally got dropped at the WTC. We decided to have a hearty dinner and hence decided on The Pizza Company. After some wonderful garlic
breads and pizzas, we decided to walk around the WTC. The WTC at Bangkok is really huge. There are about 7 shopping floors which would at least be a mile in length! We then wanted to take a look at the 7th floor where there was a multiplex. Never had the idea of watching a movie, but Suresh was so tempted by the multiplex that we decided to watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. 150 Bahts per person, but a wonderful cinema hall! A great dinner and a wonderful movie to end the day!
Our last day at Bangkok. After a good breakfast, we took a cab (on a flat rate of 100 Bahts!) to the temple of Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), situated very near the Grand Palace complex. My mother had told me lots about this temple, so I waited in anticipation while Suresh bought the entrance tickets. This temple was the home to a 46m long bronze reclining Buddha! Amazing! We walked around the statue, clicking some snaps before we moved on to explore the architecture of the temple. The temple served as an example of Thai architecture. Took some snaps before we walked back to the Grand Palace (in the hot sun!) to capture some images on our camcorder. We then took a cab from there to the Vimanmek Teakwood Palace. The tickets bought at the Grand Palace (Costing 300 Bahts each) also covers the Teak Palace. The palace was really huge with long driveways and lot of buildings. We first went to some building at the back which housed some articles from the royal families of Thailand. We then noted the timings of the cultural performance and walked along the manicured gardens of the palace. We came just in time for a performance of the Ramakien - the Ramayana in Thai style! The story was very similar to the Indian version. We were also able to identify the different characters. Sat through the performance for a while before we left to the actual Teak Wood palace. The front view was amazing! The entire 72 rooms structure is made of teak wood. no nails used anywhere in the building. Since photography was prohibited inside the palace, we took a snap outside and put our things inside the locked before we climbed a few steps to be greeted by a tour guide. She walked us through some rooms before she put us along with another group. The Thai guide spoke good but accented English and gave us a good account of all the rooms and the things on display. It was a very well maintained palace! You just would want to spend more time looking at the collections of the royal family. Oops 11.30 am!! Left in a hurry without completing the tour, much to the disappointment of the guide and took a cab back to the hotel. Our airport pick-up was at 12.30. So we barely reached the hotel before the reception called us to ay that the pick-up van was already there. We hurriedly dumped everything into our suitcases and rushed to the lobby to settle bills and clamber into the Mercedes van. We got dropped at the airport at 1.30 pm. After checking-in and paying the airport tax of 500 Bahts each, we had some burgers at the Burger King outlet in the airport. After crossing immigration we walked around the airport looking for some curios to carry
back home. Finally, Suresh found one that had decent ones and at decent prices! We bought two Thai dancer idols and one T shirt before boarding the 3.30 Fin Air flight back to Singapore. There ends our Bangkok trip!
One good lesson learnt from the trip... always confirm your check-in time with the hotel :-)! 1 Baht is almost equal to a rupee. 44B = 1USD. But cost of living is much higher than India. Things that are cheap include clothes (if bought at Pratunam/Indira market), food and public transport. Taxi drivers remind you of our very own Chennai auto drivers. Option 1: Demand flat rate. Option 2: Demand a little more over the meter. Option 3: Drive into a
traffic jam or one way roads so that the meter is finally what the output of Option 1 would be! You only waste time trying to bargain for option 3.
I guess Thais have the habit of early to bed and early to rise as all attractions open at 8 am and close by 3 or 4 pm. Vegetarians will have a tough time in Thailand unless you can survive on burgers and pizzas. We didn't really look out for Indian restaurants although we heard there were some. For the carnivorous species, you can freak out! Various colors, various sizes and various shapes of non-veg stuff can be seen everywhere in Bangkok!
Must visit places in Bangkok -
1. Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha Temple (both in the same complex)
2. Temple of the reclining Buddha (near the grand palace complex)
3. Vimanmek Teak Wood Mansion (Have sufficient time on hand to take the complete guided tour)
Plus other temples in Bangkok - Temple of Dawn, Golden Buddha temple, Marble temple etc.
Things Bangkok is famous for - Traffic Jams, Fly-overs, Non-veg food and night life.
Except for the airfares, a holiday at Bangkok will be similar to a holiday at any Indian city. In fact Thai script and dances look similar to Oriyan script and dance forms. Brahma is called four faced Buddha and Ganesh is also worshipped in Buddhist style.
Overall, Bangkok is definitely worth a visit. A 3 day tour would be ideal.