Traveling Thailand: Great Escapes
This past weekend, given a full 48 hours and no agenda, I decided to pack my bag and hit the road for a few day trips out-of-town. 😀
On Saturday, I headed to the minivan station in Bangkok near the Victory Monument, possibly one of the most convenient and cheapest ways of traveling to nearby cities.
Victory Monument: Courtesy of Google images. Surrounding the monument are hoards of vans and ticket booth counters, with departures nationwide. Beforehand, I even found a nifty webpage with the locations of minivans departing for selected cities. 🙂That being said, the reality of Victory Monument is nothing short of utter chaos. Crowds of pedestrians and hundreds of street vendors overtake the sidewalks, and most signs are written in Thai. Luckily, locals here are super helpful. Within minutes I was approached by a few drivers asking, ‘Pai nai?’ or ‘Where you go?’ (pai=go, nai= where)
After a few verbal instructions, I found the bus counter, bound for Ayutthaya. The two-hour journey on this comfy and air-conditioned van was a whopping $2. This was already turning out to be an affordable and enjoyable great escape from the city. 🙂
Day Trip to Ayutthaya
Why visit Ayutthaya? Easy.
Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the ancient capitals of Thailand.In fact, during the 17th century, the kingdom of Ayutthaya had the largest population in the world.
The city itself is teeming with around 400 Buddhist temples, most showcasing gorgeous Khmer architecture, similar to what is found at Angkor Wat.
The majority of the temples are conveniently located near the Ayutthaya Historical Park. The park also has gorgeous paths for walking, and a serene pond to enjoy the sounds of nature. 🙂
Wat Chaiwattanaram, with one the most well-preserved prangs, a Khmer-style tower. Some people chose elephant transport around the town, which looked to me like a sad circus. Poor guys. 😥In my opinion, a more stylish and retro way of transportation is by tuk-tuk. 🙂 Peace and love baby. ❤To keep the theme going, I even spotted some vintage cassette tapes while grabbing a coffee along the way. Totally retro! 😀Anyway, navigating Ayutthaya by either tuk-tuk or bicycle is easy considering the city is actually a small island, surrounded by three rivers.
Fun fact: During its heyday, the city was protected by a high wall with over sixteen fortresses, including the most important defensive block, Pom Phet Fortress.
Pom Phet Fortress a.k.a ‘Diamond Fort’Despite this protective barrier, after a 400-year reign, during the Burmese-Siamese War, the kingdom of Ayutthaya was invaded, and the rulers overthrown.
These ravaged ruins are all that remains of the once great empire. With only one day and over 400 temples to choose from, I relied on my trusty guidebook to help me find the most significant and beautiful historic ruins. 😀Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the holiest, and undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the temples in Ayutthaya. Three beautifully restored bell-shaped chedis tower over the temple grounds, and command the eyes of all. 😀Wat Maha That was one of the most important Buddhist monasteries during the Ayutthaya reign. It was located close to the Grand Palace, and used as the venue for important royal ceremonies and blessings.
Grounds of the Grand PalaceMany of the golden Buddha shrines in Ayutthaya were melted during the Burmese invasion; however, the Buddha of Wat Mongkhon Bophit remains intact and an active place of worship. The holy shrines here are used for prayer and merit-making. The temple smelled of aromatic burning incense, and was covered in colorful lotus flowers. Note: Placing gold leaf on the statue is another form of merit-making, and honoring Buddhist beliefs. Well, just like the few remaining golden statues, the majority of the Buddha relics and artifacts were also looted by the Burmese. That being said, one immense Buddha head remains behind for all to admire. 🙂It has been said that this was initially an attempted theft, but due its massive size, the robbers left the head laying next to the tree. Magically, over time, Mother Nature has actually intertwined the Buddha head within its vines, making them one. Quite breathtaking, really. 🙂Note: It is not allowed to take photos standing above the Buddha’s head.
Actually, there were quite a few very strict rules to follow, but nobody seemed to be monitoring the grounds. They seemed to have trust that everyone was there to respect and appreciate this holy site. 🙂Overall, walking along the grass-lined paths, through the crumbling ruins, and alongside the stoic buddhas gave me a real feeling of peace and complete serenity. 🙂
Traveling Thailand: Escaping Curious George
After an effortless escape from the city on Saturday, I decided to head right back to Victory Monument on Sunday, for yet another road trip. 🙂
This time, I took a $3 van to the city of Lopburi in northern Thailand. I also decided to write down my destination on a slip of paper, and one worker drew me a handy map, leading to the correct van. So cute! 😀
Day Trip to Lopburi
Why visit Lopburi? Easy.
Lopburi is like Jumanji, but in real life. 😛Jumanji 😛In Lopburi, the monkeys have literally taken over the town, and become quite the spectacle for tourists.
Hanging on telephone lines and manning the fire truck. 😛Their most notorious hangout being the ruins of Wat Phra Prang Sam Yot.
The macaques were comical to watch, and some could be quite cheeky. 😛 It didn’t take long for one to use my leg as a tree trunk and climb their way onto my rucksack. 😛Just like Curious George, he couldn’t help but nosy around. There’s just no cure for curiosity. 😉
Anyway, escaping Curious George was quite easy, considering these little buggers are so food-motivated. All it took was a cob of corn and a banana to get this monkey off my back. 😛Overall, they’re quite precious and I just couldn’t get enough of the little macaque babes. Adorable! ❤In the end, Lopburi turned to be another great escape from the city, and offered some beautiful ruins to explore as well.
After a great escape, I came back to the city looking to do things a bit more social. 🙂
Since I’m still trying to meet new people, I decided to join the group meetup.com, which is a social networking organization aimed at getting people together for various functions and events. Meetup has groups in cities around the world, and there are hundreds of meetup groups in Bangkok alone. 🙂
I decided to join the International Travel Group, and attended my first meetup session this past week.
I took the BTS skytrain to the meetup. Such pretty lights! 🙂
We met to this week at cute little restaurant in Bangkok called Hemingway’s.At the meetup, designated keynote speakers gave presentations to discuss past trips to obscure travel destinations, including the Mangystau Peninsula of Kazakhstan. I learned they do hardcore things there, like horseback wrestling, eating horse kebab, and drinking fermented camel’s milk.
Horseback wrestling in Kazakhstan.Feeling inspired by those acts of culinary bravery, I decided to try some unique street eats of my own. 😛 As I was walking home from the skytrain today, I spotted a fresh array of colorful veggies that immediately caught my eye. 🙂As I paused and nodded for him to give me a serving, he started to ladle this bizarre black jello into my glass. He then topped it with crushed ice, squash, corn, kidney beans, barley, and sweetened tapioca pearls. Oh yes, can’t forget the few dried prunes thrown on like a cherry. Ta-da! 😛
Quite possibly the most random assortment of foods in a cup, but it was surprisingly refreshing. 🙂
I later learned that the black jello was grass jelly, which is made from boiled plants, and has a ton of health benefits. Four hours post-consumption, I’m just happy to have all my insides intact. 😉 Hah.
Well, that’s all for now folks. Have a great weekend and until next time. 😀