Bangkok, February 10, 2018
More palaces and more temples, arrrgh! Lesson to self: No matter how long and detailed a travel itinerary is make sure to study it with great care. If there are repeated visits to cathedrals, leave out a few. If there are repeated mentions of temples, leave out all but the most important. While we had an interesting day, I would have much preferred to spend it touring the city, maybe checking out a museum, the parks, or a famous monument or two. I'd enjoy simply seeing how the people live.
Pat, our guide, heard us and is trying to accommodate these wishes as much as he can with our existing schedules, but what is booked already is firm.
We will definitely have creative and candid feedback to provide our travel agent. Don't get me wrong, it is not bad, boring or unpleasant, to say the least; it is just not as diverse as we might have planned ourselves.
We drove out of the city of Bangkok to the town of Bang Pa. The drive was fast on nice highways and pleasant scenery lined the way. The Royal Summer Palace of Bang Pa dates back to the 17th century when King Prasat Thong had the palace constructed on an island in the Chao Praya River. The palace has been built and rebuilt and expanded many times since then. The present day palace dates from 1868-1910 when most of the buildings standing today were constructed. Because the king traveled to Europe, several of the buildings are of distinctly European architecture. Although the garden-like setting is meticulously maintained, the palace is visited by the royal family only about once per year for special receptions and banquets.
Just a ten minute drive away is the site of the ruins of Ayutthaya. Nothing but an archaeological site and tourist attraction today, Ayutthaya was once the largest and most advanced urban area of the time with schools, libraries, temples, stupas, market and trade centers and over a million people. Strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea, this important city flourished from the 14th to the 18th century. Here we saw the one of the most amazing things ever (which justifies -- no matter how tired you may become of seeing temple sites, just go one more . . .). On this sit of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, where nothing else stands, a large face of Buddha was once buried in ash and dirt. Buried and over centuries' time the stone face became embedded in a tangle of tree roots. As the tree grew, its roots slowly lifted out of the ground, to reveal the face, forever encased in a tight, webbed root frame. Now, among many things in this world, this face of Buddha was something very extraordinary to see.
In the 18th century, the Burmese army attacked the city, looted it, destroyed important Buddhist statures and burned the city to the ground. As shown in photos, restoration has been done over the years not to restore the look of original buildings but to merely retain the remaining pieces of original construction and work.
Next we drove to a dock where we boarded a big tour boat for the return trip back to Bangkok. Oh, but on the way we stopped at a little roadside area where several stands made and sold only one thing: Roti Sai Mai. Holy Cow!!!! Talk about wonderful!!! First they make the filling of sugarcane straw that has first been pressed, over and over, then cooked so the fibers become soft and digestible. That's the prep. Then they make a wrapper like a crepe. They prepare wheat flour dough and work it until its gluten is fully developed (very sticky). They take a glob of the dough and smear it on a hot griddle and quickly lift off it off. On the griddle is a thin smear of dough which cooks quickly into a paper thin wheat paper. You take one of the wheat papers and make a thick line of the cooked sugarcane straw on one end of the paper and roll it up. Eat. Your eyes will simply roll back!
Once on the big boat, wee were served lunch from an abundant Thai buffet. We tried a little bit of most dishes . . . tropical Thai fruit, stewed chicken, tom yum soup (that's the spicy variety; tom khaa is the coconut milk kind); curried beef, vegetables, deep fried sea bass sticks, salads and of course, pad thai with fresh bean sprouts and banana flower—just to name a couple of things. I'm in love with the Thai soups! ---- Get ready friends, I hope to try to serve you some!!
After lunch as the engines started up, we began the leisurely 2-hour river boat ride through the countryside back to the city. Our guide, Pat, enjoyed ribbing Stan, pointing and saying, look Stan, there's another temple!!! Stan kept saying iin a good way, of course, "shut up!!" Honestly, there are over 33,000 temple complexes in Thailand and we have toured and photographed our share. In addition, we have passed the unmistakable roof-tops of perhaps another hundred or so. Pat kept saying, are you sure you don't want to visit another temple . . . the next one is a really good one.
We have the morning off tomorrow so we decided to leave the planned itinerary and do something on our own. We have signed up for an early morning bike ride through Bangkok's old China town and its flower market! I think it is going to be fantastic!!!