Monday 18th December 2000 Day 6

The alarm woke me up at 5:30am. Wow! A full night's sleep! Yet despite our sweet slumber we all probably felt the most tired this morning.

Our pick up was at 7:30am for our hastily arranged trip to Ayutthya. The coach journey up was a bit tedious and felt like a 'coach trip'. The tedium was broken every now and again as we passed something of interest. Like a complete family of six riding on a single moped! We also passed several Spirit House shops along the way. They sold several different styles, from small, bird-table size houses, [ideal for the kids to play with their Buddhist Monk Action Man, or Buddhist Nun Barbie!] to very large constructions, of 'Wendy House' proportions. But without doubt, every home we passed had one in their garden. Each family, placing their offerings daily, in exchange for good luck and protection.

It's a part of traditional Thai custom that has transcended into the psyche of the modern day city of Bangkok.

Even our hotel had it's own spirit house!

Our first stop was Bang Pa-in, the summer palace of the King and Queen.

It felt a bit like Portmeirion because of the differing architecture. Only the Pagoda in the centre of the lake felt like Thailand.

They had a Portuguese style lighthouse, mid-west America style ranch house, a Chinese style royal residence that cost over $80 million to build, and has only been slept in once to entertain Bill Clinton. (We-hey! - we all know what kind of entertainment he likes!)

At times it felt as if we were being herded, but I guess there no other way of organising a tour with a tight schedule.

We did have 20 minutes free time to explore on our own. That was just enough time for us to rush around the Chinese mansion, run up and down the lighthouse, and feed the Koi carp in the lake and be back in the bus by 10am!

Next stop was Wat Ratchaburana, which was really amazing. Making the coach journey all worthwhile.

It was a ruined temple sacked by the invading Burmese during the 18th century.

All the Buddha statues had their heads lopped off as a symbolic gesture of disrespect!

We climbed up steps into the main chedi but we didn't dare go down the steps into the darkness of its bowels. The stone steps were near vertical and worn smooth by centuries of braver feet than mine.

The weather was getting incredibly warm, much hotter than yesterday.

We again had some free time of our own to explore the site but it was just nice just to sit down in the shade of a Bo tree and relax for a bit. You could see why people chose to meditate.

It's all you can do in weather like this!

We left Wat Ratchaburana stopping briefly at a craft shop where Hannah bought a pot, and we bought a silk scarf for my mum. We found the undivided attention of our own personal shopping assistant who followed us around carrying our basket for us a little off-putting.

The last stop was Wat Phra Si San Phet, another collection of ancient chedi, which was spoilt slightly because the whole area was being prepared for a festival that evening.

Lighting rigs and electrical cable were strewn all over the place.

The kind of ambience that we found earlier at Wat Ratchaburana was ruined here!

Alongside the site was a very large chapel that housed a massive golden Buddha. (Phra Mongkhon Bhophit) Incredibly impressive but unfortunately again tarnished by a money tree placed right besides the statue. What exactly do they worship again?

There was even a tourist shop selling all sorts of tat inside the temple. You had to take your shoes off to get in, but once in, you could buy yourself a tacky plastic Buddha! [I later learned that the money tree was in fact a method of donating to the chapel. You place your paper money on the tree to be collected later. It all makes sense when its explained and how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusions!]

Again we had some free time so we walked through a large market that had descended for the festival. The past week Ayutthya had been celebrating being a World Heritage site. It is a shame that we couldn't of stayed here for the evening show, for which they were preparing. In the dark all those electrical cables would soon disappear and the temples would be lit up in "a festival of light spectacular".

108 auspicious alms bowls

Walking through the market was an experience. The stalls were so tightly packed that they were joined together to form a sort of tunnel effect. We walked deeper into the maze, enclosed from the outside world, astonished at what we saw being sold. Mountains of what looked like green marzipan glace fruit shapes? Strange meat from what could only be alien animals! Even darkly pink candy floss was on offer to tempt the foolish.

Talking of which, Hannah desperately wanted to drink the water from freshly cut coconuts but that rusty machete and dirty straws was enough for us to say No! The smell of cooking and the frantic chattering of the locals was enough to make my head spin!

We eventually made it to the boat at 1:15pm.

My stomach needed food and I was desperately light headed. Perhaps I was sun stroked! As the fool that I am, I had forgotten to bring my hat with me to Ayutthya.

The food was a self-service buffet, mostly meat dishes but we managed to fill our plates with veggie stuff! It was just what my stomach needed, although the standard of the food wasn't fantastic.

Thai flag

We were the first to finish our lunch below deck, and so had the choice of all the seats upstairs. We sat outside at the front of the boat but the heat was far too intense. Fainting would have been a certainty!

We moved into the covered area for some respite, and opened the window in case of any photo opportunities. But the whole trip along the river was very disappointing. I expected to see glimpses of Thai village life, of rice paddies, and buffaloes but all we saw were trees, and then warehouses! Not at all exciting!

We did pass one village that was interesting. It was all wooden huts on stilts nestling in the shadow of a towering ornate Buddhist temple. Nearby a tree was dripping with large grey birds. If only I had a large super zoom lens. My feeble x125 wasn't big enough to capture that wildlife show! The nearer we got to Bangkok we ventured out onto the sun deck. Luckily, there seemed to be more of a breeze.We arrived back at the River City shopping centre at 5pm. Then a nightmare began.

We were shown to a taxi driver, and told to follow him. This we did, as we were too tired to walk. We knew it would be rush hour traffic and probably take us 30 minutes to get to our hotel, which was about 15 minutes walking distance. After twenty minutes crawling through Bangkok I realised that we hadn't turned right onto Silom Road. Next we were going past Lumpini Park, in the opposite direction. It was at this point we knew he wasn't taking us to our hotel. We thought about getting out at this point, and walking but we were sardine-tight in this people carrier. Also we were at the very back and unable to make a quick exit. On and on, and around and around we went. Half an hour later, after going in a complete circle I caught a glimpse of Lumpini Park once again. I'm convinced the driver had taken a wrong turn. We must have gone in a complete circle. What a twat! We then took a turn down a dark alleyway. Well, Julie's faced just dropped! We both felt as if we were being abducted and taken to a hiding place to be raped and pillaged! The alleyway became darker and narrower. We drove through the back entrance of a large building and ended up in a yard, with four seedy looking Thai men loitering near a reception area. We stopped, and the German couple got out. It was their hotel! We couldn't believe it. Remind me never to book the Golden Palace Hotel! We went back out the way we came in, and turned onto Sumkhvit Road and dropped another couple of at the Pacific Hotel. That left only us in the taxi. This was rush hour, and we were sometimes stationary for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. The hotel seemed so far away. Two hours after getting into the taxi we were still held captive. Julie was literally climbing the walls of the cab. She was really upset by it all. I wasn't too chuffed either! It felt like a hostage situation. Eventually I recognised a few landmarks, and was confident that I knew that Silom Road was just around the corner, so whilst we stopped, we quickly opened the door, waved goodbye to the stupid idiot of a driver, and made a run for it! We walked to our hotel, which was almost just around the corner, and with it being a one-way road system we knew that we walked there quicker than the taxi!

Whilst I went to get cash out of our safety deposit box, Julie went to see the Kuoni rep in room 315 to complain. The rep couldn't believe the route the driver took, and was very apologetic. By now it was 7:10pm, and we had a pick up in twenty minutes to take us to the Loy Nava dinner cruise. It had to be a Wonder Woman spin into our glad rags and back down to the lobby. On the way down, as if our day hadn't been eventful enough, our lift stopped at the 12th floor to let someone in. The impatient little shit repeatedly pressed the 'close doors' button, not stopping until the lift eventually complied. But when they did shut the lift didn't move. The doors were shut, and we weren't moving! Then a calm electronic voice said, "Please do not be alarmed. We are experiencing a technical difficulty"!! Now THAT would have just finished us off! Two hours held hostage in a taxi followed by suffering a night in a lift with an obsessive compulsive. Fortunately a few seconds later, we started moving again. Julie was however an irreversible shaking bag of nerves by now. The fact that this dinner cruise was also an unknown quantity didn't help either. It was another Internet booking. We had visions of another kidnapping!

When our pick arrived the people carrier was full of normal looking people, (apart from a German couple with a weird sense of fashion) We could still of been taken down some dark alley, robbed, battered and called funny names, but somehow having normal fellow passengers gave us some confidence. We then turned down a dark alleyway! Aaaargh!! Luckily I recognised it from this morning as the way to the River City complex, so calming Julie's nerves slightly. We stood at the pier to wait for our barge, and when it pulled up it looked incredible, all lit up! Hooray! An Internet booking that worked!

We got on the boat and were given a small garland each. We were shown to our table, which was reserved for Mr. Collin! (In Thai they write their surnames first)

We placed our garlands on the table unaware of their significance in a good luck ritual. A kind waitress showed us what to do, and placed it around a lotus flower to the left of our side plates.

Unfortunately Julie didn't have a flower to symbolically protect, which triggered a wave of bad luck visions of boats sinking and planes crashing! Earlier in the day Julie also ran out of coins to fill the 108 alms bowls, which was playing on her mind.

At least one of the superstitions went her way. They say that people with big, long ears will live a long life! I suppose when struck by fear you become selective of what you can believe in. The food was delicious, but Julie's bad luck was to go veggie tonight, and she didn't appear to enjoy any of the choices on offer. She wasn't having a good time at all. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The highlight was seeing Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn all lit up for a light and sound show. We had to move to the front of the boat to appreciate the whole effect, but Julie didn't bother. She just wanted to get back to the hotel as soon as she could. I think she was also pre-occupied with tomorrow's flight. Having survived the boat trip the impending doom as ordained by the lotus flowers, which were cleverly disguised as ant carriers, as we soon discovered once the warmer land air opened up the petals, must be accumulating for the one-hour internal flight to Chiang Rai. The Loy Nava would have been a perfect ending to anyone's stay in Bangkok, but because of the taxi abduction our evening was very tense. Thankfully our taxi back to our hotel only took three minutes!

Arriving at our hotel the concierge approached us with a message to say that a gentleman from River King Cruises was waiting for us in the lobby. Fuming would too mild a word to describe our initial feelings towards him. We were surprised though to see this short sweaty representative almost on his knees begging for forgiveness, apologising for his company's error in taking us on a traumatic mystery tour of rush hour downtown Bangkok. He even handed us a bottle of wine and a box of chocolate. I'm sure cock-ups like this would jeopardise their contract with Kuoni, however he was really sincere, and genuinely very very sorry! In fact in was quite embarrassing to see a grown man grovel! We ended feeling sorry for him.

Up to our room, and we did most of the packing before going to bed at 11:30pm. Setting the alarm for 4:30am! We're all starting to get weary now, in need of leaving Bangkok! Having really enjoyed the crazy pace, but now my body is about to fall apart if I don't get some relaxation.

Day 7>>

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