Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thailand: A Cultural Exploration in the New World

"I drift like a cloud, across these venerable eastern lands, a journey of unfathomable distances, an endless scroll of experiences..."
- Tom Carter - 

As a first-time traveler in any place, my sister and I saw to it that we tried to learn a history and culture of the place. In as much as we wanted to cramp everything to see and do; however, it could not always be possible. We would leave some things unexplored for another time and would give us a reason to come back. After sight-seeing the ancient Wats in Thailand, we continued to explore the new Thailand. This included the summer palace in Bang Pa-in, the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the colorful floating market, and watched a Thai cultural show to wrap up the trip. 
The summer palace has an impressive well-manicured lawn. There are structures within the property that resembled architectural styles from different parts of the world. 
The summer palace is used occasionally by current day Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit as a residence and for holding receptions and banquets. 
One interesting structure is the Ho Withun Thasana. "Ho" means tower and "Thasana" means the sages' lookout. According to history, this observatory has been built by King Chulalongkorn in 1881 as a lookout tower for viewing the surrounding countryside. Visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the tower. There's a spiral and sturdy staircase inside. You just need to leave your shoes outside and walk barefoot inside. It is a must-try because it gives you a bird's eye-view of the entire palace grounds. 
There is a lot of foot traffic in this place. There are so many tourists as far as your eyes can see. You have no choice but to share your photo op with another tourist behind, beside, or in front of you. 
Modest clothing must be observed within the palace grounds. Shorts and sleeveless were not allowed. We had met a Japanese guy who was with us in the van, he was wearing shorts and the guide told him to don his long pants right there and then in the car. He was perplexed and asked "Right now?" and the guide told him "Yes". He must had been embarrassed because my sister was seated beside him. 
When I think of Thailand, I imagine floating markets so we made sure to make it a part of our itinerary before we flew out of Bangkok. We were not disappointed, it was full of life and character. We were told that there were fewer boat vendors during our trip because it was a holiday. There were less fruit vendors who would have made the market all the more colorful. I didn't personally like the boat ride on the way to the market, but it was an experience to say the least. Every time it was a duo travel with my sister and I, we would meet kindred spirits of girl travelers too. It was during this trip that we met two Manila ladies and "what a small world" after all, one of the ladies knew a work colleague of my sister. I now conclude that this is my sister's TRAVEL before she gets hitched this year. 
On the way to the floating market, we had to stop in one place that offers an elephant ride at the river. We waited for the Korean tourists while we, who opted out from it, took photos around the place. 
Lucky of us to be in town when it was the Songkran Festival (Water Festival & Thai New Year). We just knew when we arrived in Bangkok and such we had not planned it out well. Nevertheless, at least we had a brief experience of this Thai festival when we were water-sprayed while walking on the streets. It was during this festival that you would see people bringing big water guns and you would fear not much for your life, but for your non water-proofed gears. 
There was a parade at the floating market. We saw how the Thais venerated their water god. 
Last two stops before we call it a day and had to hurry back to the city proper for last minute shopping. We went to the Samphran Elephant Zoo and watched a quick show. The elephants knew some tricks here and there. It was fun to watch, but I felt sad for these elephants. 
Our last day in Bangkok was the Pacquiao-Bradley fight. We didn't get the chance to watch it coz' we were on the road the entire day; however, we had a chance to watch a traditional Thai martial arts, Muay Thai. We ended our day with other cultural presentations depicting of the Thai tradition when celebrating a wedding, festivities after a wedding, and the other forms of combat. 

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thailand: A Cultural Exploration in the Ancient World

"Stop worrying about the potholes on the road and enjoy the journey"
-Babs Hoffman-

There were so many signs that this travel might not push through. Early this year, news about Bangkok's political unrest had been all over the news. A couple of months prior to the original scheduled trip, the airline company called my sister and informed her that the scheduled flight would be cancelled and that we would have to re-book the flight to some other time. We were so busy at work that my sister and I decided that we would re-book the trip perhaps mid or later this year; however, we only had a limited grace period to re-book the flight. As such, we decided to re-book it on April prior to the Lenten holiday. Four days prior to the flight, typhoon "Domeng" threatened to hit Cebu on the day that we would fly out to Manila. My sister was planning for a contingency by re-booking to a day earlier flight and stay overnight in Manila. I had kept my tongue-in-cheek not to say it loudly that this travel might be shrouded with a bad omen, so I voiced my opinion that it would be wise to let fate decide. We would proceed with the trip if by any chance the typhoon will traverse to another direction; otherwise, we would cancel the trip all-together (despite the fact that we had already paid in full the accommodation in Bangkok). A day prior to the trip, FATE had been in our favor. The typhoon had just become a Low Pressure Area and so our journey continued. 

There were so many firsts on this travel. First to travel with having to pack our luggage the night and morning before the trip. First out-of-the-country with only me and my sister. First to travel without a well-researched and planned itinerary. We just secured to book our accommodation, but everything else we don't know what, where, and how to go about in Bangkok. I must admit I had a lot of trepidation prior to this trip, when I travel, me and my sister were alwyas "OC". We would want to plot the places to go, how to go there, what to do, etc. This time around, we decided to LET IT GO and our mantra was, "Bangkok, surprise us!". As bad as the signs might had been prior to the trip, it was just as contrary it had been once we landed in Bangkok. 

We had a "red-eye" flight from Manila to Bangkok, we arrived midnight knowing that the Airport Train Link to the city would already be closed. We had to take the taxi from the airport to Ratchaprarop. Much to my surprise, the taxi queue was very organized; they had a service counter that would note the taxi driver/license plate and the passengers' destination. I felt safe right there and then. The next question we had in mind was what to do the next day. I had mentioned that luck had been on our side since we landed in Bangkok. Truly indeed, a friend/work colleague of my sister who frequented Bangkok was actually in Thailand on the same day and she had seen my sister's post. She recommended a good & affordable tour services company and encouraged us to watch a must-see show, The Siam Niramit. The Siam Niramit kicked off our escapades in Bangkok. We couldn't have asked for more great kick-off when we were picked up, waited upon, and dropped at the hotel's doorstep in a chauffeured-driven black sedan. Weren't we feeling special? 
The Siam Niramit show was a spectacular one. The stage was simply amazing and now I understood why it was rightfully to be so in the Guinness Book of World Records. The show did not allow taking of photos or videos, luckily though we were early enough to watch the pre-show presentation. Thanks to our chauffeur. 
On our second day in Bangkok, we went to one of the old capitals in Thailand - Ayutthaya. The kingdom of Ayutthaya dated way back in the 1300s to 1700s. Our guide told us that prior to Bangkok, there were formerly three capitals in Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Thonburi. Similar to Cambodia, temples would usually leave as testament that once a kingdom had been flourishing in a certain place and time.
The first stop in Ayutthaya was Wat Phu Kao Thong. Roosters seemed to have a special treatment in this temple as I saw a lot of rooster ceramics lined up at the entrance. We were told that we must climb at the top of this temple to see the entire view of Ayutthaya island. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to do so. My sister and I were busy capturing in photos every detail of this place including the intriguing vendor and her kitty who followed her whenever she whistles.  
Next stop was Wat Lokaya Suttha. Notice that "Wat" is repetitive? It is because "Wat" in Thai means temple. In Wat Lokaya Suttha, we were mesmerized by the line of trees bearing yellow flowers. It looked so wonderful that the fallen flowers made the dirt road a wonder to see. I dubbed it the "yellow dirt road". The temple was also surrounded by a moat, it reminded me of the temples in Siem Reap. It was interesting to learn that these neighboring countries had close cultural connections that dated way back in time. 
Two more "Wats" to go and finally before the last stop, we had come to the city proper of the once Ayutthaya Kingdom. In this place was the Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Historically, the place was ransacked by the Burmese conquerors that left the temple in shambles. In the desire to preserve what had been a grandiose stuppa, I noticed that the stuppas had been reconstructed, but if I'm not mistaken it was not restored to the way it had been (by bricks; instead cement reconstruction only). I had not seen any reconstruction effort to all of these temples unlike in Angkor Wat where there had been a massive effort to preserve and restore (as much as possible) the temples similar to how it had been constructed in ancient times.  
It was incredibly warm and humid during our temple hop. We were sweating profusely and all we long for was somewhere to cool off our tired feet. In fact we humanoids were not the only ones feeling the heat, the dogs at the park were burrowing the sand to cool-off their body. 
At this point, we already felt so sticky and was in dire need to freshen up. Good thing that there was a "Happy Room" (toilet) available, though we had to pay 5 Bhat for use and tissue, but who cares? We really needed to go and cool-off. Sad to note that the only remnant to see in the once glorious Ayutthaya city is the Wat Phra Si Sanphet. I couldn't help but compare Angkor Wat Historical Park where you would still see a lot of the ancient structures. Perhaps it would be because the Kingdom of Cambodia was once the great empire that attempted to conquer the neighboring countries like Thailand (formerly Siam); whereas Siam was the war prize and thus, most structures would be left in ruin. 
In the desire to make up for the lack of other things to see in the Ayutthaya city park, the Thai government had made a replica of the ancient Thai houses, which they called the Kum Kun Phaan. 
The place had become a one-stop shop as well for tourists who wanted to get up close and cheeky with a live elephant or ride on top of one. 
All right, so much for the intermission part. We finally made it to our last stop in Ayutthaya which was the Wat Maha That. This temple ground had interesting headless Buddha structures. It had been so since Ayutthaya had been ransacked by the Burmese fighters who cut-off the head of the Buddha structures. The conquerors were after the bejeweled and gold-laden Buddha head. 
I think I had enough lessons in history and ancient Wats to last me a lifetime. I had to cap it on with this one as the last...for now. Burma had to wait until I itch for another dose of temple history lessons. 

TIPS: 
Taxi fare from/to airport
> From airport to accommodation (see below) the fare is 340 Bhat metered-fee. However, the passenger pays for the add-ons: Toll fee at 70 Bhat and airport surcharge at 50 Bhat. 
> From accommodation to airport is 400 Bhat flat fee. We had to accept the flat fee because we had to leave early at aroud 6:00 AM. Furthermore, it was also a holiday in Bangkok for the Songkram festival (April 12 to 15). 

Accomodation
KC Place City Center/Serviced Apartment 
I like it here because it's not situated in a noisy, crowded, and backpacking area. I consider it still a value for money. We have gotten a room at 1300 Bhat per night/room. WIFI already comes with it because we have stayed for at least 5 nights. The place is so clean, it epitomizes the saying of "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". The place is also a walking distance to the shopping district and to the Airport Train Link. They have a great cafe too that offers yummy, affordable, and authentic Thai food. The cafe menu ranges from 50 Bhat to 250 Bhat. Furthermore, there's also a massage place at the first floor. It is perfect for relaxation after a tiring day of shopping or wherever you may have been. The massage place also offers service at the comforts in your room. And yet there's more, the place is a walking distance to Baiyoke Sky Tower. It has a shortcut way that will take you to Baiyoke and the nearby night market in less than 5 minutes. Being near to the Baiyoke Sky Tower is an added bonus because as the tallest building in Bangkok, it is easy to give directions to a taxi driver. The Baiyoke Sky Tower has become our guiding star, it is because of this that we will know if we are waylaid or lost. 

ArtsyBelle Images
Lifestyle. Creative. Moments 
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Thailand: A Cultural Exploration in the New World 

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