Nigel J. Ross

Thailand, 2004

* clicking on asterisked pictures takes you to a large-size photo

After a rapid last-minute dash to the market below my flat to buy some padlocks (the ones I normally used had gone missing), we locked our luggage and set off to Malpensa airport for our 18:00 flight to Bangkok. Both outward and inward flights with Blue Panorama airlines were good, particularly because they were less than half full so we could have a couple of seats each. Sleeping even in two seats is not easy, but we did get some rest on both journeys.

We arrived in Bangkok on the Sunday morning eleven hours after setting off, when it was 10:15 in the morning Thai time (but 5:15 in the night in Italy). Passengers at Bangkok airport were being welcomed by girls in traditional Thai costume giving out samples of fruit: mangosteens, longans and rambutans. After a that delicious welcome we sped off in the taxi to central Bangkok. The first impression of the city was of a wonderful chaotic mix of traditional and glaringly modern: high-rise buildings and flyovers alongside old temples, street markets and shanty-town houses. We quickly got installed in the Hotel Manhattan in the Sukhumvit Road area of the city, and set off to make the most of Sunday afternoon.

We took the skytrain (Bangkok's modern very elevated transit system) from the nearby Asok station to the end of the line - a very convenient journey, though the contrast between the outside heat and the cold air-conditioned carriages was rather exaggerated. It was a short walk to the famous, enormous weekend covered market of Chatuchat. Fortunately it's organised into sections, each with hundreds of stalls, kiosks and small shops generally specialising in the commodities of the sector. There seemed to be everything on sale from plants and exotic birds to "current antiques" as the guidebook described them, as well as stationery, jewellery, furniture, housewares and so on. A central clock tower is the focal point with cafés around the little clock-tower square.

Skytrain, Bangkok, Thailand  Skytrain, Bangkok

We spent hours browsing around. Carla bought a Buddha statue and hand, plus lots of bits and pieces for her jewellery making. We were leaving the market about 7 o'clock when we suddenly realised that music was playing from loudspeakers somewhere and everyone was standing immobile. We realised the national anthem was being played, signifying closing time. We, too, stood respectfully still, appreciating first-hand the reverence the Thais have for their nation and especially for their royal family, pictures of the king and queen being found almost everywhere.

As we'd got one-day passes for the skytrain, we stopped off on the way back at the Siam Square stop where elevated walkways lead to various shopping centres and towering sky-scrapers - a very futuristic scene. We spent half an hour looking round the Siam Center shopping mall (and using their facilities). It was interesting to see the range of shops: every international chain-store imaginable, including Marks and Spencer's and Boots! Dinner that evening was in a small traditional Thai restaurant, an open wood building with vast urns filled with water and water lilies; and my first treat of Thai food was delicious - a mixed fish stir-fry, a green papaya salad and rice.

After a good night's sleep, quickly getting over the jet lag, we spent the next day, Monday, looking around part of Bangkok. We left the hotel a bit late, delayed in part by watching birds circling around near our hotel window and landing on a ledge near our window. They sang to us as well! Again a skytrain trip, this time to the Taksin bridge. We found a bank to change some money and then boarded the river ferry. The ferry-driver at the front and the landing-stage workers communicated very effectively by a system of shrill whistles, and it was an interesting trip along the river. Following a map in the guidebook we could spot the decorated roofs of wats (Buddhist temple complexes) and even a couple of churches, as well as markets and of course various skyscrapers.

We managed to miss our intended landing stage and got off a few stages up-river. Walking along the street, not quite sure what to do, a helpful local asked if he could be of assistance. He quickly suggested we look at some local wats in the vicinity and explained that if we took a tuk-tuk (a scooter-cum-rickshaw) and stopped off at a "fashion hours" - a tailor's shop that specialised in selling goods to tourists - the tuk-tuk driver would get a tip for taking us there and our journey would be much cheaper. Coincidentally a tuk-tuk stopped as he was explaining all of this, and before we'd even realised we were being whisked off (or rather the tuk-tuk sputtered off) on our local tour. We soon discovered that the first wat was closed until 18:00, and the cheap eating-place we were taken to appeared to an expensive restaurant where no doubt the tuk-tuk lady driver would get another tip for taking us.

A second wat was also closed, but it was next to a school and in the open forecourt were numerous stalls selling all kinds of eats. So whether the tuk-tuk driver liked it or not, we stopped to have something to eat, and were soon joined by dozens of noisy school children as school came out. We thoroughly enjoyed our barbecued skewers of calamari and our noodles with fish. Our tuk-tuk driver suggested we visited a TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) information office on route to the next temple, and it seemed a good idea. Instead the large TAT letters outside were simply to signify that the place was a recognised travel agency, more interesting in wanting to "organise" the rest of our stay in Thailand for us (at agency prices). No doubt our tuk-tuk driver profited from this stop, too.

We eventually got to our destination ... or so we thought. We were expecting to be taken to the temple of the big Buddha (as it is called), but the driver had taken us to the royal palace complex. This was what we had originally intended to visit (if we'd got off at the right ferry stop!), but it was now 3:30 in the afternoon, exactly the closing time of the palace complex! We demanded to be taken to the big Buddha temple, and we managed to break through the driver's sudden lack of English by showing her the picture in the guidebook. So off we set once again, and before too long we arrived at Wat Indrawahin (the temple of the big Buddha). The driver demanded immediate payment and told us it would cost us more to be taken back to the centre. We told her we'd pay her after visiting the temple and walked off. The temple complex had a wonderful array of buildings from the main temple (the bot) with its highly decorated roof, to side prayer buildings and shrines. The wat is famous for its massive 32-metre tall statue of a standing Buddha. Normally you can climb to the top, but it was closed since it was Monday, the Buddhist holy day.

Temple of the Big Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand  Temple of the Big Buddha, Bangkok *CLICKABLE*  Bangkok, Temple of the Big Buddha*

We wandered back to get the tuk-tuk again, but it and our driver had disappeared! We decided it was a blessing in disguise, as who knows how many other unexpected stops we would have had to make en route to anywhere else, and we stopped off at a nearly café and enjoyed a leisurely Thai iced tea (a delicious thirst-quenching orangey dense drink tasting of sweet iced tea). As the big Buddha temple is not on a main road, we couldn't find another tuk-tuk (except at an extortionate price) or a taxi to take us back into the centre, so we walked along to the main road and eventually decided to take bus that seemed to be going in the right direction. It did go in the right direction, but half-way into the centre the heavens opened and a tremendous downpour started. The time of the year (end of May, early June) is the end of summer, leading into the rainy season, and occasional monsoons are possible. It was nice that the rain cooled down the atmosphere, but we had to get off the bus in the torrential rain when it turned off the main road that led into the centre, obviously to continue its route elsewhere.

We sheltered for a while in a doorway with lots of other people, and after a bit the rain eased and we went to look at the outside of a small old wat nearby (Wat Mahathat). We walked to the river and got a ferry boat down-river to the Chinatown area. Before long we were in the narrow alleys packed with shops and stalls and enjoyed looked round until closing time (around 6:30). Going further on we found an area of street cafés and had something for dinner. We looked around a few more shops and had some delicious drinks before eventually getting a taxi back to our hotel (taxis are very cheap in Bangkok, which is a good thing as the skytrain only covers certain areas of the city and the underground line opens later this year ... and the bus system is not easy to fathom out).

The next day we packed our backpacks (leaving a half-empty suitcase at the hotel) and checked out of the hotel for a week. We took a taxi to the nearby Ekamai bus station and before too long were on a coach heading south-east to the town of Trat (the last major town before the border with Cambodia). It was a journey of over 5 hours on the coach, at first through the sprawling suburbs, industrial estates and satellite towns around Bangkok, then past orchards, rubber plantations and lush agricultural plains. We had problems finding decent accommodation for the night in Trat, and eventually settled on a cheap-and-cheerful wooden construction where the walls were made of a kind of large basket-weave, allowing for good ventilation at least. We'd only just checked in when it started pouring down again, and it continued raining, at times very heavily, at times easing and giving short breaks, for almost the next 20 hours!

Fortunately there was a break in the rain around dinner time, so we set off for the nearby central night market where there were plenty of stalls selling food. We particularly enjoyed some interesting desserts: a kind of tapioca pudding and a red-bean and sticky-rice pudding. We stopped off at a shop or two and an Internet café, and went back to the guest house to sleep through a very rainy night. And the rain continued very heavily all the next morning. We ventured out around lunchtime, looking in the covered market to dodge the downpours. We eventually found a vegetarian restaurant recommended in the guidebooks, but it had finished its food for the day, it being nearly 2 o'clock by this time! Our breakfast-cum-lunch was snacks from the supermarket!

Wat, Trat, SE Thailand  Wat (under restoration), Trat

We looked round the local wat which was being restored, and it was interesting to see the bamboo scaffolding and to watch the work being done. As we were looking at the wat, a weak sun began to emerge from behind the clouds and a tiny patch of blue sky began to get larger. We decided to take the bull by the horns and quickly returned to the guest house and packed up. We checked out, the guest-house owner kindly showing us to the "taxi rank" and explaining our destination to the driver (and also agreeing on a reasonable price for us). The taxi was simply a pick-up van with benches in the back and a make-shift tarpaulin-covered roof over the back section.

It was about a half-hour journey to the jetty, and we arrived at 16:45, in perfect time for the 5 o'clock ferry to the nearby island of Koh Chang. It was only a little boat that took us and the other passengers across to the island (a 25 minute journey), and the spray and a final downpour made it a rather wet crossing. Taxis (pick-ups) were waiting to take people to their various destinations, ours being Hat Sai Khao (White Sands Beach). It was a half-hour journey up, round and over the top of the island to White Sands Beach, and then we walked for about a kilometre along the beach to the resort we'd been recommended to stay at, suitably named "White Sands Beach Resort". It is the last place at the north end of the bay with no road to it, just a walk along the beach. It is beautifully secluded and we were soon welcomed at the reception. Carla was given various keys to look at the various chalets available - it being low season there was plenty of choice. Finally she chose a very attractive wooden chalet on the edge of the beach, though it needed to be cleaned before we could use it. We waited for quite a long time in the reception and were then - at after 8 o'clock - escorted by torchlight along the beach to our chalet.

The cleaners, who were just finishing, had had the lights on and the doors and windows open and the place was full of mosquitoes, but we soon got the mosquito-zapper machine plugged in and, after a quick shower, left it to do its job while we went out to find somewhere to eat. We thought about eating at the resort restaurant, but it had already closed (at 8:45), so we walked back along the beach into town. Other eating places were also closed, but we eventually found a bar-cum-restaurant called "15 Palms" on the beach where we got a decent meal of stir-fries and rice. It wasn't easy walking back along the beach to our chalet as we had to negotiate two little promontories and the tide had come in. We waded round the first, but it would have been a swim round the second, so we climbed up the rocks and through a bar and managed to get back dry. We fell asleep to the sound of the lapping sea (and the cicalas).

White Sands, Koh Chang (island), Thailand  White Sands, Koh Chang, Thailand *CLICKABLE*  White Sands, Koh Chang*

We awoke next morning to a wonderful view out to the sea from the chalet. There were perhaps only ten other guests in the resort, so we had the place almost to ourselves. The location was superb. However, we'd both suffered badly from the mosquitoes overnight, and in the daylight we discovered that the sheets on the beds were far from clean. My bottom sheet in particular had a large blood stain on it. We also realised that the general cleanliness of the room left a lot to be desired. We felt we ought to look at other resorts, and spent the next three hours or so examining perhaps a dozen other likely-looking complexes along the beach, also getting to know the little town. Each set of chalets had good points and bad points. Some were relatively expensive, others had little protection against mosquitoes (no nets on the windows, or holes in the nets); still others were near to potentially noisy bars or the road. And none of them had such a good location as ours.

We stopped off for lunch to think about things, and greatly enjoyed our meal mainly because of the owner's three-year old daughter who sat and played with us most of the time (and tried to eat some of our meal for us). She eventually took great delight in feeding Carla. We wandered back to our chalet, still uncertain of what to do. In the end we decided that as it was too late to check out, we'd stay on another night, asking for clean sheets and trying to combat the mosquito problem by putting the machine on in good time and by making sure we kept everything well closed after dusk. We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of our chalet. It was truly an idyllic setting as we had a vast stretch of beach all to ourselves, with just the occasional passer-by. And after the stormy weather the previous days, there were so many wonderful shells to be collected along the shoreline. The sea was still a bit rough and strong undercurrents made bathing a bit scary.

Getting to the resort's restaurant at an earlier time than the previous night, we had a good meal of a rice and vegetable stir-fry and a delicious warm salad tossed in the wok. The dessert of crispy-fried baby bananas dipped into condensed milk was wickedly good! We made our way back along the beach by torchlight with clean sheets (though they'd not give us enough) and made up our beds. However, we were again bothered by the mosquitoes (and we discovered there was enormous gap between the bathroom roof and the back of the main room where they obviously entered in droves), and so the next morning we decided to leave.

Backpacks on our backs, we wandered a couple of kilometres down the beach (stopping off for a rest and drink halfway), before getting to our chosen place of stay for the next few days: Bamboo Bungalows. These chalets cost double the price of where we'd been staying up until now (1000 Baht per night instead of 500 Baht - Euro 20 instead of Euro 10 for the room), but they were more modern, well "sealed" against mozzies and had air-conditioning. The position was by no means as attractive as the previous chalet, but at least we were more central in the town. After lunch we walked back to the White Sands Beach Resort and spent the afternoon on the beach in front of our "old chalet", thereby getting the best of both worlds. Walking back along the beach we were treated to one of the many beautiful sunsets we saw while on Koh Chang, and then it was time for a shower and yet another good meal (this time of a green shrimp curry soup and other delicious bits and pieces). As became our habit, we spent an hour or so after dinner looking around the little shops and stalls, making a few little purchases.

White Sands, Koh Chang, Thailand *CLICKABLE*  White Sands, Koh Chang*

We slept well that night, undisturbed by mosquitoes, and woke to a truly beautiful day of strong sun, blue skies and a very light breeze. We walked the whole length of the bay, looking in the fish-filled rock pools at the southern end, beachcombing for shells, taking photos. Before lunch we attacked an ants nest that was being built on our chalet's terrace (thanks to a spray the reception provided), and we then enjoyed a delicious green papaya salad. We spent the afternoon swimming in the warm waters, relaxing in the sun, reading a book under the shade of one of the palm trees that edge the beach. Dinner that night was in an open wooden restaurant under the stars ... a suitable end to a glorious day.

Sunset, Koh Chang, SE Thailand  Sunset, Koh Chang

After a couple of leisurely days, we decided to be a bit more active on the Sunday. We took a local taxi (pick-up) down the western coast of the island to the next bay and town of Klong Prao. Instead of taking us to the centre, however, the driver unkindly set us down at a first group of houses and shops, perhaps a couple of kilometres from the centre. Eventually we asked for directions, and eventually started to walk along the road. We stopped after a while and had a bite of lunch and something to drink - it was a hot, sticky day, hardly the best to be out walking at midday! Before too long got to the turn-off to the Klong Plu waterfall. It was another couple of kilometres walk to the falls, at first along a road, then along a footpath. This walk was much more pleasant, though, as much of it was shaded, the vegetation being a interesting mix of orchards of grapefruit, papaya and banana trees, rubber-tree plantations and rustic roadside bars and hostels, many with lots of hanging coconut pots of orchids.

Klong Plu waterfall, Koh Chang, Thailand  Klong Plu waterfall, Koh Chang

We had to pay a hefty entrance fee to the national park (200 Baht, Euro 4 for foreigners; 20 Baht, Euro 0.40 for locals) about half a kilometre before getting to the falls, and the last part of the path was rather rocky and slippery. The falls were a fairly-impressive 30 metre drop in a narrowish gorge. There were quite a lot of people around, and for a while we joined the people who were swimming in the pool at the base of the falls. We then sat and dried on the rocks, watching local boys climbing up the sides of the gorge and diving into the water, and also watching a little local baby boy splashing happily in the water with all his family. Walking back from the falls, the family kindly offered us a lift back to White Sands Beach, but we wanted to see a bit more of the town before returning.

Back on the main road, we soon came to an elephant camp with four elephants. Originally Koh Chang (Elephant Island) had a large elephant population and they were used to carry timber and do other jobs before the island became a national park. Nowadays they are mainly kept for the tourists. We avoided taking a "trek" on the backs of the elephants, but bought a hand of bananas and fed them to the animals. It was a strange sensation to feel the damp and relatively soft ends of their trunks and then the very rough skin further up their trunks. They enjoyed the bananas, skin and all, and we also joined in the banana-feast by eating a couple (without the skins). One poor elderly female elephant was a particularly touching sight as she was nodding continually with the elephant-equivalent of Parkinson's disease.

Elephant Camp, Klong Prao, Koh Chang (island), SE Thailand  Elephant Camp, Klong Prao

In the centre of Klong Prao we looked in on the wat complex and had a soft drink before getting a taxi back to our chalet. It was a nice sunny late afternoon, so we walked along the beach, wading in the warm waters much of the way. Unfortunately Carla got stung on her ankles by jellyfish, but we fairly quickly found a beach bar that gave us a glass of vinegar to pour on the sting and the swelling and redness went down fairly quickly. The sting was obviously not too bad and the acidity of the vinegar worked in time; although the marks remained visible for days, she didn't suffer too much. Before dinner Carla had a massage and I looked round a couple of (pirated) CD kiosks, and spent a while talking to one of the owners who explained how the whole island of Koh Chang is to be developed into a super resort very shortly. He was in fact packing up his little kiosk as the land was to be developed into a 200-room hotel the next month. A new international airport on the mainland is being built, and the island of Koh Chang will change face dramatically over the next few years ... probably we'd seen it just in time.

Our last full day on the island was another day of discovering the western coast. We took a pick-up taxi all the way down to the very south-west bottom corner of the island, to a fisherman's village called Bang Bao. It was a beautiful drive down the coast with wonderful views out to nearby islands. After about half an hour (open pick-up taxis are far from fast) we got to Bang Bao about 20 kilometres away. The whole village is built on stilts in a well-protected natural bay that is an ideal harbour for the island's fishing fleet. We spent a fascinating hour exploring the village, walking to the very end of the main jetty, looking in shops and taking lots of photos (it is a very photogenic place). We also enjoyed quite a good seafood lunch in one of the famous fish restaurants in the village, looking out across the bay. Unfortunately the weather began to change and it was spotting with rain during our lunch.

Bang Bao, Koh Chang, SE Thailand  Bang Bao, Koh Chang

As arranged with the taxi driver, we were picked up at 2 o'clock. He drove us a little way on our way back to a secluded bay known as Lonely Beach where we spent a couple of hours lying on the fine sand, walking the length of the bay, collecting a few different shells and having a drink in the local bar. It was cloudy most of the time, however, though we were lucky that we only got a couple of spots of rain despite some threatening clouds that seemed to be arriving a bit before our agreed departure time. The taxi driver collected us at 5 o'clock and stopped off at two more places en route to White Sands Beach. The first was a cliff-top viewpoint, where we had a wonderful view out to some islets. Compared to the sunny views we'd had in the morning on our way down with blue skies and blue seas, the greyish view was disappointing, but spectacular nonetheless. Another bay we stopped at, Kai Bae, proved to be very developed and not particularly attractive. Back at White Sands Beach, Carla had another massage and then we had a last dinner on Koh Chang. The rain started on our way back to the chalet, and we realised that the monsoon was probably set in for the night.

In fact our departure - like our arrival - was a rainy one. We made the return route of taxi to the ferry, ferry back to the mainland, then another taxi to Trat, then a coach to Bangkok. This time, however, we managed the whole return trip in one day, and were back in Bangkok by about 16:30. After getting installed again in the Hotel Manhattan, we went out via skytrain to the MBK shopping mall where, in almost four hours, we only managed to explore one of the five vast floors! We also had quite a good Chinese meal in the centre, and came back laden with bags. Shopping in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, is too attractive in that the range of things on sale is so vast, and prices are so very reasonable compared with prices back at home. Sometimes it is a lengthy process as only rarely are prices "fixed" and you can often bargain the sellers down to around half their original asking price.

The next day was the highlight of our time spent in Bangkok - a visit to the Grand Royal Palace complex. We took a taxi to the palace, and with great difficulty and an angry argument avoided being taken to a souvenir shop where the taxi driver would have obviously got a tip. It was a special Buddhist holiday that day (Wednesday 2nd June), and the interiors of many of the buildings in the complex were closed, unfortunately. On the other hand, we got to see some of the fascinating rituals that Buddhist devotees perform on such special occasions. The vast grand palace complex covers quite a few square kilometres and is like a city within a city. It is surrounded by a tall white wall with guards at the entrance gates. Two areas in particular are open to visitors, the wat and the main royal palace buildings which are now only used on ceremonial occasions as the royal family live in another palace in the city.

Royal Palace (Chedi, Royal Temple), Bangkok  Royal Palace (Pra Sri Rattana, Temple of the Jade Buddha), Bangkok  Bangkok, Royal Temple

We first went to the wat, which is in turn surrounded by tall white walls. The inside of these walls form the cloister, and the whole length of the interior walls (almost 2 km in length) are decorated by extremely intricate frescoes with gold-leaf highlights depicting scenes from the Thai epic story the "Ramakien". The frescoes alone were wonderful, but the various buildings in the complex were really breathtakingly beautiful. The soaring round gold "chedi" holds a Buddha relic; the intricately-decorated tall green-and-silver Pra Mondop library stands alongside; third in line is the blue-and-gold Pra Thep Bidon royal pantheon. The main building in the complex, however, is the Pra Sri Rattana temple housing a particularly revered jade Buddha statue. The temple was closed that day because of the holiday, but a line of devotees walked around the temple continually, each devotee holding a lotus flower and chanting special words. Another old library with a beautifully decorated roof also houses a revered Buddha image and was closed to the public, but surrounded by chanting devotees. Numerous other minor buildings, all intricately decorated, completed the stunningly beautiful complex.

Royal Palace (Royal Pantheon in the temple), Bangkok  Royal Palace (fresco in the cloisters, Temple of the Jade Buddha), Bangkok  Bangkok, Royal Temple

We then wandered on to the royal palace. There were three main buildings to be viewed. The Amarinda complex was a low old green set of buildings where the king would receive official visitors. The main Grand Palace was built in 1882 and shows western influence. This white building is European neo-classical in style with columns and arches, but it is surmounted by a traditional colourful highly-decorated Thai roof ... a very strange combination. A tiny wooden pavilion between the Grand Palace and the Dusit Hall allowed the king to dismount from his elephant under cover. The nine lines of glistening gold spires on the Dusit Hall made for a superb sight at the end of the tour. The palace gardens had some wonderful topiary bonsai trees and water lilies. Before leaving we visited the collections of royal regalia and coins, and we stopped for an ice cream on the terrace of the palace tea rooms where we could continue to gaze out at the splendid roofs of the complex.

Royal Palace (Amarinda complex), Bangkok  Royal Palace (Grand Palace), Bangkok *CLICKABLE*  Bangkok, Royal Palace*

Next stop was the neighbouring wat known as Wat Pho with one of the longest (46 m) sleeping Buddha statues in the world. Not only the main bot (temple), but also many of the surrounding buildings were beautifully decorated. Again as it was a special holiday, the sleeping Buddha was being visited by devotees where were circling the statue with lotus flowers and pasting squares of gold-leaf onto small Buddha statues, or lighting candles and making offerings to the statues. The feet of the sleeping Buddha are particularly impressive, covered with elaborate mother-of-pearl decorations.

Wat Pho (Temple of the Sleeping Buddha), Bangkok  Wat Pho (the Sleeping Buddha)  Wat Pho (face of the 'sleeping' buddha), Bangkok  Bangkok, Wat Pho

We took the river ferry and the skytrain to a market which, when we got there, was a building site! Other stalls, kiosks and shops in the neighbourhood proved to be quite interesting, however, and we bought batik cloths and other bits and pieces. Carla also found a massage parlour, which, after her hour's pummelling, recommended a good nearby restaurant, and after that we found a shopping mall that was open till midnight, and we stayed there till closing time!

After such a late night, we didn't make a particularly early start the next day. And of course it took time, as usual, to do justice to the wonderful buffet breakfast spread in the hotel (which also saved on needing to eat at lunchtime!). We took a taxi across town to an area where in theory Carla could get silver accessories for her jewellery making, and indeed that is what she did. I left her to it for the afternoon, and went to visit the nearby former capital of Ayuttayah, 70 kilometres from Bangkok. It was a train ride of over 1˝ hours to the city, and the train I got at 14:00 (I'd just missed the 12:00 train and there was a train every hour - as I knew - except at 13:00 - which I didn't know) was a slow, third-class only service. It was quite full and rather hot on the train, despite the rotating ceiling fans in the carriage. The hard plastic seats didn't help overall comfort. It was an interesting ride out of the city, at first past shanty-towns and skyscrapers, but then through lots of paddy fields.

From the train station in Ayuttayah, it was a two minute walk to the river and the ferry crossing, and then a long half-hour walk (I wished I'd taken a tuk-tuk) to the archaeological park. The former royal capital was destroyed in 1767, but western visitors who saw it before its destruction were overawed by its beauty. Now what remains is a UNESCO world heritage site, a particularly beautiful spot. The ruins of temples and palaces are dotted across a vast area which has been turned into a very attractive parkland, full of flowering orange flame trees and white scented frangipani trees, to name just two. There are over 50 temples and other archaeological points to visit, but I had to limit myself to just five, some of the most impressive. As the afternoon wore on, the low sun in the sky bathed the ruins with a warm light, making the whole scene particularly serene and spiritual. The Wat Mahathat has a particularly tall ruined chedi and a famous fallen head of a Buddha statue that has been enveloped by twining tree roots. The palace-cum temple of Wat Pra Sri Sanhpet has three very tall chedi in line. The restored wooden elephant compound was interesting, as was the tall prang (tower) of the Wat Pra Rham. Lastly, the Wat Thammikarat has a chedi surrounded with fierce-looking statues of lions.

Wat Pra Sri Sanhpet, Ayuttayah, Thailand  Wat Maharat, Ayuttayah *CLICKABLE*  Wat Maharat, fallen head of Buddha entwined in the tree roots, Ayuttayah  Wat Pra Rham and flame trees, Ayuttayah  Ayuttayah

I'd intended taking a tuk-tuk back to the station, but it was getting a bit latish by this time (almost 6 o'clock) and none were to be found. And so it was a long and fast (and blister-forming) walk back to the ferry and the station to get the 18:43 train back to Bangkok. It was another slow third-class only trip back to Bangkok, this time in older carriages with wooden seats, but it had been well worth all the effort. A last bit of shopping in the local shops and a last Pad Thai (rice noodles stir-fried with vegetables and shrimps, covered with a sprinkling of ground peanuts and spices) for dinner was a fitting end to a very good day.

Ayuttayah, ferry *CLICKABLE*  Ferry, Ayuttayah*

The last morning, we got up early, breakfasted fairly quickly and set off on the skytrain to Chatuchat, the weekend market we'd visited the very first day (some stalls and kiosks also open on a Friday). It was without doubt the best place we'd found to shop in the city, and we spent a couple of hours there. We again visited the MBK shopping mall (to buy a skirt Carla had wished she'd bought first-time round) en route back to the hotel and then we quickly packed and got a taxi to the airport. And it was time to end a fascinating, busy taste of Thailand.





English Lang.

Art Insights