The tour group left at 9 a.m. and I have a leisurely day at the hotel in Ayutthaya so it’s the first time for a blog post. Too tired at night to write. Refreshed today after sleeping until 8:30 a.m. (instead of waking up at 5:30 a.m. as has happened most mornings).
HOTELS – This was my first group tour—nice people, great guide and no “squeaky wheels” (or pain in the #@!%) in the group.
Hotels have been fantastic — 5 star here in the ancient capital and though only 4 star in Bangkok, my room was spectacular there. Will post some interior shots of it when my bus seat partner sends them to me. We had the same corner room—on different floors, of course. Two walls were floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking BKK’s many skyscrapers.
Our two nights on the River Kwai were in a bungalow resort in the middle of the jungle. Only way to reach it was by long boat—no roads there. Again, a lovely big room with amazing stone bathroom consisting of 3 separate rooms–toilet, shower, and large mirrored vanity area with sink.
Here in Ayutthaya (have you noticed I spell it differently nearly every time?), the hotel if quite nice, especially its location on the River where a big barge just passed by. It’s quite near the train station which will be convenient later when I catch my 7:45 p.m. overnight train (with berth) to Chiang Mai where I arrive at 8:15 a.m.
SIGHTSEEING – Each day in BKK I took a guided tour. The first day we visited two temples (wats) and drove through Chinatown and past the Flower Market. The next day was an optional tour to the Grand Palace and to see the Reclining Buddha. Regret not having my phone with me for photos at the Grand Palace. The Thai architecture was breathtaking….gold everywhere, imposing statues to scare away the evil spirits, Buddhas in every size imaginable and in many different poses, and the most incredible 108 panel mural depicting an ancient legend.
After our sightseeing in BKK, I had my first massage (one-hour foot massage) and then went to the city’s largest park for a Tourism Festival. Lumpini Park was only a tenth of a mile or so away from our hotel. Of course, if I’d planned it correctly the foot massage would have come AFTER the couple of hours spent walking to/from/throughout the park. I was one of the few “farang” (foreigners) there, an experience I really like. I enjoyed traditional native dancing on two stages and ate pad thai from one of the numerous food booths. Hundreds of vendors sold food, personal care items, crafts and so forth throughout the park.
I hadn’t done sightseeing in Bangkok since my first trip to SE Asia in 1999 so I really enjoyed these excursions, especially with the added attraction of an informative guide.
On the River Kwai I signed up for an optional all-day tour to Hellfire Pass, the most difficult place to build on the Japanese railroad from Burma to BKK during World War II. Over 90,000 conscripted SE Asians and nearly 13,000 British and Australian POW soldiers died during its construction. The museum there was one of the best I’ve seen in SE Asia—very well done, informative and filled with interesting objects and photographs. The photographed prisoners reminded me of concentration camp victims—skin and bones. Very sobering.
Prior to the museum visit our small group of 11 walked the trail to the Hellfire Pass which was carved out of solid rock, mostly by hand. What grueling work! The path down had hundreds of steps—as did the path up, naturally. Good exercise though I could have used a shower at the end of the hike. Green hills on the other side of the Kwai River greeted us as we navigated the stone-lined path. Occasionally we’d come across original railroad ties. In one place we encountered a small section of re-laid original track, placed there by an Australian regiment in the late 1990s in honor of their lost comrades. Additionally, there were small memorials along the way, each featuring the name of a fallen soldier and often accompanied by a red poppy.
As a surprise on the way back our guide brought us to a spot where monkeys gather to be fed by visiting tourists. A couple dozen tame monkeys came near us to enjoy pieces of corn of the cob that we purchased there. One alpha male (THE alpha male, I suppose) sat alone with about 8 pieces of corn surrounding him—if another monkey approached he chased it away. The best part for me was seeing two mothers with their babies clinging to their underbellies. Quite a touching sight.
AYUTTHAYA – Our stop here to visit the monuments was a bit disappointing. I’d been here once before and expected the tour guide to tell us more than he did. We had time to photograph and climb the ancient brick structures but it was hot and very bright in the afternoon sun. I had a better time here in 2009 when I met Antonio, my dear Italian photographer friend. I accompanied him to a famous ancient temple so he could capture its beauty at sunset. (Check out his website by googling Antonio Busiello to see the photos as well as his amazing award-winning African and underwater photographs.)
Well, that’s all for now. Off to the swimming pool. More from Chiang Mai or Pai.