Friday, August 17, 2012

Thailand - Monkeys, ruins, crickets

Monkeys, ruins and crickets. All in one day. How did we manage this? Read on to find out!

While planning our trip in Asia, I had heard Ayutthaya (about a 2 hour drive out from Bangkok) to be a great little day trip out of Bangkok. It also helps that the ruins were UNESCO World Heritage Site listed in 1991. There's just something sexy about attractions with that title slapped on them huh? 

Of course, the whole time I was planning the trip, I kept telling Brad to look into things he wanted to do. He never really came back to me with anything he was interested in…until of course we were in Bangkok and so I had to see what I could arrange last minute. Boys! 

Frankly I was a little surprised when he told me he wanted to see…monkeys. Really Brad? 

So we borrowed my family friend's driver and car again (who had better directions this time) to make a trip out to Lop Buri and Ayutthaya in one day. Lop Buri is about a three and a half hour drive out of town and is famous for two shrines, Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine, in the heart of town where…well…there are truckloads of monkeys, or more accurately, macaques. 

And well. Yeah. That's exactly what we saw. 

It was pretty intense though, I was not expecting so many! There must have been hundreds between the two shrines, and they even spilled out on to the street, just hanging out around construction sites and climbing on electric wires! On a whole the ones by the newer shrine (Phra Kaan Shrine) are pretty friendly, though they get a bit crazy when they see food! I loved watching the babies and their mothers, and also the monkeys running around the little well/pond/pool and falling into it. What a life hey?

The monkeys got pretty friendly with Brad and I, at one point I think Brad had about four just hanging out on his head and shoulders. If they are freaking you out though, the locals are pretty efficient at shooing them off. Can you see the second monkey attempting to scale Brad's leg there? It was a touch inconvenient for me as my pants were fairly loose, and the monkeys liked to grab on to them to climb up on me...which meant I was running around with monkeys on my head and trying to hold my pants up at the same time. It's a good look. Fortunately Brad's not quite as snap happy as I am so there is no evidence...

Over at Phra Prang Sam Yot, just across the road, the monkeys were a little more mischievous, some stole our tickets out of my back pocket, whilst another went for Brad's glasses…and very nearly succeeded! 

Doesn't this group look like a monkey version of the Lion King? Love the big hairy daddy! 

We also popped by King Narai's palace in Lop Buri, which was built in 1677. It's actually surprisingly well done, it's on a huge plot of land, with many building ruins and a lot of signs telling you what each of the buildings were used for. There were even elephant stables. Elephant stables! The museum on the grounds is also very well done, neatly organised with lots of information about the history. It's fascinating to see how open minded King Narai was at the time, they were apparently incredibly tolerant of people having other religions and sent many diplomatic missions to countries as far as France and England. Or so they say anyway. 

After that, it was on to Ayutthaya. The Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historical Park, is massive. I would highly recommend getting bicycles to cycle around, especially in the heat of the day. We walked from temple to temple…and well, it was tiring work!

We popped in first to Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, which houses one of the largest bronze buddhas in Thailand. It's a gorgeously restored building, as always just dripping in gold and vividly bright colours.

Next was Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest temple in Ayutthaya, but probably better known for it's row of restored chedis. There's not much of the temple left, since it was burned down by the Burmese, but the chedis, to me, are just glorious. I love that they have been left bare and have a stonewashed look to them. It just shows how beautiful the Thai architecture and styling is at the core, without all the elaborate decorations and gold leaf that they tend to be a bit generous with. 

One thing I find a bit eerie with all these ruins, was that a lot of the Buddha statues were sitting around headless. You gotta admit, it's kinda creepy.

Our last stop was Wat Ratchaburana, which was a good 20 minute walk away. Again, just a fascinating ruin to be in, the land which they are all on, is always huge, it's impressive to think how they would have put it together back in the day. I also thought the undressed brick had a lot of character to it. 

By this point, we were both tired and hungry, and so we hurried over to the closest restaurant (there aren't many around) which was named, in bright yellow banners, 'One Love'. ONE LOVEEEE, ONE LIFEEEEE……(ahem.)

Frankly, the food was unremarkable. Some of the oddest looking prawn cakes I had seen in Thailand yet and we had green, kinda soggy spring rolls. GREEN!

But that's okay, as after getting back to the hotel, and having a nap, we hurried back out to Pantaree restaurant to indulge in pad thai, som tam and Thai iced tea (I actually managed to have at least one a day). Aaaah. 

After that, we made our way to Patpong, as Brad was curious to see what the scene was like. Oh my god. What was I thinking?! THE red light district in Bangkok, lined with go-go bars, where you can get dancers and sex shows, which are infamous for being disgusting and rather degrading. Brad and I made a pretty fast loop around the place, with me being the one having to fend off people asking "Sex show? Sex show? Sex show?" Why me?! Surely Brad is the white guy who looks like he'd have money…

We also walked around the sois in Nana, also well known for pick-up bars and where you can view the curious side of tourism in Bangkok. Lots of older, middle age white guys and young, skimpily dressed Thai women. Put two and two together hey? Brad and I actually got a drink in one of these sorts of bars, where the two mingled and drank, and were both a little paranoid that we would be approached when we separated briefly to get a drink! Fortunately nothing happened though….

On our way back from the BTS skytrain to our hotel, we came across a lady selling just insects. Like, just insects. Grubs, crickets, caterpillars…she had it. We nearly walked away, but figured it wasn't too often we got to eat creepy crawlies…so crickets it was! 

They were surprisingly tasty, with a salty soy dressing on the crispy, deep fried crickets. It was almost like eating crisps, as they were so crunchy! The only annoying thing was when the slightly serrated cricket legs would get caught on the roof of your mouth…just a little bit irritating. But I would totally recommend trying them…they are supposed to full of protein and healthy for you!