Thailand 2004 trip report

Intro

After a week in Hong Kong (see my Hong Kong trip report), on Sunday October 3rd, we took 8am flight from HK on Thai Airways. Unlike Hong Kong which we explored on our own, for Thailand we designed our itinerary ourselves, but booked our own private guides with drivers. First 2 nights we spent in Chiang Mai, then we flew to Bangkok, spent there two days and took luxury cruise on authentic converted rice barge Manohra Song, which took us to central region including Ayutthaya. After that, we returned to Bangkok and flew back home. The trip took one week. In the future we will visit other areas of Thailand, like islands - Phuket and Koh Samui in addition to Bangkok.

Day by Day journal

Day 1.

We flew from Hong Kong to Bangkok and connected to Chiang Mai. On arrival we were met at Chiang Mai airport by our guide and driver. We booked 4 Seasons (former Regent hotel). It was about 11am and we started our sightseeing. We went directly to Do Suthep temple. It was magnificent, perfect introduction to our first trip in Thailand. It is located up in the mountains on the hills, 300 steps up or most people prefer funicular going up. When visiting temple, we had to take shoes off when going inside. The monk was sitting and chanting, quite a few people so we had to sit on the floor. There was shrine to white elephant on Doi Suthep territory which has some connection with this important temple.

After temple, we went to lunch at Le Grand Lanna. Wonderful place to eat. Our guide ate with us and she explained to us dishes. We shared Lanna appetizers and Pad Thai. Some sauces were spicy and the waiters warned us. They watched how we ate. After Hong Kong, Thailand seems to be another country where people are also nice, but more smiling, and friendly to western people especially Americans. Service was superb. Grand Lanna will be place of new Oriental spa resort which is opening in Dec 2004. We were given a tour of future resort as well.

After lunch, we went shopping to Sakampaeng (sp?) road. We were interested in Celadon. But guide did not push any shopping, as I asked in advance. We went to Siam Celadon and bought beautiful Tea service for 6, it was handcrafted porcelain, thai design. We also bought some celadon dishes, unfortunately we could not carry that much. Shipping is available as well however, with shipping is it 100% more. Good service and wonderful store. It might be not the cheapest store but it has all we wanted and I knew the quality is the best. You can also compare prices there and shop in some other store and in night market and buy even for less. However, we did not have enough time and the price was not that bad.

After that, we were driven to Four Seasons and checked into hotel. If you can call it a hotel, it is very exotic resort. It is considered one the best resorts in Asia. You can just spend time there without going to Chiang Mai. Very romantic. Natural landscaping utilizing rice paddies (working), water and natural stone. A warning. These stones are slippery when moist from humidity. So one just has to be careful. They have buffalos at resort, you can go to see them any time but if you lazy like us, few times per day they buffalo is being walked around for a tour so you can take a picture. Staff was very helpful which was expected from this kind of high-end resort. The room more than a room, it is actually Lanna style pavillions with high ceilings, teak inside, all of them have "sala" - a balcony which has a couch, table and fan. Very nice. However in October it was still humid, and one cannot sit long time there. We did have breakfast every morning there. Dinner was at Sala Mae Rim, Thai and Pacific cuisine. Since we had some Thai food for lunch, we opted for western (Pacfic Rim) dishes and it was very good. They had some well prices Chilean wine. Very nice dinner. Early to bed.

Day 2.

Our guide Chintana and driver were coming at 8:30am so we ordered breakfast in sala. After long interview - what kind of bread we wanted with breakfast, what meats and what fruits, how long we want eggs to be cooked, they took our order and the waiters arrived exactly at 7:30am. We had relaxing breakfast and at 8:30am were ready to go for Dai Tao elephant camp.

Before we went to elephant camp, we were given a tour of market and also stopped at the place which is (do not know how to call it in Thailand) it is an equivalent to funeral parlor. All buddhist thai people are given funeral which last from 1 to 3-5 days. The king funeral lasted to 1 year. They have platforms for the coffins which are decorated with gold and other bright colors paper. Some decorations are expensive, so people who are not well to do get simple decorations , but even with help of government, people have elaborate funerals. After ceremony the body is cremated and people do with ashes whatever they prefer. Some, we were told, even shoot ashes in the air with cannot to shoot them in the air.  

After that we visited market and were explained different food. We saw some local  Thai eat delicacies including caterpillars and insects! I am telling you, I can eat almost anything and enjoy different types of food, but some food on that market really turned me off like dried bugs. Vendors through the guide explained that this is delicacy, fried and eaten like french fries. We were offered to try but passed. Took pictures, though. See our Photoshow . However, tourists do not need to worry since tourists are not fed this food in Western restaurants so I really recommend to stick to Western restaurants because of content of the food and also concerning cleanliness. Food is available everywhere for thais and we were told it is very inexpensive so even poor people do not starve. But westerners would probably get sick from this food. I also seen vendors washing food containers in the river and also there are flies crawling in this heat over sausage. So besides this warning, in regular tourist restaurants food was a little more various than Thai food in Thai Restaurants in USA. More spicy though, but they are willing to adjust spiciness level. Keep in mind if you you eat spicy in Thai restaurant in USA, this level of spiciness is considered low spicy in Thailand. As for fruit, you can see all kind of tropical fruit. Again, wash it and peel it yourself. Food served in hotels and restaurant is safe to eat. There was one interesting fruit darian we smelled which smells terrible but were told it tastes like haven. To me, smell and taste are inseparable so we passed on that.

We continued to elephant camp. I was explained that this camp and another government run camp have controlled supervision of elephants so the animals will not get abused. There are only few hours they work and take people for a ride, the rest they are located in shade. Other camps keep elephants on the sun and make them work long hours. So please keep this in mind when you are choosing elephant camps. We watched elephants bathing, fed them, short presentation how they work and what they are trained to do. The elephant care takers are called mohuts. There was a flag so one baby elephant raised a flag. Mohuts were giving elephants a paintbrush and they "painted a picture" which was selling also to contribute this camp. We took one hour elephant ride. It was first time we rode elephants. Prior to that, we rode horses, camels, donkeys and I keep all pictures on the wall. Now I was excited to add elephant ride to my collection.

After elephant camp, we came back to Four Seasons, had quick lunch there and had 2 hour Thai Massage with oils and warm stones. We had it together, my husband and I with two therapists. It was very good. In general, Thai massage has very different technique that aquapressure and swedish massage we used to. It is very different and very effective. We took it in Four Season and it as $170 per person for two hours. However, this is probably the most expensive massage you can get in Thailand. In Bangkok, we were offered $25 per person for two hours two hour massage. If we only had more time! In any case, next time we will get less expensive massage in Thailand but we wanted experience it in 4S spa and we were not disappointed. 

After that we rested since we booked dinner at The Gallery in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, few hours later I started not feeling well - stomach problems. We did go to Gallery however I only had tea there! Our guide and my husband George ate well, they reported to be very good. I can only report for tea and bathrooms . The restaurant is located on the river. One of the famous people who ate there is Hilary Clinton so her pictures are there posted on the wall. We sat on the river and it was very pleasant. After that we walked at night bazar and bought some cheap staff there (sunglasses were cheap but broke next day), some shirts, nothing serious. We went back to hotel and went to bed. I was better but could not eat anything. I do not think it was something to do with Thai food since we ate in good establishments since George was fine. The hotel provided bottled water and everywhere we use bottled water even for brushing teeth. We analayzed the reason and concluded that it must be reaction for malarone. Malarone was prescribed to us by travel doctor in case we will go to Northern Thailand Jungle where might be malarian moquitoes. We checked instructions for malarone which described possible symptoms which I had . So both of us stopped taking malarone just in case since everybody we met in Thailand told us there is no mosquito threat in this area, only in remote tribal mountain areas. We did use mosquito repellent in elephant camp. Just to be on the safe side.

Day 3.

I felt better that morning, we had a light breakfast again, we enjoyed it at our small enclave in Sala at Four Seasons. Today we were leaving at 11am for Bangkok. Since I was not up to shopping and George was happy that I did not want to shop anymore, we relaxed in the morning to take advantage of resort. I could just stay at 4 Seasons and do not go anywhere. There is by the way a small shopping center with crafts outside of resorts. In the morning the buffalo was led through resort so I fulfilled my program without going to another side of resort to see buffalo. Service was top-notch and unobtrusive. Resort is large and you they also have working rice paddies - donated to the charity. We chatted with resort's manager and complimented them on the way the resort is run. If you are tired to walk far, they drive you on a golf cart. Spa was superb. The pool is infinity and gorgeous.

I liked the service that you do not need ask about almost anything, most wishes are pre-empted. For example, you come to the pool and the towels are already on the beds. However, the pool attendant shows up and spreads towels for you. In a minute he comes back with cold water. When people left, the beds cleaned up immediately and all garbage people usually pick up after themselves, no need to do it here. All is taken care of. In restaurant, they watch when you eat and when it is time to refill glasses with water or wine, they do it. The worst case is just to look for the waiter, and they show up immediately. By the way, I also saw this kind of service in Marriott's Bangkok resort and spa and I also told by agency owner in Bangkok that is it usually the culture of Thai people. Service is superb in most places where westerners are. Probably a little bit better than in Hong Kong. However, in Hong Kong, again, incomparable service which we experienced in best hotels in North America and Europe.  

We went to airport, our guide checked us into the line on Thai counter and got up to the point where passengers only allowed. Again, comparing with private guides we used in Europe, no guide before went that far with what they call "airport assistance". We of course could manage ourselves, but she insisted and we accepted it. Airport in Bangkok is old but the new airport we were told will be opening next year.

We arrived to Bangkok around 1pm. We flew now economy class but we survived it!  On arrival our Bangkok guide was waiting for us. Another thing with guides we had, we never needed to look for them, once we claimed luggage and got out, they were right there. She found her driver and they drove us to Marriott. We actually scheduled afternoon trip to Jim Thompson house however she said: " I heard you are not feeling well".  The news flying over Thailand! I told her I am better but because of afternoon traffic, she suggested to rest today and tomorrow we will have a full day instead of half-day and lunch as agreed before.

We went to Marriott resort which is located on the river. It is not Four Seasons, however, it was excellent resort-type hotel with many restaurants, tropical landscaping. Not your usual Marriott. We looked later on at other hotels on the river. Probably Peninisula or Oriental will be next time to try however, we liked this resort better than others. Mariott has very exotic feel and and very comfortable. Again, superb service. Great restaurants. The check in was in our room. The guide was with us again and together with Marriott employee accompanied us to our room. We had room 766 in a wing across spa and pool, the building where Benihana and Traders Vick restaurants are. It was very hot and humid and we did not feel anywhere to go.  We went to bakery Numero Uno and had some pastries and croissants and tea. Very delicious. We had reservations in Peninsula for Jester for dinner and we had driver/guide available for that however, we could not go. I cancelled both restaurant and driver.

The owner of the agency we booked with wanted to talked to us personally after we worked with him for few years (for clients and ourselves). It was nice finally to meet him in person. He is Swiss and mostly of his clientele is European. He was happy that we sent him Americans and said that all tourism industry in Thailand is hoping for increase of travel from USA. However, many tourists cancelled he said beacuse of Avian flu. However, the flu was only in few areas on the farms which is now being taken care off. Most poultry is raised in Thailand in closed environment. We did not get sick. In resorts and restaurants, you can see announcements that all poultry and eggs is cooked under certain temperature just to be on the safe side. Chicken is not eaten raw anyway.  

Marriott's room was very comfortable and I loved teak floors. Large room with sitting area and balcony facing the river. It was too hot to sit on balcony. Every day the room service replenished bottled water and left a new fruit with a booklet describing tropical fruit. Some of them we never seen before and it was fun to try them.

Day 4.

Today we had one busy day of touring. We had breakfast buffet at Marriott (included in our room rate). which was very extensive, included western, Japanese and Chinese food. Our guide Suree arrived by herself and she asked driver to pick us up at Taksin (sp?) skytrain station. We took a boat to the train station - complimentary by Marriott. They serve bottled cold water on the boat. From there, using the car (a/c break and cold icy cloth), we moved around.

We toured Temple of Reclining Buddah,  Wat Pho, then Grand Palace and Temple of Emerald Buddha, What Phra Kreo. Suree also told us the history of their country, about their kings. I will not go into details of temples since these are standard sights and all tourists see it.

We also drove through Chinatown and were pointed to the gates and some shops. Chinese lived in Bangkok even before King Rama I founded Bangkok.

When walking on the streets on Bangkok, we saw many vendors taking most of the sidewalk. Not much place for pedestrians, we even saw the vendors who were selling dentures!!

We had lunch in Supatra River House, Thai food, was very good. They transfer guests on a boat. Good traditional Thai decor. I had pork fried rice with pineapple in pineapple shell. George had Pad Thai again and Coconut Soup with shrimp (his favorite). What I liked in local thai food and I did not see in USA restaurants the small dried shrimp. The pork in pineapple had also dried pork, very tasty. Suree  had some seafood with rice and vegetable and fried egg. I noticed that many thai dishes include eggs. I will ask next time the owner of local Thai restaurant we often go to. Lunch was very good. 

After lunch we went to Jim Thompson house and took a tour. Guides are not allowed for a tour since JT has their own guides. So our guide and driver were waiting for us while we toured. Interesting house with antiques. The JT guide was a young girl, very eager but very shy to speak, she was smiling all the time. Before coming to JT house, I started to read a book on him but did not finish. I had some question and another person in the group also asking for facts. Together, we made her confused, blush and I was sorry. She could not answer some questions. We actually discussed with Suree about Jim Thompson an hour ago before tour what might have happened to him, and we concluded that it might be CIA identity change (just our imagination). Anyway, looks like more tourists mostly interested in silk and antiques than his personality however I think he is a fascinating character. Do not expect from guides in JT house to tell you more than their standard description of antiques. Or maybe I am mistaken but at least I got this impression. 

Jim Thompson has a nice store. I bought lovely cotton t-shirts for myself and George bought few shirts. I did not like thai silk - it was too heavy and bright colors. I thought that although it looked nice, when I will come back home, I would be sticking out in these colors.  It looked good on Thais though. So I did not buy any silk. After long day, we were driven back to Marriott. Out guide talked in hotel and arranged again for us check out last day at 5:30am. We would not see Suree for next 3 days since we were leaving for Manohra cruise. She will only come last day on departure to take us to airport. We said good bye to her.

We did not feel like venturing again to Oriental hotel where I booked dinner at China House so we cancelled it, and had dinner at Benihana in Marriott instead. Not my idea of exciting dinner but if was hot and food was very well prepared. Most of the people in the restaurants were local well-to-do Thais and Japanese tourists. So it must be a popular Japanese food.

We also spent some time in before dinner in the pool. Most people in Mariott were Japanese tourists. Western people did not look like Americans - we always are able to chat with Americans, but these people were not that friendly. Everybody kept to themselves. Either South African or Germans or some other European people - looked like Scandinavian. We also walked the mall near Mariott and bought few things in drugstore and some cheap shirts for my husband, some t-shirts and casual capris for myself since we were running out of clean clothes. Life is tough!

We packed 2 night bag for Manohra cruise and went to bed. The rest of the luggage was supposed to stay in Marriott's storage. Another reason stay in Marriott if one is taking one of their overnight Manohra cruises. Very easy logistics.

Day 5.

After breakfast we checked out of the Marriott . Our bags were picked up and were to be stored for 2 nights while we were going on Manohra Cruise. We packed overnight bag for 2 nights and also took one bag for other shopping which will come our way. We walked to Marriott pier. Peter, the owner of the agency who booked us, promised that we will have very relaxing few days. After few days of heavy touring in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, we were ready for some relaxations and see most sights as they float buy, not to go to them! Seriously, jokes aside, we love barges. We took barge cruises in Europe and enjoyed them tremendously. Besides great food and wine, you experience countryside at slow pace. We were looking forward to rice barge cruise on Chao Praya River. It was a great way to see Ayutthaya.

The barge is a 20-meter-long river rice barge. Capacity is 4 couples plus 4 people crew. When we came onboard, we were told that we are the only ones for a cruise. At this point the attention of thais we encountered before although we enjoyed it but the thought that we will have 4 people taking care of us and no other travelers to talk to was kind of getting us down. But we did not have any choice. The staff was introduced to us – steward Bovey, his assistant Milkkey who was taking care of housekeeping and helping captain, chef Echo and captain (forgot captain’s name). All of them were young, captain was a bit older. They were enthusiastic and eager to please. We were given drink and cold towels, they took our bags to the cabin and we were soon underway.

Manohra Song is a gorgeous barge which you can only see in Thailand. The barge has 4 a/c cabins. It features warm Teak – we were told it is called Royal teak – the best available, woods throughout, custom-designed furniture covered with colorful Thai silks and cottons, oriental rugs, Thai and Southeast Asian art, sculpture and artifacts. Nice books about river, Bangkok and Ayutthaya. I’ve read about Ayutthaya before and was very interested in this site. You really need to know what you see since it is like an archeological site in Europe. In addition to my books which I brought, there was a wonderful illustrated book onboard re: Ayutthaya which I enjoyed to study before our tomorrow’s visit. We were given the largest cabin but of course it is not that large like hotel room. Cabins are a/c, with good water pressure bathrooms. George had to go through agony :-)  to choosing his own toiletries (we had the same at 4 Seasons) – what kind of soap – lemongrass or coconut? I had to choose for him. He has no clue anyway what he is washing with!  We had some cold drinks and refreshed with towels. The chef Echo asked us what we do not want to eat. We only asked for food not to be spicy. We unpacked and rested. The crew spoke English, but mostly Bovey, our steward, his command of English allowed him to converse freely, so we spent with him some time talking about everything. The rest spoke English, but did not converse that much. They were shy to talk I think.

In about 1 hour we arrived to Wat Arun. Our new guide which is provided by Manohra Cruises, came onboard and introduced himself. His name is Billy, good English, very outgoing, lived some time in USA and turned out also an interesting conversationalist. We went to Wat Arun and spent about 1 hour there, admiring pavilions containing statues of the Buddha at the most important stages of life. The beautiful architecture and fine decorations mark Wat Arun. After that, we went back on boat and continued to Royal Barge museum, it has interesting  collection of gilded and ornately decorated boats with magnificently carved prows. King’s own barge is also there. Bovey went also to Barge with us and a guide. After that, we returned to the boat and Billy said good bye and told us he will drive to Ayutthaya tomorrow and will take us for a tour from there. 

We continued to float on the river, it was very relaxing and while barge moves, there is a nice breeze. It was interesting to see river life, traffic and people's life. From shacks to mansion and traditional Thai houses, we've seen them all. Bovey told us that this is his first cruise and before he worked in restaurant in Marriott, we assured him that he is going fine. I guess he was happy that he had only 2 passengers to take care of! He is nice young man, 26 years old, taking study in hospitality and food service school. He needs to decide if he is going to specialize in food or hotels.

Lunch was underway, we had an appetizer : a collection of nuts – roasted shredded coconut, peanuts, small pieces of lime, small dried shrimp and plum sauce and kafir leaves. Echo explained to us how to eat it. You put all ingredients in a leaf, top with sauce and eat. At home, he said, it can be replaced with lettuce leaf. Then it was salad with shrimps – shrimps were very popular in Thai food we ate. Afterwards came in green curry with beef and rice noodles, there were also hard boiled eggs with curry. Curry was a little spicy, but we could handle it. Very good. I noticed that Thai’s eat a lot’s of eggs with their main courses. Mango with sticky rice and fruit. All pastries, bread and cookies on the cruise were from Numero Uno – Marriott’s bakery. They do not not bake on board. While barging in Europe, we enjoyed that every morning fresh French pastries were delivered, however, in Thailand I understand and prefer to eat pastries from Mariiotts (see my explanation of food precautions above) you never know what local bakeries are along the way. We did not see much stores – only street vendors which. Especially passing by and seeing from the boat that they wash dishes in the river would make me concerned.

About at 2pm we stopped at small inland island of Koh Kret in Nonthaburi Province, an island which was ‘man-made’ in the last 100 years when a canal was built to shorten the journey around a circuitous bend in the river. The island is populated by the Mon people, one of Thailand’s many ethnic minority groups, who use the river’s fine clay to produce earthenware pots. We watched demonstration how pottery is being made. We bough some porcelain figurines and ceramics and some pottery. Bovey and Milkkey went with us and translated and also insisted on carrying our purchases. The shopping was very cheap here and we were sorry for these poor local people so we did not bargain at all.  I do not know how they make their living since there were no tourists. They did give us few extra items for free.

There were many dogs on the islands, they scratched and looked very skinny. I asked Bovey if dogs in Thailand eat dog food. He said it is very expensive and dogs eat leftover from people’s food. We concluded that our precious bichon frise at home has better life. Although I’ve seen in Chiang Mai and Bangkok some dog’s stores and saw one dog in Chiang Mai on the leash which was wearing vest. The guide explained that this is the latest trend – dog’s clothes. Beats me – why in such heat dress up the dog. But here was another extreme – hungry dogs. Sometimes people do not want or cannot take care of dog so they give them to monks. There is always food for dogs but still they live I think not happy life if they want companionship of people.

Anyway, we also fed fish from the boat since we were told it brings luck. All fish in Thailand is big and fat. They feed fish more than dogs…

After the island, we refreshed and had afternoon tea with scones, sandwiches and pastries from Numero Uno. We docked at about 4pm at next site - Wat Bang Na, where we can watch the sunset and then moor for the night. Wat Bang Na was constructed in 1777 by a Mon family who moved from Ayutthaya. One of the more curious sights within the compound of this temple is the body of the 4th chief monk of this temple who died in 1988 but whose mummified body remains in excellent condition and is today housed in a glass enclosure.

The Manohra tied up to the dock and fed electricity from the temple. We were told that tomorrow we will have an audience with chief monk. In the afternoon it was very quiet except at 6 or was it 8pm? There started chanted prayers which were synchronized with a temple across the river.

We took a nap and came out before dinner. The weather was the same since we came to Thailand  - about 85F and humid. When barge docked, it was muggy. The crew constantly followed our movement on the deck with two electric fans  (antique fans made by GE by the way), and were turning them on in our direction. First we protested but then gave up. Bovey said we missed cocktails before dinner. What is the point of cocktails since we had nobody to socialize with? :-)

In any case, he served cocktails with dinner, adding another course to 6 course dinner. Food was Thai of course, well prepared. There were small rice cakes, dried beef in cherry tomatoes, and spring rolls with sauce. The dinner consisted of pomelo salad with shrimp and pork, soup with coconut milk and shrimp served in coconut, we loved this soup everywhere in Thailand, I will try to recreate it at home. Then came red curry with duck, stir fried mixed vegetables, rice and fried fish without bones with chili and garlic. Desert was banana cooked in coconut milk. All was delicious but too much food. 

Wine, beer and water was available, but we choose only water today. We talked with Bovey for an hour on the deck under stars. The dogs were barking in the dark so we did not venture outside. Plus we did not want disturb the crew who would definitely tag along with us.  So we rested and went to sleep.

Day 6.

We woke up at 7am. We had an audience with a chief monk at temple before breakfast. The crew prepared a bucket with donation for monks which had food and some personal items. We added money to it, Bovey put it in the envelope and added a flower on it. I must say how Thais are very artistic with food and flowers. There always were carved vegetables and fruits, and they often added flowers to the table or just made garlands or flower arrangements. Few days ago in Bangkok we visited a flower market and a guide showed us how the flowers arrangements from fresh flowers are made. The weave different flowers together, very pretty.  

We went to monk and were instructed what to do – take off shoes, when sitting, wai 3 times low, when standing, one time. Do not be higher than monk which is taken care - the monk sits at platform. The monk spoke Balinese and Bovey and Milkkey translated. He asked about us, our life, where we came from, etc. He asked if we eat spicy food and said it is good for your health. The monk told us he is 53 years old. After that, he blessed us with prayer. We gave to him merit bucket. Then we took a picture with him. Very interesting experience with Buddhist culture. We also walked around temple and took picture and saw a place where ashes of important chief monk are stored.

After that we came on boat and had breakfast. Breakfast was regular American breakfast, eggs if you wish to have them, cooked with order. Fruit, yogurt, toast, pastries. Same as in Marriott.

The boat had good collection of books on Bangkok, river and Aythhuya. For some reason, I became obsessed with Ayutthaya when I was preparing for a trip and read few books. On a boat, I found illustrated nice book and I read it before we went there. Very interesting and I think one must to read on that otherwise the ruins do not tell you much. Guide explained to us about Ayutthaya however, there are some details and if you want to see certain temples, you need to tell. Like with any archeological site, imagination and knowledge is important. I do not recommend to see it without guide. The boat was underway since breakfast and scheduled to arrive to Ayutthaya about 2pm. We had snacks on a deck, then lunch. Lunch was Italian, Ceasar salad and pasta. Desert was rhubarb crumble.

After lunch, we arrived and docked.

Our guide Billly was already there and we went to  Wat Pananchoeng is an old monastery housing Thailand’s largest ancient Buddha image.

The Chinese revere this image as their God Protector since much of the sailing done then was by the Chinese.  Wat Phananchoeng is one of Ayutthaya's most ancient architectural sites, possibly built by the Khmers before Ayutthaya became an empire. The principal image in the main chapel is a highly revered sitting Buddha image in the 'subduing evil posture'. Built in 1325, the image is called 'Phrachao Phananchoeng', from which the temple gets its name.

After temple, we were driven to Ayutthaya. It is world UNESCO Heritage site. We toured Ayutthaya.

Then we were offered a ride on the elephant. This time the elephant was young, 3 years old. There was nobody else around so it was just us on one elephant with mohut of course. The mohut tried to speak to us but he did not speak English. We communicated somehow. It was a strange incident while riding. In previous camp in Chiang Mai we took few days ago, there were written rules – do not ask mohut to take a picture, he was supposed to pay attention to the elephant. This mohut stopped at some Aytthaya ruin, jumped off and asked for our camera to take picture. We gave him camera and explained how to take picture, that he has to hold button few seconds. He seemed not to understand and tried few times. He gave us his stick to hold. All elephant sticks as you probably know have a hook which must be a way to control elephant. No way we would try to poke elephant with a hook so we just held a hook. Meanwhile elephant got bored without mahout and started walking away to relieve himself and then munch on grass. We freaked out and called mohut. He kept saying – no problema and tried to figure out the camera. I was afraid to poke elephant – with my luck I would probably get him in the eye and who know what mad elephant do! Anyway, we kept screaming on mohut – get over there. He got back and asked how was the picture. On the picture he managed only to get snapshot of my foot resting graciously on elephant’s back. We said “It is perfect picture!” otherwise he would kept trying. Again, you will see in in our photoshow. After elephant adventure, we were driven to Bang Pa In, one of the districts of Ayutthaya where we saw our boat. 

We also visited Bang Pa In. Across from Bang Pa In is Wat Nivat - one of the more intriguing Buddhist temples – and this is where we moored for the night. Wat Nivat was constructed at the command of King Rama V in 1878, in the style of an English Gothic church. The temple’s stained glass windows and unusual architecture make it one of the most distinctive Buddhist temples anywhere in Thailand

We docked at the temple. It was fairly large and we saw many monks including children moving on the territory. The temple operates gondola like a ski gondola to get people from one side of the river to another. It is free but there is donation box. Whoever comes in, step on gondola and the pull it on another side. I also saw one dog which was frequently on the gondola. They run gondola even for one dog!

We came back onboard and rested. Skipped afternoon tea. Cocktail was shrimp crackers, crab cakes . We had beer with dinner.

Appetizers where shrimps in a egg roll, lobster in mint leaves, salad with scallop. Soup was chicken soup with coconut milk. Then came Massaman curry with pork, potatoes and peanuts, fried fish with garlic, jasmine rice and red rice, desert was egg  cooked in coconut milk.

After talking with Bovey for an hour, we went to bed.

Day 7.

Our last day on the boat. We had breakfast. After breakfast, our guide Billy came in and we went to see the Bang Pa In Summer Palace. The original Bang Pa In Palace was built by King Prasat Thong on the island and was used as a country residence for the later kings of the Ayutthaya period. However, after the capital moved to Bangkok, Bang Pa In was abandoned for 80 years, to be revived by King Rama V. He commanded the construction of additional buildings – theatres, temples and monuments in a mixture of European, Chinese and Thai styles. 

It is beautiful. It was hot and we opted for a golf cart. George drove it for a while but then left driving to Billy so we can take pictures. After palace, we were driven to the Bang Sai village, which enjoys the patronage of the Queen.

It is an impressive project. The Queen was able to get people off opium trade and train them in crafts. Here you can see a variety of Thai houses in regional styles and see how Thailand’s rural people make handicrafts such as fern basketry, silk flowers, hand-woven silk and cotton, silk dyeing, wood carving, miniature hand-modeled dolls and traditional furniture. There was also shopping a/c pavilion. Some items were museum quality and you can see them in separate floor. Very nice building and comfortable shopping.

Our boat already was docked at the Bang Sai Village and we walked to it after shopping. We said good bye to Billy and driver. What an easy way to sightsee! Combination of boat and car and golf cart!   

That concluded our sightseeing on Manohra cruise and we were underway to Bangkok. We had thai lunch – pork salad and chicken curry with vegetables and crispy noodles finished with fruit.

The rest of the day was relaxing, repacking, and resting on the deck. Manohra reached Bangkok and it was Saturday so the traffic was busy. It was very exciting to see the activity on the river. Many people from other boats took our picture. Bovey commented thatManohra Song,  is the Ferrari of the boats.

We arrived to Mariott at 5pm, said good bye to the crew.

We walked to reception, and re-checked back to hotel. We had the same room as before. Again, the receptionist took as to the room and we signed all papers. Next day, our departure for airport was at 5:30am, and our guide Suree instructed reception to wake us up at 4:30pm. I said, no, wake us at 5am. They asked – are you sure, and then agreed. The receptionist left. The porter appeared with our bags, he waied and thanked us for a tip. We finally were left alone (before there was another porter who brought our overnight bag.  We wanted to refresh. Yet another knock at the door! We thought receptionist forgot something – but there was a food service with welcome back orange juice! My husband said they probably heard we tip. Finished with this guy. 

We also ordered breakfast box to go for next morning as receptionist suggested – it is complimentary since breakfast is included in a room rate.  

We did some more shopping at Mariott center. George bought some Polo-copy shirts 2 days before and liked them and wanted more. We found the same vendor and she was very happy to see us. Got good deal. I also bought Thailand t-shirt. We had dinner at night at Traders Vicks. Well prepared food and good service, nice décor, very comfortable dinner. I had filegh mignon and my George had prawns.  

Day 8.

Time to leave Thailand. What is good about travel that eventually you come home. This trip to Hong Kong and Thailand was the longest we ever took, 2 weeks. We were looking forward to crisp New England weather.   

Our flight schedule was tight. We had booked first package to Hong Kong Sept 27-Oct 10  for a very good rate which included business class airfare on China Airlines from JFK via Taipei. I did not have flexibility to change this for Thailand so we bought an extension on Thai Airline Oct 3-10 from HKG – to Chiang Mai, then Bangkok and back to Hong Kong.

Therefore, on Oct 10, we had flight on Thai airways 8am BKK-HKG, which gave us 1.20 hour for connection with China Airlines HKG-TPE-JFK. By checking with agency in Hong Kong which did our tickets, she said it is probably not possible to check luggage through but enough time for connection. I know that min time was 60 minutes so considering there is no delays or security problems, we will make it.

Our Bangkok guide Suree arrived with a driver, we took our breakfast boxes, checked out and went to the car, again 4 people at 5am at hotel came to see us away. After all this commotion, we were packed in the car and on the way to airport :- ) .  At this point I was looking forward to surly faces at JFK. Bye to sawadee !

At airport, Suree again helped us a lot. She did not only find smaller line for us, but took our money, went somewhere and paid departure taxes for us. When we checked luggage in, I asked at the counter if we can check bags through – as we discussed with Suree before. The clerk had blank stare. Suree started to talk to him in Thai and after about few mins if explanation, and checking with supervisor, he checked us through Hong Kong, and with China Airlines to JFK. This saved us time, although Hong Kong airport is very efficient. Being experienced travelers,  we did not worry that much. If we would miss flight, we would take next day flight. We always buy travel insurance. But everything turned out well. Flight from Bangkok was delayed for about 30 minutes since it was traffic to take off. Good thing our bags checked in to JFK so China airlines knew what flight we arrive to Hong Kong. On arrival, there were China Airlines employees meeting us and directing to transfer to our next flight, they showed us the way and again, in Hong Kong’ s efficient airport, they also let us know without line in security when I showed them tickets. Nobody from the line minded. I guess again, Americans in Asia get preferential treatment!  

We checked into China Airline and had another connection on Taipan, and stop in Anchorage (snow  and 5C). 24 hours later, we arrived to JFK. The flight in business class was comfortable as 24 hour flight can be comfortable. The chairs almost reclined horizontally. In JFK – culture shock! No good signs, confusing where to go (especially if you are jet lagged)! Luggage Cart is $3! Everywhere in the world it is free! No currency exchange in arrival lounge. I felt sorry for Chinese people. 

Our bags did arrive from Bangkok! Cudos to Thai Airways and China Airlines! It probably would not work in USA. Another point to Asian airlines, this is the way to travel!

This concludes our first trip (but not the last) to Asia. It really was an eye opener for us, very exciting trip.

General thoughts about Thailand.

Great country, with nice people. We did only sightseeing, and not enough shopping which is very good. Hotels were exceptional but we were told even in 3 and 4* hotels, the service is superior comparing to US and Europe. Interesting food, but eat with caution. Avoid street vendors. Exotic culture, interesting sites. Great shopping, less expensive than in Hong Kong. We know some people who go to Asia every year to relax and shop. Probably makes sense if you have time. What you see in US department stores, cost fraction in Thailand.

The weather was hot and humid all week but no rain.  The best weather is from November to March. The climate is tropical. Islands weather and has more breeze than Bangkok.

It is very good value destination. You can get private car/driver and guide at the same price in Europe the cost of group tour. Service is excellent and food is inexpensive.

We highly recommend Thailand and Asia for travelers who did not go to Asia yet. You really cannot call yourself a world traveler if you have not been in Asia.