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Bangkok here we come!

It was time to say goodbye to Ayutthaya our home base for a few days. We were only one hour away from Bangkok, but prices in Ayutthaya were a lot cheaper than in Bangkok. We explored North Thailand and were returning to Bangkok to meet my highschool friend Patty and her boyfriend Mark. I was very excited!

We took the train to Bangkok, and then a taxi to our hostel. but the taxi driver dropped us off at a near by mall, because he didn’t really know the hostel location. So we had to drag our bags around town until we found it. We stayed at Lub-D Hostel near National Stadium. The Hostel and it’s location were great; check out my review on tripadvisor.

After checking in and freshening up, we went to pick up Patty and Mark at the Airport link station. Patty told me that they were arriving at a certain time, but they didn’t show up until 2 hours later. I was really worried and even called the hostel to check online if the airplane had arrived. Once Patty arrived, she confessed that she gave me the wrong arrival time. I was too happy to see her to get upset.

We decided to go for dinner and my first idea was… of course Hard Rock Cafe Bangkok, located walking distance from our hostel. Mark was so nice… he treated us to dinner!

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Monkey Bussiness…

Our destination this day was Lopburi, a short 45 min train ride from Ayutthaya. Lopburi was a second capital. We heard Lopburi was a great place to see monkeys. Thailand is mainly buddhist, and in this religion they think animals could be the reincarnation of a relative; therefore, they don’t harm animals; they even feed them and care for them. As soon as we arrived, we saw some monkeys walking on the power lines around the city.

Our first stop was Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, a former royal palace. Some parts of the palace are ruins now, including the elephants’ pens; other areas are exhibition spaces. My favorite part was the garden and the flowers I found in it.

After the Palace visit, we walked around and spotted a monkey carrying a baby monkey… they were so cute. Later we went to Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi’s most photographed temple. The Khmer-Lopburi style temple was originally built as a Hindu temple, but later turned into a Buddhist temple. Nowadays, the temple has been taken over by monkeys. At the entrance there is a sign that reads “Beware of monkeys snatching your purse”. After buying my entrance fee the employee gave me a wooden stick to keep the monkeys away in case of emergency. We tried to keep our distance, but the baby monkeys are so cute I had to take pictures closely.

I wanted to go back to Ayutthaya early to be able to visit the floating market. The train was delayed 2 hours, so we decided to take a bus, which turned into an adventure itself. First we hired a tricycle to take us to the bus station. Unfortunately, after waiting for 30 minutes, we realized that the bus wasn’t going to leave for a while. We asked the locals and they told us to take a minibus, but had to hire a tuk-tuk to get there. After an hour, the minibus dropped us off on the side of the highway close to Ayutthaya and we had to take another tuk-tuk to our hotel. We spent a lot of money and time, but we made it in time and we were able to go to the floating market in the afternoon.

Amazing Day: Crafts, Fruits and Locals

We had been going to bed really late for a while,so it was really hard to get Ryan to wake up at 8am! As we were ordering breakfast to go, we realized that we missed the 9am train. The next train was at 10:45am. At 11am we finally boarded the 3rd class train… No more air conditioning or assigned seats. Luckily the train ride was only 10 min. After a tuk tuk ride (motorcycle taxi), we arrived at the Bang Pa-in Palace.

The palace was really nice; different buildings had different architecture… It felt a little bit like being in Epcot Center… when you go from country to country. We went from a Thai style pavilion and shrine, to a Swiss style residence hall, a Chinese royal residence, and a neoclassic style mansion. All buildings were restored beautifully and kept pristine. You have to take your shoes off every time you enter a building and I had to wear a Thai skirt for one of the buildings.

We really enjoyed the visit to the palace, even though it was extremely hot. Once we arrived at the air-conditioned cafeteria, we did not want to leave to our next sight. We ordered our new favorite: iced Thai tea, and I observed a Thai girl making flowers with plastic ribbons. As curious as I am, I sat next to her to watch and asked her questions. It turns out, that this flower are make as offerings to Buddha, and also donations; each flower has a coin inside. Little did I know I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon learning how to make the flowers. Ryan didn’t complain since he did not want to go out into the heat. These girls, cafe employees, were so nice, they taught me 2 different flowers, and all the sudden, we got a plate of fresh fruit, sent by the owner of the cafe.

Later they called the security lady to show me how to make more complicated flowers. As they were closing the cafe, the owner send me another free drink: iced coffee… Yummy. We took some pictures before we had to leave because they were closing. Had such a great time with the locals. 

Before we took our train back to Ayutthaya, we went to Wat Niwet Thamaprawat, a buddhist temple, designed as a gothic cathedral… the best part, we had to cross the river with a monk operated cable car! 
 

Ayuthaya by Bike… Not so Easy!

After a rough arrival to Ayuthaya, we were ready to explore it. We had an amazing time in Old Sukhothai by bike, so we decided to rent a bike in Ayuthaya too.  Our Guesthouse Baan Are Gong was located on the other side of the river. To get to the town center, we had to either cross the river with a ferry or climb a huge bridge. We quickly realized that Ayuthaya was much bigger than Old Sukhothai and that the traffic here was heavier. Even though Ryan wanted to do the Bridge, after looking at the traffic, I convinced him to take the ferry.

Once on the other side of the river, we followed the Lonely planet cycling tour; the distances were long and the heat of the day was killing us… mental note: Start biking tours early!!!

Our first stop was the Ayuthaya Historical Center. This was an interesting building surrounded by a pond. It was a modern building with Thai influence. Later, we went to the TAT office (Tourist Authority of Thailand). It took us a while to find the building; when we arrived, the building was closed. It was a brand new building that looked abandoned. Luckily, we saw a sign that said that the TAT was relocated to a building next door. The temporary TAT office was a traditional Thai House. It was beautiful. The best part was the air conditioning. We sat down and enjoyed a nice video. The TAT employees were really nice, they answered all our questions and gave us some free maps. While we were resting, they shared with us their fried banana flower chips, it was really good. I liked it so much that I asked them where to get it. These girls were awesome; they gave me the whole bag to keep.

We left to our next stop Wat Chaiwatthanaram, one of Ayuthaya’s most well known temples located along the Chao Phraya river. We really enjoyed our visit. As we were leaving, we met 2 Spanish travellers, so we rode bikes together back to our guesthouses, they were staying next door to us.

We coordinated to rent a boat together to see Ayuthaya at night. As we were waiting for our new friends, it started to rain…heavily. We started to step backwards to stay dry and all of a sudden we found ourselves inside of a restaurant that was closed, but the owners were there. They offer us food and so we ordered. They gave us free soup and dessert! They were really nice. We had to cancel our boat trip… the rain didn’t stop for hours.

Stranded at Ayuthaya’s Highway

We had a great time in Sukhothai, and after having breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same restaurant, The Coffee Cup, we kept discovering new amazing Thai dishes! We wished we could stay longer, but we had  to keep going to get to Bangkok on time to meet my friend Patricia and her boyfriend.

Our next destination was Ayuthaya, about 6 hours south by bus. We bought our tickets and we were on our way. We were dropped off on the side of a highway (like I-95) with our 2 backpacks. Ryan looked at the map to find our location and realized that we were about 15 min away from our accommodation. We asked around and the locals told us that the only way to get there was by motorbike. We looked at each other and laught…our only option was to hire 2 motorbikes, and load our backpacks the best we could. The drivers were racing each other… and zig zagged around cars. Luckily we arrived safe to the guesthouse before dark.

Later, we took the ferry to the town and visited the night market. We love to try the local dishes at the fast food joints, so we ended up eating at KFC. We had a chicken with green curry and another Thai chicken dish… both really spicy but delicious.  

Cycling around Sukhothai

We woke up early to a nice sunny day in Old Sukhothai. We realized that our guesthouse was located just in front of the ruins. Sukhothai was an early kingdom of Thailand; some historians consider its foundation the beginning of Thailand as a nation.

We rented bicycles and rode around the ruins all morning.We started with Wat Saphan Hin, located in a hill. Once you climb the hill you see a big buddha standing. Later we visited Wat Si Chum. Along the way we saw ruins everywhere; it was really nice. The park closes officially at 6pm, but the lady at the bicycle shop told us to come back after 6pm for free. So we took a break for lunch and then came back to see the sunset at the ruins… it was so beautiful.

From Chiang Mai to Sukhothai

I was really happy we woke up early and went to Wat Phra that Doi Suthep, it was totally worth the effort. We returned to the guesthouse, finished packing and took a tuk-tuk to the bus station. Taking a tuk-tuk is a whole bargaining exercise, as soon as they see a foreigner they jack up the prices, so you have to bargain aggressively. It may not be a lot when you think about it, but 50 cents here and there, can really add up in 4 months.

We arrived at the bus station a little bit early, so we had to wait for a while. I entertained myself shopping at the little store. I bought some snacks and drinks for the trip and also found a little tiny Vick’s vapor rub ointment, which I used a lot the rest of the trip. We also spotted a nice V.I.P. area with yellow seats. … reserved for monks only. 

The bus ride was about 6 hours and we arrived around 9pm to old Sukhothai. I was concerned about arriving to a new place that late, but the bus dropped us off right in front of our guesthouse, really convenient. We stayed at the Old City Guesthouse for about $13 per night, the room was surprisingly good. It was clean, had aircon, a nice bathroom and we were given free bottles of water. You can see my review on Tripadvisor.

We were hungry, so we headed to the Coffee Cup restaurant, one of the 4 restaurants located on the road within walking distance from the guesthouse. The menu was extensive and the food was very affordable (about $1.5 per dish). We tried Sukhothai Noodle soup, golden cups, and sticky rice with mango for dessert. The food was delicious.

Wat Phra that Doi Suthep

It was time to leave Chiang Mai for our next destination. Even though we were a little burned out on Temples, I convinced Ryan to see another one: Wat Phra that Doi Suthep, located in the mountains about one hour away from Chiang Mai. We had to wake up early and hire a  Songthaew (pick-up truck with covered bed with seats); we avoided renting a motorbike whenever we could.

Once we arrived to Wat Phra that Doi Suthep, we took the tram up to the temple, because the guidebook said it was a “strenuous staircase”. Later, when we were leaving, we realized the staircase wasn’t that bad; we could have climbed it easily. we wasted 40 baht ($1.30) hahaha.

As soon as we arrived to the top platform, we were surprised by a free Thai dancing performance by a girls dancing school. I love cultural dances… so I really enjoyed it. Their outfits were so beautiful and they danced so gracefully, it was a delight to watch. The younger girls bent backwards all the way to the floor and put their heads between their legs; the older ones also bent but only picked up a paper bill with their mouths. Ryan had to force me to stop watching the performance to keep me on schedule.

The temple was busy with shoeless locals making offerings and tourists snapping pictures; everybody must remove their shoes before entering a buddhist temple. The gold Chedi was the main attraction and buddhists were walking around it while “praying”. I also spotted a big group of monks taking pictures around the temple, so I took one of them too.

After visiting the temple and admiring the views from Chiang Mai, we headed back to the guesthouse to check out. We wanted to have lunch and to catch our bus to Sukhothai at 3pm.

A Party in our Mouths… Discovering Real Thai Food

Our time with elephants was over before we knew it. We were hungry again… we burned a lot of energy all day. We turned to tripadvisor.com for restaurant suggestions. We started realizing that lonely planet recommendations were outdated after not finding restaurants that were listed and seeing better, centrally located guesthouses for the same or less than what we were paying.  

This is how we found Lissan Food restaurant rated #1 at that time. Most dishes were 50 baht (less than $2), we were so excited! The food was delicious, Ryan got Laab Issan, spicy minced meat with fresh herbs and lime, and I ordered Keang Kaew Wan, green curry. Right there we fell in love with Thai food, and finally understood why people are always raving about it. We liked Thai food before, but always ordered Pad Thai noodles, because it is a tasty and safe choice. After that we decided to try as many different dishes as we could during our time in Thailand. Here I also discovered my new favorite drink Thai Tea…Yummmy. I had to order a second one; I couldn’t stop drinking it.

After a lovely dinner, we walked around Chiang Mai and admired the remains of the gorgeous brick city wall. As the sun came down, we decided to get a sweet treat. We went to McDonald’s hoping to get a cheap ice cream. We also love to look at the menus for items only found in that country. In Thailand we found corn, broccoli and Pineapple pies instead of apple pie.

A Day with Elephants

After our close encounter with Tigers, we had another amazing experience: we spend a day with elephants at Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. This was not a zoo. We fed, rode and bathed with elephants!
The park is currently home to 17 elephants including 2 babies.

We started by learning how to approach the elephants, then we fed them sugar cane and bananas. We even learned that when elephants are well fed and healthy, their droppings don’t stink… Ryan can confirm this… he smelled it. 

Later, we learned how to get on top of them and ride them. I was really scared and my elephant kept moving and moving; it was scary!
I thought: “I don’t want to do it again”, but they convinced me that the other elephants were better, and thank God I tried it again.
We did a small test ride and learned the commands to walk, stop, and turn!

After a nice lunch break, we started our ride with our elephants. Ryan went in front as the driver and I was the passenger. It was awesome, but at times scary especially when going down hill.  Elephants scratch their bodies with the trees, so every time we walked near trees I had to lift my legs.

To finish our nice day, we thanked our elephants by giving them a bath. Elephant’s skin is really thick, therefore we had to brush them really hard… They loved it! What a wonderful experience!