Travel

Ayutthaya: Palaces, Ruins, and Elephants Oh My! Part 2 Monastery of the Elephant

Elephant Trekking Among the Ruins

IMG_0366My favourite part of the trip to Ayutthaya was the elephant trek. From the Pang Chang Elephant Camp, two mahouts took us out among some of Ayutthaya’s ruins, including Wat Chang (Monastery of the Elephant). This was a terrific way to see everything. At first I was concerned when I laid eyes on the sharp goading tools (Aṅkuśa) that the mahouts carried, but through the trip I realized it was used like a bridle and reins are used on a horse, to guide the animal when necessary. The tool would need to be sharp or the elephant would not feel anything through such thick skin. I had read some reviews of the Pang Chang establishment that mentioned mistreatment of the elephants, but I saw nothing of the kind.  The mahouts were really good with their animals and the elephants seemed to enjoy the work. One of the mahouts explained that he bonded with his elephant when it was 2 years old and has been with her for 16 years.

At one point, both barefooted mahouts jumped off their mounts to take photos of us with our cameras. The elephants were docile giants and you could buy fruits to feed them. I was as fascinated by the elephant’s slow plodding gait, the way they drank water at the drink station, and their attention to each other. This was a seriously cool experience on a perfect day to be outside.

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One of the mahouts with his goading tool.

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A distance shot upon approach of Wat Chang. Photo credit: Stephanie Brinkman.

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Japanese tourists rounding the bell shaped chedi of Wat Chang (Monastery of the Elephant).

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Buddha sitting below the chedi at Wat Chang.

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We passed this well-tended Buddha along our tour.

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Now this is exactly what I wanted! Traveling among ruins, though I never found the name of this site.

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Magnificent! Not seen in the photos: a small group of people were recording a music video among the ruins.

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Such a great day! Time to give the elephants a fruit snack and say goodbye.

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Ayutthaya: Palaces, Ruins, and Elephants Oh My! Part 1 Bang Pa-In

I had one of my best travel experiences when we day-tripped from Bangkok to Ayutthaya to see the summer palace Bang Pa, ruins of Wat Mahathat, and explore some ruins by way of elephant. I also really enjoyed Wat Mahathat which I explored on foot and got to see the famous sandstone Buddha head in the bodhi tree.

My travelling companions hired Nacorn, the driver who had picked up them up at the airport, for the whole day and we were off to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was my must see destination after watching Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach visit on their travel program, Departures. Thanks, you guys!

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Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

IMG_0328Nacorn suggested the summer palace, Bang Pa, before we hit our target destinations. The palace is open for tourists since King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) uses it infrequently for special occasions. One of my companions who was dressed in shorts and a tank top was furnished with a traditional Thai wrap to cover herself with. She was not allowed to enter until she was “dressed politely”. We all got a good laugh from the resulting mismatch. The property was peaceful and indulgent. Some of the treasures inside were absolutely amazing, like a dragon figure made of camel bone or ivory. Photos are not allowed, but I did capture a few exterior shots of some of the more ornate buildings. Although beautiful, this wasn’t the type of experience I typically seek; most of the buildings were constructed in the late 1800s in Western style.

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Elephant topiary in the palace grounds.

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Front exterior of the personal residence – Heavenly Light (Wehart Chamrun). No photos allowed of the interior.

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Fu dogs draped with marigolds in the Thai style at a small palace alter.

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Foreground: Divine Seat of Personal Freedom (Aisawan Thiphya-At Pavilion) Background: Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode (Warophat Phiman)

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Sages’ Lookout (Ho Withun Thasana)

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Bangkok: Try Something New

Thai Massage

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Thailand is famous for its signature massage techniques so I headed to the hotel’s spa for that quintessential experience, my first Thai massage. The room had a great relaxing atmosphere, but this was no gentle experience, but was nonetheless 90 minutes of pain/bliss followed by a cup of tea. The masseuse was actually on top of the table with me to do much of the massage. This massage left me sore for a couple of days, sort of like I’d been exercising. It’s no wonder that it did since the technique used is deep muscle massage.

The second massage I had was off property and seemed like a more traditional set up. There were several closed off partitions for each patron with a mat on the floor. There was another client next to my partition and I could occasionally hear the rustling of the other masseuse’s clothing as she worked on them. Otherwise the room was very calm and the spa ensured this atmosphere by disallowing photos, silent mobiles, etc. The masseuse was different than the one at the hotel: she was very thorough and even though it was a shorter massage than the first, she even massaged my feet, head, and ears. She used her elbows, arms, knees, legs, and hands depending on which muscle of mine she was manipulating. She also used some kind of oil that might have been for muscle soreness because although this felt like a deeper massage than the first, I was not sore afterwards.

Patpong

We spent an evening in Patpong wandering the vendor stalls and people watching across from a dance bar. We estimated that about half of the beautiful, bikini clad dancers were lady boys, possibly including the middle-aged proprietor dressed in a muumuu sporting a Samurai hair cut. I watched as one dancer tried to entice a man to come into the bar by putting the man’s hand over the front of her bikini bottom. I suppose a lady boy was proving something to a tourist, but who knows.

Throughout our travels among the stalls, men would approach to invite passersby to a pingpong show. I was able to snap a photo of one of the sexy show menus. You can click it for a better view, but be warned that it’s NSFW.

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The vendors were also aggressive. One women even pulled me over to her stall with such a friendly and enthusiastic attitude, picked out an item of clothing, and held it against me. I rewarded her for the approach, and purchased something because she was good! None of the items were very expensive by Canadian standards.

That evening over drinks at the hotel bar, I was regaled with my companions’ adventures from the evenings before I arrived. The funniest of these stories happened in the Patpong night market. A man was trying to entice passers by, calling out to them to “try something new” and he was hitting the tops of cars and tuk tuks with a flagellation tool. He represented an S&M venue.

Food

Already being a fan of Thai food, I knew this adventure was going to be culinary! I purposely tried many things that were new to me or things I cannot get back home. Here are some of the more memorable meals. Some of them are Chinese dishes and some are Thai.

 Goose Web Soup with Sea Cucumber and Mushroom

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The sea cucumber had no discernible flavour, but the consistency was something I could not bear. Sadly, I only got past one bite. I did enjoy the mushrooms and ate the goose web, however. Goose web is the webbed toes of a goose foot and is similar to a chicken wing in the amount of meat and way you eat around the small bones. It had soaked up the flavour of the dish that tasted mostly of Chinese 5 spice, which I really like.

Tom Yum Kung

I discovered a new favourite dish! This soup is hot, sour, and flavourful. The version I ate had so many ingredients adnd is really a complete meal in itself: tofu, scallops, squid, lemongrass, a bit of coconut milk, chilies, and more. I loved it so much that I brought some flavour packets home so I can try to make it at home. I’ve also ordered it from both Thai places in town but they just don’t compare to this first one I tried. Sadly, I didn’t capure a photo of the soup that captured my heart.

Morning Glory

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This tasty green stem and leaf vegetable was sautéed with sliced garlic and served as a side dish. I found it to be a bit like collards or mustard greens, but not as tart.

IMG_0789Cococut Prawn Curry

My hotel served a prawn curry that I cannot recall the name of. The plucked prawn heads were served on the plate in what I can only describe as a creative presentation. The dish was mediocre, but the prawns were delicious.

Mu Grob – Crispy Pork

We walked some distance a bit late one night to seek out a specific street vendor selling this delicacy. Crispy pork is an appetizing  deep fried pork belly that is sliced, served over a cold salad, and comes with a spicy sauce made from chilies, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic.

Bird’s Nest

Sadly, although I am brave enough in my culinary exploits, I missed out on this experience because I was simply too cheap to try this expensive delicacy.

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 Tribe collecting score: 3

  • Travel
  • Adventure
  • Food