The City of Angels and Sacred Ruins
20.06.2008 36 °C
My last trip to The Land Of Smiles, Thailand, was Phuket. That was exactly a year ago. And as what I had wrote in my previous Phuket blog, I had a great time and a good break from the stressful work life in the capital city of my country. So after a long year without travelling abroad, the thoughts of packing up was up and coming again. Here am I on a backpacking trip again to somewhere I could really enjoy and have an ultimate relaxation. City holiday was not exactly in my list of top places to venture out, but somehow, Thailand was yet again in my mind. Perhaps, its still one of the inexpensive and affordable holiday destinations which capture my grave attentions. My initial options would either be Chiang Mai, Krabi or Koh Samui. After some good deliberations on where I should head to, Bangkok has taken over the priority over the others as this is the city where I believe that everyone who has been to Thailand would have been to Bangkok which means, a trip to Bangkok wouldn't be complete without Bangkok being in the itinerary.
It was 9.30 am local time on the day I arrived at the Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Suvarnaphoom) Airport. From the airport, my next destination is Pattaya. The informations that I had about this resort city are its notoriety for bargirls and stripshows over in the abundant of beer bars, discos and massage parlours which can be found in almost all corners of the city. Not of any difference from Phuket perhaps I thought. The impression on Pattaya changed immediately once I arrived there as when I see things around, I seriously think that it deserved some form of respectable rating from holiday seekers eyeing for a decent holiday or retreat. Not because the beach was top class (the seawater is rather less impressive), but it affords one the access to the opportunity for true relaxation at the beach with the calm beach water and clean beach sands as well as the availability of the best and affordable seafood for snacking while you enjoy your sunbathing or just under the comfort of the big umbrellas over the beach relaxing chair which are available at very inexpensive rates for as long as you like. Take a sip at a can of cold Singha beer coupled with a plate of grilled cuttlefish and fresh oyster to fill your stomach for lunch or late afternoon snacks, and you will know what I mean over my statement ".........that it deserves some form of respectable rating......". It has more to offer rather than just stripshows and girls and that is for real. That was exactly what I did and was a really enjoyable experience for me. For budget travellers or backpackers, get your Singha beers from the Family Mart, the 7-Eleven version made in Thailand available as this will help you to save extra dollars to spend more on beers or seafood later for dinner. Jomtien Beach offers several seafood joints where you could enjoy your food along concrete stretch on the edge of the beach with the refershing cool night breeze of wind from the sea. Seafood is distinctively cheap here and you can be well assured of good value for your money spent here at Jomtien beach. I spent as low as THB450 for a good seafood meal consist of a whole grouper fish (deepfry), deep fry ommelette with oyster, tomyum and large tiger prawns. Unbelievably cheap!
The next day, its time to head back to Bangkok after breakfast at the hotel. Prior to leaving Pattaya, my next stop was Mini Siam, a place where you can experience the many historical sites and buildings within Thailand and Indochina including Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos as well as famous structures from around the world. Just outside Pattaya, at Ko Loy in Sri Racha, the pier to Ko Si Chang, I visited one of the nice spot with a wat on top of the hill overlooking the spectacular view of the sea. At below the hill, there's a Chinese temple located close to the sea with a large "Kuan Yin Goddess" within the open temple structures overlooking the sea . Enjoy the very tasty coconut drinks before you go up the hill and after that go for the seafood at the stalls that sell variety of mouth-watering choices of grilled-seafood that will kick-up your tastebud. Here, just at the rear of the stalls, tables and mattress being laid over concrete laid bund of the sea where after your orders are ready, you could enjoy your food with large bottle of coca-cola with ice with the relaxing view over the scenic sea . Over at Chonburi city centre before Laem Chabang port from Chonburi's direction, this is another place which is famous for seafood produce such as dried shrimps, salted fish, cuttlefish and many more including the colourfully-wrapped coconut candy. You can find all these at the main road of the city where shops are being established along the road for a stretch of about 500m.
Arrived at Bangkok city in the late evening from Pattaya and the next morning, I was at the Erawan Shrine to offer prayers. At erawan Shrine, a statue of Four-Faced Buddha structure being placed on the shrine within the open spaces of the shrine's gated compound. You can purchase praying items from the available counter inside the compound from THB20 onwards to offer prayers to the Buddha as well as making donations at the donation box at the right side of the entrance. There are perfomance of Thai traditional dance at certain time within the shrine area. Bangkok city is larger than what I would have thought and being a metropolitan city, it has abundant of shopping malls both for both upper class and budget shoppers. These include the Siam Paragon, Siam Centre, Siam Discovery, Siam Square, Emporium, CentralWorld and Gaysorn for upper and middle class, MBK, Pratunam Centre and Baiyoke for budget shoppers. There are also the bazaars shopping options which offer loads of good souveniers and in expensive but nice casual wears such as the Chatuchak Weekend market and also the Suan Lum Nigh Bazaar.
The most important itinerary while in Bangkok that one shouldn't missed would be Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew situated side by side to each other within the shared compound at the Nha Phra Lan Road near Sanam Luang. The Grand Palace is surrounded by high white walls and occupies an area of approximately 1 square mile. Wat Phra Kaew houses the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand and this is the must visit when you are in Bangkok being the most important tourist spot in this City of Angel. Wat Pho located just next to Grand Palace is one of the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. The Ubosot houses a huge gold-plated Reclining Buddha with inlaid mother-of -pearl souls depicting 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha. From Wat Pho, headed to the Ha Tien Pier of the Chao Phraya River to take the boat to Wat Arun, Temple of The Dawn. It has a 79 metre high pagoda and is most attractive when viewed during sunset while cruising along the Chao Phraya river from Sathon Pier.
Chinatown in Yaowarat will be very interesting place for those seeking for some good seafood, chinese food,sharkfin and birdnest soup and dried pork snacks as well as cheap shoppings at designated area for stall operators selling all kinds of items catering budget shoppers including shirts, electrical gadgets, CDs and etc. There are street food stalls along shops' five foot ways being setup at night which among others I found to be attractive to my tastebud - the charcoal grilled bread with choice of fillings including chocolate and kaya (coconut paste). Add on a cold iced milk tea or iced white coffee to finish off your after dinner snacks. Before that tuck into scrumptuous seafood dinner along the 2 main streetside seafood stalls that serve some of the tasty seafood in Bangkok. For THB700, I had one full steam fish - Teochew style, a plate of Tiger prawns that comes with 5 pieces, 4 big clamps and a plate of shells. Also, try out the birdnest soup for as as low as THB 100 a bowl.
Next was Wat Benchamabhopit located near the Chitralada Palace and Dusit Zoo, the interior of the main building is decorated with cross beams of laquer and gold. A large collection of bronze Buddha images lines the Walls of spacious inner courtyard. From here, I head to Vinmanmek Teakwood Mansion, the world's largest building made entirely of golden teak. This 3 storey wooden palace has 81 rooms, halls and anterooms. Various items and art objects are being displayed in other buildings in the same compound which include potraits, old clocks and royal carriages. The Golden Mount (Wat Saket/Phu Khao Thong) is one of wat that shouldn't be missed out while in Bangkok. Situated on top of a hill with 318 steps to reach, it offers stunning views of the Rattanakosin Island. in Chinatown, Wat Traimitr (temple of Golden Buddha) is worth a visit. This temple houses a 3 metre high weighing 5 and a half tonnes Buddha structure which welcomes hordes of tourist at most times. Wat Suthat is one of the oldest temple in Bangkok with a Giant Swing (sao Ching Cha) located at its front entrance. This swing was used in the olden days to celebrate thanks giving day for the good rice harvest but has not been in function since 1932 due to many injuries and death resulted from the stunt performed by men. The temple houses the Phra Buddha Sakyamuni brought from Sukhothai during the reign of King Rama 1.
Trip to Bangkok wouldn't be complete without a river cruise. Go for cruise from Sathon Pier by taking the skytrain to Saphan Taksin station and then board the boat with Orange flag to Nonthaburi province where you would be able to revisit Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (get down at Tha Chang Pier if this is your 1st trip through the boat) and Wat Pho and Wat Arun (get down at Tha Tien Pier and hop to a short boat trip service over the opposite side if this is your 1st trip) and some of Bangkok's best sights including the King Rama VIII's bridge while cruising on the boat. From Nonthaburi town centre, take the minivan taxi back to the city for around THB 20. You can also have short excursion to Ko Kret from Nonthaburi. Ko Kret is a pottery village which you can get around either by walking or hire a bike. Several merchandise including handmade perfumes, souveniers as well as pottery items are sold at shops around the tiny island surrounded by coconut trees. The land mark here is Wat Poramai Yikawat located at the entrance to the island from the boat landing area. Try the Mon food Khao Cher, rice that served in chilled iced water couple with some side dishes. And have a cold iced tea, cha yen after a long exhausted walk which was served in a red clay cup in Doraemon caricature which you can keep as your own. If you would like to have a great night view of Bangkok city do try the dinner cruise available offered by various cruise agencies, which include a dinner on board. The night view of the city was rather stunning comparable to Hong Kong if not equal to Sydney harbour cruise.
Ayutthaya, being one of the most important tourist attractions in Thailand was next on my list. This historical city offers various magnificent ruins where the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historial Park has been listed in UNESCOS's World Heritage since 1991. Expect to spend at least 1 full day here to complete your trip to some of the most important ruins including Wat Chaiwathanaram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Mahathat and Wat Yai Chaimongkhon. Try out famous local snack, the colourful candyfloss wrapped with flat bread which tastes very sweet but delicious. There are several stalls and shops located along the road leading to the Ayutthaya Historical Park that sell such snacks and stop by to buy some of them fresh to eat while travel back to Bangkok. The fresh water food at some of the available restaurants around town as they serve some of the very best Thai dishes that will satisfy your lunch of the day out here. This is possible because Ayutthaya is located very close to the river and is accessible from Bangkok through river cruise if you opt to do so.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is yet another great itinerary that was part of my Bangkok trip. This market located in Ratchaburi province near the Samut Songkhram town operates from early morning till noon. You can rent a boat for as low as THB200 depending on your negotiation skills, which will bring you around the canal for some good time to do your shopping. You can get items including local tropical fruits, spices, Thai food, souveniers such as T-shirts, miniatures, decorative items and fresh produce. Enjoy the fresh coconut drinks while you take your time crusing on the boat while doing rounds of river cruise shopping. This is a very interesting experience indeed. A detour to Don Hoi Lod, infamous for the shell fish called "hoi lot" where both locals and tourists are craving for where these shell fish are bountiful along the coast of Mae Klong estuary. Many restaurants are being established along the estuary attracting people to try their seafood dishes.
You may never like the notorious Bangkok's heavy traffic, but once you have stepped your foot here you will enjoy the many varieties of this city has to offer as well as the affordable and inexpensive merchandises, nice and good food as well as its countless tourist spots all around.