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Seven Wonders of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is one of my favourite places to visit in Thailand. It has a great selection of historical temples, it’s very easy to navigate and has a great foodie scene.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was almost burnt to the ground by invading Burmese armies. The temple ruins that remain are impressive, but vary greatly in condition.

Although it is one of the most popular areas of Thailand to visit, I went in December (peak season) and it never felt crowded.

Take the train there

Most visitors to Ayutthaya will travel from Bangkok, and whilst there are plenty of day tours from the city, I’d recommend taking a train instead and spending a couple of nights. The scenery for the 90 minute ride is gorgeous, and when an ordinary class ticket costs just 15 baht (approximately 30p), it just makes sense!

Thailand Train

See the temples by bicycle

Cycling around the pancake-flat historical park is definitely the highlight of my visit to Ayutthaya. Most of the temples are located close to each other in the central island of the city, but even those outside the city river border are within a 20 minute ride. Exploring by bicycle gives complete freedom to see temples of choice. Some of my favourite, and the easiest to reach, include Wat Maha That, Wat Phra Si Samphet and Wat Lokkaya Sutharam.

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That - Buddha's head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Maha That – Buddha’s head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Visit the Floating market

The busy and colourful floating market is great to spend an hour or so wandering around. It hosts around 200 stalls selling a variety of food, handicrafts and souvenirs, although I definitely spent most of my time feeding and playing with some goats penned up by the river.

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Floating Market

Food Stalls

Goats @ Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

See The Million Toy Museum

This quirky museum is a perfect side attraction during a day of temple visits. Whether it actually holds a million different toys I’m not entirely sure, but it definitely brought back childhood memories of toys forgotten.

Million Toy Museum

Million Toy Museum

Donkey & Shrek

Donkey & Shrek

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Army of Robots

Army of Robots

Creepy Dolls

Creepy Dolls

Take a River Cruise

For a different temple perspective and for a peek into local river life, a boat ride along the Chao Phraya and Lopburi Rivers is a must. I took an hour long cruise just before sunset.

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Pick a Good Temple for Sunset

Sunset at a temple in Ayutthaya is a must-see, but make sure you pick the right one. Everyone recommends Wat Chai Watthanaram, and whilst it was incredible, it’s also extremely busy. A good spot if you’re looking for solitude is at Wat Phukao Thong, a short ride out of the city. You can climb the stupa here for a great sunset shot over the surrounding fields.

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Phukhao Thong

Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument - located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument – located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

River sunset

River sunset

Fit your Ayutthaya Visit around a Festival

Like a lot of Thailand, Ayutthaya hosts a good amount of festivals throughout the year. Whilst I was visiting in December, I was lucky to encounter the Thai Life Festival, which was spread out amongst the temple ruins. I didn’t attend the pricey sound and light show, but instead spend hours walking around the various food stalls, market shops, craft fairs and amusement parks.

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Krabi Cliffs

Friday Photo Diary – 18th March

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

Last Saturday I started the tedious two day journey back to Yangon from Hsipaw in the eastern Shan state. Starting early, I boarded the once daily train back over the Goteik Viaduct, arriving in Pyin Oo Lwin by late afternoon. From here I was advised to take a bus back to Mandalay, which would shave three or four hours off my travel time. Finding a tuk tuk to take me to the local bus station proved difficult, but after some heavy negotiations we agreed a price of just less than $1. Assuming that the drive would be just a short distance (Pyin Oo Lwin is a relatively small town) I was surprised to realise twenty minutes later, and having checked Google Maps, that I was several miles out of the town and on my way towards Mandalay. Could it be that I’d negotiated a $1 ride all the way to the city? Two and a half, rather bumpy, hours later and the answer was apparently, yes.

 

After a very brief nights sleep in Mandalay, I boarded another train south to Yangon, departing at 6am. This is one journey where travelling first class does not give any more comfort above lower, and I spent the entire ride wishing I’d paid for an $80 flight instead. Fifteen hours in a carriage which I doubted the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, and I eventually found myself in a luxury airport hotel in Yangon, for the short six hours before my flight out of Burma.

 

After an emotional goodbye to a country that I couldn’t help but fall in love with, and I was back in Bangkok once again – my eighth time in the capital. Reunited with Jeni, we spent the next two days shopping, eating and drinking gin (almost impossible to source in Burma).

 

On Wednesday the two of us took a far more comfortable Thai train from Bangkok down to Surat Thani, travelling overnight in an air-conditioned sleeper carriage, and from there a short bus ride to Krabi town; the starting point of our Thai island hopping.

 

Today we left the comforts of our hotel swimming pool, and explored the number one local attraction – Tiger Cave Temple, or Wat Tham Seua. After a very sweaty climb up 1,237 uneven steps, we made it to the top and were rewarded with incredible views over Krabi’s landscapes; karst cliffs, crystal-blue rivers and green plantations.

 

I also got to try out my new camera, an Asian version of GoPro I purchased in Bangkok – see if you can guess which photo was taken using it!
Here are my favourite five for the week:

Goteik Viaduct

Goteik Viaduct

Krabi

Krabi

Temple details

Temple details

View from Tiger Cave Temple

View from Tiger Cave Temple

Laem Sala Beach

Hua Hin – not just a beach resort

I left Bangkok again at the beginning of August and took a train four hours south to the coastal city of Hua Hin. Hua Hin has a slightly undeserved reputation as a has-been seaside resort (some say it was Thailand’s first tourist beach spot), but I really liked it and I didn’t hit the beach once! The night market there is especially good, and there are plenty of bars and a decent nightlife scene.

Hua Hin

Hua Hin

I stayed at the south side of the city, in a gorgeous and charming boutique hotel called Baan Talay Dao Resort. Situated directly on the beach and equipped with a cool water swimming pool, the hotel was perfect for a lazy afternoon.

From here it was just a ten minute drive past small fishing area to Wat Khao Takiab, a hilltop temple that has been overrun by monkeys. Having been in Thailand for two months I still hadn’t seen any wildlife, so these temple monkeys gave me hours of excitement and photo opportunities! The temple itself wasn’t particularly special, compared to others I have visited, but the views from the top were magnificent and the food stalls surrounding it were good.

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Baby Monkey

Baby Monkey

Monkey Shower

Monkey Shower

Without question the highlight of my stay in Hua Hin, and one reason alone to stay there, was a day trip to Sam Roi Yot National Park. About 60km away, the drive there is through pretty rural areas and takes approximately one and a half hours. Khao Sam Roi Yot means ‘the mountain with 300 peaks’ and it was the first established coastal national park in Thailand.

On arrival at the park entrance, located literally on the beach, I hired a private longtail boat to take me around the nearby islands and then through a small fishing village. The scenery around the mainland is made up of beautiful white, sandy beaches, forest and stunning limestone mountains. The ocean surrounding this is dotted with karst islands, and I’ve read that pods of dolphins are regularly seen (unfortunately I didn’t spot any on my visit). The fishing village was authentic, quaint and super colourful, and the locals sailing by on their boats waved as they passed my boat.

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Fishermen

Fishermen

After an hour or two of exploring the waterways I was dropped just offshore of a gorgeous beach, Laem Sala, which was literally deserted. During my full day at Khao Sam Roi Yot I only saw a handful of Western tourists, and very few domestic ones too. I spent a while walking along the beach, before heading in land to enquire about visiting the most famous attraction in the park, Phra Nakhon Cave.

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

The cave is located a 430m climb up some rocky steps from the beach and consists of two chambers, both of which are open from the top allowing rays of light into the cave. Inside the main chamber is a pavilion, built for King Rama V, and when the sunlight catches this it gives it an amazing, mystical feel. I hired a guide to take me up to the cave, but this really wasn’t necessary. The cave is easy to find and the path leading up to it, whilst hard work to climb, is a direct route. My guide was a Burmese boy, perhaps around 8 years old, who didn’t speak any English, so as a guide he wasn’t particularly useful!

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

With my guide and his sister

With my guide and his sister

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

There are opportunities for longer trekking through the forested parts of the park, and there is accommodation (luxury hotels and gorgeous beach huts) around the beach area and just outside the park grounds. During peak travel months (November to May) a huge variety of migratory birdlife, and also wildlife including antelope, various species of langur, porcupine and deer can be seen within the National Park. Although I heard the occasional monkey call during my hike to and from the cave, I wasn’t lucky enough to see anything.

Temple Monkeys

Temple Monkeys

Luang Prabang

A post, at last

First, an apology, to my family and anyone else who has been eagerly checking my blog whilst I’ve been away and found nothing from me, other than a couple of dated Istagram photos.

My first six weeks of travelling Southeast Asia have been incredible, emotional, and rather traumatic at times, but I’ve seen and experienced so many amazing things in a short space of time that I felt ready to start writing finally. I’m currently staying on the coast of southern Thailand, about three hours from Bangkok in a small city called Rayong. With a week to waste in Bangkok waiting for my Chinese visa to be processed, I thought I’d take a mini-break to see a different area, catch up with family over skype and start sorting through the tonne of photos I’ve taken so far. I’ve splurged on a slightly nicer hotel (I have a bathtub, desk and the comfiest bed I’ve possibly ever slept in) to ‘ahem’ assist with my plans.

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I’ll start with a brief overview of where I’ve been so far, and will follow up on the highlights with further blog posts later.

Starting in Bangkok on 9th June, I spent five days in the city before heading north. I packed a fair amount into my first few days, including Wat Pho, Jim Thompson’s house, a local boat ride through the city rivers, a bicycle tour around Bangkok and into the nearby jungle, an afternoon cuddling kitties at Caturday Cafe, shopping at Chatuchak and various night markets and three separate nights out on the infamous Khao San road.

Wat Pho

Buddhas at Wat Pho

Caturday Cafe

Caturday Cafe

Bangkok market

Bangkok market

Slightly over the craziness and noise of Bangkok, I caught a night bus up to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. The journey was nine hours of stomach-churning, panic-inducing, sleepless hell. Being seated on the top floor of a double-decker travelling way too fast through monsoonal storms, I would recommend to anyone else that the train is a much more comfortable, and safer option! My fear was confirmed last week when I met a couple whose bus travelling the same route toppled off the road into a small river.

I love Chiang Mai. Full of friendly locals, delicious street food and a lively night scene, I happily spent over two weeks there making new friends, visiting beautiful temples and eating, a lot. My list of highlights from here is huge, but includes seeing a local football match (Chiang Mai vs Ayuthaya), getting a bamboo tattoo, visiting my favourite temple at the top of Doi Suthep and watching a ladyboy cabaret show.

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

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I also took two separate trips to Pai, a small hippie village set in a picturesque valley just three hours north.

Pai

Pai

After Chiang Mai I caught a local bus up to Chiang Rai and spent a day visiting the two strangest buildings I’ve ever seen. Built fairly recently by different architects, the White Temple and Black House are at opposite ends of the city, both geographically and architecturally. The Black House is full of dark objects, including animal skulls, crocodile skins and cages enclosing huge snakes and an owl. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is beautifully designed, with mirrored glass embedded into the stonework, although work on the compound is still ongoing.

Black House, Chiang Rai

Skulls at the Black House

White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple

White Temple

Hands from hell

After a rather early start to cross the border into Laos, I boarded a two-day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pakbeng en route. The scenery along the Mekong was stunning, but the boat was cramped and uncomfortable. Having spent seven hours on the first day packed onto a bench with no head rest or leg room, I spent the second day sat at the back of the boat with a few friends, several locals, two chickens and three freshly caught fish – a much more comfortable, and authentic experience.

Mekong River

Mekong River

Slow boat

The boat

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Countryside

The time I spent in Luang Prabang is almost certainly my favourite part of my trip so far. I didn’t particularly love the city, although the night bazaar was outstanding, but the countryside around was stunning. Spending an afternoon at Kuang Si Falls, the 40-minute drive there was through villages surrounded by rice fields, small rivers and mountain valleys.

Luang Prabang

Sunset in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

I took a two-day trek in the area just north of Luang Prabang, and spent the night in a Khmu tribe village.

Trekking in Laos

Trekking in Laos

Hmong Girl

Hmong Girl

Khmu Village

Khmu Village

After Luang Prabang I took a minibus to Vang Vieng, a small town once known only for its parties and drunken tubing. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even ride a tube down the Nam Song, and instead spent four days relaxing by the river, eating pie and mash, and shamefully watching at least two full seasons of Friends.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

After a short stay in Vientiane to visit the COPE centre, an extremely informative and inspirational centre established to treat victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO), I headed back to Bangkok. Taking a short train ride across the Laos/Thailand border, I then boarded an overnight train to the city.

COPE, Vientiane

COPE, Vientiane

Luang Prabang night market

Luang Prabang night market

My plans from here are to spend a few weeks on the southern islands, before flying over to China (visa-dependent, of course).

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100 Days ‘Til Summer

I have realised suddenly that the days are almost into double digits and the three-month mark is closing in. My arms will soon start to feel like a hypodermic pin cushion (one injection down; ten to go). And with inoculations, bank appointments and extra work shifts, my schedule is becoming hard to manage.

Yet it will all soon be worth it. The months of working seven-day weeks, avoiding clothes shops and getting far less sleep than I need to function will definitely soon be worth it. In 100 days, I will be fleeing the beautiful Cotswolds for an altogether more terrifying – yet enticing – destination.

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I don’t have my whole trip planned out, but here is my rough itinerary for the first few months:

Starting slowly in Bangkok, I would really like to spend a few days getting to know the city. Visiting the must-see attractions and shopping at Chatuchak market are on my list, but I also plan to wander around the suburbs and along the riverbank that makes this metropolis so accessible.
Afterwards, I plan to move north to explore Ayutthaya and Sangkhlaburi, before heading nearer the Myanmar border to see a different, more rural side of Thailand.

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Following months of long working hours and desperately needing to relax, I have promised myself a summer on the Thai islands. By July/August the Andaman coast will be well into the monsoon season, so I plan to stay on Koh Tao and spend my days hiking, eating and learning to dive – a lifetime fear of mine that I’ve challenged myself to overcome.

At the end of August, China awaits. Whilst I have a few ideas and surprises lined up, from here I plan to not plan as much.

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