Although it was sad saying goodbye to the beautiful island of Phuket, I had a wonderful time during the first part of my time in Bangkok (I left today for an organized tour but we end up back in Bangkok where I will spend two nights before heading back to the states–so fortunately I still get some time to explore a bit more of Bangkok in the near future!). I flew on Bangkok Airways, an airline that prides themselves on being the boutique airline of Asia, from Phuket to Bangkok. The hour-long flight was wonderful as the plane was only a third full and we were served a full lunch. For short trips in Asia, the cost of airfare is extremely affordable as I paid about $50 for my flight… I’m not quite sure how this airline or other airlines make money but I’m not about to complain about the cheap costs and the free food! I got settled into my hotel on Khao San Road, the well-known travelers road in Bangkok, then spent the afternoon exploring the area around my hotel. After a few hours, I headed back to my hotel to get ready for Siam Niramit, “Thailand’s Must-See Show.” Transportation was provided which was certainly a good thing as we spent about an hour in stand-still traffic during Bangkok’s rush hour. During this hour, I got to experience the madness of driving here in Bangkok. The “rules” are rarely followed as people tend to drive wherever and however they wish. The motobikes don’t help the cause as they are constantly driving on the sidewalks or between cars to try to get to their destinations… oh the drivers here in Southeast Asia! We finally made it to the theater for a night of entertainment. After checking in and getting my ticket, they guided me to the buffet which was on the third floor… however, along the way, I found the elephants… and if you know me at all, you know right where I headed! There were two elephants for visitors to feed, pet, and get photos with. These elephants were extremely well trained and they were the same ones used later in the night for the show! Fortunately, I arrived quite early to the theater so I had plenty of time to spend with the elephants (before most of the other people arrived) and before I had to grab dinner. After about a half-hour of feeding and mostly petting the elephants (and being THAT tourist… which I was completely fine with), I said my goodbyes and headed up for an extravagant buffet with far more options than my stomach could handle. The food was absolutely delicious! Just after I had finished my meal, a parade of drummers came through announcing the pre-show which was going to take place outside… I figured I’d be up for catching it prior to the performance. Well, on the way I was once side-tracked by the beautiful elephants and decided to spend some time with them for awhile instead. They were show-ready as all of their gear was on and they were ready for the performance! I caught the second half of the pre-show, which consisted of dancing and drumming, before the performance began. The theater itself is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the highest stage in the world… pretty cool… and the theater was very pretty! The show was all about the history of Siam, a district of Bangkok. It began with a journey back into history–Siam is home of many diverse cultures so it showed a bit of each of these including the North (The Ancient Kingdom of Lanna), the South (Traders from overseas), the North-East (Khmer Civilization), and the Central Plains (Ayutthaya, the Mighty Capital). Then the show took a turn and focused on the journey beyond imagination which focused on karma, a common belief amongst Thai people that good or bad deeds in this world will result in merit or suffering in the next life. This act depicted the fiery hell, the mystical forest of Himapaan, and the Blissful Heavens. The final act focused on the Journey through Joyous Festivals which combine religious ceremony with colorful and joyful celebration. The show was incredible–the dancing, music, and acting was all wonderful. My favorite part was the live animals, of course! They had goats run across the stage, live chickens, and elephants which all joined the show! After the show, I headed back to my hotel and arrived in perfect time as it was time for the World Cup game which started at 11 pm. I headed to a local bar to watch and I was lucky to catch the game in English! Although the game didn’t turn out as hoped, it was still fun to watch. Then it was off to bed as I had a long day ahead. The next day, I was up bright and early for a full day in Bangkok. First on my agenda was the Palace. The Royal Palace is extremely strict with its dress code which consists of knees and shoulders being covered along with no sandals… this is literally my worst nightmare. So, I dressed in long pants with a t-shirt and shoes and walked to the Royal Palace so I was there when it opened. The fact that I was already hot and sweaty from just the fifteen minute walk from my hotel to the entrance wasn’t a good sign… it was definitely going to be a hot day. Anyways, the Royal Palace is combined with Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha so one entrance fee covered both attractions. I visited the Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew five years ago with People to People and I just remember how gorgeous they were… nothing has changed in a matter of five years! First up was Wat Phra Kaew. Wat Phra Kaew consists of many buildings and temples with the main building housing the emerald Buddha. All of the temples, pagodas and buildings were very detailed and absolutely beautiful with elaborate the colors and design. Wat Phra Kaew is regarded as the most sacred temple in Thailand as it houses the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is believed to be originally from India but was acquired by Bangkok in 1782 during the reign of King Rama 1. The statue is 26 inches tall and can only be touched by the Thai King himself during ceremonies that occur three times each year, one time for each season. The Emerald Buddha wears a cloak but there are three different cloaks for the three different seasons: summer, winter, and rainy. Next to Wat Phra Kaew was the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations, and Coins where we were able to see the other two cloaks along with many of the royal treasures like crowns, coins, swords, gems, and many gifts. After exploring the complex, it was off to the neighboring Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was the main residence for the King, his court and his royal government until 1925. Now, the Royal Palace serves as a second home for the King and is still used for many official events and ceremonies. Some royal offices are still situated inside the Royal Palace as well. The Royal Palace sits on a lot nearly 54 acres in size and is made up of many buildings, halls, pavilions, and shrines set up around lawns, gardens, and courtyards. The buildings were very traditional in Thai style and elegant, of course. I saw where coronations took place and the thrones that were used for the king… they were pretty neat! I also saw the main palace where the king used to live which still has guards outside of it. I walked around the rest of the palace area and as I was leaving, the soldiers came marching through to the beat of a piccolo. I’m not quite sure where they were going as they left the palace grounds but it was neat to see! I was extremely grateful that I got there at a decent time however because as I was leaving, swarms of people were heading into the Palace… I was lucky to miss most of that! By the end of the two hours I spent at the temple and the Royal Palace, I was in need of some air conditioning as I was hot, sweat, and gross… I never been so thankful for air conditioning but after this trip, I will NEVER take air conditioning for granted again! I had about an hour to rest before I was off to the stray office for an afternoon of orientation. I am traveling with Stray for the next two weeks on a tour throughout Thailand and Laos. The day prior to traveling, they offer an orientation for the travelers as a way of getting to know others before the trip and as a way to see a bit of Bangkok. There were six of us, all heading on the trip the following day, that were off to explore the city. We began by heading to the water taxi and went down the river to then catch the sky rail which was extremely nice and far surpassed my expectations (plus there was air conditioning!). It was a great way to see a lot of the city as we traveled from one side to the other. Then we took moto-taxis (motor bike taxis) to a bar that had a flow rider and spent the afternoon there. A few of the people did the flow rider but most of us just hung out and got to know each other. Just like my tour last year, many of the fellow travelers are quite seasoned travelers so it is always fun sharing stories and hearing where everyone has been in the world… it was really good getting to know them and I am quite excited to get to know them all better over the next two weeks. After a few hours, we headed back to the sky rail and then to the river where we caught a water taxi down the river and back to the Khao San area. It was a nice afternoon as we got to see many different neighborhoods of Bangkok from the ritzy, nice hotel area to the shacks along the river. My night was pretty relaxing as it consisted of dinner and repacking. Today, I was up early and headed to the Stray office where I met all of the other travelers–there are 14 of us total that will be traveling together. The other passengers are from Canada, Mexico, Finland, England, Australia, and New Zealand… of course I am once again the only American. We packed up our luggage and headed an hour-and-a-half north to Ayutthaya, a wealthy kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767 and served as the capital before it moved to Bangkok. During its prime, it is believed that Ayutthaya had a population of 1,000,000 making it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Ayutthaya was destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese army which burned the city to the ground… this is when the capital was moved to Bangkok. Today, ruins remain in the Ayutthaya region which attracts many of the Bangkok tourists up to this area for a day or so. The city is surrounded by a river so ten of the Stray travelers, myself included, grabbed a boat for a tour around the ancient city. Our first stop was at Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, the former palace of the King from 1351 to 1767. Today, only ruins exist but we were still able to go up into the towers and see many of the headless Buddha statues. Our next stop was to Wat Lokaya Sutha, a massive temple ruin. The temple includes a monastery, a large bell tower, and the highlight which is an enormous reclining Buddha. Our last stop was to Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit which now houses a massive bronze Buddha. Many Thai individuals consider it to be the most beautiful Buddha figure in Thailand. It was extremely hot so we all enjoyed a bit of breeze while we were on the boat as we got to see the surroundings of Ayutthaya. We currently have a bit of downtime before heading for dinner and then we are off on a night train to Chiang Mai for more adventures!
Unfortunately my time is winding down but you can be assured that I’ll be making the most of it!