Tag Archives: Thailand

Thailand Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Thailand?

Closely followed by our Trans-Siberian trip through Russia, Thailand is the country we’ve spent the most amount of time in so far – mostly because we needed a break from the constant travelling.

Us as the sun sets on Koh Lanta and our visit to Thailand

Summarise Thailand in three words.

  • Foodexcellent in most of south-east Asia, but even after our previous culinary highs in Vietnam, Thailand’s expertise in balancing sweet, savoury, salty and spicy in a single dish is delectable
  • King – beyond revered, the King of Thailand’s portrait adorns every city, town, building, business and home
  • Massagewander down any remotely touristed area of Thailand and you’ll hear the Thai ladies cry out “masssaaaaaaage?” Don’t make a habit of turning them down too often though

You really know you’re in Thailand when…

The street vendor or shopkeeper is handing you your food or goods, having placed them in one of every size of clear plastic bag they can find – we once bought some diced chicken that the butcher put in 4 plastic bags!

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Thailand?

Light. Leave some space in your bag because Thailand is a great place to shop – there are so many shopping malls and fantastic markets – prices are (relatively) cheap, quality is (relatively) good, and it’s possible to buy pretty much anything1

1 Except high-end Panasonic digital cameras, it seems. I had read about the GF6 and wanted to compare the size to my trusty Sony HX9-V, and we finally found one in IT City in Bangkok’s Pantip Plaza. They only had a white one in stock.

Koh Lanta, Thailand

To round off our 3 month recuperation in Thailand, we headed for its famous southern beach islands, and as we’re more fond of a good night’s R&R than all-night R&B, that meant the less party-orientated island of Koh Lanta.

At least, that’s what our research led us to believe.

As much to the distress of our hosts for their guests as for their own 2 year old daughter, the neighbouring bar had their house band play every night from 9pm until midnight – against the generally understood policy of one late night per venue, per week. Our room was the closest to the stage, though I doubt it mattered – even with the ill-fitting door and windows closed, we still had front-row fidelity. And volume. The band, from another of Thailand’s islands leaned towards the heavier side of classic rock; Metallica, Hendrix, Dire Straits – it could have been a lot worse.

Our otherwise delightful abode was at the southern end of Phra Ae beach, which is also known as Long Beach, because, well, it’s a beach.

Early morning runner on Long Beach, Koh Lanta

We spent a couple of lazy days on and around the beach, then on our last full day we hired a scooter to visit the Old Town on the other side of the island.

Koh Lanta Old Town (clockwise top-left): Shops and cafes back out into the bay on stilts; Fishing boat tied to the main pier; Smaller boats beached at low tide; Filling the scooter at an automated pump; Old Town’s sign

As with most places we’ve visited thus far, Koh Lanta is somewhere we could easily spend twice as long exploring. We loved its laid-back, no trouble vibe, its scenery and its beaches – all of which draws an eclectic mix of visitors and expats.

Sunset on Koh Lanta. Not pictured, barbecued fish and beer

Bangkok, Thailand (part 2)

As we made our way from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, via Sukhothai, toward the southern island of Koh Lanta, we stopped once more in Bangkok to visit a couple of sights we missed the first time around.

As our good friend Khun had given us such a great introduction to the capital of his homeland, we felt a little like we were returning home – somewhere familiar, somewhere known.

Since we were here last when the anti-government (and anti-corruption) protests had just started, Thailand has held a general election which was disrupted enough so that any result will undoubtedly be contested, leaving the country in political stalemate. There were less people on the streets in the centre of Bangkok this time, and where crowds of protesters once sat, street stalls selling food or supporters garb lined the enforced pedestrian thoroughfares. T-shirts bearing the slogan “Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand” piled high, and wearing the colours of the national flag is synonymous with supporting the protesters goal of a temporary suspension of democracy.

The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew

Next door to the stunning Wat Pho we saw on our first visit to Bangkok, the Grand Palace was the residence of the Kings for 150 years after it was built in 1782, and is still used for royal and official ceremonies throughout the year. Within the grounds is Wat Phra Kaew, and the combined audio guide tour took us through this compact, temple-filled splendour first..

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew. Gold, gold, everywhere!

Each successive King has left their mark on this Royal Wat – some opting for maintenance, preservation and restraint, while others went all out for glory, such as King Rama IV covering the huge Phra Si Rattana Chedi with gold tiles imported from Italy, or building a model of Angkor Wat (as northern Cambodia used to be part of Siam, the former name for Thailand – hence the use of ‘Siam’ in the name of many Thai restaurants in the UK)

Sights in Wat Phra Kaew

Sights in Wat Phra Kaew (clockwise from top right): Model of Angkor Wat; Statues and mirrored tiles; Julie and I imitating the mythological creatures; Golden statues; Ramakian Mural Cloisters with golden highlights

The undisputed highlight of Wat Phra Kaew (and that’s saying something!) is the Emerald Buddha. Thought to have originated in India, it was hidden for 300 years and only rediscovered in Chiang Rai after the chedi it was hiding in was struck by lightning. The figure was moved briefly to Chiang Mai, then Sukhothai and now sits in contemplation and for adoration atop a golden throne.

The Emerald Buddha

The Emerald Buddha. Photos are not permitted from inside the temple, but if you have enough zoom they helpfully leave the front doors open..

In a very elaborate ceremony timed with the seasons, the King climbs a staircase behind the throne, and changes the Emerald Buddha’s outfit.

The Emerald Buddha's costumes

The Emerald Buddha’s costumes (photo credit: Peggy’s Photos)

After Wat Phra Kaew, the expansive Grand Palace is a welcome contrast to the claustrophobic golden glitziness. Although the splendid main palace building is closed to all but invited visitors, there are two open galleries on the ground floor either side of the central staircase. The left gallery houses a collection of ancient fighting weapons – spears, maces, axes and swords, and the right – cannon, muskets, pistols, and rifles, including several made in England.

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

Us in front of the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand

The Royal Palace Guards

The Royal Palace guards. I’m reluctant to call this the short straw, as their eyes got plenty of exercise checking out the female visitors

There was so much to see that we used most of our 2 hour audio guide allowance in the wat, and had to rush the end of the Grand Palace – on reflection the balance was about right, and although we feared an extra charge for the late return of the equipment, we weren’t fined for being 15 minutes over.

Khao San Road (KSR)

Khao San Road, commonly abbreviated to KSR, is the most well-known and most tourist-orientated street in Bangkok. The roadside is overflowing with souvenir stands, bars, cafes, restaurants, massage parlours and a couple of small shopping centres, and the higher storeys are mostly taken by hostels and small B&Bs.

Khao San Road

Khao San Road (KSR), a good place to stop for a beer, a (weak) cocktail in a bucket, and/or a massage!

Chinatown Walk

One of the first things we try to do in a new place is have a walk about to get our bearings, and we often like to achieve this with a walking tour as it also shows us places we may not otherwise have found on our own.

Chinatown arch in Bangkok

The east gate entrance to Chinatown, and a very brave traffic policeman

The Chinatown area of Bangkok is a sprawled mass of backstreets and alleyways full of retail shops and wholesale merchants counters. As we first saw in Beijing, Hong Kong and also old Hanoi, each street specialises in a given item – shoes street, clothes street, ingredients street, toy street, etc. as most of the shops were devoid of customers, and with pretty much the same array of goods available in each of their neighbours, we pondered how they could all stay in business.

Main road through Chinatown, Bangkok

The main road artery through the middle of Bangkok’s Chinatown

This was one of the hardest walking maps we’ve ever tried to follow – we’re used to heading up small streets then backtracking but there were 3 occasions that we found ourselves a street away from where we should have been! Still, it was good fun getting lost in the narrow busyness.

Chinatown’s narrow backstreets (clockwise from top right): the very busy ingredients street; picked vegetables; a bored shopkeeper; mid-transaction; dried fruits; and prayers at Mangkon Kamalawat, Chinatown’s largest and liveliest temple

Jim Thompson House

Reading the reviews of our hotel in Bangkok, a few had mentioned that it was close to the Jim Thompson House, so we did a little bit of research and as our overnight train left late in the evening, we decided to see what it was all about.

To briefly summarise Jim Thompson’s story, he is credited with almost singlehandedly reviving the Thailand silk trade in the 1950’s and 60’s. Then, on a trip to Malaysia in 1967 he reportedly went for a stroll and never returned. Almost 6 months after his disappearance, his elder sister was murdered in her home in the US. To this day his body or whereabouts remains a mystery.

Jim Thompson House Museum

Jim Thompson House Museum

The house is unusual for Thai residences because it’s actually made of 6 native Thai houses joined together. Mr Thompson had them moved from different areas of Thailand and rebuilt across the river from the families and factories that manufactured his beloved silk, using the extra space to store the collection of Asian art gathered on his travels.

Jim Thompson House collage

(Clockwise from top right): The main lounge or seating area; figurine detail close-up; art collection under the main house, including a giant wood-printing block; and the reception hall containing very rare wooden statues

He was a man of great taste, and his collection is a delight to walk around. I particularly liked that when rebuilding the houses he had some of the walls reversed so he could appreciate the beautiful fretwork from the inside.

Sukhothai UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thailand

Our first stop on our trip south from Chiang Mai was at Sukhothai. Near to this small modern town are ruins of ancient Thailand:

The Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns is a UNESCO World Heritage site which consists of Sukhothai historical park, Kamphaeng Phet historical park and Si Satchanalai historical park. These historical parks preserve the remains of the three main cities of the Sukhothai Kingdom which had flourished during the 13th and 14th century CE. The Sukhothai Kingdom is viewed as having been the first of the Thai kingdoms.


Sukhothai Historical Park is divided into five zones (each with a separate entrance fee). We visited the central area which contains the heart of the old city and the remains of several wats interspersed with pools and surrounded by trees. The wooded park between the wats was a pleasant place to cycle through and even though the bikes that we rented were rather rickety it was completely flat, the paths were in good condition and nothing was very far away.

The centrepiece is Wat Mahathat, surrounded by brick walls and a moat it contains a staggering 198 chedis (conical or bell-shaped structures often containing Buddhist relics) as well as the remains of a viharn, or prayer hall, and several Buddha statues.

20140304-064238.jpgLarge Buddha statue reflected in the moat at Wat Mahathat

20140304-064251.jpgBuddhas of Wat Mahathat: Andrew imitating the 12m high standing Buddha, this seated Buddha has gold painted fingernails, walking Buddhas surround the base of the central chedi group

Although somewhat less impressive, many aspects of the site reminded us of the ruins at Angkor in Cambodia and a Khmer influence is obvious in some of the temple domes. Here though there are not nearly as many tourists so we rarely had to wait very long to get a photo with no one else in it, or to get a closer look at something that interested us.

20140304-064259.jpgKhmer style temple roofs at Wat Sri Sawai

20140304-064307.jpgThe shape of the temple roof is obvious from the remains of the pillars at Wat Sra Sri

The chedis are of various shapes including Khmer (Cambodian) and Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) influence, but the lotus bud shape is known as typically Sukhothai in style.

20140304-064315.jpgChedis of different styles (clockwise from top left): the central chedi grouping at Wat Mahathat has a lotus bud chedi surrounded by Khmer style ones, some chedis have niches which would have contained images of Buddha, a typical lotus bud shaped chedi at Wat Traphang Ngoen, us with the elephant chedi at Wat Sorasak

King Ramkhaeng the Great is the best known of the kings who ruled from Sukhothai and he is commemorated here with a monument and several bas reliefs showing key moments of his rule, most notably the carving of the earliest known example of the Thai alphabet.

20140306-135135.jpgMonument of King Ramkhaeng the Great in Sukhothai Historical Park

Si Satchanalai

The next day, on the recommendation of our guesthouse landlady, we decided to head off to another of the ruined cities in the same UNESCO listing, Si Satchanalai, about 70km (45miles) north of New Sukhothai. We rented a motorbike and set off through the countryside passing fields full of marigolds and what we think was tobacco (we saw racks of the leaves drying as well as fields full of the plants).

In the morning we explored the main area of ruins and enjoyed them even more than the ruins at Sukhothai. There were even fewer tourists and no traffic noise so that at times we were completely alone in a ruined wat with just the sound of bird song which made it seem as if we were discovering the ancient city before anyone else. The temples were also very varied and, perhaps because of the lower numbers of tourists, more accessible, it’s possible to climb some of the chedis here and have a look inside!

20140306-135142.jpgThe central temple, Wat Chedi Ched Thaeo, is a profusion of chedis in different styles

Chedis supported by elephants were a common motif in the Sukhothai period and there’s one at Si Satchanalai too. The elephant’s strength signifies the Buddhist religion being held up for 500 years. This one is much bigger than the one we saw at the Sukhothai Historical Park and has not been restored so you can see the elephants in various states of decay which meant we could try to work out how they were put together. Sadly none of the trunks remain which gives some of the statues quite a menacing look.

20140306-135155.jpgChedi at Wat Chang Lom, look closely around the base to see the remains of the large elephant statues

20140306-135203.jpgWat Nang Phaya had a large chedi that we climbed up to see the small internal chamber as well as a wall of well preserved plaster carvings. These red flowers were dropping from trees all around the site

After lunch in one of the local restaurants outside the park’s gate, we motored 5km down the riverside to Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang. The entrance gate here has Bayon style carvings of faces and the main shrine itself is also reminiscent of other Khmer architecture which we saw at Angkor. Unlike the other ruins this shrine is still an active place of worship and a working temple is found just outside the ancient walls.

20140306-135213.jpgUs with the main shrine of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat Chaliang

20140306-135224.jpgThe large Mon style chedi, Phra That Mutao, with the main shrine in the background, Bayon style carvings above the entrance gate, this old man was busking inside the ruins

After the long ride back to New Sukhothai we found a street restaurant serving the local specialty, Sukhothai-style noodles with sliced pork, crackling, peanuts, greens and a side bowl of broth. Yum.


Chiang Mai Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Chiang Mai?

Our day as elephant owners was one of the most memorable of the trip so far.


Summarise Chiang Mai in three words.

  • Elephants – are everywhere; tour agencies offer experience days similar to the one we did, the commonest kind of beer is Chang (the word for elephant in Thai), souvenirs, T-shirts and other clothes are printed with elephants, and statues and shrines represent them.
  • Wats – So many to visit in and around the city.
  • Massage – is common across Thailand but there seems to be a particular concentration of shops in Chiang Mai and we got quite a taste for a regular pummelling.

You really know you’re in Chiang Mai when…

…you’re walking along the street and from one side the ladies of the massage shop call out “hello, massaaage?” while from the road tuk-tuks and songteeows slow down and beep at you as they pass to check if you need a lift. There’s no public transport in Chiang Mai so that function is fulfilled by vans called songteeows which operate as shared taxis, or tuk-tuks which work as private taxis.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Chiang Mai?

Shoes which are easy to take off repeatedly for going into all the prayer halls of those wats. And if you visit during December and January a jumper would be a good idea as it gets quite chilly in the evening (don’t go mad though, there’s really no need for a coat!).