8.31.2014

Thailand: Day 3 (Bangkok and Ayutthaya)

We set our alarms for 7:00 am and woke up surprisingly refreshed and ready to explore. Here's our 7:30 am view of Bangkok from the Centra Central Station Hotel


We met up with the Thompsons at the breakfast buffet. It was fancy schmancy, but I forgot to take a picture of the setup, so here's one from the hotel's website: 


The restaurant was empty. There was one other couple sitting on the opposite side, but other than that, we had the place to ourselves: 


We proceeded to gorge ourselves on all sorts of amazing food:


Any regrets of paying $100 for only a few hours at the hotel quickly disappeared. Adam ate three full plates of bacon and Steve declared it the best rice he has ever had. 


After breakfast, I supervised the kids outside while Steve, John, and Lacie went to pack. I think this "relaxation area" is a brilliant alternative to a regular swimming pool:


The lounge chairs weren't supposed to be in the water. . . but leaping from chair to chair kept the kids entertained (and less wet). Look how pretty it is at night: 


We loved traveling with the Thompsons. . . our kids had such a great time together: 


I went to go look for a good view and was surprised to see this temple:


Wat Traimit was on our list of temples to see in Bangkok; I hadn't realized that we were so close. I called the kids over and they gazed down on the city: 


It was crazy to see all of the activity on the street. . . monks collecting food, scooters weaving around cars, people eating breakfast. It was like peering in on a whole different world. We stood there and studied all of the little details: the rooftop gardens, the laundry hung to dry, etc.


Rachel couldn't get enough. She took pictures of everything:


This is a spirit house or san phra phum. They are built to provide a shelter for spirits (good and bad), protecting the house or business:


Rachel had a hard time leaving her perch. I seriously had to pull her away.


After I finally got Rachel, we found the others gazing down from the other side of the hotel: 


It's a lot to take in, and you really do want to study every element: 


We left our luggage at the hotel and set off to explore Chinatown: 


As promised, there was a 7-Eleven on every corner: 


Chinatown is located in one of the oldest areas of Bangkok and is best known for its street food. After sunset, vendors fill the streets and alleys as hordes people flock to Yaowarat Road to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and cuisine. Chinatown is the place to be for festivals and holidays like Chinese New Year. But we were there at 8:45 am on a Sunday morning, so things were relatively quiet. 


You really can't blame the monk for falling asleep. It was so hot and muggy:


Here are the Thompsons in front of Wat Traimit, also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Since the aggressive peddlers clearly weren't going to get out of the picture, I should have motioned for them to move in closer.


The entrance fee was 40 baht per adult; no charge for kids. 


At the top of the stairs, we took off our shoes and went inside to see the highly revered Golden Buddha: 


The statue was crafted in Sukhothai and then moved to Ayutthaya around 1403. Monks later covered the Golden Buddha with 12-inches of a clay-like plaster to protect it from the invading Burmese army. In 1767, Ayutthaya was completely destroyed and the monks were slaughtered in the invasion. The Golden Buddha sat amongst the ruins, assumed to be worthless. 

In 1801, the king of Thailand commissioned the construction of several temples in Bangkok and subsequently ordered the return of a number of old Buddha statues. The Golden Buddha, still covered with plaster, was transported to Wat Chotanaram, located near Chinatown and later closed. In 1935, the statue was moved to Wat Traimit, which at that time, was a very small temple and did not have a building large enough to house the statue. The Golden Buddha was kept under a simple tin roof for almost twenty years. In 1954, a new building was built at Wat Traimit to house the statue. During the final attempt to lift the statue from its pedestal, the ropes broke, and the statue fell to the ground. The plaster coating chipped, revealing a solid gold Buddha. 


The Golden Buddha is almost ten feet tall and weighs 5 tons. Made of solid 18 karat gold, the statue is estimated to be worth $250 million dollars.


The temple's viewing area is fairly small and there were people there for worship, so we moved along and checked out some of the other displays:   


I'm not sure whose idea this was:


And then it began. . . this was the first of many times that people asked to touch Kaleigh's hair or take her picture:


By then, there were quite a few visitors at the temple, so it took some hustling to get this photo taken without people in the background. I warned the kids that there were going to be a lot of pictures taken over the next ten days and it would be in everyones best interest if they learned how to pose quickly. 


I love the look on Adam's face. Because I kinda felt the same way.


If it hadn't been so hot, we would have walked further up Yaowarat Road to see the Sampeng Market. But we were sweating and had already run out of water so we headed back to our hotel. 


After stocking up on water and retrieving our luggage, we walked across the street towards the Hua Lamphong Railway Station:


I could have stayed right there and taken pictures of the traffic all day long:


We were about to cross the next street when a man stopped us and said we were going the wrong way. He led us another direction to an underpass, which took us underneath the road to the station. He went clear out of his way to show us where to go soI fully expected him to ask for compensation for his help. . . but he didn't. For the record, going under the street to the train station added at least ten minutes to our walk. And meant that we missed out on entering through the front doors of this Italian Neo-Renaissance style building. (Which means I found this picture online.)


Hua Lamphong Station is the main railway in Bangkok and has been in operation since 1916. The station serves over 130 trains and approximately 60,000 passengers each day. 


Reviews of Hua Lamphong Station on TripAdvisor include: 

"Don't go there after dark." 
"good location. filthy toilets"
"A cavernous mass of humanity"
"huge and often confusing"
"Busy"
"Very cheap mode of transport"
"old, run down but functional"
"Slowest but cheapest and most entertaining way of Transport"

They all seem fairly accurate. 


Tickets for our family of six from Bangkok to Ayutthaya on the 3rd class train were only $4 USD. 


Bradee was all smiles: 


Rachel looked like she needed a Coke: 


We posed for a quick picture and then hurried as fast as we could to our platform. We didn't want to miss our train. 


But trains in Thailand are frequently late. . . so we had plenty of time to appreciate everything around us: 


My favorite was when the friendly monk, who had been smiling at us for quite some time, finally came and asked. . . if he could take our picture. 


Did I mention that these two had the best time together?


Adam struck up a conversation with the tourists from Spain while Rachel took a little nap: 


The train finally arrived and we hurried to find a spot near a fan: 


More pictures of Kaleigh: 


Rachel had my camera, which is a shame because I would have liked to get a better picture of this. It was just like the Polar Express:


He had a little hole-puncher thing and punched about a dozen holes in each ticket. He tried to tell us something. . . but we didn't understand. 

 

So we just enjoyed the views: 


Kaleigh was out in no time at all: 


Did I mention it was hot? And humid. And sticky. 


John Boy must have been giving these girls a pep talk: 


Because they perked up: 


This felt like real Thailand: 


Yes, that's a rooster magazine: 


The train made quite a few stops as we traveled across the countyside. It was after this stop that some people boarded the train and came to sit in their seats. . . our seats. The ticket-puncher man showed us that our tickets were standee tickets. 


So then we stood. Except for Steve and Kaleigh.


Maddie and Adam crowded their way right back to their window. (Photo credit: Rachel)


Sticking your head out of a train when you are sweating hot is about the best thing ever: 


It kept the kids busy for a big chunk of our 90-minute train ride. 


Luckily, nobody got hit by any of the tree branches that whipped across the train as we drove by.


There was a lot of activity on the train. . . people getting on and off, vendors selling food and drinks, cleaners coming by: 


The train was stopped and I had my head out the window, just about to take a picture when I realized the sign said "Ayutthaya". We really had to hustle to get everyone off before the train left again. And then it required some serious negotiating to get a decent price for a ride to our hotel. As in, we pretended to start walking. This is Rachel's I'm-so-relieved-to-get-a-ride look: 


Good times. . . 


We were so heavy that we hit bottom as we pulled into the hotel; I jumped out to take some pictures: 


We checked into the Kantary Hotel Ayutthaya


While Kaleigh slept: 



We booked the one-bedroom king room with a rollaway bed and paid a total of $101: 


We had plenty of room to spread out in the living room area: 


And there was also a kitchenette with a washing machine!


A few things about the hotels. . . When I talked to friends who had travelled to Thailand they all told me how cheap things were. . . hotels for $40 per night, meals for $3 per person, etc. There are plenty of hotels for $40 per night; you can even find some for $20. But they aren't the type of hotels you want to stay at with your kids. And they aren't the type of hotels that would want your kids to sleep on the floor. 

We had some other hotel issues in regards to room occupancy, but not in Ayutthaya. Almost all of the hotel rooms in Thailand have an official maximum occupancy of three people. We booked most of our rooms through Expedia.com's mobile app because they only ask how many adults per room. But I always went ahead and booked the largest room available because I figured that would help us get away with our extra kids. 

So yes, we stayed at nicer hotels and spent a bit more on accommodations. But it generally worked out well for us because most of the nicer hotels have great complimentary breakfasts. And nice swimming pools.

Like this amazing rooftop pool that we had all to ourselves: 


I don't usually take the kids swimming on Sundays (even when we travel). . . 


But these kids needed to go swimming: 


(And their dads needed naps.) We actually selected this hotel because of its rooftop pool. It was perfect. And I only screamed like a crazy lady once, when I thought Adam was drowning. 


Then we really had to hustle to explore Ayutthaya before dark. We were eager to ride in one of these cool tuk-tuks (pronounced took tooks): 


But it was a better deal for us to share a truck: 


One second Adam was awake: 


The next second, he was asleep: 


The kids were super excited to see elephants, so that was our first stop. It didn't take long for us to realize that the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace was not the experience we wanted. 


(The elephants at the Elephant Palace are "working elephants" from Elephantstay, a non-profit organization that's located further outside of town. But the whole set-up felt more like a circus attraction than the sort of thing we were interested in.) We had a hard time getting out of there because the tourists were taking pictures of Kaleigh: 


Next on our list was a boat tour. But first, a little history of Ayutthaya:

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 in the ancient kingdom of Siam, equidistant between India and China. Strategically built on an island surrounded by three rivers that connected the city to the sea, the city became the region's most powerful kingdom. Ayutthaya grew into a large, cosmopolitan city known for its commerce and wealth, comparable to Paris. By 1700, Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a population of one million people. 

Burmese armies invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city to the ground. The war destroyed the art, literature, and historic records. The remains of the stone temples and palaces provide a glimpse of the grandeur of the historic city. Ayutthaya's ruins were registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. 

As we drove through Ayutthaya Historic Park, we tried to take in as much as we could: 


Well, those of us who were awake. . . 


Thailand is thirteen hours ahead of Utah time, so we were dealing with some serious jet lag/time adjustment. 

Ayutthaya is completely encircled by rivers, the Chao Praya to the south and west, the Lopburi to the north, and the Pa Sak River to the east. I don't know exactly where we started our boat tour because our driver just took us somewhere and set things up. . . somewhere along the Pa Sak River.


This is typical John. He didn't speak any Thai and that boy didn't speak any English, but he still found a way to make friends:  



The flower garlands hanging from the prow of the boat are offerings to the spirit guardian, Mae Yanang, the goddess of journeys:


I love this picture: 


We paid 1000 baht for our boat tour. . . I think it should have been closer to 600 baht, but oh well. 


More flowers for the goddess of journeys: 


And off we went, with Wat Thamniyom in the background: 



The people standing under the Wat Phanan Choeng pagoda were throwing cheese puffs to the catfish: 


Can you see all of the fish?


Rachel got some good pictures: 


So gross. . . 


Heading west on the Chao Phraya River: 


Wat Phutthai Sawan:


These kids were tired, hot, and hungry. But they were champs and didn't complain too much. 



St. Joseph's Church, built in 1666: 


The river started to curve north and a huge temple complex came into view: 


Wat Chai Watthanaram, the most magnificent temple ruin in Ayutthaya: 


I asked if we could stop, but the lady driving the boat told me "better view from water". 


I didn't believe her, so I asked again. . . 


And again until she agreed to stop. 


Wat Chai Watthanaram was built in 1630, in celebration of the end of a Buddhist millennial year. The temple is unique because it has the only fully symmetrical architectural design in the city. The Burmese used this monastery as an army camp while staging attacks on the main island in 1767. Wat Chai Watthanaram was later abandoned and looted. The historic temple was renovated by the Fine Arts Department between 1987 and 1992. 


And just for Steve, Wat Pooping Dog: 


We didn't go in any closer because there was a fee. 


Back on the boat: 


Wat Kasattrathirat:


Phra Chedi Sri Suriyothai is an elaborately designed temple with gold paint that contains the ashes of Queen Suriyothai. During the sixteenth century, King Chakkraphat and two of his sons were leading an army into battle against Burmese troops. Queen Suriyothai, fearing for her family's safety, secretly dressed as a male soldier and rode an elephant into the battle. While fighting a Burmese general, King Chakkraphat's elephant stumbled, putting his life at risk. Queen Suriyothai heroically charged in front of the enemy's blade, sacrificing her own life in his place. 


The were lots of people fishing, swimming, washing, and bathing in the rivers: 


Which was crazy because we also saw a whole lot of these giant lizards, called water monitors, sharing the same water: 


There were temples everywhere, far more than I took pictures of. There were a few, like this one, that I wish we could have stopped to see. Wat Choeng Tha is one of the few ancient temples that are actively used today. 


By the time we debarked, only some of the kids were still smiling: 


We checked out the food stalls in the parking lot: 


But didn't think we could get any of the kids to eat it: 


So off we went. Doesn't our driver look like he's having fun?


The ride back to our hotel was thrilling scary. We had way too many people packed into that little truck, and we were traveling at highway speeds. Steve and I sat at the very back to keep the kids from falling out and to give Steve more leg room. The front bumper of this Honda got within ten inches of Steve's knee. No joke. 


The scooters zooming around were a lot less scary: 


I said something to John about it being a dangerous ride in the back of that truck. . . John told me I had no idea what things looked like from up front. 


The kids were so extremely exhausted that they were actually quiet and well behaved. We attempted to wake everyone up for dinner, but Adam was out cold. The hotel staff saw me trying to get him up, and they motioned for me to leave him there and go eat dinner. (The restaurant was adjacent to the lobby and our table was on the other side of a glass wall, maybe thirty feet away.) I kept getting up from our table to go check on Adam, and then one of the receptionists waved for me to stay and indicated that she would keep an eye on him. 


That was awesome because then I could focus on all of this incredible food. . . starting with Spring Rolls: 


Pad Thai: 


Corn Fritters: 


Crazy Hot Coconut Green Curry Soup: 


Red Curry: 


And Massaman Curry: 


And then we went to bed. Well, I went to bed. I completely crashed. . .  with my clothes on, without brushing my teeth, and without taking a shower, leaving Steve on his own to take care of the kids. 

At that point, we had been in Thailand for less than 24 hours. . . Can you believe we did all of that in one day? John Boy declared it the longest birthday ever!