Traveling with a purpose is essential to me these days. It’s akin to like putting on a different pair of glasses and viewing through it from another perspective or dimension. I’ve been to Bangkok a couple of times before, but none of my previous leisure trips is quite like this study trip.
Our sole purpose of this trip is to learn more about the role of Thailand in Southeast Asia and the history of the Ayutthaya Historial Park. We even had a reputable professor in Southeast Asian Studies onboard with us to provide more insights during the trip.
It is a one-of-kind experience, and I was very inspired to learn more about Southeast Asia. This is one of those life-changing trips which challenge my thinking and widened my perspectives. Today, Bangkok is not just a one-stop destination for shopping and eating. Bangkok has so much more to offer which amazes me, and I wish I could go back again to explore the other corners of Bangkok.
Day 1: Singapore to Bangkok
We took off from Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2 to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. Our company got a tour company to organize this 4-day 3-night trip for us.
I took time to explore the Sunflower garden at T2 and it was a lovely garden. I mean it is just therapeutic looking at flowers. Be sure to check that out if you’re heading to T2!
The flight to Bangkok was smooth, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much the food standards on SIA have improved. The Thai seafood noodles I had was tasty, and it smells terrific. I remembered that the aroma of the noodles traveled down the cabin from afar. The aroma permeated through the whole plane. I was puzzled why anyone else would still go for their standard American breakfast over this Asian delicacy.
Our Tour Bus
There goes our fancy and flamboyant tour bus along with our local tour guide, Peach. She is very candid with her comments. Though she did make a few slips here and there, she still tries her best to get things up and running. She made an effort to dress in her traditional Thai costume and even bought us some local Thai snacks for us to try.
Our Daily Meals: Thai Food
All of our meals are provided, so we did not have to decide what to eat except for the second last day of the trip. Since we were traveling with our Muslim colleagues, all of our meals arranged were halal-friendly. Meals were mostly dishes with rice and soup. But the food was overall. Should I say that Thais are generally good cooks?
We took Day 1 to settle down and explore the area near our hotel. We checked in at our hotel, Centre Point Pratunam, around 3 pm after the lunch that day. It was located within Pratunam, a major shopping district, where you can purchase almost everything at great bargains.
The Platinum Fashion Mall
If you are shopping for clothes, Platinum Mall is the place to go. I was not that in that shopping mode like how I was when I was much younger. So I was not drawn to the shopping mall, unlike most Singaporeans who do. Further down Platinum Mall is Central World, and other major shopping malls were all linked by an overhead pedestrian bridge. I think the government has modernized this shopping district to make it easier for tourists and locals to access each mall. I could see why Singaporeans love to shop here. You will see plenty of them at Big C, a Thai hypermart which is right opposite Central World.
It is effortless to get around in Bangkok. There’s the BTS Skytrain, public buses, tuk-tuks, Uber and local taxis to choose from. Sitting on the Tuk-tuks can be quite an experience, but these days the tuk-tuks drivers are changing much more than taxis.
The only problem is the traffic. The traffic conditions throughout Bangkok is unpredictable, and there were a couple of times during our trip where we got stuck in a jam for at least one to two hours.
Day 2: Ayutthaya Historial Park
We were out of the hotel by 8 am, and we took a 2-hour drive from Bangkok city center to Ayutthaya. This charming city is one of the less well-known places to visit in Thailand. But do you know that Ayutthaya is once a prosperous city in the whole of Southeast Asia, and it is recognized as a UNESCO heritage site today? There’s certainly a lot more to Bangkok and Thailand which we have yet to discover.
The full Thai name in Ayutthaya is Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. Yes, Thai capital names can be long, but nothing beats the full Thai name of Bangkok! It is the longest capital name in the world.
Background History of Ayutthaya
Outside the temple grounds, you will find these white temple models encased under the pavilion. It gives visitors a general idea of how the actual temple will look like when it was first founded around 1350. Today all the six temples you see are the archaeological ruins after the Burmese Army had attacked this city in 1767. The Burmese Army burn the city to the ground, and they even destroy the Buddha statues and other religious structures.
Archaeologists partially rebuild some of these structures you see today. According to our guide, the red-brick walls on top of the stone fragments are the newly constructed ones. Most of the Buddha relics you see today are also not the original ones.
Like any other ancient civilizations, Ayutthaya is strategically-located close to three rivers connecting to the sea. Where you find water, there you see people residing beside it.
1. Wat Mahathat
Our tour started from Wat Mahathat where the main ticket is booth located. We bought an admission ticket to the Ayutthaya Historial Park which allows us to visit all six temples within a day.
The admission fee to visit each temple costs 50 baht. It costs us 220 baht per pax to visit all six temples. I recommend visiting all six temples as each temple is unique in architectural. I believe that you can also spend a day here at Ayutthaya.
We got around from one temple to the next by our tour bus. You can choose to walk as well, but the weather was scorching hot during our time of visit. I would advise you to book a driver for a day or sit in one of those mini tuk-tuks.
Wat Phra Mahathat
In this huge temple compound, you will find Khmer-style Prangs and rows of headless Buddhas which were destroyed by the Burmese who were also Buddhist themselves. This is also where you can see the famous tree with the Buddha head embedded in it.
The temple is really massive, and I don’t think that we have thoroughly covered the temple ground. We merely only visit the fringes of the temple.
You must also be wondering why the prang in the temple is Khmer-style, just like the one in Angkor Wat when the Kingdom in Ayutthaya seems to be on rivalry terms with the Burmese. It turned out that Ayutthaya had invaded Angkor which ended the Khmer Empire in the past. The people of Ayutthaya not only destroy Angkor but they also took the Khmer artisans with them. With their artistic talents and craftsmanship, these craftsmen were able to construct beautiful temples in Ayutthaya. Smart move, right?
The picture of the Buddha’s head in Tree roots is one of the iconic images of Ayutthaya. When the Burmese conquered Ayutthaya, they lopped off the Buddha’s heads, and that explained why one of the heads might be trapped in the tree roots. No one had any clue as to how the Buddha head got intertwined by the thick roots of the tree but today this is a protected sacred site.
2. Wat Ratchaburana
This temple is just a road across Wat Phra Mahatat. The tall Khmer-style phrang stood out from a distance and you will definitely not miss it. This phrang closely resembles the ones you see at Angkor Wat.
Some of the relics are now preserved in Chao Sam Phraya National Museum which is not too far away from this temple.
You can do a climb up the phrang to have a bird’s eye view of the courtyard.
We made it all the way up! It was not a tough climb at all. There’s also a mysterious stair within the phrang that leads down to two unrestored rooms.
3. Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
This is the largest temple in Ayutthaya, and it is the temple of Buddha Si Sanphet. It is distinctively-known for its Thai-style stupas called chedis. It houses the 16-meter high Buddha who is known to be covered by 340 kg of gold.
We came across another temple, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit which is right next to Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. But we did not cover the grounds.
It was difficult to find a halal restaurant in Ayutthaya, but our guide had managed to find a small eatery run by a Muslim family.
Along the way, we dropped by a Thai ceramic stall as the professor wanted to buy a ceramic pot. Unfortunately, he could not find the ceramic pot. But our group ended up buying porcelain teacups which only cost a couple of bucks.
Thai Traditional Costume
Outside Wat Chaiwatthanaram, there is this row of shops that offers visitors to buy or rent traditional Thai costumes for a day. If I did remember correctly, it cost about 100 baht just to rent the full set of costume for a day. Tourists usually rent it for a casual photo shoot in the temple.
Just like this Korean kid over here!
3. Wat Chaiwatthanaram
Half of the group went for a river tour while the other half went to visit Wat Chaiwatthanaram first. This temple is also very spectacular with the grand prang surrounded by the smaller stupas.
You will be able to see religious relics which had bits of gold flakes still stuck to it. We had no idea if these statues were real but they looked really ancient.
Thai Snack: Roti Sai Mai
On our way back from Ayutthaya to Bangkok, our guide got us to try Roti Sai Mai, a Thai candy orginated from Ayutthaya. The word ‘roti’ may sounds familiar to you because this dessert has its roots in India. Roti refers to the thin pancake-like skin which has ‘Sai Mai’ or silk rope wrapped in it. Sai Mai tasted just like candy floss. To enjoy this dessert, you just need to wrap the sweet floss with the ‘roti,’ and there you go! It is quite tasty, and I believe that I tried this before in Singapore. They called it the ‘fairy floss.’
Thai Cultural Musical: Siam Niramit
After dinner, we headed to Siam Niramit to watch a musical on the kingdom of Siam. The show was spectacular as it involves much impressive theatrics. It was overall a good show, but I find the cost of the ticket to be overly expensive. It costs about SGD 60 plus per ticket.
Unfortunately, it was raining that evening, and we were stuck in a traffic jam which lasted for almost an hour. There was supposed to be a cultural village exhibit where we can sample some local delights, but we had to miss it as we were almost late for the show. The village was closed anyway.
We cannot take videos or photographs during the show, and the Thais are strict about this. They allow you to bring in your phones though.
Day 3: Grand Palace and Wat Arun
The next day, our guide got us some lotus seed for us to try. It is a typical snack for the Thais. To eat the seed, you will first need to peel off the green skin surrounding the seed. The flesh itself tasted quite bitter, and I did not really like it. But I like eating those crunchy lotus seeds sold in Vietnam.
This huge palace complexes houses Temple of the Emerald Buddha as well as the mural paintings which depicts Thailand National Epic, the Ramakian. I’ve set foot there twice, but this time, I understood the significance and history of this palace.
All visitors must be dressed appropriately before entering this sacred ground. The guards are quite strict with the dressing. It is best to get yourself fully covered – wearing a shirt and a pair of long pants which covers your shin.
This palace used to be the official residence of the Kings of Siam from 1782 to 1925. Today, the Grand Palace remains as a site for critical official events. It consists of Royal residence, throne halls, a number of government offices as well as a sacred temple called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
To fully appreciate the historical value of the palace, I need a few more days to explore the Grand Palace. I would not mind visiting this palace again and again. Just look at the spectacular reflective golden tiles and gold Buddha statues!
During the tour, our guide also shared with us the story behind each mythical creature and religious statues which are placed everywhere in the palace.
This exquisite building houses the Buddhist library called Phra Mondop.
Our guide actually took about half an hour just to talk about the Ramakien, a Thai myth which is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana. It is quite an exciting story, and interestingly, this story forms the basis of today’s Thai society, in conjunction with Buddhism.
The story is about the battle between Tosakanth, a king of demons, and King Rama who is a human being. Every part of the story is actually depicted on the wall. I remembered that our guide actually took about 30 minutes just to explain the whole mural. Yes, it is a really long mural!
Temple of Emerald Buddha (What Phra Kaew)
This temple is regarded as the most important Buddhist religious site in the whole of Thailand. It enshrines the Emerald Buddha carved from a single block of jade. Interestingly, it only measures out to be about 66 cm high and 48.3 cm wide. The robe of the Emerald Buddha changes according to the weather. During the colder season, the Emerald Buddha would be fully clothed from head to toe.
We are not allowed to take any photographs within the temple. You can just imagine an altar which is layered with gold and everything just shines in glory. The Emerald Buddha is placed high and above the altar, encased in a glass box. I do not have a photograph of it but here’s an illustration of how the Buddha looks like.
Chakri Maha Prasat Hall
This hall has a Siamese-European architecture which makes it look really outstanding in contrast with the temple in the central court. It was a Royal residence built by King Rama V in 1877. This place is heavily guarded, and if you are lucky, you might get to witness the changing of the guards.
Today, this place is heavily guarded, and if you are lucky, you might get to witness the changing of the guards.
We had a buffet lunch at a hotel before heading to Wat Arun, the temple of dawn.
This is another spectacular temple which was built in the first half of the 19th century. During this period, many Chinese migrants were visiting Bangkok to do trading. That explains why some Chinese influence is seen in its architecture.
If you look closely, the exterior of the temple is decorated with fragments of Chinese porcelain plates and bowls. The tiny broken porcelain pieces were arranged to form intricate mosaic patterns.
Lotus Flower Folding
Our guide also taught us how to fold lotus flower as prayer offerings at the temple. She wrapped in the outer flower petals to reveal the inner flower bud. From this, you can see that beauty is highly regarded in almost every aspect of the Thai culture.
Thai Royal Dusit Palace
Last but not least, we made our final stop at the Thai Royal Dusit Palace. This place is nothing like the Grand Palace or Wat Arun. There’s a boulevard right in front of Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.
In the middle of the boulevard, you will see the statue of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V who founded the palace. This palace looks no different from the ones you see in Europe. From the design and layout of this palace, you can see the colonial influence in this part of the city.
In the evening, we headed back to our hotel for some last minute shopping and dinner. It started pouring when we had our dinner, but thankfully, it stopped after we shopped at Big C supermarket. If you need to get Thai snacks, you can purchase them at Big C. I believe that there were more tourists at Big C than locals, who bought packets of snacks and tidbits in bulk. It seems like everyone was in a shopping frenzy.
Day 4: Bangkok to Singapore
Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok, Thailand)
On our last day, we had an early breakfast then a debrief before heading out for lunch. After a sumptuous lunch, we went to the airport. It is better to head early to the airport as you will never know if there is a jam along the roads leading to the airport.
I just have to say that the Suvarnabhumi Airport just keeps getting better and better. They have expanded their airport grounds and included more duty-free shops to keep travelers entertained.
Overall, it is one of my most fulfilling trip where I get to understand ASEAN better, as a whole. It really opened up my eyes to a lot of cultural and political issues we faced back home. If we can see ourselves as a part of ASEAN, rather than Singapore, we would be able to accomplish more things together.