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Published: January 2nd 2019
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Sitting in the back spending a couple minutes admiring the splendor in silence
Well, it was day 2 in Thailand and we had some big plans. After our initial 16 hours in Bangkok we wanted to do an overnight trip on the train to Kanchanaburi - better known for the bridge over the river Kwai
. An old classic movie with this title and it seemed worth the effort to visit since we love doing the things normal tourists don't do. I read there was some gorgeous scenery, but for me it was really more about the train ride (which apparently is an experience since you are pretty crammed-in) where you get to hang out with the locals.
We were up early (I think the people at the B&B were a little offended that we were in such a rush, but none-the-less we still managed to get through a full breakfast in a pretty short amount of time). I was a little worried about finding the right train station, but we made it there and got to the ticket booth. And... our first obstacle of the trip. The train was cancelled for the next 3 months due to construction on the tracks. What? Seriously? Who closes an entire track for 3 months? Now I am sure there were
many other ways we could have gotten there by taking some train, transferring somewhere, taking a bus and getting back on a train, but the main reason for this excursion was the train experience and I really did not want to deal with lugging luggage around between trains, taxis and buses. I already booked the room for that night and spent quite a bit of time trying to organize a rental car in a pretty remote part of the country. I spent about 30 minutes cancelling the hotel and there we sat at the train station. What now?
Since there is so much to do in Thailand I definitely did quite a bit of research because the objective is always to get as much done as possible in the time we are somewhere. So, I definitely go through all areas in each country, how much there is to do, is it feasible, is it possible, how much travel is involved, how will it fit into the entire trip, etc. AYUTTHAYA
was one of the things I looked at while doing all my research, but it ended up not making the list. We now needed another overnight trip since we
Massive golden buddha statue dedicated to Lunag Pu Thuat. This is not a miniature version.
really did not want to spend the day in Bangkok so Ayutthaya seemed like a reasonable alternative. We did have a flight the next evening from Don Mueang airport so it was important to find a rental car close by. Avis Rent a Car in the airport came through for us and for $60 for the 2 days we were set for our new adventure. Being flexible and spontaneous definitely has its advantages, but I guess you can also say that more prepared people would have known in advance that the train was not running. I guess we prefer the unexpected since those are the stories and adventures we remember.
The train to the airport was a breeze as was getting the car. By 11 we were going the opposite way on a whole new adventure. It was a pretty easy drive and soon we were in front of the Krungsri River Hotel
. For just over $60 a night it was a pretty good deal. We checked in and after being back on the road for less than a minute I stopped at one of the little food stalls in town. They make all the food right there as you watch
Just getting a proper introduction from the locals
while sitting on a little plastic chair. Nikkie went with the egg noodles w/ beef, broth, and scallions and I got the noodles with chicken, broth, nuts, and chili. The food was incredible and on each table you have this little selection of condiments i.e. spices/ sauces to add to your heart's desire. Man, this was good stuff. None of these meals are complete without a nice ice-cold Coke.
One of the things you almost always see in tv shows about Thailand are monkeys. I read about LOPBURI
FOR MONKEYS and it was not too far away so we decided to go for it. Just outside Ayutthaya there was a humongous golden monk statue dedicated to Lunag Pu Thuat. No idea who this guy is, but when I say humongous I mean like a 4-5 story golden monk in the middle of nowhere. We stopped, walked around and admired the peacefulness and tranquility in which people can come and worship/ pray. They do love their big statues in this country.
We eventually made it to Lopburi - not the cleanest of cities - a dump would not be too far off in describing it. As we drove around
Yeah they are cute
looking for the monkey temple we slowly got the impression that there might not be a temple per se because the monkeys were running wild without any temples so they may just own the city. We finally found an abandoned Khmer temple that clearly belonged to these little guys and girls. We parked at a little strip of stalls across from the temple. Our first introduction to these guys were them sitting in the trees, stalking the owners, trying to steal anything they can the moment the store owners look the other way. This is a serious all day battle between primates. We started walking towards the monkeys and they were seriously everywhere running around with corn, little bags of juice and all sorts of other stuff. Best advice we can give you - do not walk with any food on you. You will be attacked immediately since these guys have no fear and you will be outnumbered. There was something like a 2-dollar fee before we could enter. I got "attacked" right at the entrance as one hoodlum jumped on the camera bag on my back, but he was gone in a flash. For the most part these guys
For the most part they just hang out
are pretty harmless, but just remember it only takes one bite. The entire place stinks and walking around the temple is not the most pleasant of experiences. A couple of the adolescents definitely try and proof their manhood by challenging anything and anybody in sight - humans included. The little babies are a must see as they carefully wonder from their moms to explore this new world but not too far so they can't jump onto mom or hind behind mom in a flash. A pretty cool experience watching the little ones being protected and raised, the ever-constant battle for food and the playfulness of these guys and girls. The drive back was uneventful as we passed farmlands and green pastures. We got back to the hotel late afternoon and... well we were only going to take a nap and go out for some evening temple sights, but next thing we knew it was 4 in the morning. These time-zones definitely get you.
More about Ayutthaya. Once a capital of the area until it was sacked by the Burmese in the 1700's. A well-fortified city surrounded by four rivers with many little areas with temples, buddhas, religious sites, etc.
This area is known for its PALACES, TEMPLES, and BUDDHAS. The current city was literally built right on top of the old city so you have many spots where you have a modern shop/ structure right next to something built from way back when. Not uncommon to see a sign/poster plastered into a wall that could be 500 to 600 years old. An incredible number of sights dot this landscape and it is pretty easy to wander, get lost and end up being the only person at some of the lesser known sites. The future that gives this place its true awe is the red bricks. Not sure where they came from or who made them (assuming some form of slavery or forced-labor), but they do lend an incredible look to these buildings. The early morning or late evening glows of these buildings as they reflect in the first light or last rays of the sun are especially spectacular.
The benefit of our time zone change is that we were up before the crack of dawn and made our way over to WAT CHAI WATTHANARAM
. We were way too early to pay any entrance fees and there really was nothing holding
Food from all the tourists - or maybe they stole it. My money is on the latter.
us back from exploring so we forged ahead knowing well we will give a lot of our money to the local economy later in the day. What an incredible experience. We "scaled" the 3-foot wall and walked among the ruins in the pre-dawn hours. Peaceful. Tranquil. Quiet. There was not a sound around us except the chirping of the birds and the gentle flow of the river next to which this temple was built. We were the only ones walking among hundreds and hundreds of years of history. The structures were mind-blowing. The details were astonishing. Towers rising high-up in the sky - perfectly symmetrical. One of those incredible experiences you can only hope to experience on a vacation.
We were back at the hotel right after sunrise. Included in the $60 for the room was a breakfast fit for a king. Fresh fruit, deep-fried fish, cold meats, eggs, rice, hot noodle dishes, a cold sausage salad that was awesome, hot pork bun, cereal and yogurt, sausages, bacon... do you want me to keep going? That was just the things we ate.
Next up the "main strip" of temples and sites in town and first up for us
LopburiWAT MAHATHAT TEMPLE
Guarding the entrance
. I will say that with all these temples and sites concentrated in such a small area it definitely creates a headache for choosing what to do. We settled on this site because of some of the unique futures that attracted us - HEADLESS BUDDHAS and BUDDHA HEAD IN A TREE TRUNK. Come on - how does buddha head in a tree trunk not get you? Parking was easy, there were a couple small shops and vendors at the entrance where we paid our entrance fee and started our walk. It was only 10 in the morning, but already way past anything we would consider normal weather. Sweat was already running down all parts of our body and we were sucking down water by the gallons. We walked around the ruins. The Buddha head in a tree trunk was really awesome. More on heads in trees and temples being taken over by trees in a later blog. There was also this little platform with a fully intact buddha sitting there looking like he/she was presiding over the complex. The headless buddha row was pretty cool - a long wall with headless buddha after headless buddha lining the wall. Some of
Wat Chai Watthanaram
Early morning wall hopping gets you this
them had yellow-silk robes on which is an awesome sight. There were a couple higher strcutures and if you look close enough to the top of each (once you are inside) you definitely see some bats hanging out. Also at this temple it is fairly evident that nature is slowly starting to take over what originally belonged to it as you can see the brush and trees starting to take ownership of some of the structures.
There were many more sights so for our next stop I picked the WAT PHRA SI SANPHET TEMPLE
. The holiest temple during the glory years and I can attest to the fact that this was undoubtedly the most impressive of the temples we saw. A temple built for the royalty so it really just served as a temple for royal ceremonies. The grounds are pretty big and if you walk-off to one side further away from the entrance you get a really nice view of the three chedis. Three incredible structures look like giant gnomes with their pointy hats. You are able to climb-up these incredible structures and take in the surrounding landscape. Here we saw many little statues/ structures built with loose rocks and very strict
Wat Chai Watthanaram
As you can see this was before there were any showers
signs forbidding moving any of the rocks - very peculiar. Not sure the meaning or substance behind it, but some of them are pretty impressive in height considering it was put together with random rocks. Outside the entrance we were met by some local selling little coconut-vanilla cookies that seemed like they were just baked. We took a chance (who knows what could have been in these things) - they were phenomenal. You got to take a chance occasionally (in our case always).
One of the crazy things we observed was that very few of these buddhas have their heads-on. That is kind-of an observation throughout this area. It was a constant question in our minds - was this some crazy Burmese thing not to leave any heads after sacking a city, is it a religious thing, is it a Thai thing, did the Thai take the heads with them after the Burmese sacking so that the Burmese could not get them? Turns out it is more a "capitalist" thing. Scavengers went through the sites and sold these on the black markets and now you can see the heads in museums all over the world and from the sound
Wat Chai Watthanaram
She carried our baby all the way
of it the museums are not at all interested in returning the heads.
When visiting Thailand one of the bigger attractions is seeing animals in rehabilitation programs. Prior to us leaving I read a lot about some pretty bad places. I read about seeing ELEPHANTS AT THE KRAAL and it seemed like this one was different. Well that was not the case and it was very evident from the time we got there. The place was very hard to find and not appealing at all. Most of the elephants were tied-up except for the babies. They just stood there swaying back and forth - not a good sign. We paid a small fee, gave them some food and really did not hang out much longer. A really sad and depressing experience. Yes, I know these are huge animals and yes, they require space and probably some expensive fencing, but seeing them tied-up like this just did not seem right. Maybe they are better off somehow, but I can't really see how.
We moved on to our next temple complex. WAT YAI CHAI MONGKHON
FOR LINE OF BUDDHAS is probably one of the more well-known pictures out there. But before going in
we decided to stop for a quick meal right outside the grounds. A little restaurant with huge pots lining the back - each with something different in it. This is as home-cooked as it gets. Asking what it was did not really help because English was pretty limited. I had pork w/ noodles, scallions, and a clear broth which was delicious. Nikkie went with the contents of one of the big cooking pots - slow cooked pork in juices over rice (incredible). For me it was also a Chinese herbal soup w/ carrots, a nice clear broth, and parsley (good) and I got an iced coffee w/ condensed milk and evaporated milk. Another awesome meal in a next-to-nothing little restaurant for less than 10 dollars total. A couple bottles of water later and we made our way into the complex. WAT YAI CHAI MONGKHON has a MEDITATION SITE right there next to the pagoda and it's just an experience itself to just stand there and watch people go up and pray/ present their offerings. Especially watching the little kids just trying to figure out what to do/ looking around/ not paying attention can be pretty entertaining. The line of buddhas
Wat Chai Watthanaram
What are they looking at?
with their yellow-robes were everything we expected. So many photo opportunities and angles to shoot from - the hard part is figuring it out to get "that picture". The one constant is all the people walking around and always finding one of them in the picture 😊 We got a couple pictures with very few if any people in the picture, but it definitely takes a lot of patience. The LARGE PAGODA was something to behold as well. A tall structure with tons of steps to get to the top where they have a golden buddha where you can add your little piece of gold leave to the already mind-blowing collection on this buddha. There was also a pretty big buddha laying down right at the entrance. Trust me you will get your fill of buddhas if you come to this area.
Last but not least right around the corner (well more like a couple mile drive but relatively close) was WAT PHANAN CHOENG
FOR 19m BUDDHA. A huge meditation temple with this gigantic buddha inside. Somehow we just made it in time for what seemed like a pretty significant ceremony. Nikkie wormed her way in and was right in the
thick of things for this massive ceremony where they took these incredible long pieces of cloth and wrapped it all over this buddha. Hard to imagine a 60-foot buddha being wrapped in cloth while people climb and organize the whole spectacle, but we were there for it. Nikkie came out pretty wide-eyed.
Looking back, it is pretty incredible that we were able to do this much in one day. And we were only at about 3:30 in the afternoon. We had a flight to catch to Cambodia in 4 hours or so. On the way back to the airport we stopped at a pretty large mall and visited the local Starbucks (pit stop) and then hit some serious Bangkok traffic. We managed to somehow get gas in the car, find the right drop-off location and make it to our gate in time. What a day! Good
- walking among these ruins and taking in the sights (sometimes in complete isolation) for the first time is an incredible feeling. Having an entire sight to yourself at 5 in the morning before most other people have moved a leg is a truly incredible experience and one of those things we
Wat Chai Watthanaram
Many great pictures opportunities but you got to find them
will always look back on with fond memories.
- the food at the little stalls here was incredible Bad
- sadly at every single site you now have peddlers and little stalls. They generally don't harass you though.
- besides looking at old ruins and sights there really is nothing else to do here
- the elephants were a sad sight. Advice
- very early morning and very, very late afternoon are the best times to visit if you want that incredible picture. Also at the dead of the day (noon) you will be guaranteed to be one of the only ones out there because it is really hot.
- some of these sites are still considered religious sites so make sure you dress appropriately.
And that is the end of an unexpected twist to our travels. Things we crossed off included Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple and Wat Chaiwathanaram. So 314 down and 5,467 to go.
Til' next time from the land of headless buddhas
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