With our youngest child completing the HSC this year, we felt that parents deserve a “Schoolies” break too, so thanks to a great fare we found with QANTAS, it was off to Thailand for two weeks. The flight over to Bangkok wasn’t that great, on a crappy Airbus 330 with a bung seat. The movie choices were disappointing too, but that wasn’t really the airline’s fault, Hollywood being to blame releasing nothing but superheroes and sequels in tghe last year. Anyway, got through the 9 hours alright, despite the ordinary vegetarian meal (why do vegetarians always get healthy fruit instead of cake or chocolate???) and we landed at the enormous Suvannabhumi airport pretty much on time. Passport control was really slow, as yet another country has decided to take selfies of all arrivals, as well as a lack of staff. Amazing that such a huge airport directs everyone to just a handful of customs officers. As we had carryon luggage it was straight through to the Airport Express to Makkasan on the very Quick Express line. Changed to the metro to Silom and then it was a short walk to our hotel, the Inn Sala Daeng, off Silom Road. It’s a very cute hotel with brightly painted rooms and ideal for a quick stopover. It was late by the time we got to the hotel so popped out for something to eat. After our usual fruitless search for a veg place i found on the internet ended up at the Bua restaurant on Convent Rd, which was OK but a bit overpriced.
Next morning we were up early to get the train to Ayuthaya. Popped around to Silom Road after breakfast and it made me wish I hadn’t had the boring hotel brekky. There were even more food stalls there in the morning than the night before, all sorts of yummy stuff and much more veggie food. Checked out and caught the metro to Hualamphong station. Had no trouble buying a ticket, in fact the station was deserted. The train was really slow coming out of Bangkok which made us over an hour late, so it took us nearly 3 hours to Ayuthaya in very uncomfortable seats (and that was fancy 2nd class!). On arrival there we crossed the road from the station to the little ferry that takes you across the river to the main town. From there it was only a hot 20 minute walk to our hotel, the Baan Tebpitak, up a quiet lane off Pa Thon Rd. It’s a very nice property with a peaceful garden and an excellent big pool. Our upstairs room was quite big and overlooked the pool. It had a nice courtyard area where the Swiss owner held court, offering advice about the town (except where the vegetarian restaurants are) and bagging vegans. After a few days here we wondered what he actually did, as he just spent his days chatting and on his laptop while the women did everything else. Started with a welcome swim in the strongly salted (not chlorinated as I stated on our Tripadvisor review) but very refreshing pool.Anyway, that afternoon we went off for a walk, heading down to the Chao Phraya river that runs on to Bangkok. We had a look at the remains of an 18th century fort, then hopped on the little river ferry across to Wat Phanan Choeng, where the Chao Phraya meets the Pa Sak river. This 700 year old temple features a huge gold buddha, 19m high, and was one of the nicest we have seen. It seemed to be a very popular temple, with a stream of worshippers seeking the resident monk’s blessings, sticking gold leaf to statues and most interestingly, buying lengths of saffron cloth that they first offered to the buddha. This was then hoisted up over the large buddha, with the material spread over the worshippers’s heads. Prayers were said and then the cloth pulled up over Buddha’s shoulder (to be resold again to the next group of devotees). There many other interesting statues in the shrine and these are apparently quite old too. After a bit of a wait for the river ferry which we spent watching the tour groups and party boats working their way up river, and looking at the giant catfish being fed outside the wat, we crossed back over and caught a tuktuk to the Bangkok bus station (basically a street in town). had a bit of a wander in the markets then went looking for a vegetarian restaurant mentioned on Happycow but it was closed at night. So instead went to the night market (Bang Lan St?) and had pad thai from a very efficient little stall. Unusually the pad thai was topped with sugar! Back to our room via the 7-11 to pick up ice cream and beer.
Next morning we had a fresh but usual European style breakfast and then we were off on our bicycles to explore the ancient capital of Ayuthaya. The nice wide roads made things a bit easier and a bit safer. Started off with a look at the newish City Pillar Shrine, and then over the road to watch the tourists being carried in convoy on elephants, of which there were many. Across the road again was Wat Phra Ram, which I visited while Merrill had a rest. I had the whole site to myself, and it was quite interesting and nice and shady too. This temple isn’t visited that often but should be, with its large tower and some unusual chedis and other structures. Its location on a nice lake adds to its attractiveness. From there we rode up to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with its famous 3 chedis, and nicely landscaped grounds. After a futile attempt to find the royal palace we headed off to the Youta vegetarian restaurant again, which was open this time. Had a good pigout on delicious noodle soup, and some cold dishes with rice. The address is 49/1 Khlong Makharm Riang Rd. (at Naresuan Rd) – just go down the road along the canal from Naresuan Rd. Closes at 2pm. The soup was really good, the cold dishes nothing spectacular but at least its veggie! Back on the bikes and thankfully we’d missed much of the heat by then. Went next to Wat Mahathat, where we saw the famous Buddha head in the tree, but please ignore the guidebooks because the whole complex is magnificent, and would be all the more amazing if the giant prang was still intact – it must have been incredible and at its peak was over 50m high. Over the road we visited the Wat Rat Pradithan, a much quieter site. By this stage we were tired and hot, so we headed back for a swim, with the plan to visit more sites later in the afternoon, but we never quite got there! Ended up at the night markets again for dinner, and the same pad thai but without the sugar this time.
Next morning it was off in a tuktuk to the train station for our trip to Phitsanulok, en route to Sukhothai. It was a slow journey through some of the most boring scenery I’ve ever seen in Asia, mostly post harvest rice paddies which were just flat seas of brown mud, flat lifeless green scrub and once or twice a craggy hill. Did see an impressive silvery gray bird of prey though. Arrived in busy Phitsanulok about 1pm, left our bags with the lovely lady at the left luggage counter (with her baby asleep on the office floor) and wandered up a street almost entirely of optometrist shops to the temples. The first temple we looked at was Phra Buddha Chinnarat (Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat,) . This very popular and bustling temple features what many Thais believe is the most beautiful Buddha image in Thailand and they are probably right. There was a constant stream of worshippers and almost a carnival atmosphere outside. Much more peaceful was the wat across the road, Rat Burana. This one had a small, dusty wooden temple and a famous wishing tree and was totally deserted. Walked back to the station and caught a tuktuk to the bus station and booked our bus to Sukhothai.
This didn’t take long, and then it was another tuktuk to our accommodation at the Orchid Hibiscus Guest House near the Historical Park in Old Sukhothai. And there we met the infamous Italian that owns the place, who informed us that we had to pay for breakfast (we didn’t) and we had a twin room (had booked a double but what to do?). Otherwise he seemed a nice guy despite the comments on Tripadvisor. It was night by then so headed off so something to eat, and the town was in full festive mode as it was Loi Krathong, the biggest festival in North Thailand. We were lucky we had booked something as we met many backpackers trying to find somewhere with vacancies. Cars and people were streaming into the village, all heading to the festivities in the historical park. Had a delicious dinner at the Kacha restaurant on the main road, expensive but huge serves, lots of vegetarian options and really friendly staff.
After dinner we wandered into the Historical Park where the festivities for Loi Krathong was being held. It was like a giant version of the Sydney Royal Easter Show but of course very Thai. We caught the end of the colourful sound and light show, with many of the ancient statues illuminated, as well as performances by dancers and singers and concluding with fireworks. At the end lanterns were launched into the air, looking eerily beautiful in the night sky. We then explored some of the numerous stalls, many selling krathongs to buy and launch yourself. We bought a nice one for about $1 and lit it and sent it on its way across the pond. There were also some drama performances going on and a lot of people. Totally stuffed, we wandered back to our hotel and attempted to sleep on probably the hardest beds in the world.
Next morning we had a delicious breakfast, which included wild honey and an interesting coconut pudding. We headed off to the historical park to do some historical stuff. On the way two semi trailers pulled up opposite us and it turned out they were carrying the Krathongs of the Thai royal family. On the way in we looked at the Wat Traphang Thonglang, an attractive temple complex on an island in a lake. It featured a footprint of the Buddha, a chedi and some locals making krathongs to sell and the winners of the best krathong competition. In the Historical park we started at Wat Mahathat, with its impressive Buddha statues and pillars, then some of the smaller temples and structures in the complex. After a simple lunch from some festival stalls, and some delicious coconut ice cream served in a shell, we headed outside the park to the Wat Prapai Luang, a khmer style temple. Didn’t really feel like wandering about after that one, so we walked back through the fair in time to watch the grand parade, which was very colourful and entertaining, with each local village displaying ornate krathongs and groups of dancers. Each seemed to also have a ‘princess”, which we assume is to do with the story of the festival. We then headed back to our hotel for a swim. Probably should have got bicycles to do other temples, but there’s always another trip. After a refreshing swim we headed back out for dinner, this time at the restaurant next door to the Kacha (I think it was called the “Boys”), but the serves were tiny and the food nowhere near as good as the Kacha. Next morning we headed off in a taxi to the bus station and caught a bus to Chiang Mai, as the train line was still out of action.
After a scenic but uneventfully long bus ride via the humorously named Sawankhalot and Lampang, we arrived in Chiang Mai and checked into the gorgeous Rich Lanna guest house on the northern boundary of the old city. Our room was like a small apartment and like the rest of the hotel tastefully decorated and spotlessly clean. Went off soon after for dinner, ending up at a very nice indian restaurant (would have been even better if they had a no dickhead backpacker entry requirement). The Loi Krathing festival was still going, so headed up to the river to watch the grand parade. However no sooner had we arrived than the heavens opened and we had to make a run for cover. We ended up backstage with a dancers and musicians who couldn’t perform on the temporary stage because of the rain. It got a bit dodgy after a while as the waters started rising aorund us, especially with all the power cables. The tribal musicians kept us entertained with a jam session but the poor old visiting Korean dance troupe eventually had to abandon their chance to eprform and packed up and left. Finally the rain eased (well, eased to what would still be called heavy rain in Australia) and we made a run for it, working our way back to the hotel without getting too soaked.
Next morning we set off following a delicious buffet breakfast at our hotel (and the best coffee in Thailand). Started at the Wat Kuan kama temple, which was peaceful, and then crossed the canal to the superb complex of Wat Lok Molee. This wooden temple dates back to the 14th century and is sacred to the lanna people. The temple is surrounded by animal statues and decorated with glass mosaics and mother of pearl. Behind the temple is a 16th century chedi that contains ashes of Lanna kings. Also on site are many Hindu shrines, some ancient Mercedes Benz cars and a saffron cloth that you can write messages on, which later gets hoisted up onto the chedi. A fascinating and historically important temple that doesn’t even get into the guidebooks. We then walked down to Wat Phra Singh, one of the more famous temples. Some beautiful Buddha images here, and also the creepiest statue ever of a famous monk that looks like it is made out of his real skin. he really looked like he was going to wake up any minute.