Sunday, 15 April 2018

Thailand: Bangkok, Ayutthaya & Chiang Mai

Having averted a Bridget-Jones style prison sentence upon our arrival into Thailand, our first evening in Bangkok was spent consuming copius amounts of wine (or beer in Steven's case) and cuddling cats in Clair's apartment to recover before settling down for the night ready for a day trip to the city of Ayutthaya (apparently pronounced Ah-you-tee-ah) in celebration of my birthday.

What a view to wake up to..

We took an early train from Bangkok to make the most of the day, and opted for Third Class tickets which effectively cost us less than 50p for an hour and a half long journey. Having been kicked out of several people's seats (it was all very unclear), a combination of jet lag, a lack of food, heat of ridiculous proportions, a probable hangover, and the mere thought of having to stand for an hour and a half on a bustling train resulted in my rather nonchalantly being on the brink of fainting. The majority of the journey was therefore spent sitting in the aisle with my head between my legs, much to the displeasure of the many salespeople making their way up and down the train carriages.

Arriving into Ayutthaya (where we had to walk across the tracks to exit the station), we made straight for sustenance. After sitting in the stream of several fans to eat my first Pad Thai of the holiday, and drink a bottle of Coke, I felt much better. We decided to take a tuk tuk tour around the city, which would take us to several of the main temples for a reasonable price between three of us.

Home now, I'd like to find out more about the history of Ayutthaya. It was fascinating to imagine what the city was once like. Even the ruins of temples were impressive, and it was good to see that they are now well preserved, possibly in part thanks to the small entrance fee for each one (only the equivalent of £1 or so which felt very fair in contrast to London attractions). In the stifling heat, we were grateful to our tuk tuk driver for providing fans, and for giving us plenty of time to wander at each stop, all keen to take the day as slowly as possible.

Having learned our lesson from the outward journey, we decided to book seats for the return, and then waited for the arrival of our train in the same place that we'd begun our day, this time with a few cold beers. Back in Bangkok, we headed to W District where my birthday twin was already out celebrating with friends. Effectively an outdoor food-court and bar, there was plenty to choose from. We went for 'traditional' Thai grilled cheese sandwiches and more Singha.

The next morning was another early one, as we flew to Chiang Mai. Arriving early meant that we were able to make the most of our first day in the city, and our first impressions were pretty excellent. Having unpacked, we were quickly out to explore. A few doors along from our hotel we found a little cafe serving traditional Thai sausage fried rice, which we tried for less than £1 each. Tummies satisfied, we explored several of the city's own active Buddhist temples, enjoying a bottle (or three) of Singha at each pit-stop. 

As the evening approached, we realised that we'd arrived just in time for the Sunday walking market, which had almost a Camden Market feel about it as we walked along for a browse of the many stalls. With the crowds increasing, we were glad to find somewhere to hide out, and happened upon a hotel bar with live jazz and blues entertainment. We stayed a while, enjoying the music, food, drink, and people watching.

Grape juice, noodles and pastries for breakfast (it was all a very healthy affair), we were ready for another day of exploring. Having covered most of what lay inside the city walls on our first day, we ventured further afield to Wat Phra Doi Suthep and the Phuping (or Bhubing) Palace in the mountains just outside of the city.

Not quite brave enough to rent mopeds for windy up-hill driving, we opted for our own taxi driver who took us from one place to the next, waiting at each while we had time to explore. Benefits came in the form of air conditioning, questionable music choices, and conversation between.

Doi Suthep was very much like the temples in the city, although much busier, and with a view back over Chiang Mai making the walk up 309 steps totally worthwhile. Having not had any trouble in temples (aside from my being assaulted by a helpful ticket lady in Ayutthaya who felt my shorts could be worn a little longer...), we were surprised when Steven was denied entry to the Palace due to his shorts (we decided that perhaps they just couldn't handle his 'glow'). Once he was donning a pair of highly fetching floaty elephant trousers, however, we were ready to go. Here was much more peaceful, as the steps and pathways around the grounds led us past colourful borders, into tropical forest, and through glasshouses.

Back in Chiang Mai, we headed out for a late lunch and our first beer of the day. Having had our fill of food, beer, and people watching, we treated ourselves to our first Thai massage. After lots of walking over the past few days, we chose foot massages with two lovely ladies, Poo and Bum (pronounced Boom.. if that makes it any better) which left us feeling relaxed and ready for another evening of jazz; this time at the North Gate Jazz Co-Op. Who knew Chiang Mai would have such a good jazz scene?

Our third and final day in Chiang Mai was spent with elephants, and it was the best. Our day began in the back of a van loaded with other tourists from around the world (we represented America, Canada, Ireland, France, and England; a very newsworthy, international event in the case of tragedy, we all agreed as we hurled around blind corners on our way up to the jungle). 

Red ants averted (for me, at least; Steven and others got a few nasty nips up the legs), we trekked downhill into the sanctuary. The first sight of elephants as we rounded the final corner filled us all with great excitement. Bug spray and sun cream liberally applied, tribal tunics on, and armed with a handful or two of sugar cane, it was time to meet the herd. As we held out each piece of sugar cane, an inquisitive trunk would approach, and more often than not, take a piece simply to hold onto whilst chewing one from earlier. I was mesmerised.

Sugar cane soon gone, we moved on to a second herd for a while where two babies (the youngest 10 months) lived. By this point we all (humans and elephants) were glad of shade, and even more glad when lunch was announced. On a terrace over-looking where the first herd of elephants grazed, we enjoyed a buffet of traditional Thai dishes, and plenty of water, before dozing off for a while on floor cushions in the shade. 

The afternoon was wet, muddy, and a lot of fun. First we gave the elephants (and each other) a mud bath, then we all walked down to the river to rinse off. Lots of rain in previous days meant the water was incredibly brown, but it was still cool and did the job. It was clear that the elephants absolutely loved the river, as several of them completely submerged themselves in the water (one who was then not at all keen to leave) and had great fun rolling around together.

Dried off but still fairly mud-splattered, it was time to go. The journey back was a hot one, so we were glad to be back for a shower and air conditioning. With a super early flight the next morning, we made time for a final meal out with the added bonus of an unexpected parade passing while we ate (I'm still not entirely sure what it was for), before heading back to pack and get an early night before heading South for a few days...