Wednesday, June 08, 2011

THAILAND PART III: Daytrips Outside Bangkok

After planning the logistics for the whole Thailand trip, I was quite happy that Ernesto took the initiative to pick some things out of our travel guide.  We are both very easy-going travelers, and I would say this is the reason we rarely get annoyed with each other when on a trip.  We have a good system down.

He is the navigator.  I am the follower.    I like to read the guide book to see what there is to do, but when it comes down to it, Ernesto is great with directions/maps and I trust 100% that he will make sure we have a good time, no matter what we do.   Bottom line:  I have no problems letting go of the planning.

In the guide book, I had not even noticed the small provincial town of Lopburi, just a 2.5 hour train ride outside of Bangkok.  The town is known for its sunflower fields, coconut jelly and rattan furniture and palace ruins.  None of these though, are what drew us to Lopburi.  We visited to meet the most notorious residents of the town.  We went to meet the monkeys.

Upon exiting the train station you are greeted with this monument and tales of the ancient city, one of Thailand's oldest.   
If you continue walking down the main street in the town, you will start to notice them.  The monkeys.  At first you'll just see a few on the sidewalk, but when you stop and take a closer look around you will notice them many monkeys can you find in the picture?

You would think we so many monkeys running around that there would be some fatalities, but the people hold the monkeys sacred and would never intentionally harm them.  As a matter of fact, every November there is a festival that celebrates the monkeys.  The townspeople  set up a buffet for the monkeys and just let them feast. This event draws thousands of visitors, and I can see why.  That would be so cool to witness.

When we ended up in front of the Phra Prang Sam Yot monument, we figured out the the rest of the monkeys hang out here. 

{Phra Prang Sam Yot}
 The monument itself is very impressive.  It dates back to the 11th-13th centuries!  It has three "prangs" connected by narrow corridors.  We were able to walk inside, but the Buddha statues that once were there have been moved to the towns' museum. 
There is a great statue outside.  Notice the little baby monkey sleeping in Buddhas arms. 
This is probably my best picture.  I love how the Buddha is blurred in the background. 
Of course we were warned to keep any food or water bottles out of sight because the monkeys are not in the least bit shy.  They will take anything they can get their hands on!
Ernesto had the camera con "continuous shot" and I love this sequence...check out how my facial expressions change.
Yet another of the ancient ruins is Ban Luang Rap Ratchathut.  It was ordered to be built by King Narai the Great as a residences for foreign envoys and priests.  It covered a lot of space [within 4 tall brick walls] and had so many nooks and crannies.  A great place for a photo shoot.

 For lunch we stopped in for a noodle bowl at a tiny corner shop.  No menu.  No name.  
On the tables of most Thai restaurants, there are glass jars with 4 condiments:  dry chili,  vinegar with fresh chiles, fish sauce and white sugar. 
The monkeys were close by all the while.
{picture taken from our seats in the restaurant}
And finally, after passing up these delicious looking grilled bananas we kept passing on the street, I stopped and ordered some!  They are grilled to perfection, (not too mushy) and served with a coconut-sugar cane dipping sauce. 
Que Rico!!
A small bag of them only cost about 35 cents.  I stopped and bought from her twice!
Before catching the train back to Bangkok we stopped at a friendly looking hangout called Noom Guest House.  We whipped out our deck of cards and played for a couple hours over a couple drinks.  (Ernesto-beer. Me-water, of course.)
This was one of our best days!  I highly recomment taking a day trip to Lopburi! 
Day trip #2:  Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets The other daytrip, and something I had to see, was to the floating markets.  I had seen the pictures before, and it was part of the lure of coming to Thailand. Although these markets originated in times where water transport played an important role in daily life, most floating markets operate today as tourist attractions.  Still it's a peek into the old traditional way of selling vegetables, fruits, etc from a small wood boat.  Hiring a boat is a must as it allows you to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the market and experience buying the local fruit and vegetables first hand. 
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (2 hours by bus from Bangkok) is one of the most famously known floating markets.  I knew it was going to be touristy, still wanted to see for myself.   Riding in the longtails through the canals was cool enough.  At parts it was wide and some canals were very narrow.
Many companies sell tours from Bangkok including transportation and boat ride through the canals. Most of these tours cost between 2500-4000 baht! ($80-$130)  Read: rip-off!  Speaking of rip-offs... When you are heading to a "major tourist destination" you must be ready to bargain, and look past all of the touristy crap to see the authenticity of the place. Case in point:  these cheesy souvenirs were widely available.
The below store, although it had some definite cheese, we looked beyond it, and spotted a beautiful teak wood carving.  We bargained of course....she was asking a ridiculous price and we got her down to a 1/4 of where she started.  (**funny story about our one and only souvenir at the end)
Tip: You don't need to book this as a tour folks!!  Go to the south bus terminal in Bangkok and by a ticket for $4.  It will drop you at the canals where you can then find a boat to hire.  There you will need to bargain to get a good price for the boat too.  The first price we were quoted was 1500 baht for one hour, we knew that was ridiculous (Lonely Planet said 300 bht pp was a good price)  and so we bargained them down to 600 total.  That's right!  Total cost of trip when booked yourself = $35.
Alos, make sure that you go early, we arrived around noon-1pm and they were wrapping up.
Thailand was such a wonderful trip!  We are so glad we made it happen! This was one that needed to be squeezed in before baby.  I don't want to say it's our last trip, but I don't see any more trips around the globe for a while.  Bitter-sweet!

** The wood carving that we paid $60 for, was left on the bus back to Bangkok.  We didn't realize until until 2 hours later that we didn't have it in our possession.  We took a taxi back to the bus station to find out that the bus had left to go back to the markets and would not be back until morning.  We were leaving at 5am. UGH!  We paid a taxi driver to take us back to the markets to pick up the carving and then back to our hotel. Another $60!  Not bad for a 2.5 hour trip, but it did end up doubling the price of our souvenir.  It looks beautiful in our place though, so I am glad we went back for it!

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