Our tour from Bangkok continued to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There we saw Wat Phra Mahathat, famous for the Buddha head embedded in a tree’s roots, the ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, with its three dominant chedis, Wat Ratchaburana, and Wat Chai Wattanaram.
Just south of Ayutthaya is Bang Pa-in or Summer Palace. It covers a huge area and features architectural styles obviously influenced by palaces in Europe. There are cherubs and statues that could be at home in Versailles. On the manicured grassy lawns, there are topiary elephants and the buildings throughout the complex are diverse. There’s a Chinese-style royal palace, a colourfully painted look-out tower, a European-style residence and coach house, the most picturesque for me was a Thai-style pavilion in the middle of the lake.
Our journey continued to Wat Phra Phutthabat to see its enormous snake-adorned staircase and footprint of Buddha (in all honesty I couldn’t make head nor tail of it) before heading to Lopburi (Monkey Town).
Despite Lopburi’s significance as an ancient Siam capital without the monkeys, the town would be insignificant. The monkeys are the main reason to go.
As we pulled up by the train tracks I could see them appearing in a constant stream. They have invaded the town, climbing and clambering between power lines and rooftops, infesting the streets, scaling buildings and stealing whatever they can. Walking through the monkey’s turf means being constantly on your guard, as they will steal your bags and hats. The monkeys have made Prang Sam Yot temple their own. It is one massive playground for hundreds and hundreds of monkeys, fabulous for photographers but not great if you have a fear of small animals.
Chiang Rai province shares its borders with Myanmar – Burma and Laos known as the Golden Triangle. It was here we took a trip on the Mekong River. I will never ever moan about Tenerife’s ‘looky looky’ men again, they are amateurs when compared to the people of Laos who start learning their trade from as young as 4 or 5 year of age.
The final leg for this part of our journey was to the hot springs at Mae Ka Chan, which locals believe relieve a host of ailments. They really are HOT, so hot you can boil an egg!
And just when you think you been totally templed out you discover my favourite Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple). It’s unlike anything you will ever see elsewhere. It is not just picturesque and exquisite but also unique. It is more like an art exhibition than a Buddhist temple and it will touch you no matter what religion you follow.
As the name suggests, it is white but the impact of the gleaming whiteness is jaw dropping. To get to the temple you are lead around a garden where shrunken heads of movie characters like Batman and Freddy Kruger hang from the trees. You continue through hell where desperate hands grasp at you in a sea of white lotus blossoms shimmering with hundreds of tiny mirrors and you continue over the bridge to finally reach nirvana.
While the outside is white, inside the softly lit main temple the walls are filled with a colourful mural. Photos aren’t allowed in the building, but some people have managed to snap some HERE. There are lots of characters to spot from Harry Potter and Kung Fu Panda, to Michael Jackson and Elvis, the destruction of the Twin Towers, space, and Star Wars.
The temple is a mix of the bizarre, beautiful and creepy, even the loos are all GOLD!
At the end of a superb visit, we continued through lush jungle to Chiang Mai, a fragrant mountain retreat but that’s the subject for another blog.