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Sun 16 Nov 2014

Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai was my next destination as I continued exploring the archeological ruins of Thailand. The name Sukhothai reportedly is derived from Sanskrit and means “Dawn of Happiness.”

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Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

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Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

The Kingdom of Sukhothai rose to prominence in the mid-13th century, and was notable for absorbing and assimilating various influences and traditions into what is today called the “Sukhothai Style” of architecture. Sukhothai eventually was absorbed by the southern Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century.

Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

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Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

Buddha at Sukhothai Historical Park

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The ruins cover a vast area. Riding a rented bicycle I covered the “central” and “northern” portions today. My favorite site was Wat Phra Phai Luang, as it had only been minimally restored. I was fascinated by its weather-worn stone and brick structures.

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

Wat Phra Phai Luang

There were no other tourists at Wat Phra Phai Luang during the time I was there. It was very peaceful.

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Fri 14 Nov 2014

Wat Phra Ram, Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Ram, Ayutthaya

Today I rented a bicycle and visited the historical sites in Ayutthaya. After having traveled for two months in Asian countries in which they drive on the left, I adjusted fairly easily to the traffic patterns.

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A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Ayutthaya kingdom “flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce” (UNESCO), until it was destroyed by the Burmese. At its apex the kingdom ruled over what is now the southern half of modern Thailand.

The archeological ruins include remnants of huge monasteries. Unfortunately the modern town of Ayutthaya has grown around and between the ruins, meaning that 7-11 convenience stores and shopping centers seem to be everywhere.

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Kind of like assembling IKEA furniture -- there's always a part left over and you can't figure out where it goes!

Kind of like assembling IKEA furniture — there’s always a part left over and you can’t figure out where it goes!

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These babies were hiding in a small alcove at Wat Phanan Choeng, Ayutthaya.

These babies were hiding in a small alcove at Wat Phanan Choeng, Ayutthaya.

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Tue 11 Nov 014

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

My main task for today was to apply for my Myanmar visa. The Embassy of Myanmar  was only a few Skytrain stops from my hotel, but I had put off going there as I was anticipating long lines and bureaucracy.

I arrived at the embassy around 9:00 a.m. to find a crowd of Thais and foreigners waiting for the doors to open. After two hours of waiting in line I submitted my forms, photos and passport, paid the fee, and left with my voucher in hand for a next-day pickup.

Nearby the embassy was the home of the late M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, a colorful figure in Thai politics, arts and letters. I decided to pay a visit, as I had no other plan for the day.

The son of a princely family, M.R. Kukrit served as Prime Minister in the 1970’s during a turbulent period in Southeast Asia. He was a staunch defender of democracy against a strong military known for frequently intervening in Thai politics, as well as an advocate for traditional Thai culture in the face of increasing Westernization. Until the end of his life he lived in his classical Thai teak house, surrounded by a peaceful garden.

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

Garden at M.R. Kukrit Pramoj House

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Mon 10 Nov 2014

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The biggest tourist attraction in Bangkok was still on my to-do list. I alloted a full day to see the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew, where the so-called Emerald Buddha resided.

I again took the Skytrain to the tourist boat on the Chao Phraya, this time getting off one stop further up the river than when I had gone to Wat Pho on Saturday.

The compound was immense, encompassing more than 100 buildings (most of which are not open to the public). I passed through the entrance gates and joined the throngs of tourists. The admission price was steep: 500 baht (over US$15).

Wat Phra Kaew is surrounded by a shaded walkway with walls covered by murals depicting the Hindu epic The Ramayana. Most of the tourists (many of whom were on organized tours in big groups) were crowded around and inside the wat, taking photos of the building and each other. Therefore the area with the murals was virtually empty, except for a few stragglers like myself.

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Scene from The Ramayana

Eventually I made my way inside the wat to see the Emerald Buddha, which I learned was not made of emerald but of a greenish mineral called jasper, somewhat similar in appearance to jade. Photography of the Buddha was prohibited, and in any case, the diminutive Buddha was on such a high pedestal that it would have been difficult to get a good shot without a strong telephoto lens.

After viewing the Buddha I strolled around to see some of the other nearby buildings. The entire complex exuded opulence.

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Sun 9 Nov 2014

Prior to arriving in Thailand I contacted my friend Toi, a Thai native I had met in New York City who was now residing in Bangkok. She offered to be my guide for a day in Bangkok, and I happily accepted.

We took "Bus 166" from this thing called the Victory Monument.

We took “Bus 166” from this thing called the Victory Monument.

We used “intermodal transport” — Skytrain, taxi, bus — to reach Ko Kret, an island north of Bangkok that was created by dredging a canal in a bend in the Chao Phraya River. After having a peek at a Buddhist wat, we walked the path on the periphery of the island, a route of several kilometers. A portion of the path was lined with vendors selling souvenirs and food. Other than the wat and the market, it seemed the island was mostly a rustic village.

We stopped to have lunch at a small restaurant situated in a wooden structure perched off the canal. As the menu was entirely in Thai and the staff did not speak much English, I relied on Toi to order for both of us.

Ko Kret has a large settlement of Mon people, who have been in Thailand for over a millennium. The Mon create a kind of unglazed pottery known as “kwan arman” and there are many kilns on the island.

Artisan In Action!

Artisan In Action!

I was grateful to Toi for guiding me on an excursion I would not have been able to manage on my own, due to the language barrier and my general unfamiliarity with the geography of Bangkok and its surrounding area.

With Toi, my Friend & Tourguide!

On the bus with Toi: My Friend & Tour Guide!

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Sat 8 Nov 2014

The Reclining Buddha's Toes! At Wat Pho, Bangkok

The Reclining Buddha’s Toes! At Wat Pho, Bangkok

In addition to visiting the Jim Thompson House Museum yesterday, I also hopped on a boat traveling on the Khlong Saen Saeb, one of the old canals in Bangkok. My goal was to get to the old part of Bangkok called Banglamphu. I got off at an earlier stop than the one I should have taken, so I had to walk a few kilometers to get to my destination. I took a cab back to my hotel since I was not quite sure where to pick up the canal boat on the way back.

Today my plan was to get to the area around the Grand Palace and the nearby temples, and from my travels yesterday I realized I would have difficulty figuring out the local canal boats without being able to read or speak Thai. A woman at my hotel’s reception desk recommended I take the Sky Train to the stop at the Chao Phraya River. There I could catch a “tourist boat” with an English-speaking guide that would stop at all the key tourist spots.

I got off the boat at Wat Pho and spent some time there exploring the complex and taking photos. Then I took a small ferry-boat across the river to get to Wat Arun, “The Temple of Dawn,” where I was able to climb up the tower to take some photos of the Bangkok skyline (see Thurs 6 Nov post).

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha - Back View

Reclining Buddha – Back View

Detail of Toe!

Detail of Toe!

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

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Fri 7 Nov 2014

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Today I visited the home of Jim Thompson, an American silk entrepreneur who settled in Thailand after WWII. An architect by training, he developed a great interest in Thai silk textiles and was instrumental in the development of the export market for Thai silk. After he mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia in 1967, his home was turned into a museum.

Unfortunately photography inside of the home was not allowed, so I was only able to take some photos of the garden.

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Garden at Jim Thompson House

Garden at Jim Thompson House


Garden at Jim Thompson House

Garden at Jim Thompson House


Garden at Jim Thompson House

Garden at Jim Thompson House


Garden at Jim Thompson House

Garden at Jim Thompson House

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