Bangkok and Ayutthaya

Travel blog by Jen
May 20, 2011

This is my 5th visit to Bangkok and my last was five years ago. So much has changed and so much has remained the same.  In with the new:  a bigger airport, new roads and overpasses, new and bigger malls you can get lost in.  And the same would be the Thai's warm smiles, the good food, and the same bargain shopping frenzy! 

I chose a hotel in the middle of Pratunam where the wholesale shops are.  The Pratunam market is a crazy maze of narrow, busy streets with vendors selling anything from food cooked right on the spot, fresh fruits, clothes, luggage, souvenirs, bags, toys, slippers, accessories, lamps and everything else.  Literally, a shopper's haven.  Be prepared to strike a bargain for anything bought at wholesale (usually 3 pieces or more).   It's hot and chaotic out here with tuk tuks and other vehicles sharing the narrow roads with vendors and shoppers altogether.  Look at all directions before crossing the road and be wary of pick-pockets.

The Tuk Tuk, so named because of the sound of their engine. 
These are motorized rickshaws and are popular amongst tourists for their novelty value.

Thankfully, wholesale shopping is made comfortable by Platinum Fashion Mall.  You have eight floors of air-conditioned space with hundred of stalls selling merchandise for men and women.  The prices here are understandably slightly higher than in Pratunam market but I guess that's a fair trade for comfort and cleanliness.  This is must-visit for every shopaholic.  For high end shopping, visit Siam Center and Siam Paragon - a minute walk from Pratunam.

Bangkok's busy streets across Platinum Fashion Mall

I couldn't resist joining a Bangkok city tour yet again, just for the opportunity to take pictures :)   Our first stop was the Erawan Shrine just outside the 5-star Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel.  Many Thais believe that there is a god residing in every plot of land. And so, before the construction of any structure begins, they allot a certain space in the lot for what they call a spirit house or in this case, a shrine.  This is to appease the deity and to bring in good fortune to the family/business. Many Thais come here to offer prayers, incense sticks and lotus flowers.  One of our guides said that it is practice for every Thai to light 5 incense sticks and offer it to their spirit house every morning.

Erawan Shrine

Some worshippers can even hire a Thai dance troupe
to help them reach out to the deity and have their prayers answered.

One of the most visited temples in Bangkok is Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn, named after the Indian God of Dawn Arun. Sitting along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, this complex houses a huge center prang with 4 other spires surrounding it. The towers are characteristic of the Khmer-style architecture. The prangs were built with porcelain and seashells. Every nook must have been filled with these tiny bits such that the colors come alive when the sun shines on them.

I saw some people climbing up the spires. It’s quite a steep climb and it was terribly hot. I contented myself by just taking pictures around it :)

Next to the prangs is the Ordination Hall with the Niramitr Buddha image supposedly designed by King Rama II. The front entrance is guarded by 2 demons or temple guardians. 

After lunch, we visited the Vimanmek Mansion. Discovered in 1982 by Queen Sirikit, she turned this into a museum in honor of King Rama V. This mansion is a must-visit just for its opulent rooms and its unique architecture. The structure is all made of teak wood. Teak is especially noted for its capacity to withstand changes in the weather and season. One of the reasons for this is the ability of the Teak to bend, but not break, in the face of high winds. The teak floor panels were put in without a single nail.

The mansion has three floors, the top of which is dedicated to just the King. The lower floors house the queens’ rooms (there were 4 queens at that time!) and the rooms of the ladies-in-waiting. Today, the rooms open to the public display art, old photographs, ceramic objects, ivory and gifts of foreign dignitaries to the King. It is important to take note that taking pictures is not allowed inside and that women must have their arms and legs appropriately covered when entering the mansion.

Vimanmek Mansion

Day 03 was spent taking an organized day trip to Ayutthaya.  I have always been fascinated with old temples and ruins.  I was told that those found here can be likened to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  I just had to see!  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site after all.  Ayutthaya is about 1.5 hours away from Bangkok by bus.  Remember

Our first stop was Bang Pa-In Royal Palace or the King's Summer Palace.  It is a massive 55-acre land space with manicured gardens and beautiful structures such as these:

The Divine Seat of Personal Freedom

Sage's Lookout and the Heavenly Light, a Chinese-style
Royal Palace and Throne Room

Our second stop stop was Wat Mahathat, probably the most famous of the wats in this ancient city.  This dates back to 1374 but what remains now are ruins of large stupas surrounded by rows of red orange bricks made by hand.  One could just imagine how magnificent this temple once was in its glory days. 

Our last stop for the day was a small temple called Wat Na Phra Mane. The ordination hall houses a huge golden buddha with real jewels on its chest. There were a lot of worshippers here.

The third largest Reclining Buddha in Thailand can be found in Ayutthaya.   Wat Lokayasutharam measures 42 meters long with lotus flowers in its hair.  This was our last stop.

Wat Lokayasutharam

And so ends our tour of Ayutthaya.  It was late already as we headed on to Bangkok by boat.  A lunch buffet was served as we cruised along the river past significant buildings and temples.  It was a relaxing way to end the day as it was extremely hot during this time of the year.  Remember to bring sunblock, shades, a hat or an umbrella as you'll be walking most of the time.

I had a great time revisiting Bangkok. It never fails to enrich me culturally and gastronomically (talk about pad thai, tom yum soup, sweet and spicy tamarind!).  Bangkok is a great mix of the old and the new.  Loved my time traveling solo here.  Till we meet again... Kop khun ka, Bangkok!  (Thank you!)

* All photos are Skycab's own.