Bangkok Day 5 (22 Dec 09) – One Last Glance

Today’s my last day here for this trip, though my flight is at 9.15pm, that means I still have the whole day , but I am out of energy to do anything else. Woke up rather late (around 10am), and started to pack, as I have not pack yet (my hotel room was kinda in a mess). Since I have to check out latest by 1 pm, I din really have much time to relax at all. Packing din take me too long, done packing at around 11.30 am. Today din really do much. After I checked out of the hotel, I was walking around Siam Square (thank goodness I stayed at Siam Square, at least something to do for me to kill time), making sure that I covered everything on Siam Square. Siam Square was rather empty at the time I woke up when I looked out from my room, however at around noon time, one can see influx of people, the locals (mostly students and yuppies), tourists. It seemed that the place has gotten a breath of life as the time dwells into the lateness. Now shopping here was a breeze, since I can speak a little Thai, prices quoted to me was much much lower than the others. And the locals are more willing to give me a good price (compared to Caucasians who was trying to buy stuff from them). Felt pretty much like a zombie, walking around aimlessly to kill time. Dunno how many times I walked around Siam Square today already. Guess I am so familiar after today that there is nothing in Siam Square that I did not cover. Walked around the nearby malls such as MBK, Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and Siam Paragon, was kinda torture since I dun really like shopping. Anyways, managed to killed time and waited for 6pm and returned back to the hotel. When I checked in, the hotel staff told me I could asked for a shower room. Had the impression probably they have shower facilities like those in swimming pools or gyms. I went to the business centre and asked about the shower room, little did I expected that they actually gave me a hotel room just for showering purposes on the 5th floor. After I entered the room, I found that the room that I was assigned was really a good one and is pretty big, compared to this room. After taking a nice shower, time for me to head to the airport.

Can never get sick of this view of Siam Square from the deck of my room
A&W Waffle Burger
Last look around Siam Square

The journey to the airport was a nightmare, even the cabby was complaining about the traffic in the city. Despite his grumble and the traffic which stood still for around 15 mins (as in not moving at all, the light at the junction was red throughout the 15 mins), no one was honking or swearing. People were just waiting patiently for the light to turn green. After we survived the traffic jam (thanks to the knowledgeable cabby who knew how to avoid the jam), we arrived in the airport rather fast (took around 1½ hour with the jam). There3 was a delay in checking in, as the airline system was down, around 30 mins later we were able to check in once more. Dun really have the time to walk around the airport, after checking in, went to grab a bite and then headed towards the aircraft (did I mentioned the airport was HUGE?). The aircraft arrived late and as a result we took off 30 mins later, well can’t really complain coz I am travelling by budget airlines; as long as I got my flight home I am happy).

Bangkok Day 4 (21 Dec 09) – The Ancient Capital of Ayutthaya

When I started planning for this trip to Bangkok, I accidentally browsed through this webpage that was introducing Ayutthaya. My first knowledge for Ayutthaya was it was a city of ruins and rich history contents. Immediately I marked Ayutthaya as one of the places that I wanted to visit when I come to Bangkok. Now a little bit about Ayutthaya, it is a city located about 76km north of Bangkok. It was the first Capital of Thailand before the capital was shifted to the current location at Bangkok. it was founded in 1351 and rose rapidly by exploiting the expanding trade routes between India and China. The prosperity of the city lasted for around 400 years when the Burmese attacked this city, taking tens of thousands of people and thus the city was abandoned to the jungles. As I researched more about Ayutthaya, the more I wanted to visit this place. There are 2 methods of coming to Ayutthaya (other than driving a car), namely via bus and train. For the fun of it, I decided to go by train. It is a good thing that Hua Lumpong Train station is right next to the MRT station, getting there is a breeze. I missed the 2nd train again, so had to take the next train at 9.25am. This train has only 3rd class seats, meaning no aircon, and free seating. Well it was an experience anyways, and the fare only cost 15 baht (around 60 cents, how cheap was that). Along the way, the train stopped at a few stations, then this local couple boarded the train and sat opposite me. As the conductor was checking tickets, he told the couple to remind me when to alight the train. When the train pulled on the station, the couple did what they were told despite I know this was the station I needed to alight). However the couple did more then they asked for. They asked what I wanted to see, and I told them I needed to get a bike and cycle around to see the ruins, they guided me to the pier, across the river and even paid for my boat fare cross the river!! How nice! They then told me to get a bike from any of the shops along the street (which I found out at the end of the day, this was a better option then what was recommended in the guidebook). I rented a bike and start riding it out into the town. First I had to orientate myself. Din managed to see any ruins as I was riding, I had expected to see lots of ruins by the pier, near the train stations, etc etc. However as I was cycling towards what the map pointed me to a ruin, I bumped into a deserted, yet unmarked ruin. This was the first ruin I came across in Ayutthaya, this ruin looks like a small shrine or temple. Totally unmarked and out of sight, it seemed that this forgotten ruin was only seen by few tourists. As I was riding along the street, I saw 2 ruins, side by side. My aim was to look for the entrance, which was not exactly visible on the street I was cycling. As I cycled, I saw this door left ajar, which was apparently the back door of one of the ruins. I realized this is Wat Mahathat. There are a number of pagodas and some ruin structure, looks like throughout the years, and nature has taken over the temple grounds. The structure was magnificent, I can imagine how big the temple was when it was at its peak by merely walking through the ruins. I did what most tourists did at the ruins, took some pictures and started to head to the next ruin.

Inside Hua Lumpong Train Station
On my way to Ayutthaya
Arrival at Ayutthaya Train Station
A different type of Tuk Tuk
This is the boat that ferry us across to the island
Unmarked temple
Looks like someone managed to assemble the Buddha head
Entrance of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That
Ruins of Wat Maha That

Din take long for me to get to the next ruin. It was situated just next to Wat Mahathat. This time round I cycled and enter by the front. As I parked my bike and was heading into Wat Ratchaburana, this Thai guy stopped me and spoke in Thai. Well my Thai was not that good enough to understand what exactly he was talking about, so I gave him that blank look. He immediately spoke in broken English (just like how my Thai is broken) and told me to pay for entrance. Now the ticket booth for these ruins are not exactly what you would find in Singapore, it is just a small pavilion structure with some locals sitting inside awaiting for tourists to pay up. There isn’t any signs pointing to the ticketing booth. Then I realized that I NEED to pay for each ruin I visited, including Wat Mahathat, opps….. I din pay for that when I barged in via the back gate (phew saved 50 baht). So I paid up and entered into the ruins. It was as magnificent as Wat Mahathat, given the 2 ruins are about the same size, with similar structure. This Wat however has a main pagoda right in the centre, which added to its grandeur and differentiates it from Wat Mahathat. History has it that this wat was built by one of the Thai kings to cremate his 2 brothers who were killed while engaging in a elephant back combat, he later added a Wihan and converted it into a monastery. The pagoda wasn’t really that high, say about 3 storeys high, but it is high enough to enjoy the breeze that blew through the area. Not too bad, it also has some damaged Buddha images throughout the temple, makes me wonder why the Burmese has to wreck their temples……. Took some photos as well and planned for my next destination.

Wat Ratchanurana Entrance
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Ratchanurana
Ruins of Wat Thammikkarat

Well the journey to my next few destinations are interesting ones. I needed to cycle outside of the main Ayutthaya city to get there. As I was trying to orientate myself (which I got lost), I came by this rather small wat which was not marked on the map I was traveling with. This Wat Chao Ya (which laterally means grandmother’s temple) was split into 2 sections, cutting through by the main road. The interesting thing about this temple was that there were no records when it was being built, however the Thais believed that this was one of the first temples to be built in the early Ayutthaya period (before AD 1350). This temple has a small pagoda up at the front and a 2 floor building.

Ruins of Wat Chao Ya
Ruins of Wat Chao Ya

After taking some photos of Wat Chao Ya, I headed back towards Ayutthaya and made a right turn before the road towards Ayutthaya. As I was cycling, another Wat popped up, Wat Cheong Tha. This Wat has a rather unusual purpose, it was believed that this Wat was built by a millionaire, whose daughter eloped with another guy. The millionaire loved his daughter so much that he built a bridal house for her and was prepared to forgave and gave them his blessings should they return to him. As the years went by his daughter never came back, so the millionaire built a temple and dedicated the bridal house.

Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha
Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha
Ruins of Wat Cheong Tha

After Wat Cheong Tha, I began my wild cycling trip towards Wat Tum. Now this Wat Tum was located rather far outside Ayutthaya, about 10 kms. It came as a challenge to me as I read while researching on the internet that this temple is rather unique, and when I was asking the guy at the bike renting shop about this temple, he told me it is very far and would not be possible to cycle there. Then I thought to myself “oh yeah? Or are you trying to con me into engaging your tuk-tuk services?”. So I made the trip partially to proof that this guy was wrong. As I was cycling towards Wat Tum, I passed by the monument of King Narusuan, one of the greatest king in Thai history. At first I wanted to turn in and take a look, then as I was cycling near the turn into the monument, I thought “might as well go to Wat Tum first, I am gonna head down this way later on when I return to Ayutthaya anyways”. So I headed straight towards Wat Tum. The cycling trip there, to me, was a crazy one. Not only the distance was far, I was actually cycling along the highway. Luckily the traffic density on this part of the highway was not heavy, plus the fact that the Thais are rather considerate drivers, who would try to avoid (not mentioning their great patience) towards cyclists (even when I was cycling opposing the traffic). Another factor that made cycling along the highway (and in fact along the roads of Ayutthaya as well) was that there seem to be a dividing road shoulder lane used only by cyclists and motorcycles, cycling within this zone was actually quite safe and the cars will not drive into this lane anyhow. So getting back, after about 45 mins of cycling, I reached Wat Tum. This is not a ruin, but a proper temple by itself. The colorfulness of the temple kinda differentiates it from the other temples. It also has a white pagoda in front of the main monastery. After taking some photos, I was ready to head back towards Ayutthaya.

The white coloured Wat Tum
Wat Tum
Wat Tum
Wat Tum

My next stop was Monument of King Narusuan. This was essentially a statue of the king on his horse which portrayed his victory from war. Beneath this statue, the locals made a small altar for the purpose of worshiping him. What was really really strange about this place was the fact that there are a lot of chicken statues throughout and around the main monument. Not too sure why the chicken and what is there relationship between him and the chicken. There wasn’t anything around that explains this point. Anyhoo, there was a Wat just behind this statue, Wat Phu Kao Thong. This wat was built in 1387 AD, and then later a king added some Burmese flavor to it in 1569 AD. The wat was surrounded by a small waterway and has a really high pagoda, and that was the only structure of this wat. Much of it remains intact and untouched by the Burmese during their invasion into Ayutthaya. This is so probably due to its link with the Burmese. As I climbed onto the wat, at the main deck, I saw this monk sitting up on the wat reading some sutras, the view up there was nice and breezy. What a place to do studying!! So it is time for me to head back to Ayutthaya again. My next stop was the grand palace.

Statue of King Narusuan
Statue of King Narusuan
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
Ruins of Wat Phu Khao Theong
View from Wat Phu Khao Theong

Next journey to the grand palace was a frustrating one, not that the cycling part was far (oh well after I have done the trip to Wat Tum, the rest seem chicken feet). The fact that the map I was using did point out a cycling route after entering Ayutthaya, I spent like 30 mins trying to figure out where this path is, and at the end of the day, never got it figured out. After cycling back and forth for 30 mins, I decided to ask a vendor at Wat Thammikkarat. She pointed out for me to make a left turn and follow the path. As I was cycling I came across this sign that says market, according to the map, this market place was next to the grand palace, so I headed in. To my disappointment, there was nothing but stalls and stalls of vendors trying to sell things. So I headed out into the main road and took the long way. As I was cycling, I came past this wat, Wat Phra Ram. Hey this was really near the Grand palace and was one of my destinations. So I figured just go in and take a look so I dun have to come by this way again later. Paid the entrance and went into the ruins.

Wat Phra Ram was built in 1912 BE by one of the kings over the cremation site of his father. Due to the change in dynasty (the king only ruled for 1 year), he din have time to complete the wat. It was subsequently completed by another king. Due to its close proximity to the Grand Palace, this wat was restored several times as it decayed. This wat has a main pagoda and surrounding it several small pagodas, as well as several corridors with Buddha statues.

Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram
Ruins of Wat Phra Ram

After this wat, I headed towards Grand palace and the wat just next to it. Wat Phra Si Sanohet, was the grandest temple within Ayutthaya, it featured 3 main huge pagodas right smack in the centre of the ruin. Initially the temple was within the royal palace grounds, subsequently one of the kings decided to dedicate this piece of land solely for the use of the wat. The 3 huge pagodas contained the ashes of 3 of the kings in the past. This was a royal temple, and was used for important royal ceremonies and was used as a private temple for the royalties. No monks resided in this temple throughout the period. The size of this temple was huge, not only it has the signature 3 pagodas, it also has quite a number of smaller chapels, seemed like each of the royalty has their own private praying halls. Just behind the Wat Phra Si Sanohet was the Grand Palace…… hmm…. Dun seem very grand to me… all I see was a bunch of bridges, some remaining of the walls and maybe a pavilion or 2 (could very well been built subsequently as this place was dedicated as a tourism place). The thing came to my mind when I saw this disappointing scene: the Burmese did a great job while attacking Ayutthaya that they practically demolished the whole palace. Was quite disappointed in this Grand Palace, so I headed for my next destination, which was again outside of the Ayutthaya island.

Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet
Ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanohet

As I was cycling towards my next destination, I came by this Thai-muslim restaurant. It might be interesting in trying out some Thai-muslim food. Then I realized, hey I haven had lunch for the day and it is already 4pm, so I went in to grab a bite. Maybe I was really accustomed to speak abit of Malay when I see Muslim back home, I actually spoke Malay to them. However they din seem to understand a word I said, so I spoke Thai to them. The lady recommended her tom yam noodles, so I ordered one. It was really weird seeing Muslims speaking Thai instead of Malay, oh well maybe it is just me. After finishing the food I continued my journey towards Wat Chaiwatthanaram.

Tom Yum Noodles Soup
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya
Cycling around Ayutthaya

Man this Wat was really huge!! Perhaps the biggest wat in Ayutthaya itself! Wat Chaiwatthanaram was built in 1630 by the king then to commemorate his mother’s home town, as well as to celebrate his coronation as a king. It has a mina pagoda, which was surrounded by minor prangat in 8 directions. In front of the temple were 3 Buddha statues facing the Chao Phraya River. This is the only wat that has a complete model of how the temple looked like in its heydays. It was magnificent and this time I was able to see the grandeur of the temple by comparing with the model.

Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Buddha statue in the ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram

After this wat, I headed for the destination that I did not manage to go to due to time. As I was cycling towards Wat Putthai Sawan, I came across this market place where the locals come and gather to buy food. Looks pretty much like our Pasar Malam. After another 15 mins of cycling, I decided to head back to Ayutthaya as the bike renting shop was about to close (in 45 mins). This last lap felt like the last lap of our 2.4km run, where practically you are chasing after the time. The only difference here is I get to cheat by means of choosing the shortest route back to the bike renting shop. As time was really lean, I did not have the luxury of taking a wrong turn or stop for a drink. Phew… managed to get back to the shop at 6 pm, on the dot when it was about to close. After returning the bike, went to 7-11 to grab a drink. At this time I realize I am covered with salt! After all the cycling and sweating, my sweat actually dried up and became salt!!!

Head back to the train station, wanting to get a first class train ticket back to Bangkok to reward 1 day of cycling, the guy at the train station told me only 3rd class available, and the next train with 1st class seats is 1 hour late. Got the 3rd class tickets anyways as I was worn out for the day. At the end of the day, Ayutthaya was a great place, however after awhile all you see are the repeating patterns of ruins with pagodas and some prangats surrounding it. Then I thought to myself, the full day trip boils down to 3 words: MY ASS HURTS!! Time to get a massage anyways…….

Onboard a train heading back to Bangkok

Bangkok Day 3 (20 Dec 09) – The Township of Death: Kanchanaburi and Riding the Death Railway over River Kwai

The day that went wrong. Well initially wanted to head to Ayutthaya, overslept and as a result missed the first 2 trains to Ayutthaya. So I changed the plan and head towards Kanchanburi instead. Before embarking on the trip, things had already gone wrong. First thing on the list was the cab (no choice the bus station is so far that the only way to get there is by cab), the cabby told me he was rather new on the job and he drove me to a service terminal instead of the passenger terminal. However he was nice enough to charge me less for the boo-boo and ensured that I get on the right bus headed for Kanchanburi. The bus then drove to the right station and again there was a wait. This is the 2nd thing that had gone wrong; this wait had resulted in me missing the Death Railway train. The journey to Kanchanaburi takes about 2 hour, but the time the waiting at the bus terminal commenced it was already 9am and the death railway leaves at 10.30 am, while the next train leaves at 4.30pm and there wun be any train back. I thought to myself “since I am already on the bus, just head out and see what can be done about the situation”.

So the bus headed out for Kanchanburi. Upon arrival, it was already 12.30pm. I headed for the Tourism Authority of Thailand office. The lady there said I can still take the death railway on the return leg. I was thrilled to know of that! She advised me to leave Kanchanaburi latest by 2pm in order to make it for the 3.15pm return leg. Taking her word for it, and I did not bother to read the timetable she gave me. Anyhoo will come back to this later. So in the meantime I got some time to kill, so I decided to head towards the JEATH museum.

Streets of Kanchanaburi
Streets of Kanchanaburi
Streets of Kanchanaburi

JEATH museum is an open air museum that was established to collect various items linked to the construction of death railway. It showed case the sufferings that the POWs went through during the construction. The first thing that caught my eye was this bamboo hut. It stored various photos, drawings and news clippings of the constructions and the POW. By the way, if you are asking what in the world is JEATH, it simply stands for” Japan, England, Australia, Thailand and Holland”. These countries were involved in the death railway project. Anyway back to the hut, as I read further, the hut was the living quarters for these POWs, everyone was given only a small space to sleep. These men were practically packed like sardines. The museum also displayed a bomb that was dropped over River Kwai (seem like River Kwai is the life of Kanchanaburi, pretty much like Chao Praya to Bangkok). Outside the hut, part of River Kwai can be visible. This museum right next to a Chinese temple that worshipped Guan Ying. This gave me the thought that Kanchanaburi was predominantly Chinese. As I headed towards my next destination, the war cemetery, it became very clear that there is heavy presence of Chinese community in Kanchanburi.

View of River Kwai behind the JEATH Museum
View of River Kwai behind the JEATH Museum
Inside the JEATH Museum

As I was walking towards the War Cemetery, I came by my next thing on my to-do list for this trip that is to eat on the road side store. I walked past this lady and her assistant selling noodles just beneath a tree. Well since it is lunch time, might as well catch lunch there. The noodle prepared was simple, by tasty. As I added quite abit of chilli flakes (that was provided), the spiciness of the soup gave the noodles extra tastiness. Din take long for me to finish the noodles (and the soup of course), I headed towards the cemetery. As I was walking past what seemed like the Chinatown of Kanchanburi, it seemed that I was transported back in time in the 60s/70s period in Singapore! Everything was so retro and life was really simple for the locals. One can see pre-teen children riding around on their motorbikes with perhaps 2 other passengers and no helmet on!

The delicious soup noodles by the road side
This is where I bought the soup noodles

After around 30 mins of walking, I reached the War Cemetery. It seems like the one we have in kranji, but of a smaller scale. This cemetery has a total of 6982 POWs buried in it. These men died during WWII while building the death railway. It seem like death is the main theme in Kanchanaburi and the whole town was there to remember these men who gave their lives in the construction of the railway! I took the advice of the lady in the TAT office and started to wait for the bus heading for Sai Yok Noi train station to catch my death railway ride back to kanchanaburi. This is where one thing led to another series of event that went wrong for me today. As I was waiting for the bus (which never seemed to come) , I realised that the bus actually took 1½ hour to reach Sai Yok Noi! Given the bus departed every half hourly (assuming that it left at 2pm), by the time I reached where I wanted to go I would be late for the train ride. As I was looking for a cab to take me there, a local turned up in his tuk-tuk. He proposed to bring me to this place called Tham KraSae Cave, where I will still be in time to catch the last train back to Kanchanaburi. I guess this was the only logical way to do it and I went on with it!

Gate near the war memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Inside the War Memorial
Train Museum

The ride to Tham KraSae Cave took around 1 hour 15 mins. By the time I reached there all I can do there was go into the cave and see the Buddha statue in the cave and walk part of the death railway by foot! I remember reading somewhere one of the things to experience was to actually walk on this stretch of the railway, as this is the stretch that killed the most people in the construction! As I was walking on the railway I can see on the right, River Kwai! On the other side of the river bank there are raft houses for tourist to stay in (these people really dig into the tourists pocket deep). However it was interesting to see people jumping into the river for fun (note: the river was #1 really dirty if ; you were to take a closer look; #2 the current was really strong), thought interesting I thought these people are really stupid for jumping into the river! After waiting for 30 mins, the train finally arrived! The seats on the train were made of wood and 2 benches were facing each other. There were a couple of Argentines and an Israeli sitting together with me during this train ride. Thanks to them, I got a free ride!! Apparently the train conductor must be thinking I was part of the tour guide (locals get to ride the train for free), and he din bother collecting my fare from me… so I act blur like what most Singaporeans would do.

On my way to Tham KraSae Cave
Some shops at Tham KraSae
Overlooking River Kwai at Tham KraSae
Part of the Death Railway
View of River Kwai
View of River Kwai from the Death Railway
View of the Death Railway
View of River Kwai and water lodges for tourists
View of the Death Railway and the cliffs
Tham KraSae Cave Shrine
View of the railway from inside the cave
Tham KraSae Railway Station
Train pulling into the station
View of River Kwai

As the train pulled from the station, going pass the cliff that the railway was built on slowly, the views were amazing. However much to my disappointment, it was a really short stretch of the rail. So the Argentines and the Israeli left with their tour group a few stations after we embarked. It seemed that that short stretch was the highlight of the train ride, and the rest was monotonous. True enough the rest of the ride was pretty much farms, mountains etc. Nonetheless my next stop was at Bridge at River Kwai so I continued the train ride towards the station. After about 2 hours of bumpy ride, I finally reached Bridge at River Kwai.

Riding on the Death railway
View of River Kwai from the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Inside the train
Me on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Scenery on the Death Railway
Crossing River Kwai
Crossing River Kwai
Crossing River Kwai
View of the railway bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View on the Railway Bridge
View of the Railway bridge

The bridge over River Kwai was part of a strategic railway route to Myanmar in which the Japs aimed to secure supplies to aid them in their conquer of the other western Asian countries. History was it that part of the bridge was damaged by allied plane attacks in 1944 and 1945. However several arches of the iron bridge stood undamaged. The bridge was repaired after WWII, and is usually opened for people to get across the river and of course, it became one of the tourist attraction. On either side of the bridge there is a small platform for bridge users to stand on in the event a train is trespassing the bridge. It is quite interesting to see tourists, locals seeking temporary shelter on the platform when the train was crossing the bridge. I was lucky that I was in time for sunset when I reached River Kwai. The view was beautiful and tranquil, it had seemed that things fell back to where it was (and even better, as I did not expect to see sunset at over River Kwai). Not too bad a day after all!! The area around the train station at Bridge over River Kwai was rather touristy. Huge hordes of tourists flocked there just to see the bridge during sunset timing. So I decided to leave this place and head for the bus terminal for my return journey to Bangkok (all that I wanted to do was accomplished so no point staying around). So I walked to find a Song Theaw that would take me to the bus station (was a long distance if I were to walk).

Upon arriving at the bus terminal, I walked pass this area that seemed to be a place for the locals to eat other (just by the road outside the bus terminal). As I walked past 2 of the 4 stores there, there was this store that sold something like our Hao Jian. I ordered a plate and decided to try it (the other store I walked past sold what looked like satay to me). Waited for around 5 mins for my food to arrive. It was tasty! Goes very well with the chili sauce that was provided. The food was crispy (even the oysters tasted crispy), topped with semi cooked bean sprout! Not too bad did 2 road side eateries in 1 day. After eating I walked to the bus terminal (was around 7pm already), I got to know from the staff there that the next bus would be the last bus at 8 pm. As the bus does not leave from the terminal, they directed me to go “outside” to take the bus. As I was walking I saw this tentage with the words “To Bangkok”, so I enquired about the ride. It turns out that the van’s destination was at Victory Monument, next to it was a BTS station which I can ride back to the hotel. I thought this would be a better deal as I dun have to take a cab back to hotel. Boarded the van and made it back to Bangkok within 1½ hour. Took the BTS back and had a sudden crave for Starbucks coffee so I headed to Siam Paragon to get 1. As I was there on the B1 level, it struck me that this looked exactly like Singapore! Lots of eateries, a huge supermarket, and it even has a breadtalk/toast box selling nasi lemak!

Well the day went past starting with things that went wrong, one leading to another like a domino effect. I realised that it may not be a bad thing after all. Things would straighten itself out and I had achieved what I started out to achieve! Of course that takes a bit of making things happen and not just let things be. I guess this is what we should do in life! Things go wrong (and they DO go wrong), instead of whining perhaps we should do something about it rather than allowing it to deteriorate. Well tomorrow is another day, hope I can wake up in time for the train to Ayutthaya……

Bangkok Day 2 (19 Dec 09) – The Wats, Transports and Shopping Malls

Wat (temple) time! My first destination was Wat Pho. To get there from the hotel, I had to take the BTS and then changed to Chao Praya River Boat. Hopped onto the wrong BTS and end up having to return to the station I boarded to the BTS and changed to the right one (Remember Siam was THE interchange for BTS). What stroked me when I saw the locals taking BTS, the ALWAYS queue up and ALWAYS let people alight first. They also automatically go into the centre and not blocked at the door! The BTS and their MRT has different tickets, and there is no such thing as rebate for the Thai transport system. Their buses are still using the conventional conductor system. I guess this is a must given the traffic situation in Bangkok.

Waiting for BTS
Locals Queuing patiently for the BTS
Cruising down Chao Phraya River
Seem like full load today
Traditional Thai long boat
Sights along Chao Phraya River
Sights along Chao Phraya River
Sights along Chao Phraya River
Famous Wat Arun

Anyways getting back to my journey to Wat Pho, upon arriving at the pier, took the boat (only cost 13 baht). Got to my destination. Wat Pho is where the reclining Buddha resides.This temple is the oldest temple in Grung Thep, even older then the city itself! When I read about this, I had to visit it. The Buddha was indeed HUGE, occupying the whole of the main hall in the temple. The sole of the Buddha actually had some pictorials on it, and it was made of this thing they called “Mother of Pearls”. On the other side of the Buddha (its back) there was this lady preparing coins (not compulsory). Since I am already here, might as well do some good Karma (if there is any left in me). Gotten one of the buckets and started to distribute on the bowls by the window. Was quite fun though.

Entrance of Wat Phao
Inside Wat Phao
Inside Wat Phao
The largest reclining Buddha in Thailand
The largest reclining Buddha in Thailand
His sole is decorated with Mother of Pearl
Donation bowl for well wishers
Inside Wat Phao grounds
Inside Wat Phao grounds

After I left the temple, just outside it only, met this thai guy telling me that the Grand Palace is close until 1pm(my next destination). So he suggested me to hop onto one of the tuk-tuks outside the temple, which will bring me to this “lucky Buddha, Golden mount” place. Then it stroke me that something I read from the guide books (well it pays to do some homework and read a lot before you embarked on a journey) – if anyone approaches you and say something is closed, it is most likely a scam trying to get tourists to board the tuk-tuks! Once you fall into the trap there is not return! So I rejected the guy and headed for Grand Palace anyways. As accurate the guide book was, the Grand Palace was not closed.

The Grand Palace – a place I always din managed to visit despite me having came to Bangkok for the past 4 times. The Palace covers a total of 218,000 sq metres, and is surrounded by 4 walls. This is the place that housed not only the royalties (in the past), and also the site of some administrative offices. The palace was roughly divided into 9 segments. The palace was huge, there are some areas which opened for visitors visit, there are also some parts which can only be accessed by the royalties. The whole palace just felt like a touristy place, maybe partially due to the massive influx of tourists! However there are a few museums within the palace itself. There are actually 2 weapon museums, showcasing the weapons both sword and guns used by the Thais. There is also a coin and decoration museum, displaying the crowns, badges, and some royalty utensils and of course the royal swords. There is also a museum that displayed parts of the constructions of the palace and how it was built. I guess the most import part of the palace is not where the throne of the king is, but where the emerald Buddha is! The way this Buddha was discovered was out of this world. Legend has it that a monk accidentally saw the plaster on the Buddha’s nose flaked off, thus revealing the emerald Buddha in 1434. This has sparked the whole country at that time to chip off the plasters of all the Buddhas in hope to find more treasured images. This Buddha was believed to be the treasure of Thailand, so much so that every change of season, the king must redress the Buddha personally! After browsing through a number of museums within the palace, I was wanting to get out of it… man I was lost for a moment. Finally found the exit and I headed to the bus stop to my next destination – Golden Mount.

 

Statue of Thai Buddha in The Grand Palace
Vibrant architecture in the Grand Palace
Local Students listening attentively to the monk
Scene outside the Grand Palace
Buildings inside the Grand Palace
Vibrant architecture in the Grand Palace
These temples are dressed in bring red, gold colours
Simply love the Thai architecture
This temple reminds me of Ang Kor Wat in Cambodia
Thai Temple from another angle
The building in The Grand Palace where the famous Emerald Buddha is housed in
Glittering Thai temples in the Grand Palace
Very vibrant architecture
Reminds me of Disneyland
Government building in the Grand Palace

Well wanting to take a bus was on my to-do list this time round. Boarded the bus 44, and was on my way to my next destination. The conductor on the bus reminded me of the days when we have conductors on buses in Singapore. This conductor was very helpful, she reminded passengers who asked her about the route to alight the bus at the appropriate bus stop. . The afternoon was hot and the aircon was barely helping. When the conductor saw the aircon was not directly blowing me, she adjusted the blower for me. How nice! Something I felt was lost in our buses back at home. Finally after the jams through the roads, I reached Golden Mount. Golden Mount was boasted as the tallest temple in Grung Thep. From the temple, one can see as far as Wat Arun and Grand Palace! Was breezy up at the Golden Mount and the view was magnificent. However it was best visited at night where the lights lite up the temple to give it a different personality. Well where got time to come back at night man….. so pass….. originally I wanted to visit one of the other temple that is just right across the street…. But laziness caught up to me, and I thought I have enough of wats for the day. So I decided to head back to hotel, relax abit (the afternoon was rather sunny, thought of going for a swim).

Fortress looking building nearby Golden Mount Temple
View of Golden Mount temple from its base
These bells can be seen on the way up
View of the surroundings inside Golden Mount Temple
View of the surroundings inside Golden Mount Temple
View of the surroundings inside Golden Mount Temple
Stairways leading up to the temple

What best way and faster way to get back to downtown bangkok then to take a ride on one of the Khlongs. Spoke to one of the locals and she advised me against it, as the long-gaos are smelly and she also said the ride is uncomfortable. Well decided to go against her advise anyways, it was an interesting ride. The ride takes about 15 mins to reach my destination (could have taken much much more if I go via bus). At some parts of the long-gao, where the bridge was too low for the canopy of the boat, the khlong conductors will lower the canopy slightly in order to pass under these bridges, what an interesting and refreshing sight! After alighting the khlong (in fact I am glad I took the khlong ride), I headed back to siam square again. This time round there seem to be more things to see then when I visited it yesterday! I realised that Siam square is a place where you have to go to the ulu places to discover things to buy, as most of the stuffs are hidden away from the main road and rather out of sight too. Got myself some t-shirts and in all only cost me 1100 bahts (around SGD45). Look at the time, almost evening and the sun is almost setting, so I decided to head back to the hotel (right round the corner anyways). I passed by some hair salons, so I decided to get my hair cut (mine was abit long anyways). Got a good haircut with hair wash for only 350 baht (around SGD14), something like that would cost at least SGD30! The lady washing my hair even gave me a good massage (Seriously that got rid of the stiff neck I have been having for the past few days). Anyway back to the hotel, wanted to go for a swim but looking at the time, almost time for dinner. Went to eat some phad thai round the corner, and headed for Suan Lam, my next destination.

Riding the Khlong
A very old movie theater
Walking around Siam Square (again)
Siam Square is where lots of Thai youngsters hang out
Sunset from the deck of my room
Christmas is in the air at Siam Paragon 
Christmas is in the air at Siam Paragon
Christmas is in the air at Siam Paragon
Siam Paragon
Siam BTS interchange station

Getting to Suam Lam was a breeze with the BTS and MRT. Everytime I was on their trains, it never fail to impress me with the ethics the Thais were taught since young I guess, they never complained if they din know when the train was coming, they queued orderly at while awaiting to board the train, and they did not complain even though they have to pass by metal detecters at every MRT station. I guess this is where we see the “Jai yen” (cool heartedness) of the locals. Got to Suam Lam, din really last me more then 30 mins. The whole place was “meh”…… nothing really much to see, seemed like they have the stuff elsewhere in Siam square as well. Frankly, it was boring as hell, but a word of advise if u wanna visit it, to get the best bargains go at around 6.30pm local time. This timing is significant as the shops just opened for business, and the thais believed that they have to make the first deal for the day if not they would not have business throughout the day. So they would normally sell at rock bottom prices if you happened to be their first customer. They might even go at cost price and at time even rather make a lost to uphold this believe then to let a customer go. After paying the shop keepers, you can see they will use the money you paid them and tapped all over their shop, as they believed this will bring them more business for the day (and in this case, night). Headed back to hotel and rest for the night after Suam Lam.. tommorrow gotta wake up really early to catch the first train out of Grung Thep towards Ayutthaya……

Soaking in the Christmas atmosphere around Siam
Soaking in the Christmas atmosphere around Siam
Suan Lum Night market
Suan Lum Night market
Suan Lum Night market
The MRT Station near Suan Lum Night market
Inside the MRT

Bangkok Day 1 (18 Dec 09) – Hello City of Angels

To most of us, Bangkok isn’t really a road less traveled, in fact it is a road most traveled by any Singaporeans. Some come here for shopping, some come here for the massage, while there are others who visit this city for sanook. Most of us known Bangkok as the name “Bangkok”. To the Thais, Bangkok is known as “Grung Thep”. This is already the short form for the city that most Thais come to look for opportunities. The name “Grung Thep” simply means City of Angels. It is a name bestowed by King Rama I in 1782, when he shifted the capital of the country from Ayutthaya to the present Bangkok. The last time I came to Grung Thep is in 2003, a good 5 years. One of the distinctive change is the place of landing. The new Airport is impressive. It is very very big, despite its shear size, the immigration procedure remains a nightmare. Perhaps is the number of people that arrived here when my flight landed, plus the worldwide school holiday, there are tons and tons of people who came to Grung Thep in search for a cheaper yet modern holiday destination.The moment I hit the city itself, things became familiar. MBK is still where it is, still flowing with heaps of people day in and day out. The only thing that i vaguely remember is where i put up during my stay in Grung Thep.

Well upon touching down, my first destination is of course the place where i will be staying. (Gotta dump my barang-barangs somewhere before i walk around right?). At the check-in counter as i waited for my roomed to be processed, I had requested to be given a high floor room. I read from the net a mixed comment on this hotel. There are some who loved it, yet there are others who only love its location and not the actual room. The moment the room was assigned to me (15th floor), I thought to myself: “damn it, it is not as high as I would wanted”. But i guess I the hotel is rather full, so i accepted the room anyways. As I entered the lift on my way up to my room, I realise 15th floor is one of the higher floors! The hotel only have 18 Floors in total. So i thought to myself again: “Oh well, would be too bad anyways”. As I walked towards my room, I realised that it is a corner room! What surprised me most is the fact that the room came with a private sundeck, or a huge huge balcony! This hotel only has 8 of these rooms, and to be assigned to this room I must be damn lucky. I am also pleased to know that this room has free internet access, and the room is huge! It even have a couch inside the room and there are plentiful space to even cramp 5 adults in this room! (Well I dun think 5 adults in this room, we would feel cramp anyways. The most some of these people can sleep under the stars.) I practically got 2 rooms for the price of 1. The sundeck is so huge that it is about the size of another room! I was so excited about this room that I simply must tell my siblings about it! I called my sis immediately to tell them how wonderful this room is. I took the opportunity to photograph Siam Square from my sundeck. The view in my room was so good that one can see the whole of Siam Square, Siam BTS and partial Siam Centre. Talking about this room, the bathroom was decent, but it came with “test-tubes” of toiletries.

My corner room in Novotel Siam Square
Generous deck outside the room
View of Siam Square from the deck
Bathroom

Okay, enough of the room. Time for me to walk around the area. Since my next program wun start till 6pm, I went orientate myself around. First stop was Siam Square of course. The last time I came to Siam Square, I do not remember it being lively, with tons of young Thais coming to look for the latest and the hippest in Farang fashion. As i had time to walk around and explore this familiar, yet foreign place, I began to realise Siam Square and the nearby Siam shopping region bears similarity to our Orchard Road! Day-in-Day-out there are tons of people walking around in Siam Square. Perhaps this is attributed to it being the only interchange station for the BTS (something like our MRT, but it is built above ground). Siam Square is not exactly a Square that one would have imagined it. It is merely an area, where alot of young Thais hang out. Partially is the fact that it is just next to Chulalongkorn University, and partially it has a few big shopping malls that was built around this area. From MBK to Siam Centre, to Siam world to Siam Paragon. This area is rather lively especially this holiday season where the foreigners come for holiday, and the locals coming to this young and trendy place to find the latest in fashion, watch the latest movies, and to meet their friends for a dinner or to shop. The liveliness of this place is not much worst then our favourite Orchard Road. The Xmas lighting are as impressive if not more impressive then Orchard Road. I popped into Siam Paragon just to kill time before my next schedule was due. As i was trying to kill time (which i completely forgot that I told myself i needed to go Erawan Shire to pay respects to the 4-faced Buddha), i stomped across the aquarium beneath Siam Paragon. Well time needed to be killed so i thought to myself “Might as well see some fishes here”. I know it sounded kinda stupid and pointless, since all aquariums around the world are similar. “Oh the hell with it, just go!” This was what i thought. Upon entrance to the aquarium, well this aquarium is kinda different from those I have been to thus far. This Aquarium has glass bottom boat ride, Free popcorn and Pepsi (I know it sound kinda out of the place to give visitors popcorn), and this Dr fish thingy (where those skin eating fishes come and eat away your dead skin on your foot). Speaking of the Dr Fish, hhhmmmmm……. those fishes that I submerged my foot into seem kinda full. The are just swimming around and not eating. After around 5 mins, I thought “This is so stupid” and left the the Dr Fish. My time was up anyways for my next itinerary on the list.

Walking around Siam Square
Hard Rock Cafe Bangkok
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon
Siam Aquarium in Siam Paragon

After leaving the aquarium, I left for the cultural performance at Siam Niramit. Well this performance is something. Highly recommended by anyone who has seen the show. The show also boasts a Guinness World Record, where the venue was dubbed as having the highest stage in the world. Before the show, a buffet dinner was included in the price of the tickets. Well speaking of the buffet, it is kinda disappointing. The buffet venue just looks like a canteen! Maybe is due to the massive influx of tourists, and business being business they are merely trying to achieve economies of scale in the feeding of the hungry audience affair. After the dinner, there was sometime before the show started. I walked around within the grounds of Siam Niramit. It showcase the different building structures in different regions in the kingdom of Thailand. It also showcase the native food and the skills these differing regions brings and contributed to the culture of Thailand as a whole. After 20 mins of walking, i decided to take a seat early for the show. The show was truly impressive, though some parts are really boring. The part i liked the most is where the performers floated in and out up and down on the stage . It was really amazing!

Outside Siam Niramit Theater
Thai culture display outside Siam Niramit Theater
Thai culture display outside Siam Niramit Theater
Thai culture display outside Siam Niramit Theater
Thai culture display outside Siam Niramit Theater
Thai culture display outside Siam Niramit Theater

After the show ended, I suddenly remembered I needed to head to Erawan Shrine to pay respects. I read somewhere that Thursdays is the most auspicious day to pay respects (dun ask me why, I also dunno). Headed there paid respects to the Buddha, I walked around the area appreciating the Xmas lighting and how the Thais used this holiday season to get-together with their friends, having a booze at the “Beer Garden”. Now this Beer Garden essentially is merely the open space in front of one of the shopping malls. What was truly impressive was there were 3 beer brewers that set up their business in the beer garden. One of them was actually our local brand Tiger beer. Each vendor has their own stage and performances, the mood around the area was truly joyous! Xmas is totally in the air! I looked at the time at this point, and realise it was rather late! Time to head back to my room and rest for the night. After all there are more to explore tomorrow…..

Christmas Lighting around Siam
Beer Garden in Siam
Beer garden in Siam
Huge Xmas tree
Traffic Jam in Bangkok