Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Final Countdown......

Back in steamy Bangkok!  Yes, two months had passed since we were last there and we had become acclimatised to New Zealand’s more moderate temperatures.  Thailand’s pre-monsoon heat had been building up during that period, and it was hot, hot, hot!

One of the things we had intended to do last time we were in Bangkok (but hadn’t got round to), was to take a day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, one of Thailand’s former capitals.  Ayutthaya is a UNESCO world heritage site, 87 km north of the city.  In 1767, Siam had been invaded by the Burmese and many of the city’s temples had been reduced to rubble.

This time we were determined to get there.  It helped that our hotel was located opposite Hua lamphong railway station.  At 8.00 am, we boarded the train.  Roughly an hour and a half later, we found ourselves in Ayutthaya.

We caught the ferry across the river to the island, where many of the ruins are situated.  Despite the intense heat, we had decided that we wanted to hire bikes to explore the city, and we set off through the teeming traffic on a couple of old bone shakers.  The experience wasn’t quite as relaxing as our cycle rides around Sukhothai, as much of the time we were cycling on busy roads.  There were, however, periods of tranquillity as we cycled through some of the green areas, passing crumbled temples, Buddha statues, lakes and egrets that took off into the sky as we trundled along.

We saw elephants brightly painted for the forthcoming Songkran festival, lumbering along the streets carrying tourists on their backs.  Two of the main sights that we had wanted to see were the Buddha head tangled in the web of tree roots at Wat Phra Mahathat and the reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaysutha.  Both were as impressive as anticipated and we continued cycling and checked out a couple more temples until the heat got the better of us, and we decided to head back to Bangkok.

Three days after we had arrived in Bangkok, we flew to Kuala Lumpur, a new destination for T and a return trip for Ku.  Our flight arrived at 11.30 pm, and we took a taxi to the city.  After some fierce thunder and spectacular fork lightening en route, the heavens opened.  The road was flooded within minutes, and it was still pouring when we arrived in China Town, where we were staying.  Our taxi driver couldn’t find our hotel and had to keep getting out of the car in the pouring rain to ask people.  Eventually, we found it.  She had done a great job getting us there safely in such horrendous conditions!

We spent a couple of days exploring and orientating ourselves.  We checked out KL Tower, the Petrona Towers, China Town, Central Market and Little India.  We also visited the Hindu temple at the Batu Caves – it brought back memories of India – the garlands, brightly coloured saris, incense, aromas from the food stalls and a gigantic green Monkey God!  The caves are impressive and home to lots of mischievous monkeys and several shrines.


One of the most fascinating aspects of Malaysia is the hotchpotch of cultures – Malay, Indian, Chinese, all very evident.  It certainly makes travelling there an interesting experience.

From Kuala Lumpur, we took a bus to Malacca, which we really enjoyed.  More laid back than KL, we had fun wandering round the colourful old buildings built by Chinese traders.  There were an array of tempting shops and cafes centred in and around Jonker Street, the heart of the historical district.

Back in the capital, we pounded the streets around Bukit Bintang.  The Malaysians love their malls and KL had malls in abundance, very much in contrast to Jalan Petaling, the dusty China Town market, where we each bought a fake £3.00 ICE watch each!

We wandered through Perdana Botanical Gardens and Asean Sculpture Park, escaping the madness of the city streets.  In the Deer Park, we saw tiny mouse deer.  We at curry and potato puffs and sampled bandung, the bright pink concoction of rose syrup cordial and evaporated milk with ice, sold on every street corner.


In Masjid India, we had a fabulous lunch of paneer makhani, mutter paneer, garlic fried rice, garlic naan and mango and lime juices.

We both really enjoyed our visit to Malaysia and found everyone very hospitable and friendly.  It was a strange time to be there, about three weeks after Air Malaysia’s missing plane incident.  All over Kuala Lumpur were posters and makeshift tributes.

From KL, we flew to Phuket, spent one night in town, before taking a bus to Bang Biang Beach in Khao Lak, where we had a very chilled few days.  The Andaman Sea was warm and good to swim, a refreshing relief from the heat. Whilst there, we did a short trek in Khao Lak National Park.  The trail followed the coast and finished on a beautiful, (almost deserted) beach.


We checked out the Tsunami Museum.  Three thousand, two hundred people died in the Khao Lak region and the area was pretty much destroyed.  They have done an amazing job rebuilding.  We also went to see the police boat, which had been moored a mile offshore when the 2004 tsunami struck.  It had washed inland nearly as far, and had been left where it was found as a memorial


At lunch times, we ate at a simple, but excellent restaurant on the beach.  A very cute puppy lived there, along with some friendly girls who served up the best Thai food we had eaten.

Our penultimate destination was Ao Nang, another place Ku had visited many years previously.  We took a long tail boat to Railay Bay, where the beach was overlooked by towering limestone cliffs.  Back in Ao Nang, Ku fell in the sea when attempting to jump off the boat, much to T’s amusement!  We explored Krabi Town, where we picked up some bargain trinkets, walked by the river, checked out a temple and had pad thai for lunch.


Returning to Bangkok, we made the most the last of our final weekend of the trip.  Much of the time was spent at Chatuchak market, picking up some last minute gifts (for ourselves and others!) and meandered through the huge maze of stalls.  We sampled street food, included skewered chilli beef and mango sticky rice (delicious!)  It’s an incredible place, where you can buy everything you could possibly think of and more.


Both days at around the same time, an incredibly loud clap of thunder, followed by torrential rain, sent everyone running for shelter.  We ran for the bar, where we enjoyed ‘cheery brandy’ and coke and bottles of Chang beer.  It was a great way to round off a fantastic trip, soaking up the lively atmosphere and enjoying Bangkok at its best!