I have always been curious to visit Thailand, one of the most visited countries in the world. Just this 2016, it has attracted 32.6 million visitors, resulting to $45.9 billion worth of business. Is it a wonder why this is the case? Let’s find out why Thailand is a traveler-magnet and how should it serve as a good model for our tourism in the Philippines.
This blog post will present the various travel destinations that me and my friends (nicknamed as Indochina Boys of our larger group, the Shembot Squad) were able to visit and explore during our stint in Thailand while having our Indochina adventure. This is the second part of my Indochina travel blog series (first part is a rough guide when traveling to Indochina). Other parts will cover Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Dubbed as the Land of the Free and formerly called Siam, Thailand is located at the center of the Indochinese peninsula of the Southeast Asia region. Having a total area of 513,000 km2 and a population of 69 million, Thailand is larger than the Philippines in terms of size but is smaller in terms of population. However, Thailand bests all its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of tourism, as it is the most visited country in the region. Boasting historical and cultural sights as well as natural wonders, Thailand is a good choice for those who are just starting to travel.
Thailand’s government is constitutional monarchy, which means a prime minister heads the government while a monarch heads the state. Its official language is Thai, though many Thais know how to speak in English. More than 90% of the population practice Buddhism as their religion. Their currency is baht (1 Thai Baht = 1.57 Philippine Peso as of January 2018).
TIPS ON GOING AROUND THAILAND
- The two modes of transportation that are mostly used by tourists here in Thailand are train and bus. You can go in and out of their airports by riding just these two, which are definitely more affordable than taxi.
- While you can exchange your money to Thai baht right away in the airport, you can have them changed in the streets of Bangkok as money changers are located around the city. It is, of course, wise to have them already prepared before your journey to avoid the hassle of not having enough money to spend just because you thought your intended budget is enough or money changers are operating for 24 hours a day (they are not).
- Plan ahead on what travel destinations you’re going to visit. This way, you’d know which trains or buses to ride in accordingly. While some areas in Bangkok have free Wi-Fi where you can research where to go and what to do on-the-go, doing so would require time. It’s better to be prepared so that you’d spend more time exploring instead of researching. By the way, you can avail internet services from their local telecoms if ever you feel like needing one during your whole travel here.
WHAT TO EXPLORE
In our trip to the Land of the Free on June-July 2017, we have visited a couple of its most popular travel destinations. Our first day revolved around the ancient city of Ayutthaya and why it is a must-visit when going to Thailand. As Bangkok served as our jump off point when going to our other Southeast Asian neighbors, we were able to visit the city during our spare time.
AYUTTHAYA: The Old Capital City of Siam
Ayutthaya is home to Ayutthaya Historical Park, which contains the ruins of the old capital city of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya served as the second capital of Siam (former name of Thailand) and became the trading capital of Asia and the world during that time. Gold-laden palaces, impressive towers and big monasteries to name a few showcased the grandeur of Ayutthaya before. The kingdom fell, however, when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767, destroying most of these structures. Thankfully, most of the remains were restored during the 1950s.
Note: While it is the location of the ancient capital, Ayutthaya is a modern city found 85 km north of Bangkok. Many people reside here, and shops abound the place.
To enjoy Ayutthaya more: Go around Ayutthaya by bike! You really are going to love biking here, hopping from one temple to another, as they have designated bicycle lanes on their roads. If you still have your bags/ baggage with you from the airport, you can politely ask the owners of the bike rental shop if you could leave them to their premises while you’re out and about touring the city.
Wat Ratchaburana’s most distinctive feature is its large prang. This temple was built in 1424 by the kingdom’s king at that time (King Borommarachathirat II) for his two elder brothers who fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession.
The temple’s crypt contained a large number of Buddha images and golden artifacts, many of which were stolen by thieves. A few were recovered and are now being housed in Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
WAT PHRA RAM
Wat Phra Ram’s main prang resembles a shape of a corncob and is decorated with antefixes, some of which resemble Garuda, a legendary bird-like creature in Buddhist mythology. It stands on a square base, with smaller prangs in its corners. Surrounding the main complex are the foundation walls of a courtyard and a square, inward-open gallery.
Meanwhile, a big lagoon is located outside Wat Phra Ram, giving off a nice reflection of the temple during a sunny day.
WAT PHRA SI SANPHET (Temple of the Holy, Splendid Omniscient)
Considered to be the grandest and holiest of the temples in the old kingdom of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet served as the temple of the royal family─ in which its sole purpose is for royal ceremonies only. The temple’s main draw is its distinctive row of 3 chedis (stupas, or dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine) that are reminiscent of a bell. Aside from the 3 huge chedis, small chedis and low pavilions could be seen.
HOW TO GO TO AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND + EXPENSES
FROM THE AIRPORT: It was our plan to head to Ayutthaya immediately after landing on Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. We didn’t plan on spending too much, that’s why we just exchanged several dollars in the airport itself. From Suvarnabhumi, ride their speed train here and unload in Phaya Thai station (fee is 45 baht). We were quite in a hurry, but because we didn’t have a decent meal yet, we ate from a McDonald’s kiosk found in Phaya Thai. A salmon meal costed 68 baht while a corn pie and coffee float tandem costed 49 baht. After eating, we rode the train from Phaya Thai to Mo Chit station (fee is 34 baht). Upon reaching Mo Chit, we rode the ordinary bus with the number 34 (bus fare is 8 baht!). We went down in Rangsit and searched for the minivan station going to Ayutthaya (van fare is 40 baht). After more than an hour in the van, we have reached Ayutthaya!
Additional expenses in Ayutthaya include snacks (milktea, 25 baht, and waffle, 20 baht); bike rental (35 baht); ticket for temple-hopping (220 baht); grocery items (78 baht: mostly snacks as we were famished after touring around haha); more snacks (chicken balls, 25 baht; crepe along the streets of Ayutthaya, 20 baht)
GOING BACK TO BANGKOK: It was already past 7 pm when we decided to head back to the capital city. It was said that vans from Ayutthaya to Rangsit would only be available until 8 pm that’s why we really had to leave sooner than later. Van fare was still 40 baht. In Rangsit, we rode the Bus No. 29 and unloaded in Mo Chit (bus fare: 21 baht). From Mo Chit, we went to the other side of the road and rode Bus No. 3 (you can also ride Bus No. 524, fee is 6 baht). We unloaded in Tani Road because it’s already a few minute walk away from our hostel named ALL IN ONE HOSTEL.
TOTAL EXPENSES FOR AYUTTHAYA DAY TRIP: 734 baht
KHAO SAN ROAD
Khao San Road is one of the places that I have really enjoyed in Thailand. It is where I have eaten a scorpion, received an authentic Thai massage and offered interesting and curious activities by Thais. ( I think you’ll get this if you’ve already went here in Bangkok or if you’ve heard about it from your friends. Haha.) More so, Khao San Road is a good place to have your money exchanged if you plan to stay in Thailand for a little bit longer. Money exchange shops are located in the area, though they close at around 8 or 9 pm. You can also see a lot of shops selling clothes, food, toys, ref magnets and other souvenirs here! Don’t forget to haggle (especially when buying clothes and souvenirs), as Thai vendors would sometimes give a price too high for their goods. Trust me, you can buy batik-batik pants for not too high a price here!
As this area is already near our hostel, it was so easy to go to.
WAT PHO: Temple of the Reclining Buddha
If you still have time to spend in Bangkok, visit their temples and popular tourist sites. One of these sites is What Pho, a Buddhist Temple Complex in Phra Nakhon District of Bangkok. It is considered to be one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok for having an area of 80,000 square meters. The complex is home to the giant reclining Buddha, which is covered in golden leaf and measures 15 meters tall and 46 meters long, as well as other images of Buddha. It is also a center for traditional massage and medicine.
WHAT TO DO: Marvel at the reclining Buddha, as well as the other structures found in the complex. You can also visit the four chapels that contain 394 gilded Buddha images and long lines of golden statues from different parts of Thailand. Also, look for the comical looking Chinese statues in the courtyard of the complex. (http://www.bangkok.com/attraction-temple/wat-po.htm#) Take pictures. The complex is considered to be the leading school of massage in Thailand, so you can avail of their massage services here.
Opening hours: 8 AM to 5 PM
Location: Maharat Road; about a half kilometer away from the Grand Palace
Entrance fee: 100 baht
Other places to visit in Bangkok:
Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew, among others.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking for a cheap but decent place to stay in the heart of Bangkok, search for ALL IN ONE HOSTEL. For about 200 baht per night, we were able to enjoy an air-conditioned room of bunk beds shared with other individuals, free Wi-Fi and a shared bathroom. It was my first time to stay in a dormitory-type of hotel room outside the country that’s why it’s a bit thrilling doing so. We were able to meet people of different nationalities- Korean, Brazilian, British, among others while staying here. It’s good to socialize with other people and from socializing, you can learn not just about the people you’re talking to but also about your travel itinerary. Of course, you can’t trust other people easily that’s why you still have to be cautious about your personal information and belongings. Give details about yourself but not too much. If you’re going out of the hotel to go to your travel destination, you can leave your things in the reception area just to be really sure.
It should be noted that even though we have spent only one full day in Thailand (therefore visiting mainly Ayutthaya and Khao San Road), there were many times when we had to go back here as Bangkok served as our gateway going to the other countries we were planning to visit. These include Laos (via Bangkok to Viantiane flight and vice versa), Myanmar (via Bangkok to Mandalay flight AND Yangon to Bangkok flight) and Cambodia (via Bangkok to Siem Reap train ride). More of these will be detailed in my upcoming Indochina blog posts. 🙂