Love Affair with Everywhere: Bangkok

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Arrived on NYE in time to grab a quick bite and walk down Ratchaprasong street into the square in front of Central World in time for the countdown and fireworks.

The next morning we left for Cambodia (a separate entry) and returned here for a few days to finish up our vacation.

Full day 1
departed in the morning for a tour along Bangkok's khlongs (canals) and the Chao Phraya River. Our long tailed speedboat (James Bond style) picked us up at the pier across the Millenium Hilton. Along the Chao Phraya river, enjoyed views of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), the Naval Academy, the Royal Barges and the Grand Palace. We left the manmade added area of the river and continued along the original waterways through the canals. Along the way, you can see where the water levels rose to during the flooding last month. Bangkok was relatively well protected, but still can see some of the damage from the floods.

On the way back, we docked and enjoyed some time at Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. Having just returned from Angkor in Cambodia, the style resembled the style of Angkor (or Khmer) more than Thailand. The 86 steps to the top are steep (at a foot each), but the climb is definitely worth it. It was a sight by day, but I hear the view by night is just amazing. Unfortunately we didnt get to see it again lit up at night....this time.

From there we left our boat and headed by car to Wat Traimit, which houses the world's largest seated golden buddha. It is 5m high and weights 5.5 tons.

Then it was off to Wat Pho. I particularly enjoyed the architecture and style of this temple complex. You will see from the pictures the beautiful, intricate Thai design and the signature pagodas. On the note of pagodas, this complex houses 216 of them on the grounds. Wat Pho is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, one of the largest at 46 m long. The feet of the Buddha are 3 m long and the design is known at the 'mother of pearl'. From the feet, you will be able to capture the full length of the statue as well as admire the detail of the mother of pearl.

Finally, we ended our city tour with a visit to the Grand Palace, a must see on any visit to Bangkok. Inside you will see buildings and structures from various eras of Thai history and reigns of Thai kings. There is a replica of Cambodia's Angkor Wat inside the 61 acre complex, but what draws most people here is the breathtaking Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew. It is regarded as the most sacred temple of Buddha and as such photography is not allowed.

Note: remember that the visits to the wats (temples) while touristy are still holy places. dress appropriately or you may be denied entry or asked to purchase/rent long pants/shawls in order to enter. Also, most of the temples close by 5 pm, so start early and then you can end early and see Bangkok by night.

Full Day 2
After having spent a fantastic couple days in Angkor and another full day visiting temples in Bangkok, we decided to take a break from the city and the temples and head out for a full day of interesting, slightly random activities in the Thai countryside. I don't usually book tours, but saw this one and it sounded like fun, so went ahead and signed us up: http://www.viator.com/tours/Bangkok/Khao-Yai-National-Park-and-Elephant-Ride-Day-Trip-from-Bangkok/d343-3685BKK27.

It turned out to be one of the favorite days of our week long visit to siem reap/angkor and bangkok for everyone...it isn't easy to say that since each day was pretty spectacular in its own way

We left pretty early in order to beat traffic out of the city. The Khao Yai National Park is a little over 100 miles outside of Bangkok, but we didn't head straight there. First we stopped at a local farmers market where our guide led us through to sample some local fruit stands and see other interesting foodstuffs...pig heads, century eggs, eel and frogs, thankfully, there was no sampling there...

We were en route to our next stop and from the road saw a massive pink colored elephant statue. As Hindus, we were glad to be able to stop here for a few minutes, as it was an area dedicated to Lord Ganesha and of course, the Buddha. We sought blessings and continued on through the Thai countryside, which somewhat reminded me of my southern home state of Tennessee. We rode an ox cart through the fields past an ostrich farm and to a country home. From there, we hopped back into the van and headed towards the forest. We parked at one of the stops and walked 1000 m through the reserve, enjoying the serenity of nature (and the silence, as we were the only ones heading there at that particular moment) and to the waterfall. We drove through the massive reserve and stopped at the viewing point to see down into the forest when we were greeted by some of the cutest monkeys! They were very friendly and especially entertaining. Our final stop was to the Jungle House where we had lunch followed by an elephant ride through the jungle. This was, by far, one of the highlights of the entire trip. There are 4 elephants and 4 elephant caretakers/trainers. Elephants are my favorite animal, so this was especially exciting for me. My elephant was named Babon. Babon was my kind of elephant...she kept trying to overtake the elephant in front since she was going too slow :) We rode through the jungle with the trainer, and then took turns guiding the elephants. We finished up and they came back out so we could feed them...today's treat: bananas and mangoes.

A quick note, as elephants are 'used' for tourism, make sure the places you stop and that offer you the chance to ride them are actually treating the elephants well and taking care of them (when you aren't there). There is a lot of recorded abuse to these wonderful creatures, so I highly encourage you to look into the tour you decide to take. Jungle House has had the same trainers and caretakers for years (some, decades), they feed the elephants regularly and remove the ropes between rides, they take the elephants for walks in the reserve (well protected) during off times as well and most importantly, they do not whip the elephants to get them to move.

Our short couple days in Bangkok were a perfect blend of sightseeing, touristy city tours and temple vists and the countryside/forest escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. I strongly recommend including both on your itinerary.

Thanks for reading...

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