As has been the case every year since 2006, I have spent my birthday in a different country. This year it was to be Thailand, because when we went to Bangkok in January, I learned about the old Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, and really wanted to go see the ruins. We didn’t have enough time on that trip, so I knew I would have to go back at some point. Also, living in South East Asia means the cheapest places to travel are in this region, and I didn’t have very many places to choose from that I hadn’t already been to, or wanted to go to again, but had to choose a country I hadn’t previously been to on my birthday. That meant both Vietnam and Indonesia were out, as those are the countries I was in for my 2009 and 2011 birthdays respectively. I considered Guam, but that is technically the USA and I was in NYC for my birthday in 2007. I also couldn’t stay in Malaysia because that’s where I was the year we moved here (2008). Singapore was a brief consideration, but when my main reason for going there would have been Universal Studios, and we had already been there, missing only a couple of rides, and had been to other theme parks throughout the year, it seemed Thailand was the best option.
As my eldest son was still meant to be in school, and revising for his end-of-term tests the week of my birthday, my husband and I left the kids with our maid/nanny for the six days I wanted to spend in Thailand. This also meant we were able to do things we wouldn’t have been able to do had the kids come along with us — a rare treat!
Sunday 25th November, 2012
We left earlier than I had originally planned to, mainly because our router broke while we were asleep the night before, and thus I hadn’t been able to check the Internet. Arriving at the airport early meant I could use the free wifi at LCCT. Our flight also ended up being a little delayed, though according to my watch, it looked like we took off only 5 minutes after we were supposed to. I was amused that the pilot even bothered to apologise for that.
What really held us up was arriving at immigration in the Don Mueang airport, and the guy in front of us taking forever. I’m not sure what his problem was. Though we flew the same airline as we did in January (AirAsia), they had only recently switched the airport they used, so we were arriving somewhere unfamiliar.
I’d packed everything I needed into my backpack so I didn’t have to add any checked baggage to the cost of the flight, but as Jeremy was going to have to fly to New Zealand for work on the evening of my birthday, he did need something more. After collecting his bag from the baggage carousel, though, we left the airport and he found his friend Nattakarn, who would be spending most of our holiday with us.
The car she was using (which was not her own) was a lime green keyless entry LPG car. I don’t think I’d ever been in anything quite like it! The keyless entry thing really confused me. She drove us straight from the airport to Pattaya, completely bypassing Bangkok. It was dinner time by the time we arrived in Pattaya, so she drove us to her favourite seafood restaurant down there. Here we ordered a range of dishes to share, which included a couple of things with crab meat. I don’t eat crab very often, but I don’t mind it so much as long as I don’t have to de-shell it. The crab we had was in both the fried rice and omelette we ordered. I also ordered a jug of Mai Tai to share with Jeremy, because I’d never tried it before. Sure, Hawaii probably would’ve been the more appropriate place for me to have tried it, considering I’ve been there too, but at least it sounds a bit “Thai”? We ordered perhaps far too much since we didn’t eat it all, but it was certainly a delicious meal.
Our next stop was to find the hotel we would be staying in that night. Jeremy got to drive the car this time, but Nattakarn directed him, and it ended up not being too much trouble to find the Furama Jomtien Beach Hotel. We were staying here primarily because we got one room free for one night for booking our zipline tour, and that’s where they would be collecting us from the next day. Once we were all checked in, we went out onto the balcony to check out the view. We noted that we had a beach view, but it was a bit difficult to see anything because it was already quite dark.
Bedtime came early due to it being an early to rise day on Monday.
Monday 26th November, 2012
Whilst Thailand is just north of Malaysia, their timezone is an hour behind us, which means the sun comes up extra early in Thailand. That’s okay though, because it meant we naturally woke up early enough for the free buffet breakfast before our bus was due to collect us at 9am.
The buffet breakfast at the Furama hotel had a really good range of food. I was quite pleased with it. After breakfast, since we were going to have to pay for our adventure with cash and didn’t have much Thai Baht yet, we set off for a walk down the beach to try and find a money changer. Unfortunately, though we found some, they didn’t open early enough for us.
From my experience, beaches in Thailand — or at least Phuket and Pattaya — tend to be particularly tourist oriented. Even as early as it was, people were already setting up chairs and umbrellas on the sand to cater to the tourists. Penang in Malaysia was like this too. I’m not really a beach person so maybe I’m missing something about the appeal of this sort of thing, but I’m guessing you have to pay to use this seating. And that’s not really what beaches should be about to me. The part of the beach I was most amused at, though, was where it had been swept or raked so look very neat.
We headed back to the hotel to pack up all our things, put them in Nattakarn’s car, and check out. There was a Russian group of tourists also being collected by the Flight of the Gibbon van with us. Fortunately also the driver was happy to stop at one of the money changers on our way to our destination, and Jeremy picked one that allowed him to get a free SIM with Internet credit, which I could use in my phone whilst in Thailand.
It was only when we arrived at the Flight of the Gibbon entrance to fill in forms that we really realised how much Pattaya caters to Russian tourists. The default forms on the table when we got there were in Russian. They had to bring us the English ones! I think it’s been interesting going to different parts of Thailand for that reason. There really are spots that seem to attract more of different nationalities. Phuket is for the Aussies and Americans, Bangkok the Scandinavians, and Pattaya has Russians.
Once our forms were filled in and we paid (roughly US$100/pp), the van took us to another spot where we were dressed into the appropriate harness gear. The man who helped me into mine noticed my wedding ring and asked me about it, so I pointed to Jeremy. To that, he responded, “Oh, got to be careful with husbands in Thailand. They go off and find other women.” I was amused.
Our group for the zipline tour in the trees remained with the 5 Russians who had accompanied us in the van from the hotel. The three of us (Jeremy, Nattakarn and myself) tended to be the first to go across each line. They did switch us over at a couple of points though.
If you’re not actually familiar with what ziplining is, basically this tour was one within the treetops of a jungle where you fly across a cable from one tree to another, with only the harness safety gear keeping you up, as demonstrated by me in the following video:
There were roughly around 19 ziplines, including a tandem one(?) where two people got to go at once (I went with Jeremy, naturally), a couple of bridges, and two spots where we abseiled down to a lower platform/the ground. As scary as it might look, it was so much fun and something I’m really glad I had the opportunity for. There’s no way I could’ve done it with my kids there. I also noticed while we were there, they had mentions of their tour having been used on the Amazing Race reality TV show. I thought that was pretty cool, even though I don’t watch it myself. Jeremy actually got stuck on last zipline because it was so long, and one of our guides (we had two – one at the front to catch us, and one at the end to help send us off) had to send a backpack down the line for Jeremy to grab hold of so he could be pulled back to safety. Fortunately that was the only time that happened on the whole tour though!
After we got back to the bottom and had our harnesses removed, we bought the photographs they took of us at one point, and were loaded up into the van again and taken to lunch, which was still included in the tour. It was really quite delicious, too. Following that, since the Flight of the Gibbon is in part of the jungle that also includes the Khao Kheow Open Zoo, our driver switched us into an open car to tour around the zoo. Here we got to see gibbons, big cats, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, and elephants. The hippos were my favourites, quite possibly because I’ve seen them at fewer zoos in my lifetime than I have the other animals. The Russians, on the other hand, were most interested in the elephants. I guess with all my time in Malaysia and Thailand, having seen elephants up that close and even riding two before, has made them a little less exciting to me these days.
The tour of the open zoo was roughly about an hour, and then we were driven back to the Furama hotel. All in all I would say the tour was worth what we paid, and I was glad I had bothered to actually check TripAdvisor in advance to see what were the highest rated attractions in Pattaya. I don’t normally do that when I travel. In case you’re interested in checking out the tour yourself, you can find their web site here.
Nattakarn got a little lost driving us to our next hotel, still in Pattaya but more in the town part rather than the Jomtien Beach area. It was still near a beach, but not directly opposite. As we arrived at the hotel we were offered a free welcome drink, which tasted quite nice. Since Nattakarn is friends with someone who works at the hotel, she managed to get us a really good discount on our stay, so we checked in for a couple of nights.
After heading to our rooms, we relaxed for a bit after such a long day before heading off down the street toward Tiffany’s, which TripAdvisor had said was the highest rated show of its kind in Pattaya. It is essentially a glamorous stage show with singing and dancing trans people. I wanted to see the show, but didn’t know if it was best to get tickets for that night or the following night, but wanted to decide when we got there, depending on availability. The walk ended up taking longer than I expected it to, and I worried that my sense of direction had been wrong, but we eventually found it and managed to get three seats sort of together (one seat was in the row behind) for the 9pm show. We had just enough time to head across the street to get something for dinner before heading back. For dinner I had yellow noodle & red pork plus an orange shake, all of which I liked.
At the Tiffany’s Show, we were allowed a free drink while we waited for the doors to open. Some of the performers came outside and we got to see them in costume up close. In the show itself, the costumes were just incredible to look at. The show’s theme seemed to be different countries for each song, apart from a couple. My least favourite was the performer wearing a pink dress with obviously enormous fake boobs who walked around a bit making kissy noises and making the boobs dance. On the other hand, there was another non-country theme performer where one side was dressed as a woman, the other a man, and he’d turn around depending on which part of the duet he was meant to be singing. I really enjoyed that. As for my favourite country themed performance, I really liked the costumes where there were horse people (centaurs?) and the ones with six arms. I wish I could have taken some photos but it wasn’t allowed there, understandably.
After the show, we headed back to our hotel via the beach, and Nattakarn was impressed by my sense of direction. Of course, by the time we got to our rooms, we headed straight to bed after such an exhausting long day!
Tuesday 27th November, 2012
After such a long day on Monday, we managed to sleep in until 9am. This meant a late start to the buffet breakfast that was included. Whilst the selection of food was greater than at Furama, I ended up feeling a little snarky toward the guests who stacked a plate full of the last of the cake, which meant I didn’t get the chance to have some myself. Perhaps not the best start to the day. I had to go back upstairs to our room for a relaxing bath to get over it.
We ended up having to convince Nattakarn to join us on our driving around to explore Pattaya’s sights, since she had some work she wanted to get done. She drove us to our first stop, The Sanctuary of Truth, and got a little lost again after ignoring my directions, but then complimented me for having a good sense of direction again. Oh well. Nattakarn didn’t join us inside the actual sanctuary, though, because of her work, so Jeremy just picked up tickets for the two of us, which was a special package that included horse rides and a foot massage, as well as the entry fee.
We took a horse and cart to the sanctuary, which actually wasn’t very far from the entrance where you buy tickets, but as we hadn’t known that at the time we thought it would be quicker than walking if we wanted to still catch the performance that had already started at 11am. We did manage to watch about the second half of the show, which included a sword fight and some dancing in traditional Thai clothes. As we were also sitting in the sort of restaurant spot, we ordered some drinks, and I had a banana shake. I love the tropical fruit shakes you can get in parts of South East Asia, so I make the most of such opportunities when I can.
Like the other attractions we visited already, The Sanctuary of Truth was found via TripAdvisor. It’s not your standard old temple place you might go to in similar destinations, but rather a large wooden structure that has been continually worked on since construction started in 1981. After we took a few photos from the outside, we donned safety helmets and were allocated an English speaking tour guide to tell us about the place. She told us that the structure is a way of conserving traditional methods of putting wooden buildings together, and the different wings were inspired by different religions or mythologies. One the outside, there were carvings of things like Garuda, Buddha, and elephants. Once inside, the first wing we entered was Hindu-inspired and included the water, fire, air and earth elements.
The next wing we followed hard carvings inspired by 7 planets, representing 7 days of the week. Our guide told us that the day of the week we were born on was meant to reflect different traits within us, and thus as I was born on a Tuesday, I’m meant to reflect hard work and courage. I’ll let other people decide whether or not that’s accurate for me or not. I mean, people tell me I’m pretty brave for some of the things I do, and sure I tend to work hard at projects I’m inspired to, but I haven’t had a proper job in years because I don’t particularly want one. It’s not just because my visa says I can’t work in Malaysia.
My favourite carvings in this wing, however, were the mermaids. Given my own developing interest in mermaids, since writing stories and creating some of my own mythology with them, I’ve been paying more attention to when they crop up in other cultures. I think it’s fascinating to see them as a more universal mythology than I thought when I first started writing about them. The open windows where the mermaid carvings were also had a lovely view right out to the sea.
The opposite wing was inspired by a Chinese version of Buddhism, we were told. We weren’t given as much opportunity to look down this one, perhaps because the carvings weren’t quite as interesting as the others. Before heading out through the final wing, however, we were taking to a bowl of water, which our guide sprinkled on us with a pretty white flower as a blessing for our future. The final wing, where we exited, had carvings of a family, and more mermaids.
Our next activity included in the package we paid for was another horse carriage ride, this time just around the sanctuary. I suppose it was easier than walking around the whole thing, though it did make it a little harder to take photos as the horse was walking. We stopped at the planets wing end of it for some photos, before then being taken to the place for our foot massage.
I thought the massage was quite nice, though Jeremy didn’t especially like when he was being poked with a sort of plastic stick thing. When I heard him freak out about it, it worried me too, but then ended up not being so bad. One of the ladies there liked my thongs and asked where I got them from, and I had to tell her Singapore. It’s amazing how long they’ve lasted me – I’d bought them on my honeymoon in April 2006!
As we had then done everything included in our tickets, we headed back to the top where we could take some nice overall photos of the sanctuary from a distance, since we hadn’t had time when we arrived. Then we took our horse back to the entrance, and contacted Nattakarn to collect us. It turned out she had been waiting just near where we were taking photos from!
Having now done all of the things I most wanted to do in Pattaya (besides find “Pattaya fried rice,” which seems to actually be a Malaysian dish rather than something actually from Pattaya), we headed to the floating market, which is something Jeremy was particularly interested in. Of course, we got a little lost again on the way, but eventually we got there. It is very tourist oriented and foreigners have to pay an entry fee to enter… unless they’re there with a Thai person. Thais are allowed to take two foreigner guests in them for free. Lucky for us we had Nattakarn!
Since we’d had a big and late buffet breakfast, we didn’t need much for lunch. We just bought a few things to try from the different stalls at the market, some of which were on boats. Jeremy chose a spicy sausage, whilst I opted to try crocodile on a stick. We also bought mangosteen wine and tried some coconut balls, the latter because the man who was making them was a bit sad that no one was buying his product. They were actually quite nice.
After our eating was done, we kept wandering and looking through all the stalls, admiring some of the clothes. Then we came across someone who told us to check out a magic show there, and since that’s one of Jeremy’s interests, we did. The seats at the performance were all from old cars; it was actually pretty cool to see them recycled in such a way. We were also just about the only people in the audience. I think they were just happy for the opportunity to perform for someone. It was a good magic show, too. Some of the tricks were fairly standard, but there were others I’d not seen before and I had no clue how they could’ve done them. Jeremy and I also both got to go on stage to help with different tricks. Jeremy was there for the solid silver rings that can join together and come undone, whilst I got to help hold a tablecloth with a lit candle on top, and a floating table underneath. I have absolutely no idea how the table was floating. Just stunned, really!
After the show, we headed back toward the place where we’d bought the tickets from, and I mentioned that I wanted to try the inflatable water ball that you can get inside to try and walk on water. I’ve seen things like that before and wanted to try them, but often thought they were too expensive. In Thailand though, things are cheaper. So I got to give that a go for about ten minutes.
Here’s a video of me in there for some of the time:
If you watched that, you can probably see it’s not very easy. I had a hard enough time trying to stand in the thing. Any time I then tried to walk in it, I fell over. Sometimes it was like doing a bellyflop in a pool. It also got a bit hot in there, and stuffy, probably understandably. But if you just laid down in it, it was also quite relaxing being in it on the water.
After that we found a more of an indoor souvenir shop that wasn’t as much like the rest of the market, where Jeremy and Nattakarn had icepops. I didn’t like the look of them so I opted not to have one. I preferred the idea of trying to find the choconana place I had seen earlier because I wanted to try one. We kept exploring after that, and Jeremy found a mask he wanted to buy at a place that also had lots of pirate costume items, so I couldn’t help looking at a few of those things. I didn’t buy any though. When we made it back to the main part of the floating market, we heard a performance going on, so we got to catch the tail end of the that show. It seemed to be mostly sword fighting in shallow water. After that, I finally got to find my choconana – a frozen banana covered in chocolate and sprinkles.
Clearly, one of the biggest problems we had with Pattaya was not having a GPS or map, as we got lost again trying to find the walking street. Nattakarn often just called a friend on her phone to ask for directions, but that can be hard to do when you don’t even know where you actually are. Eventually we managed to find ourselves pretty close to our intended destination, and so Nattakarn pulled into a parking lot near the Wat Chai Mongkol temple. Parking in her bay meant narrowly avoiding a rusted out sewer grate. That would’ve been terrible to get stuck in! I think it’s be a lot rarer to find hazards like that in Australia.
Across the street from the parking was another market, so we wandered through there for a little while, but as it was already dark, many places were already closing up. I admired the traditional Thai clothes, and would probably have bought a set had I thought I was actually small enough to fit in one.
We headed to Wat Chai Mongkol after that, which was surrounded by even more markets. When I saw some monks sitting with a look that seemed to express, “This isn’t what I signed up for,” I couldn’t help thinking about the story of Jesus getting upset at all the markets surrounding a place of worship. I haven’t actually read that part of the Bible, and only really know about it from Jesus Christ Superstar, but even so it reminded me of that. Still, I picked up some earrings from the market before I’d seen the monks there. I wouldn’t recommend using the toilets there though. There was no toilet paper and the seat was wet. Ick!
The place I was actually aiming to go was the Ripley’s area. After the temple, that’s where we started walking towards, and then stopped for dinner at a place called Boat Bakery. I had a fusion dish that was flat noodles with beef mince, with the sauce being a bit like Bolognese sauce but with curry powder. Nattakarn wasn’t feeling too well and had a bit of a headache, so she opted to stay there while Jeremy and I headed off to Ripley’s. The place was pretty easy to find given it had the Ripley’s plane crashed into the side of a shopping mall.
When we headed inside to the top floor, we were greeted by an actor for Ripley’s Haunted Mansion, who was in one of the scariest costumes I’ve ever seen. It really looked like she was a dead woman whose throat had been slit and blood gushing out. She showed us the different price options for the packages we could get, depending on how many of the Ripley’s parks we wanted to go to. We ended up deciding on 3, because Jeremy wanted to do the Infinity maze, and I was keen on Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks and the Haunted Mansion.
The Infinity Maze was first. We had to wear special white socks and gloves, I’m guessing so they wouldn’t have to clean fingerprints and dirt up as often, since there were some rooms with glass/mirror walls. I was glad there were another couple of people who came in around the same time as us, as we helped each other find the doors out of each room into the next one. A lot of rooms were also quite dark and took some time to adjust to. I suppose it was fun, though it seemed somewhat short.
I chose the Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks because I’d enjoyed Madame Tussaud’s in Bangkok at the beginning of the year. Whilst it was still somewhat enjoyable and had a lot of different people and characters, they didn’t look quite as realistic as the ones at Madame Tussaud’s. My phone was really running low on power by this point too, and that meant I couldn’t take decent photos of the ones that were in really dark rooms, like Hitler and horror movie characters, because the camera flash would use too much power. I think the creepiest wax statue was the one from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and my favourites were the Batman ones.
I think it was probably a good thing that we saved the Haunted Mansion for last, as I’m not sure I could have gone on after that. We were there with some Russian tourists this time, and it started off well enough, but the further through we got, the scarier it was. I’m guessing that for me it was in part because the woman behind me kept holding onto my waist, and grabbing tighter every time she freaked out at what we saw. The darkness of the whole thing added to the creepy, as did the actors who’d jump out at us. They save the worst for last, though. We had been asked to all hold onto a long piece of rope to make sure we didn’t get separated, but as soon as a man with a chainsaw jumped out from behind a wall, we dropped that rope and ran for our lives. I have no idea if the chainsaw was real; I like to think it couldn’t have done any actual damage, but even when I thought we were safe, he kept chasing us. It was certainly a lot scarier than the haunted mansion I did at Genting Highlands in Malaysia on my own.
We headed back to find Nattakarn after that, but she had moved on to another place since our restaurant had closed, and found a friend for some company while she was waiting. Since we couldn’t find where she had gone to, we still ended up meeting back at the restaurant we’d eaten dinner. Then we headed back to the car, and found our way back to the hotel without getting lost. Hurrah!
Before heading to bed, we tried some of the cashew cake we had bought from the market around the temple.
Wednesday 28th November, 2012
We got up a bit earlier today, and I managed to nab some cake at the buffet breakfast this time around. I know cake is really not something to have for breakfast, but I can’t help taking it when it’s offered there!
We checked out shortly after breakfast, as today was the day we would make our journey from Pattaya to Ayutthaya. As we were headed out of town, we stopped at a temple we had driven past as I’d thought I’d like to take a photo, but it ended up not being as interesting as I’d expected, so onwards we drove.
As we were nearing Ayutthaya, Nattakarn asked me to point out anywhere I might like to see. We’d already passed a beautiful looking gold building on the highway, but it was too difficult for us to actually get to, unfortunately. Instead, Jeremy opted for us to go to the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts And Crafts Center, thinking I’d like it because normally I like art museums. On the other hand, I’m not as interested in handicrafts, which is more what this place had. I was more interested in the shrine for an elephant god and the shrubs shaped like elephants on the outside than the things we found inside the centre, so we didn’t stay there too long.
When we headed on from there, we started passing a few really beautiful temples. Eventually I asked Nattakarn to stop at one, which ended up being Wat Bothsompornchai, which had a giant gold Buddha on display. Nattakarn commented that we were probably the first tourists who had been there, since it was so far off the beaten path for tourists. It was a lovely spot right on the river, too.
There was a small food stall right at the exit, where Jeremy decided we should have lunch, because he likes to eat at places like that. I think that it might have been this place that was a mistake for me to eat at, though, as the following day I felt dreadful and only got worse. It was either here, what we had for dinner, or a combination of both.
Once we left there, we continued on our way to Ayutthaya. When we saw signs for Bang Pa-in Palace, I thought that sounded like it could be an interesting place to stop at, but unfortunately it was after 2pm by the time we got there, and thus it was closed. Although there was some confusion, as it may have also been closed to to the Loy Krathong festival happening that day. Even though the palace was closed, we still made another stop nearby to get some photos of the local riverside houses and another temple, before finally driving past a bunch of old ruins as we arrived in Ayutthaya.
Our first stop in Ayutthaya was to meet a friend of Nattakarn’s, and organise Jeremy’s and my taxis to the airport, as we would be leaving Thailand separately. Then Nattakarn drove us to our accommodation, which was a nice little houseboat on the river. We relaxed for a bit before Nattakarn had a tuk tuk driver come talk to us about taking us for a tour around the town the following day.
Once it started to get dark, we headed out to find a place we had been directed to enjoy the Loy Krathong festival, which ended up not being exactly as we had expected. We had to drive around it once before we were sure that it was where we were meant to go, and yet we still arrived early enough to get a decent parking spot. It was more like a fair or carnival at a park, with some market stalls and fairground games. We picked up some noodles to eat here, and avoided trying the cooked insects. We also got some crepes to take back to the boat for dessert. Before leaving, though, we did manage to find where people were putting the Loy Krathong lanterns in the water. Given the number of white people we saw, though, we thought perhaps this was more the location where tourists were directed to go.
On our way back to the boat, Nattakarn took us on a detour to take some nighttime photos of the Ayutthaya ruins and an ATM, since we were running out of cash. Then we went to the opposite riverbank from where we were staying, and it turned out that’s where a lot more Thais were celebrating the festival. Here, not only did we see people putting lanterns in the water, but also lighting up some that were to float in the sky. Both were really cool to watch, though I admit I did worry a little about the possibility that the water ones would set fire to our boat! We got some extra food to eat for dinner here. Both lunch and dinner meals for the day were noodle soups, and it’s the water from them that I suspect might have been what gave me stomach troubles.
We drove back to our accommodation after that to take in the sight of the lanterns from Wat Kasattrathirat, which was right next to where we were staying. As Nattakarn is Buddhist, she also spent some time at the temple for herself. The temple was quite pretty, too. Then, we walked back to the boat, and climbed up top to eat our crepes and drink the mangosteen wine we’d bought the day before. It was a little wet up there, though, as it had rained a bit earlier! Nattakarn gave me a birthday present since we weren’t likely to see her the next day before Jeremy and I headed to bed.
Thursday 29th November, 2012
I didn’t really sleep well, in part because I was already feeling quite sick from probably food poising, but probably also because my body was aware of the alarm that was due to go off at 5:45am, for our 6am tour departure. Why so early? Because our driver wanted to take us somewhere cool for a sunrise view. I contemplated cancelling because of how I felt, but this was my birthday, and the day I was most looking forward to. I love looking at the ruins of old civilisations. So I braved the day and got up. Then our driver was late anyway. The sun was already rising before he got there and I worried we’d miss the great view.
When he did get there, he stopped first at 7-Eleven, and so I decided to ask Jeremy to get me some bottled water, hoping that would help how bad I felt. Then he took us off in the opposite direction than we thought he was taking us for our first stop, but as it turned out, I think the sunrise at the Wat Chaiwatthanaram ruins would’ve been nicer than where he had told us he was going to take us first. We didn’t spend too much time at these ruins because I was still kind of hoping we’d make the other spot before the sunrise ended.
Of course, our next stop, the Queen Suriyothai Memorial – which is an elephant statue – didn’t seem as grand a place to see the sunrise anyway. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice statue. I just don’t think the photos would have looked as nice at that time of day.
That memorial was followed by a stop at the Wat Phu Khao Thong ruins, where we sadly saw a black puppy that had been run over by a car, and it’s adorable golden labrador brother that I wanted to take home with me. I’m not usually a dog person, but this puppy was so sweet. A couple of people who arrived shortly after us moved the dead dog off the road before Jeremy and I headed into the ruins to take photos and climb them. There were a few Buddha statues around, including a fat gold one.
On our way out, our driver stopped us at the King Naresuan Monument, and told us this kind was known as the chicken king! That explained all the hundreds of rooster statues that surrounded it. It was quite a sight to see!
Our next stop was a much newer temple rather than ruins of one, Wat Na Phra Men. I was more interested in all of the statues of different gods they had on the outside than checking out the inside of it.
Then we were taken to the ruins of Wat Thammikarat. If we thought we’d seen the end of King Naresuan’s roosters before, we were wrong. There was another statue of him here in the ruins, and he was surrounded by more. They also had a giant Buddha head here, and I quite liked the pillars that still stood inside the temple beside the king’s area.
We hadn’t had breakfast yet, obviously, so our next stop was a small restaurant opposite the ruins of Wat Ratchaburana. Given how I was feeling, I honestly couldn’t stomach any more Thai food, and thus opted for the western breakfast that primarily consisted of scrambled eggs. Whilst eating, I was also amused by the ash tray that looks like a woman’s bottom and legs. Then our driver took us across the street to check out the ruins of Wat Ratchaburana, which we had to pay to enter. We spent some time looking around before heading back across the street to our driver again.
Our next stop was the ruins of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, where Jeremy was able to change more money, which we needed in order to pay the driver later, and more entrance fees, as well as the taxi driver to the airport. Our tuk tuk driver also apparently had another job so he had to swap us to another driver for a few hours, who we were introduced to before wandering through the ruins.
By this point I think Jeremy was getting a little tired of seeing so many ruined temples, and we were still only about three and a half hours into the day. I was feeling unwell and drinking as much water as I could, but still managed to climb the steps of the stupa to see the flaking gold Buddhas inside. It was interesting to see all the gold flecks gradually blowing off, revealing the stone underneath, as it put into perspective how all of the other stone Buddhas might have looked in the past, as well as how more modern gold Buddhas we’ve seen are probably made. There were a lot of stone Buddhas around the outside of the stupa that reminded me of one of the temples we had previously visited in Bangkok, but for the fact the gold coating was missing.
After exploring the ruins, we crossed over a bridge to see The Grand Palace, which must have been for the same chicken king, given how many more chickens and roosters we saw spread around the place.
We headed back to our new driver after that, and I asked Jeremy to buy me some more water as I was already finished my first bottle. My being sick combined with how hot the day was (especially considering I was wearing black pants) really contributed to that need.
Our next stop was the location Jeremy was most keen to see in Ayutthaya. Nattakarn had said the floating market here would be more genuine than the one in Pattaya, but it didn’t seem too different to us. We sat down and relaxed for a bit while we were there because I was feeling so terrible, and then we wandered around the rest of the stalls, but didn’t find anything we fancied to buy.
The next destination was a bit of a drive away, and given we didn’t have much idea where we were actually going since our original driver had told us what we should see, I wondered if this new driver was just taking us back to Bang Pa-in Palace, since that seemed to come up in discussion as a possibility. I really wasn’t sure how much more there even was to see, in terms of ruins, since it seemed we had already seen a lot. But, instead, we ended up at a more modern temple, Wat Panan Choeng.
Wat Panan Choeng is probably best known for the giant gold Buddha in its main hall. It was hard getting a good photo of it both because there were so many people crammed in the doorway trying to look at it and do just that, and because it filled up most of the room it was housed in. There were a lot of other smaller gold Buddhas around the place, some of which also had gold flakes coming off. In the final room we looked in, I amused myself by taking a photo of a monk photographing another monk with the Buddhas in there. It’s not every day you see monks acting like tourists.
After the brief break from visiting ruins, our driver took us back to the centre of Ayutthaya, and dropped us off at Wat Mahathat. This is opposite the ruins we went to after breakfast, but obviously our itinerary didn’t put us there right after. Wat Mahathat is known for having a sandstone Buddha head trapped in a tree.
I can’t remember at exactly which site I started thinking about all the bricks that were used in these structures, but I did begin to become more aware of them and wondered about how they were even used in the 1500s because it didn’t occur to me that bricks were around at that time, let alone used for such incredible structures as these. And then they were covered over with another material so that the bricks wouldn’t have been visible during the time these sites were actually used. It’s only through the erosion of time that they’ve become exposed to the elements (and perhaps the destruction from the Burmese army that led to Ayutthaya being deserted also played a part). Surprisingly, even some of the larger stone Buddhas that were in ruins exposed that the inside of them had been built out of bricks. All of the ruins really were a sight to take in and get me thinking about these things.
The next area we drove to was just down the street. We first walked into Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, which featured a giant brass Buddha, very similar to the giant gold one. What was interesting about this temple is that it was actually part of the Ayutthaya ruins, but has been restored quite well.
As part of the same stop, I wanted to wander around the Wat Phra Si Samphet ruins. It was another pay to enter place (as was Wat Mahathat, which I forgot to mention) and Jeremy was becoming concerned about how much cash we had left, so I took his camera and went inside on my own. I quite liked this site, as the three white spires felt very majestic. I don’t know if that’s because the bricks were still coated or because I learned whilst inside there that each spire represented a place where a former king had been laid to rest.
It’s a little sad that this was one of the last sites of ruins we stopped at since it was probably my favourite one, both because of what I described above, and because of the enormity of the area, and how much of it remained standing. It would’ve been nice to have shared that with Jeremy, but I understood he was also getting a little tired of seeing so many ruins. Because of this, even though we were told we were welcome to explore the ruins of Wat Phra Ram across the street while we stopped there, I only took a couple of photos of it. After all, it couldn’t really compare to the majestic spires.
Given that it was now past lunch time, the next stop our driver took as too was a small riverside restaurant. I found myself more interested in trying to sleep on the table than finishing all my food, but at least fried rice didn’t make my stomach feel too much worse.
We followed the river road north to Chedi Sri Suriyothai, which was on the other side of the river from where we stayed. Photos were taken but it wasn’t as interesting as other stops on the day.
Then we were taken to the ruins of Wat Lokayasutha, where there was a reclining Buddha that had been repaired a bit in the 1950s, but didn’t seem very well maintained. It was still worth taking a photo of for its sheer size. When we were done there, we waited in the tuk tuk for our first driver to return to us and swap over again at 3pm. We asked him to let us know what we had left on our tour because I was really starting to feel so out of it that I thought it might be better to go back to our boat and sleep. I just didn’t want to miss anything I thought might be really good. Thankfully we had now been to all of the best ruins and our driver told us our next stop was to be the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. We drove there, but after seeing the cost of admission, I decided I really did just prefer the idea of sleeping. They had a nice mural on the outside that I got to take a photo of at least.
We returned to our accommodation about 3 hours earlier than we were supposed to, and I stupidly thought that would mean we wouldn’t have to pay as much as we agreed, that it would just be 200Baht per hour. The driver still wanted the full fare, but Jeremy explained we wouldn’t have enough for our dinner and taxis to the airport if we did that, so we split the time we had left and the driver seemed to accept that.
It was good to be back at the boat where we napped for a couple of hours. I was too sick to worry about dinner though, but Jeremy went out for a bit on his own before coming back to say goodbye to me around 9:30pm. I went to sleep for the night pretty much immediately after he left.
Friday 30th November, 2012
Since I was still not feeling that great, I basically slept in on & off until it was time to have a shower and head out. It helped me feel a bit better, even though I was not in the mood to go out for food. I figured I could just get something at the airport.
When I emerged a bit before 10am, my driver was already there, so I left with him. The drive to Don Mueang airport ended up being half as long as I expected it to be (one hour instead of two) which meant I was there well ahead of when I needed to be, but that wasn’t a big deal because it’s not like I had anything else I wanted to do in Ayutthaya. I used the self-check-in service and then set about trying to find something to eat, since I was really hungry by then. Unfortunately all of the food places in the check-in area didn’t accept cards and the food I wanted cost more than the cash I had on me. So I bought some weird potato snacks instead, which I didn’t even really like that much.
I didn’t have any bags to drop off since I’d just had my backpack, but I still had to go to the check-in counter to have my passport checked before I could go through security and immigration. Heading through that was a breeze, and then I discovered a bunch of food places I could go to that accepted my card. I ended up getting a burger from McDonald’s, even though I generally try to avoid the chain. I spent most of my time at the airport reading an ebook on my phone as I waited by my gate, but then I got thirsty and a little hungry again, so I headed to Dunkin’ Donuts and got a donut and Thai ice tea. The tea was a little strong so it took me a while to drink, but I was accessing their free Internet so I didn’t mind.
Then I headed back to gate and kept reading. When I heard the flight was being delayed about an hour, I plugged my phone in so I could keep reading. Losing battery power really is an unfortunate side effect of reading ebooks.
Finally I managed to get on my flight home to KL.