This journalog continues from the our 2nd day in Bangkok.
Siam. Such a long tradition and history. Historians suggest that the modern Thai derive their heritage from the Tai tribes that migrated south along the Mekong and its tributary rivers. Perhaps so. As more archaeological finds are unearthed, we will learn yet more.
Such a long day! Train market, floating market….and then ancient relics at Ayutthaya. We saw so much in the day we think the quota for excursions had been used up! LOL.
|Oh at 6:30am we were picked up by Pary and on our way! About an hour later we arrived at the town of Maeklong. It is southwest from Bangkok and said to be a stop for folks headed towards Hua Hin further to the south. The market was long there, and along came the relocation of the train station which led to the line being placed across the market! And because the train only comes 4 times a day, the market remained where it was – a minor inconvenience for the vendors…|
|Scheduled 4 times per day, don’t come in between – no train photos! Pary told us that tourists are more of a nuisance than the train. Because the number of people crowds out locals intent on shopping for their daily produce. We are getting in their way of doing business! After walking through we settled for coffee and waited for the train to come by. What a spectacle indeed.|
|Next, Tha Kha floating market, just 12km from Maeklong. Not far from Maeklong, Tha Kha is a really small floating market with just a few vendors. But at least it is a place where locals come by and make purchases or have breakfast. So to us this is an authentic experience seeing the vendor stir fry some pad Thai for a customer. In fact, Pary bought some bananas from one of the vendors for her mom! She says it’s really cheaper out here.|
|Because we are only two, we get to walk around a lot while Pary haggled for her bananas…but soon it was time to get onto our own boat for a “cruise” along the canals that link Tha Kha all the way to Maeklong.
Only waist deep, the network of canals used to be the ‘roads’. Folks lived by the canals and used it as a means to ferry produce and people. Because it is not as well visited, the place looks tranquil and serene. Perhaps we were early…
Pary took us to a local villager’s home where they were making a sort of sugar from the nectar of the coconut tree.
|Nectar from coconut tree? Yep, and we were shown the flowers of the tree before they turn into a bunch of coconuts. The trick is to cut a slice of the flowers every day to prevent them from full blooming. A container is then cupped over the flower and left to collect all that drips from the flowers. Neat plan isn’t it? And after collecting lots of the nectar they are boiled in woks and collected. As we continued on our boat trip, we saw beautiful vistas of the reflection of the coconut trees in the water. We also discovered that the “atachi” used in ice kacang is the fruit of the Nipa palm. And they grow in soft muddy places along the banks of the canals here!|
|But the boat trip eventually did come to an end and we bought some of the coconut nectar juice for taste. Hmmm…quite nice! We then left for a 2½ hour journey to Ayutthaya (~150km away). This is the old center of the Siam kingdom of the same name that was abruptly destroyed in the 1760s by Burmese invasions.
Our first stop was Wat Phanan Choeng. This temple was built earlier (1324) than Ayutthaya itself and said to have some Sung Dynasty refugees fleeing from Mongol domination. Cheng Ho also visited in 1407. This should explain the Chinese gods in the temple too…
|Lunch was at a local restaurant that seemed to be popular with the locals (Kauy Tiew Pak Wan). One of their signature dish is the chicken wings and we also had some fried mushrooms, fish… It appears a lot of the dishes are deep fried…but the pad Thai is nice and so is the omelet rice. Most importantly it is air conditioned!|
|Our next stop is Wat Mahathat. This is also known as the temple of the relics. This is in the center of Ayutthaya and where the leader of Thai monks used to reside. Once again this stopped in 1767 when the city was sacked and burned by the Burmese.
The most iconic view of the monastery temple is not the Prang (which collapsed in 1911) but the Buddha in a tree. While many a tale had been spun about how this Buddha head got there, it was obvious that human hands had something to do with it. Simply because it is too low to the ground. Thus it was not part of any statue to begin with since the size of the head is not likely to be proportionate to the rest of one. Whatever the reasons, it was a place filled with tourists taking and instagram posting their photos. We did too…
|Of course Wat Mahathat is not only for the Buddha in the tree. Its many surviving Chedis and Prangs too are beautiful places for a photo-op. But little does the hordes of tourist realize that nearby is Wat Ratcha Burana… This was the temple that was built over the cremation site of two princely brothers, who fought each other to the death for the throne. In fact there was a crypt deep in the Prang. In it were treasures that thieves stole in 1957. Only few (Pary says 1/3) were recovered.|
|Within the crypt now are murals, some depicting trade with Chinese merchants. We had to descend down two flights of stairs to see them. After a quick look, we boarded a boat and cruised on the Chao Phraya.|
|We are at Wat Phutthaisawan, a still active monastery temple was originally built just as Ayutthaya assumed its role as capital of the Siam kingdom. It too has an impressive row of Buddha statues along its gallery and walked around them before heading into the Prang where an active shrine is located. At its entrance were the feet of the Buddha carved in stone.
A small reclining Buddha is also inside. Devotees keep coming in to offer prayers and respect.
|Back on the boat and onwards to our final temple of the day – coming up against it with the low sun gave a wonderful silhouette. This was one was built in the 1630s with a central Prang that’s 35m high. It was abandoned for a long time after the Burmese sack of the city and it lost a lot of bricks and Buddha heads in that time.|
|Fortunately it has been salvaged and restored, reopening its doors to the public in 1992.
This was a royal temple, one where the family performed religious ceremonies. There are said to be Princes and Princesses that are buried here too! Which explains why this is such a large expanse of land for a temple. Now Thai people cremate and do not bury, so the crypt contains only ashes of the deceased royal family members. Some say this is the grandest and most monumental ruin here.
|Pary showed us how a terrible flood from a few years back covered all of the complex. Even the home of the current King’s mother on the opposite bank was flooded too!
Alas it was time to head back. From here, it was an 85km drive back to Bangkok. It took just over an hour and we fell asleep along the way… Our guide Pary had spent the whole day with us, chaperoning us, making arrangements and keeping us on time. Next time, we can ask her on what else we can do outside Bangkok!
The Maeklong train market is a must see, though to be honest we are part of the tourist horde that gives quite fair bit of disruption to the locals. Hmmm… how long more before the locals push back and stop all this? Only time will tell.
The wonderful thing about a private tour is that you have the van to yourself and if you have an interactive guide like Pary, the long distances will be fading memories! We chatted like old friends exchanging opinions on subjects as diverse as politics, history and food & health. It pays to be well read, because it keeps a healthy conversation going instead of nodding off to sleep during the drive!
Back in the city, we decided to head to Terminal 21 for a quick dinner. It only costs 22 baht one way… Dinner at Chabuton cost us 438 baht for two bowls of noodles. It may sound a little cheaper than Singapore but the noodles did not have the texture one might expect… good to take note of those of you who hype up Japanese food in Bangkok. It has been a long day, so without much adieu we bid it farewell with a good night’s sleep.
And now, back to Bangkok…