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Bangkok & Ayutthaya

The City of Angels and Sacred Ruins

sunny 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.

Posted by kidd27 14:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


The island paradise

rain 31 °C
View Phnom Penh on kidd27's travel map.

June 2007

Phuket was never exactly in my travel plans, at least for this round of holiday. A spontaneous question posted to a work colleague, Boon on whether he has any immediate or future breakaway plans in mind has landed me in this island-part of the Land o Smiles. Not that I dislike beach vacation but rather some reservations on the horror aftermath of tsunami that affected Phuket which had indeed kept this paradise island away from my plan. When the suggestion was raised by Boon, I thought, "Well, since I need a vacation and am looking for travel partner, this idea is somewhat okay". So that was it. We were off here in Phuket.

Travelling low season (its wet season in June) nevertheless has its advantage. Everything is cheap in particular the accomodations which went as low as 50% lower in rates compared to during the high season. If you think that the wet season will ever deprive you of a great beach/island retreat....think again. It wasn't that bad actually, to the extent that you wouldn't be able to bask into the sun and beach for a reasonable level of fun and relaxation. There was sunny days coupled with torrential rains. But on most days during our stay, we had a fair share of good weather. We had our fun, no doubt on that.

It pays to avoid engaging the services of tour agents at the stretch along the way from the airport to your next destination in Phuket. Most of the minivan operators work closely with such agents in return for commissions. Accomodations and tours would be much less expensive if they are being booked at the places you chose to put up at, say Patong. Due to the fact that may have more options to choose from, this affords you to make wise decision in terms of financial savings. Some agents will likely mis-sell the accomodation package in order to get higher commissions.The best and easiet way to get out from this is to mentioned that you've arranged all the necessary details, ie accomodation and the tours. I must admit though that not all agents tend to be dishonest and want to rip you off your finances. Some really offer affordable and fair rates. We booked our accomodation with one of such agents (through the work of minivan driver that we engaged to take us to Patong from the airport). Upon our investigation at the end of our stay, the rates were much higher by over 40% if we booked direct with the hotel itself. So, there are some pro and cons here and there.

There are many island tours available for travellers to choose from. You're apparently spoilt with choices. The most popular one would be Ko Phi Phi where many agents offer daily as well as overnight trip to this beautiful masterpiece. Ko Phi Phi is divided into 2 parts, Ko Phi Phi Don (the larger island) and Ko Phi Phi Leh (the smaller island). We booked our Ko Phi Phi tour for THB1,700, which we found out later that it was slightly costlier. In Patong, the tour agents quoted THB1,500 for the day trip after some negotiations. Anyway, the difference of THB200 was rather acceptable, but a word of caution: Avoid booking any trips from tour operators outside from where you decided to stay particularly where the agents are being arranged by minivan services. Most if not all will tend to sell you packages which costs higher. However, should you feel comfortable doing so, do initiate on negotiations to the price level which you think is reasonable. So, some homework done at home is advantageous so that you can gauge on the prices of any tours available. The day trip to Ko Phi Phi include swimming, snorkeling and lunch which lasted approximately 7 hours. There are several options for you to choose, depending on the size of travellers and speedboats. If you want to have travel with lesser people on board, then the price is higher. Nevertheless, the operators may promise you that the boats will cater for only 22 people but end up with over 40 people. Another scam is that beware of the gimmick prior to your departure point at the pier. They will charge you THB100 to hire a pair of flips for use during the snorkeling. This is somehow ridiculous as this people will not inform you during the booking. However, the other snorkeling gear such as mask is given free. Other trips include to Phang Nga, Krabi, Coral Island (Ko Hae), Ko Mai Thon, Ko Raya, Ko Similan and many more. Check out at the available operators.

Patong is the major entertainment playground for everyone, both the holidaymakers as well as the locals. Bangla Road has the most entertainment joints for your to enjoy good number of beers and as many as you an afford. Beer bars, a go go bars, pubs and discos are all here fro you to choose. Beers go as cheap as THB50 a bottle. For the guys, be prepared to be approached by the bar girls where they'll ask for you to buy them drinks, otherwise known as the ladydrinks. It costs anything between THB120 to THB150. The extra charges work as tips for these girls. (normal price for drinks cost between THB60 to THB80). If you want to avoid those unwanted attentions, ask for some games available over the counter. You can play for as long as you wanted to fill up the rest of the night. Games available include bingo, blocks, dice as well as hammering nails on a large piece of wood. Check this out at the Soi Sea Dragon. Along the main Bangla Road, there are many "freelancers" including the ladyboys looking for potential business deals. Loud musics can be heard from every nooks and corners of these entertainment outlets along Bangla Road. Seafood are aplenty here. Many restaurants, serving fantastic seafood as well as decent, authentic Thai food are located along Thaweewong Road, fronting the Patong beach area, also known as Patong Beach Road. We had a try at the Royal Palm Resortel at Thaweewong Road. A sizeable portion of hot and spicy tuna and tom yum koong together with steam rice fit in just well into our hunger and crave for authentic Thai food. The tuna was marvelous with extensive spiciness while the tom yum taste equally great with a well blend combination of sweet, sour and spice that comes along with reasonable amount of fresh prawns.

Street food are also worth trying. Along the Rat-Uthit 200 Pee Road near 7-Eleven, there are several stalls selling mixed pork porridge, chicken rice and hot noodles. At nearby Sainamyem Road, there is a budget restaurant operating round the clock specialised in chicken and pork soup/dry noodle and chicken rice too. The noodle dish comes with apart from the noodle, dried shrimp, fried wanton, bean sprout, fried beancurd and meatballs. Try mix with the red chilli pepper. The level of spiciness is just so great, which made it more exciting to eat. Pushcarts selling varieties of pancake flavours including that of banana and honey, peanut butter and banana, nutella paste with banana and many more are available to vet your appetite. You can find this along the Patong Beach Road. If you crave for some local tropical food, try the "rambutan", a tiny hairy red oval shape fruit that is sweet and juicy. We came across a 4 wheel drive with loads of such fruits at its rear long compartment that goes around doing its usual daily night business particularly late nights to early mornings.

Motorbike rental costs as little as THB200 per day without mileage limitations. Fuel of THB100 lasted us for a round trip from Patong, Karon, Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, Chalong, Phuket town and back to Patong. Apart from Patong beach, we had swimming at Kata beach, which also attracts a fair number of beach goers whom stay around Kata. Big waves are common at the stretch of beach facing the Andaman Sea and at times do pose threat to swimmers who are careless. This is especially so in Patong beach. Be cautious not to swim too far off into the sea as the currents risk pull one away and that will follow by difficulty to swim back to the beach. We had a close call but quick action from the beachguards saved us. Several swimmers were also caught off guard and had to be assisted by the beach boys to pull them to safety with the jetski. The red pole is always there to be safety yardstick.
The beach benches are available for rent at THB100 the whole day. This affords you relaxation, sunbathing, and to enjoy your food and drinks in between your swims.

Other attraction which should not be missed is Wat Chalong. It would be easily be voted as the best attraction in Phuket with its unique and beautiful wat structures. Comprising of several number of wats located within its compound, many tourists flocked to Wat Chalong to offer prayers and to ask for good fortunes. There are 2 other wats in the central part of the island. the Wat Phra Nang Sang and Wat Phra Tong. Inside the Wat Chalong, there are some makeshift stalls where souveniers are on sale as well as the very tasty green coconut to quench your thirst for THB20. The Promthep Cape, situated between Nai Harn and Rawai is worth a visit. This cape is situated on the edge of the south of the island which affords visitors the view of the beautiful sunset from the top of the hill.

After all, this round of backpacking trip to Phuket was well above my expectations. It was indeed a very interesting, relaxing and wonderful holiday for Boon and me. The island lives up to the tagline "The Land of Smiles" for you see many happy faces around. Great beaches, marvelous food, cheap beers, pretty and friendly girls everywhere. Wouldn't this be paradise, dream holiday?

Posted by kidd27 17:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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