Traveling the world looking for the meaning of life and anything else I might find.
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  • Day25

    Chiang Mai again

    February 8, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    We get up in the morning with plans to go to Doi Suthep and the Chiang Mai Zoo. We walk down to the temple near our hostel where the songtows wait to collect passengers. Two American girls and two European girls were waiting and we tried to negotiate a songtowwith them but they were unhappy that the driver would “only” wait 1.5 hours at Doi Suthep and wouldn’t take them only one way. They also wanted to bargain hard over every last baht. Fortunately for us, two young Chinese ladies walked up and asked whether they could go to Bhubing Palace and Doi Suthep. The driver wanted 800 baht for the day, regardless of where we went and how many of us went in his truck. The American and European girls were adamant they did not want to go to Bhubing Palace and we had no idea what Bhubing Palace was. But, being open to adventure, we decided to join the Chinese ladies for the ride up to Bhubing Palace at a cost of 200 baht each (because the American and European girls walked off to find other transport options).

    Bhubing Palace turned out to be a fantastic bonus for our day. The palace is the holiday home of the Thai Royal Family and boasts stunning gardens. We both love gardens and flowers so had a field day.

    It wasn’t just the flowers that were beautiful but the whole landscaping design was amazing. There were rooms, like the rose garden, fern garden, lake garden, glass house garden and clumps of bamboo. As we walked we talked about starting our own little potted garden at the house we rent. Maybe just some peas, broccoli, leafy greens and flowers. Nothing too difficult to maintain or large, just something that we can transport if we have to move in future and something we can leave while we travel and not be worried if it doesn’t survive our absence.

    After an hour at Bhubing Palace thesongtow took us back down the mountain to Doi Suthep. This is a mountain temple where you have to walk up 302 steps to reach it. The steps are quite small and the climb isn’t as bad as it sounds. It was very busy, but as usual in a Thai temple it felt calm and peaceful inside. Foreigners have to pay a small entry fee, which I don’t ever mind paying when it is only small. It reflects that tourists come to see the temple while locals come to pray (and, in doing so, leave lots of money at the temple). We have started to actively participate in the way of the temple by making small donations, buying incense and candles, and paying to pour the oil into candle holders at the Buddha images that reflect the days of our birth. The temple itself is large, gold and beautiful.

    The Chiang Mai Zoo is located at the base of the mountain under Doi Suthep. We’d read about the zoo at Dusit Zoo way back in Bangkok so had to go. What we didn’t realise is how big Chiang Mai Zoo is. There’s a reason they allow people to drive around the zoo and hire out golf carts for people who do not have cars. But we didn’t realise until it was too late. You could easily spend a whole day here at this zoo, exploring the various animal exhibits, sitting in the bird aviary and wandering through the aquarium.

    We paid about 20 baht (80c) to feed a jaguar and elephant (not at the same time – haha). The jaguar had the most amazing eyes. They were big, clear and intelligent. It’s paws were huge as it padded around its enclosure. The elephant was kind of scary because it was so big. We took turns feeing it and hoping that it didn’t break out of its enclosure, which was only closed by a flimsy post and rail fence with a chain gate. It might have been a zoo activity but feeding an elephant is a pretty cool experience. We also visited the two pandas. One was asleep but the other saw us arrive, walked down to inspect us and then wandered around its enclosure. There are only 35 pandas in zoos worldwide and very few left in the wild. Having now seen one, I know what people mean by panda eyes.

    But my favourite part of the Chiang Mai Zoo was the aquarium. I loved walking around looking at all the different types of sea life. There were mangrove fish, prawns, coral fish, small blacktip sharks and many more sea creatures. It made me want to learn to scuba so I can see these all in the wild (well, maybe not the sharks).

    It was a big day of sights, walking and travel but well worth the effort. In the evening we returned to the Sunday Walking Street to buy gifts and souvenirs for home. This represents a shift for me because it means I am ready to start acquiring possessions and settling down again after giving away or selling almost all my possessions last year when I embarked on this journey of Looking For 42.

    What do you do when you only have one final day on holidays? Why you treat yourself to luxury. And in Thailand, that means massages, first class cinemas and good food.

    After our experience of first class cinemas in Phuket I was excited to find that they were at the Maya Shopping Mall in Chiang Mai so we walked the 4km from the city to check them out. It was fantastic. We enjoyed some delicious pre-movie canapes for an hour. Then we were shown to our fantastic couples seat with independently reclining chairs. Once the King’s song and some very funny commercials were over we settled in under our blankets to enjoy the movie. The only strange thing was that I had ordered us salty popcorn but we ended up each being given a big bowl of mixed popcorn. There is something a little disconcerting about eating a mix of cheese, barbecue, salt and sweet popcorn in a darkened cinema. You never quite know when the savoury experience will be interrupted by a mouthful of sugar. Chalk it up to a funny Thai experience. The movie we watched was Jupiter Ascending. It was full of special effects with limited story line but a pleasant choice that didn’t require too much thought so we could settle in and enjoy the comfortable surrounds.

    It was already dark by the time we exited the cinema so we went up to the Maya Shopping Mall roof to enjoy the view. There are lots of bars and restaurants up on the roof but all were empty but for the staff. The views were nice though.

    We took a stroll around the big food street near the shopping centre to find some food but found that most of what was on offer was either Western food or over-priced Thai food (compared with what we had been eating in the old city). The street lighting was lovely though.

    So we took a tuk tuk back to the Old City where we dined at Khao Tom 1 Baht, which has become our favourite Chiang Mai restaurant and is well worth the wait in the queue that forms. The pineapple fried rice is particularly good.

    And so ends our trip to Thailand. The next day we missed our flight home due to my reading the booking information but we managed to book an alternative flight to Kuala Lumpur, which allowed us to connect to our original flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Gold Coast.
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  • Day24

    Chiang Mai Flower Festival

    February 7, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    We had read about the Chiang Mai Flower Festival in our Thailand guide book but weren’t sure exactly when it would be on. Well, how lucky were we: it was on the weekend we were in town. And what a spectacular event it was.

    This might seem like lazy blogging but I think the photos of the floats speak for themselves.

    I mean, how can I possibly add anything by speaking to these photos.

    Thai creativity, attention to detail and visual aesthetic proves, once again, to be amazing!

    The theme this year was tourism in Thailand.

    If you have a chance, I recommend visiting the Chiang Mai Flower Festival because it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime cultural events.

    And then, at the end of the day, we watched a few traditional dances.
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  • Day23

    Golden Triangle

    February 6, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Another long convoy drive takes us to the Golden Triangle. I sleep almost the whole way there so cannot tell you about the scenery. Once there we eat a buffet lunch overlooking Myanmar, which is only about 100m away on the other side of the river. I have a chuckle about how one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thailand is the view of its neighbours (Myanmar and Laos).

    After lunch we decide to pay the extra 330 Baht ($16) to take a boat ride on the Mekong River and to enter Laos. The river is muddy and wide. We head upstream to the place where we cross into Myanmar (on the boat). I am surprised to see a huge casino on the Myanmar bank of the river. The visa requirements for Myanmar are relatively complex so we cannot touch the shores but it doesn’t matter because I’m not into casinos anyway. The boat turns and we move towards the opposite bank, which is Laos. My excitement at being at these borders needs to be viewed in the context of my living on an island nation in Australia where visiting a foreign country requires a long flight over the oceans (hence why we call visiting foreign countries “going overseas”).

    The boat docks at an island on the Laos side of the river and we are allowed to disembark for thirty minutes. Our passports are back in Thailand and our tour guide has organised our land tax for the island as part of the 330 baht we paid for the boat trip. We are fortunate because the tall trees are bathed in red flowers. I can’t recall the name of the flower and Google isn’t helping me. The flowers drop to the ground with a thud and are then collected and dried for use as a tea. There’s a festival on the island and gambling seems to be the main purpose with all sorts of gambling games set up in the festival grounds. Nearby there is also a casino in the Laos side of the river. The locals jokingly call it Laos Vegas.

    Our final stop for the day is supposed to be the markets at Mai Sei on the Thailand-Myanmar land border but the tour guide offers us the option of going up a nearby hill to see a view over into Myanmar instead. We all readily agree and that’s our next stop. Here twin border towns flourish as vehicles cross a bridge into Myanmar. I’ve never been to a proper border town before (I don’t count border towns in Europe and the UK because you don’t need a visa or anything to cross them). On one side of the river the temples are Thai and on the other you can clearly see that they are Burmese. It’s fascinating.

    There is a massive Buddha statue on the side of a mountain near the border. It’s impressive and I wonder who it’s intended for.

    It’s already about 4.30pm when we leave the border and we have a long 4-5 hour drive back to Chiang Mai. We watch the sun set over the mountains to the west of the highway and then are plunged into a dull darkness. If you are taking this trip with children or are easily bored, I highly recommend carrying something you can use to watch movies on (because you can’t quite read in the dark). The drive is broken up by a short quarter hour stop for bathrooms and snacks. We arrived home at about 9:30pm, 14 hours after leaving. It was a brilliant day and well worth the 1,000 baht ($40) per person.
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  • Day23

    Hill tribe village

    February 6, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Our mini bus pulls into the carpark at the Hill Tribe village site. I cannot remember which tribe we visited but I am sure they are all fairly similar on this tour. There’s a big sign on the highway announcing the exit to the village and a carpark already lined with other mini buses. But it does seem as though people actually might live here from the way the huts are constructed and the washing hanging on the lines. It’s a way of life that seems so primitive. We learn that many of the hill tribes originate from Myanmar or China and crossed into Thailand as “illegal immigrants” (I hate that term). They never used to have citizenship status but now do so many work in the cities selling souvenirs at markets and their children now have access to Thailand’s education system. The hill tribe village visit is almost totally commercial in nature. We get a little talk about their houses and vegetable gardens before we are let loose in the small market under the watchful eye of the tour guide, who enquires after every purchase (to make sure the company’s commission is accounted for?). We buy a few small things. Paul has a softer heart than me and enjoys buying gifts for people so he buys a bit more.

    But I guess, this is responsible tourism in a way because $2 or $4 mean very little to us at home. It won’t even buy us a coffee. But here it is enough to feed a family for a day. I mean, we donate money to charities and give coins to beggars because we feel it is the right thing to do. But then we haggle to the last baht with vendors who are actually working to feed their families. It’s an interesting conundrum isn’t it. And the prices at the hill tribe market are not extortionate so that makes us more comfortable buying.
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  • Day23

    White Temple Chiang Rai

    February 6, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Being lovers of all things art and creativity we had to go to the White Temple in Chiang Rai. And, given that Paul has always wanted to travel to Myanmar, we had to go to the Golden Triangle so that he could glimpse the country of his dreams. So we booked a one-day Chiang Rai / Golden Triangle tour with TravelHub Thailand. Neither of us are really tour people but with so little time remaining before we head home, it was the best option. And it ended up being a fantastic day; the tour guide really just facilitated the transport, food and site entries and gave us just the right amount of time in each location. But you don’t want practicalities. You want to know what we felt, saw and experienced.

    It was a long three hour drive from Chiang Mai to the White Temple. Some of the drive was beautiful and took us along a winding road snaking across a mountain range while other sections travelled through hot dry towns slung out along the highway. But the drive is worth it because words will never do the White Temple justice. It is hands down the most beautiful structure I have ever seen. It glitters like ice and snow on a bluebird day. The attention to detail is spectacular, if somewhat disturbing with all those skulls and flailing hands. If you go there, take the time to walk around the back of the complex because, while there were hundred of tourists competing for photo space out the front of the temple, we pretty much had the sides and back of the complex to ourselves. The temple is still under construction so we could not go inside. The artist is building it as an example of modern Thai art and, apparently, the interior is being decorated to reflect the state of Buddhism in the twenty-first century, rather than the traditional historical stories.

    After 40 minutes we pull out of the White Temple complex and join the convoy of mini buses heading north on the same itinerary. Don’t be mistaken here: Thailand’s tourism industry funnels everyone nicely along the same route. It’s easy to see why The Beach was set in this country because it really is like Leonardo di Caprio’s speech in the opening scenes of that movie. But that’s no reason not to travel to this amazing country. Just be prepared to join the convoy if you want to see the most famous sites.
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  • Day22

    Kayaking Chiang Mai

    February 5, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Some days are just perfect. Today we took a tour with Chiang Mai Mountain Bike & Kayaking. As those who follow my blog will know, I rarely recommend any commercial enterprise in my posts. But today is an exception because our kayaking trip was brilliant and made possible by the tour company. While we had first hoped to do the Chiang Dao Jungle kayak adventure, the region is currently quite dry so the only trip the company could run was the Mid Valley Kayak Expedition down the Mae Ping River in the Mae Ngat Valley. It didn’t matter because the trip we took was still amazing and gives us a reason to come back to Chiang Mai to try some of the other tours.

    The trip started with a half hour river flow lesson. Don’t worry, this time doesn’t come off your allowance of fun. I have been paddling for years but this was the first time anyone has ever taken the time to explain eddies and flow patterns to me. We learned some basic techniques like eddie-out, pull-out, crossing the river and how to stop from tipping out if we got caught against a rock or log. It showed that the company is serious about safety and paddler enjoyment, rather than just dropping us in the water and hoping we enjoyed it with whatever skills we already had (if any).

    Once the instructions were over we loaded into the back of a songtow-style vehicle to drive an hour to the entry point. The bikes on the roof were for two guests who were doing a bike-kayak combination trip. While it looks uncomfortable, the vehicle is not too bad and the seating arrangement allowed us to get to know the other two guests on the kayaking trip a little better before we spent the day on the water together.

    The put-in for the kayaking trip was under a bridge in the middle of a tobacco field. We were each allocated a sit-in touring boat. The company has different types of boats that they use depending on conditions. They have sit-on boats, sit-in touring boats and sit-in white-water play boats. We were going to experience a Class 1 river with shallow water and some obstacles like logs. The sit-in boats were perfect being easy to manoeuvre and good for sun protection. The guide gave a briefing …

    And then we were off. Before we paddled downstream, the guide had us paddle about 50m upstream, cross the river and eddy-out before pulling-out and making a 360′ turn. I think he just wanted to check how much guidance he would need to give us before getting too far downstream.

    And so we spent the day paddling in Thailand.

    We passed farms and small Thai row boats tied up on the river’s edge.

    Saw fishermen casting nets for small fish.

    And generally enjoyed the river’s serenity.

    About half way down the river we stopped for a short rest on a rocky bank of the river while we waited for the two cyclists to join our group. The rest was relaxing as we talked and watched the wind blow the grasses on the other side of the river.

    Our guide also turned his hand to fishing for these strange shellfish that live in the river bed. They are very small and are eaten whole in omelette. But you’d need a lot of them to get enough protein or flavour to make it worthwhile and he was only catching one or two with every scoop of the net.

    Once the two cyclists joined us we left the farmland behind and entered a particularly peaceful part of the river where trees grew on either side and mountains rose ahead of us. I sat on the back of my boat with my feet dragging through the cool water, only pulling them in when we had to navigate obstacles.

    The trip was about 20km of downstream paddle. It was not terribly difficult but not so easy as to be dull. The guide was relaxed and knowledgeable, the group social and fun, and the paddling perfect
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  • Day18

    Chiang Mai

    February 1, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    We’re in a new city and again we have no idea what to expect. But we have heard there are lots of temples to explore here in Chiang Mai so that’s what we set out to do. It’s a 3km (2 mile) walk from our apartment to the Old City so there will be a lot of walking done this afternoon. I notice the difference between Chiang Mai and the capital immediately. This city is much drier and dustier at this time of year. The roads a wider and the traffic seems to move faster, possibly because there is less off it to clog the roads up. The culture feel different already too, just in these first few kilometres. There are fewer street restaurants and fruit vendors than in the capital and more shops and undercover restaurants. It’s going to be interesting to see what this city has to offer.

    We reach our first temple just near the old city wall. I had expected it to look much like those we say in the south but it’s totally different. Instead of white washed concrete walls, the temple is made of timber painted dark brown. Inside, this temple is far more elaborate than anything we have seen so far. There is more structural work in the ceiling and pillars, and the “altar” has more images and decorations on it. And the murals on the wall are spectacular. It takes a while for my mind to adjust. I had gotten so used to Bangkok’s style of temple that it didn’t even occur to me that they would be so different here.

    There is a smaller temple nearby in a side street. It’s cute and the red coloured interior is more familiar to my eye. The workmanship is amazing and I am dazzled by the beauty of this peaceful place. It seems almost odd to see a group of young backpackers taking group selfies on the steps. Not bad, just odd in the context of this beautiful temple (there are signs in some temples here in Thailand that specifically state that taking of photos is acceptable in wats so long as you are respectful of the religious aspect of the place).

    We keep exploring temples throughout the city as we make our way ever deeper into the old city. They really are amazing places. I love the way the temples remain peaceful despite the volume of tourism that is happening. Monks still meditate and the faithful still pray as foreigners from around the globe click their cameras and gasp in wonder at the beauty. It’s an experience of wonder.

    Most of the temples have pretty gardens immaculately landscaped. Flowers blossom and the scent of incense mingles with floral notes. Signs warn of scammers and I hope this deters those who would prey on well-meaning and innocent travellers from entering these sacred places.

    Eventually, we find ourselves in the middle of the city at Wat Chedi Luang. The complex is amazing and we spend an hour or more here exploring the temples, halls and museum. My favourite image is that of the fat monk Tan Pra Maha Kajjana who people mistook for Lord Buddha. One monk saw the Tan Pra Maha Kajjana and though him so beautiful that if he had been a woman he would have wanted to be with him. Tan Pra Maha Kajjana heard of this and decided he didn’t want any monks to have inappropriate thoughts about him, so he transformed himself in a fat and ugly monk. I like this story and the fat monk image always looks cheerful and kind of funny when I see it in temples.

    We stop at another nearby wat that is quiet and untouristed. The only other people there are a family who are leaving as we enter. I always like these quiet lonely temples the best because they feel so special. I wonder what makes one wat a tourist attraction and another a local place of prayer. Is it the history, marketing or is the less touristed place somehow kept more secret to preserve a space for private prayer? It’s certainly not an issue of beauty because the quiet places are often as or more stunning than the popular ones.

    There’s a walking street from 4pm every Sunday in Chiang Mai. A walking street here in Thailand is when cars are locked out of a street and it is turned into a market. The Sunday Walking Street is massive and takes up much more than just one street. The Sunday Walking Street is probably almost a mile long of itself with many of the side streets blocked off for at least a block in each direction to accommodate more stalls. If you want souvenirs, be it t-shirts, paintings, handicrafts or almost anything else, you can probably get it here. Many of the items have prices signed on them that seem quite fair. I actually bought a coin purse for 10 baht (40 cents) to save me holding coins loose in my pockets. It’s cute and touristy and the first souvenir I think I’ve bought myself since I started Looking For 42.

    At one end of the Sunday Walking Street there is a large wat. It’s about 5pm when we arrive so the monks and novices are all sitting inside ready for their evening chanting. We don’t know this is going to happen so it comes as a pleasant surprise. The chanting is beautiful to hear and calm reverberates through the temple. Some official-looking women politely instruct tourists who are going too far with taking of photos to leave so if you want to take a photo or video, make sure you are sitting peacefully and reverently with your camera held discretely in front of you. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with the taking of photos or videos because plenty of people took them but weren’t asked to leave. It seems to be in the way you take the action that is important – the religious ceremony is paramount. We took some photos and even a short video using Paul’s phone to capture the lovely chanting. But we also just sat and listened too so the ladies sending people out decided to leave us be (we saw them watching us taking photos).

    After the chanting we went back out to walk back to our apartment via the Sunday Walking Street. There was something being said over public address system. And then the national anthem or King’s song played (I don’t know which). In that moment the market went from a bustling place of commerce to total silence. Everyone stopped in their tracks and waited for the anthem to be sung. Then business resumed as usual. An hour or two later we were back at our hotel having gotten a taste of our home for the week.

    After four nights at the apartment near the bus station, I make an executive decision and book us a new hotel inside the Old City. It’s not that the apartment is particularly bad but I want to be closer to clean restaurants, massages and temples. So, despite Paul still feeling under the weather, we walk into the city along busy streets where songtows mingle with scooters, pedestrians and bicycles. I should mention that, here in Thailand, most of the pedestrians seem to be foreigners like us. And, at 10am, most of us foreigners are carrying backpacks as we head to and from hotels, buses and the airport. We look like a tribe on the move and I can’t help but wonder what aliens would think if they arrived here in Chiang Mai at this moment.

    I like the area around the new hotel instantly. There’s a delightful café across the road that sells amazing noodle salad. The houses here all have small potted gardens out the front and it’s quiet, despite being just one soi (laneway) back from the main roads.

    Our new hotel is not far from the big temple where we watched the monks chanting the other afternoon. But there are other stunning wats here too. We explore a gorgeous unrenovated complex. The stairs are worn and the dragons at the door are faded with large black patches on them. But inside there are amazing coloured statues. And the small mausoleum next to the main temple is amazing, with its grey render and gold guilding.

    But possibly the most interesting thing about this temple is the huge disturbing mural above the main entry. We ponder the story it is meant to tell. Whatever it is, it’s gruesome. But the workmanship is exceptional.

    Across the road there is another small complex. The blue glass pillars outside the temple call to me. This temple doesn’t look as spectacular due to the lacklustre colours in its slightly run down interior. But it still has intricate decorations that must have looked amazing once.

    Later in the evening we go for another walk. It’s our first foray into Chiang Mai at night, having spent our first few nights out near the bus station. The interesting thing is that, while there is life everywhere, it’s all foreigners. The locals are working and the tourists are eating, drinking, walking and receiving massages. I have to say, I am happy to be on the tourist side of this divide. There are so many bars, restaurants and massage parlours that it’s difficult to chose which to frequent. What’s not difficult is admiring the preparations for the 2015 Chiang Mai Flower Festival. From the work being done out near the gate it’s going to be amazing. And we’re going to be here for it.

    But I think I might leave you today with this image that best sums up our night walking around Chiang Mai.
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  • Day14

    Ayutthaya

    January 28, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Ayutthaya was the capital of what is now Thailand from the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries. At that time, the whole country was called Ayutthaya and was a kingdom. We’ve been coming across Ayutthaya in museums and historic stories throughout our visit to the central Thailand area. Our chosen mode of transport was minivan. These leave from near the National Monument in Bangkok and cost only 60 baht per person. You wait until the van is full to leave but it doesn’t seem to take long until they fill up. It’s 80km or about 1.5 hours from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and our minivan took the toll roads without additional cost to us. The only thing is that the minivans seem to have a deal with the tuk tuk drivers near the edge of town because we were dropped at a tuk tuk stand about 2km away from town instead of at the minivan depot. The tuk tuk drivers kept insisting that it was too far for any of us to walk to our hotels, even when they didn’t actually know where we were staying (as in, we hadn’t told them). They seemed quite angry that none of the passengers on the minivan used their services. I hate this side of travel in Thailand. It frustrates and bores me.

    Ayutthaya, on the other hand, isn’t boring at all. The city has so many things to do and see. We arrived in the mid afternoon and hit the streets to explore our new surrounds. We started with Wat Mahathat, an impressive complex where there is a Buddha statue head that has been engulfed in tree roots. It is said that the heads of some of the statues were removed by the Burmese in one of the many wars between Burma and Ayutthaya / Thailand over the centuries. Some have been restored to their former glory while others stand as evidence of the passage of time.

    We follow random roads around and find ourselves at Wat Thammikarat. The wat is beautiful and relatively deserted but for the rooster statues. This is probably one of the most beautiful wats in Ayutthaya. There is a grandeur about the pillars that surround a golden Buddha statue in the main structure. The building that once stood here must have been massive. The pillars outside the building’s walls are starting to be gobbled up by tree roots, making them even more impressive and eerie. There is a huge head popping out of a lotus flower that commands attention. The flowers in the garden are pretty and squirrels run around in them. But it’s the rooster statues that are most intriguing. I am sure I could find information about them on Wikipedia or some other online site. But I think I like the mystery of why they are all there.

    But there’s more to Ayutthaya than just ruins and roosters. The city has the coolest looking tuk tuks ever. They look like they are taking people to the beach to go surfing. I almost expect to see surfboards strapped to the roofs and long blond hair waving from their windows. The park is lovely for walking with late afternoon reflections striking the water and pretty bridges to cross. And did I mention there are plenty of shops where you can buy delicious cakes? The cakes here in Thailand are fantastic. They are not cheap with prices being similar to what you pay in Australia but the quality is excellent and the attention to detail superb.

    We end our day with a walk through the night market. There are plenty of food options here. You can sit down to a clay pot soup and plate of pad thai. Or you can create your own menu buying snacks from stalls. Just about every taste can be pleased from cute artistic pancakes to local sweets, from chicken to pork belly, and from salad to crickets (yes, the insects). We settled for some random snacks that we took back to our hotel to eat in the comfort of the air conditioning because it is quite hot and humid, and we had walked another 20km by the time we had bought our food

    I was excited to explore Ayutthaya after our previous afternoon’s brief introduction to this historic town. And I was definitely not disappointed by what we found. We spent the day walking all around the river-bound island and across to Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

    We started our exploration with Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit, a massive red and gold-guilded structure that houses one of the largest Buddha images in Thailand. The building is amazing and it’s scale is impossible to share in photographs alone.

    Inside it houses a 17m (55′) image of the Buddha. The image is thought to have been built in the sixteenth century but was damaged in the fall of Ayutthaya in the eighteenth century when the right arm and part of the head were severed. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the image and building were restored to their former glory.

    Next door is Wat Phra Si Sanphet. I liked these ruins with the rounded white cheddies. It was large and had shady trees growing throughout the complex. But the real highlight of our visit to this site was our interaction with the school children who were completing some sort of assignment. Groups of uniformed teenage girls were shyly stopping tourists and asking whether they spoke English. If the answer was “yes”, then a series of short questions would follow. Two groups of girls were brave enough to stop us to ask questions. I answered the first “interview” and Paul did the second. Then I saw a group of girls who had just been speaking with their teacher. They looked shy and scared. So I asked them whether they wanted us to do an interview and they looked so relieved. I’m studying teaching at university and think this makes a fantastic way for children learning a foreign language to engage with native language speakers in a semi-realistic setting. It’s a relatively safe controlled environment because you are in a tourist park with clear boundaries. And most tourists don’t mind helping students in this way.

    It was a long walk from here around the island to the bridge that leads across the river to Wat Chaiwatthanaram. There’s a pretty little restaurant right on the river’s edge that serves delicious food for a great price. Both of us were hungry after walking for hours and we ate up a feast.

    Wat Chaiwatthanaram was worth the 10km walk from our hotel. The complex was large and overlooked the greeny-brown river. We walked around the outer edge of the complex but chose not to climb the stairs to the centre spire because the structure looked vulnerable from years of existence. The wat was originally constructed in about 1630. Again, many of the Buddha images had their heads chopped off.

    We contemplated catching a tuk tuk or taxi back to our hotel but found ourselves walking to a more modern wat just near the cross-river bridge. The bright red paint and decorations of the wat were a pleasant surprise and starkly contrasted the ruins we had been walking through all day. We bought some candles, insense and gold leaf, which we used at the temple.

    Again we ended up walking our way around the island but this time we took the northern route. It was worth it to see the a giant chedi near the police training camp, the giant reclining Buddha, some very Thai architecture and the sun setting over Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit.
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  • Day11

    And Bangkok again

    January 25, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    After a couple of days feeling like we had left Thailand, it feels fantastic to be back in Bangkok where the food is delicious, the people are Thai and the tuk tuk drivers beg us to go places with them. I have never really missed any city I have visited but Bangkok is different. There’s something about it that makes me feel instantly at ease. Perhaps it’s the food. Oh how I love Bangkok’s food.

    Or maybe it’s the city’s aesthetics that appeal to me. The peaceful temples and parklands that provide respite from the busy umbrella topped alleys ways and cars racing up and down the main streets.

    Or maybe it’s the sense that anything can happen here. Like stumbling across the crazy Patpong district where a touristy night bazaar nestles in the red light district under signs screaming of strip shows, brothels and alcohol (which appears to be quite expensive). We wander the red light district politely declining the many pimps who offer us cheap sexy massage and entry to ping pong shows. Many carry photos of their girls as though they are mere chattels. And when we decline, they say, “Boys? You wan’ boys?”. I cannot help but laugh at equal opportunity in action here on Patpong’s seedy streets. For the record, we decline the offer of boys too.

    Somehow being back in Bangkok feels like being home. I can’t explain why but it does.

    Last time we were in Bangkok, we realised there was so much more to see and do. We only had three days here and barely scratched the surface of this city’s charm. So today we hit the streets in search of more wats (temples). While many people said we would be “templed-out” after the first few days, the temples are a highlight of our days and we often find ourselves walking to just one more temple when we see the tell-tale gold rooflines orchedis poking out from between the houses. And as we walk we find hidden gems like old buildings, pretty window dressings and living canals.

    We both love art, so it makes sense that we love the temples here in Thailand. They are each beautifully and uniquely decorated. The amount of work that must have gone into the construction and decoration is amazing. Actually, that’s the word that we use all the time “amazing”.

    We spend the day wandering from temple to temple, stopping in between for street food on the famous Khao San Road and to buy incense sticks from the many vendors. It’s the little things that capture our attention. Like the friendly temple cats that will play with your shoes or roll on their backs begging for pats. The beautiful flowers that seem to be everywhere, whether on the ground or in vases or lilies in pots. And the creative ways money is donated at temples.

    Our adventure takes us to the Giant Swing, which actually was used as a swing until 1935 when the practice was stopped due to fatalities and structural damage. The swing is enormous and there is no way you’d get me up there on it.

    We ended our day with a fast boat ride up a narrow canal to the Siam Paragon shopping mall from where it was not too far to walk home. Naturally, we had to stop for treats and where better than a little cake shop with cute pink couches. The strange underwater looking photo is of us in a mirror room at the Siam Paragon.

    By the time we reached home after walking more than 20km we were fairly tired but it was nothing that a good leg massage couldn’t fix.

    We board an orange-flagged ferry with no fixed plans. We are just heading upstream until we feel like getting off. It’s 15 baht (60 cents) per ticket regardless of your destination so this gives us the flexibility to decide while on board. And stay on board we did. The wind blew through our hair and cooled our sweaty bodies as we made our way upstream. We passed old rotting buildings and new condos. Bridges passed by overhead, some boring and others elaborate. Large fish jump alongside the boat. We reach Nonthaburi and are told the ferry terminates here. I guess this is where we are going today. People feed bread to the fish near the jetty and the fish are swarming. There are thousands of them fighting for a feed. We had seen Thai fishermen baiting hooks with bread earlier in our trip and wondered whether they caught anything that way. Now we know they probably do.

    We walk up the street and notice a large market up near the ferry stop. There’s a whole block filled with lanes and alleys crammed full of stalls selling everything from vegetables and fruits to fish, meat and skinned frogs. You can buy clothes, phone covers and even pet rabbits. Voices ebb and flow across the air as my nose is assaulted by lots of smells (not all delicious). Cats hang out at the market, some with collars and others looking more like strays. The stall holders pat the cats, talk to them, laugh at them as they hide in boxes or shoo them away, depending on what the cat is doing.

    There is a small museum in an old colonial style building along the river. It tells the story on Nonthaburi’s past as a major supplier of durian fruit. Personally, I can’t stand the smell of the fruits and hate the taste but it seems they are a delicacy with people speculating on next season’s first crop before they are even ripe. Naturally, we also do some wathunting while we are here.

    A short cross-river ferry takes us to another temple complex. As always it’s stunning. There are no other tourists and the locals look at us strangely as we walk around. We buy some fish food and feed the fish. Again they are swarming and well fed.

    There’s a large park next to the temple with walking paths and a pagoda in the middle of a lake. There are many people walking around the paths and a group of women are preparing to do aerobics in the carpark. It looks like a fantastic place to end a busy work day in hectic Bangkok. But we can’t stay much longer because we don’t want to miss the last ferry back into the city.

    So, as the sun sets on our final day in Bangkok, we stand crammed into a ferry pressed against the side rails with a fantastic view of the city and the people stepping on and off across the gap between ferry and jetty. Tomorrow we leave Bangkok for the last time. I will miss this crazy capital.
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  • Day10

    Phuket to Bangkok

    January 24, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

    I’ve been admiring the big luxury VIP buses that get around Thailand. They look amazing from the outside so I mentioned a few days ago to Paul that I want to go in one, even if just for a short trip. Well, here we are now at the bus station ready to board such a beast. And it really is not such a bad way to travel. The seats recline all the way back, you are given plenty of food and beverages during the trip, there’s a blanket for warmth and they dim the lights so you can sleep. There are even two or three scheduled stops along the Phuket – Bangkok route so you can stretch your legs and use the bathrooms. We watched some more episodes of Game of Thrones that I had uploaded onto my laptop from iTunes and both fell asleep, waking on time to see the sun rising over Bangkok. Another tick on my list of desires done.

    The bus station in Bangkok is a long way from the city. And it cost us almost 300 baht in a taxi (with meter) to get there. The traffic at 8am was terrible and we sat still for much of the drive (and the taxi driver dropped us off about 2km from our hotel because he didn’t know where it was or was too lazy to try). In hindsight, we should have asked the taxi to take us to the Thonburi Station ferry terminal and caught a ferry into the city from there but that’s one of the things you learn with experience. And now we have also experienced Bangkok’s infamous traffic (which actually is not so bad given that we are from Brisbane where commuter traffic sits still for the last 30km into the city from each direction every morning).
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