Published: May 23rd 2012April 13th 2012
Young Thai girl poses after sticking gold leaf to the small Buddha statue, at Wat Pho, Bangkok.
Truth be told, we weren’t particularly excited about visiting Bangkok. However, like Rome, all roads, and indeed, railways, seem to lead there, so we had little choice.
Our first visit lasted about 45 minutes, as we quickly boarded another train bound for the general vicinity of the Khao Yai National Park. By this time, we were becoming increasingly aware that the Asian countryside we most wished to see is gazetted in numerous, but relatively small, protected areas, often designated as national parks.
Khao Yai is home to wild elephants and tigers, among other species. The German, who, with his Thai wife, ran our guesthouse told us that he had been a guide at the park for 15 years, and never seen a tiger. So we quickly downsized our wildlife spotting ambitions, and fears. Elephants were seen the day before we arrived, but we had no such luck, having to be content with the sight of a pair of gibbons performing acrobatics in the trees above our heads. For a consolation prize, it took some beating.
For the rest of the time, in between spotting birds and insects, we were amused by our diminutive guide’s insistence that almost every
We think its a 'Lar Gibbon' aka 'White-handed Gibbon'. Khao Yai National Park
tree or plant we encountered, from ginger, lemongrass, wild fig and the apparent source of tiger balm, was either ‘good for man’, ‘good for woman’, or both. For those looking for a natural and cheap alternative to Viagra, ignore those emails you’ve been receiving, and pay a trip to the jungle.
Not only would you receive life-enhancing affirmation of your virility in Khao Yai, you would also have a chance to prove it. Here, without much difficulty, we found the Haew Suwat waterfall, from where Leonardo DiCaprio (actually, his stunt double) leaped in ‘The Beach’. It being the middle of the dry season, we were assured that imitation was fatally unwise, and opted for cooling off in an even more idyllic cataract downstream.
Such cooling dips soon became a distant memory as we made our way back to Bangkok, officially the hottest city on earth. By hot, we don’t just mean the, erm, interesting, nature of some of the nightlife.
Bangkok is apparently nicknamed the Big Mango. Not once did we hear it referred to thus. But, it's an amusing moniker, and as the most populous city we would visit in South-East Asia, it is all things
Ornate temple in the middle of the countryside, near Khao Yai.
to all men, women, and those of indeterminate gender. It’s also a travel hub for Asia and beyond. We considered our eventual return inevitable, so limited ourselves to a few days to sample some of its delights, keen to press on with our journey.
We opted for visiting opulent temples, eating more great food, shopping with mixed results and narrowly avoiding a couple of tourist scams. Who would’ve thought that a friendly man telling you that a tourist attraction was shut could be the start of an elaborate attempt to sell you fake gems? Luckily, we’d read about it, so slipped away into the crowds, many of whom were visiting said tourist attraction, which was clearly open.
It was the Grand Palace, and it was packed. So we ventured slightly south to Wat Pho, and its preposterously large reclining Buddha, It also features a pond of turtles, reminiscent of scenes at temples on Penang and in Yangon. Across the river, at Wat Arun – ‘temple of the dawn’ – there seemed to be some sort of blessing ceremony taking place, but we couldn’t figure out what. Enough of standing around in the blazing heat, and enough temples, for
today at least. So we boarded the boat back down the river, grateful for the breeze, and on the whole, impressed with our first proper taste of the Big Mango.
In Thailand, like Myanmar, one is never too far from an historic and/or impressive Buddhist temple. Not surprising since these countries, in their various guises, have long been regional rivals. Just over an hour’s train journey north of Bangkok, we stopped off at Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya was capital of what eventually became Thailand from the 14 century until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. At the time it housed up to one million people. Now it’s an archaeological relic, and a very impressive one too. To the untrained eye (e.g. ours), the temples, with their red brick construction and steep central towers, looked very much like those we saw in Bagan, Myanmar, itself an ancient capital, in the period preceding the rise of Ayutthaya.
Doubly contented with our increased understanding of south-east Asian history, and the best pad-Thai we’ve tasted, we boarded another sleeper train, this time for Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s north.
There are more photos below