Day trip to Amphawa: 5 temple tour, floating market and fireflies

IMG_20150829_105055I have been wanted to go to a traditional floating market since I have been in Thailand. I decided to take a day trip the other weekend to Amphawa, which is just south of Bangkok. Amphawa is not the popular tourist floating market that most people go to from Bangkok. It is not a typical floating market as it gets busy in the afternoon rather than early morning. IMG_20150830_072137

It was easy to get to Amphawa from Bangkok. To get here, take a van from Victory Monument. The easiest place to find a van is leave the Victory Monument BTS at exit 4, walk about a 100m then turn left to the van station. It cost 80 baht each way. After a peaceful 2-hour journey, I arrived in Amphawa, where I brought a return ticket to make sure I could get back to Bangkok. When I got off the van, I saw a sign to the floating market, which was a short walk away.IMG_20150829_131711

The canal was surrounded with rows of shops selling food, souvenirs, and clothes. There were a few boats on the canal selling food mostly. When I researched Amphawa, there were a few places I wanted to see so I found a long boat tour that took me to 5 different temples, which cost 50 baht. The only catch is that I had to wait on the boat until it was full, which I didn’t mind as I wanted a relaxed day. Soon, the boat was packed, all with Thais. It was lovely trip seeing different scenery and temple. The first 4 temples, weren’t anything special but I got blessed by a monk at one of then, who gave me a bracelet. It was interesting to observe the local buying flowers, incense as an offering to Buddha. At each and every temple, they did this. IMG_20150829_132807

The final was the temple I wanted to see: Wat Bang Kung. As I departed the boat, I was faced with a animal petting area with camels, goats,deer and some other animals. They were so cute. I walked up the road to find the temple in a Banyan Tree, which was crowded with people but looked really cool. There are many statues of fighting men and an aeroplane.IMG_20150829_151012

Once, we the long tail boat speed back to the market, I had a pad thai made by a woman on one of the floating boats and I sat facing the canal and enjoying my food. I wandered through narrow markets, full of sample and different food to find the Thai dessert museum, which wasn’t really worth going to but the surround garden was beautiful. After, I went back to the canal area to get a foot massage, which is just what i needed. There is only one massage place along the whole of the canal and they also give massages on empty boat.IMG_20150829_172644

Late afternoon, I tried different Thai desserts and food before hopping on the firefly long tail boat tour, which was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen fireflies and they covered trees in the dark. The driver caught a firefly and showed me as I was sitting at the rear of the boat. It was just amazing. I went on the tour at the perfect time, where I saw the sunset on the river before seeing the fireflies.IMG_20150830_071505

After the tour, I got a van back to Bangkok. I had an amazing day and would totally recommending going to Amphawa.

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Ayutthaya: A place of history, temples and markets

IMG_20150531_103125As I had a three day weekend due to Buddhist celebration of Monday, I wanted to take a trip to somewhere not too far from Bangkok. I knew I would only be spending one night here as my friends that were visiting Thailand were departing on Saturday and Sunday.

I had heard so many things about Ayutthaya and it certainly didn’t disappoint. To get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok, I brought my ticket and started my journey at Hua Lumphong train station. It only cost 20 baht for a ticket. The trains are pretty standard with hard seats and packed carriages but with the price and it only taking about two and a half hours, it is so worth taking an excursion to this part of Thailand.

IMG_20150531_095605On the way, I met a French guy, who I ended up spending the day with. After the train journey, We walked to my hostel (Baan Are Gong), which was less than a five minute walk to check in. Unfortunately the room wasn’t ready so we rode a boat, which was about a minute walk, to the main Island. There were many Tuk Tuk drivers pestering us to take us around on the main road but it’s easier, quicker and cheaper to get a long boat.

Today, we strolled across the whole Island for miles and miles to explore the city. Majority of the time, I like to travel by foot to get the feel and bearings of a new place. I find that it is always a good way to get lost and discover unknown areas or places which can’t be found in a travel guide.

IMG_20150531_143825Ayutthaya is an impressive city with stone remains from the Burmese invasion, which nearly completely burnt the city down to the ground.

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Phra Ram Park

Over the two days, I managed to see nearly every temple, both ruins and functioning ones. Some had admissions fees; others didn’t. Before lunch, I scouted temples including Wat Mahathat, Wat Ractchaburana, Wat Thammikarat, Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, Wat Phra Si Samnphet, Wat Worapho, Wat Worachettharam, Wat Lokayasutharam (gold reclining Buddha) and Ancient Palace. Around some of these temples is large, well-kept, beautiful Phra Ram Parks with steams and bridges. Up one of the streets, elephants were trudging aimlessly with tourists on their backs. Nothing really surprises me in Thailand especially when it came to animals. It’s normal to see theses sort of happenings.

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Wat Lokayasutharam

Lunch was difficult to find as there wasn’t many places to dine but we did find a small place that sold a limited of options.

After, we walked and admired the architecture inside and out of Chedi Sri Suriyothai,  Wat That Ka Rong, Wat Thammaram and Wat Kasattrathirat, We then caught a Songtaew but unfortunately we went further than we thought so we roamed around Wat Na Phra Men, Wat Choeng Tha, Wat Salapoon Worawiham.IMG_20150531_111627
From here we grabbed another Songtaew to Wat Racha Praditsatarn and Wat Khun Saen. We found a market full of food and little cabins. As it was nearing the end of the day, we took a long tail boat back to the guesthouse where the French guy left to go back to Bangkok.

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Wat Chaiwatthanaram

I rested my feet for a while before deciding what to do that evening and the following day. During the evening, I hired a motorbike to drive to the opposite side to see the view of Wat Chaiwatthanaram, which is a replica of Angkor Wat with the sun setting behind. It felt tranquil and before my eyes was a spectacular sight. For dinner, I ate at one of the night market on the riverside looking at Wat Monthop. I got told about another night market so I drove around trying to find the other it. Eventually, I did and brought a delicious creamy Oreo cake for dessert.

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Wat Monthop

The next day, I wanted to see pretty much the rest of Ayutthaya. Jumping onto my motorbike, driving through crazy traffic, across lanes, I searched for the elephant village and floating markets. With a huge sign above the road leading to my destination, it was easy to find especially as I wasn’t aware that they were both side by side. After parking up, I spent time with the elephants, feeding, stroking and posing for selfies with them. Right here, there was an entrance to have photos with some tigers but as I peered through the door, I could clearly see one completely out of it. I just didn’t want to pay to have a photo with an animal that wasn’t treated right. It looked tired and miserable with no life.

IMG_20150601_102603On one side of the elephants was a fun fair sort of market with food and souvenirs. On the opposite area was the huge floating market. Actually I’m not sure it can be called a proper floating market. Yes, i could see water but things were being sold in wooden huts and not boats. There was a variety of souvenirs, food, clothes to buy. It was extremely pretty and definitely worth a look.IMG_20150601_104907

Riding back on the motorbike, I admired many temples including Wat Samanakottharam, Wat Kudidao and Wat Pradoo Songton. From the previous day, I had heard about the Buddha head in the tree so I went on a mission to find it, which I soon discovered was in Wat Maha That, which is one of the temples that has an admission fee.

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Buddha Head in a tree, Wat Maha That

Before having lunch in a local Thai restaurant, I drove to Wat Phu Khao Thi and King Naresuan Monument, which were stunning. I did one last round of Ayutthaya to soak up the area for the last time. As I was driving back to drop off my bike, I was zigzaging through the crazy traffic, nearly being hit by several vehicles. There are not any traffic rules so drivers seem to do what they like. It just means that I have to have my head screwed on while on the road.IMG_20150601_114842

Ayutthaya is a beautiful city, full of spectacular ruins.

Kyoto: bamboo groves, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Gion, Japanese theatre, nightlife

This has got to be one of the best days so far in Japan.

After enjoying a sushi brekkie, we decided to go round Kyoto by public transport visiting several tourist attraction. Luckily, when we got to the subway, it was easy to understand and navigate. Win!

Our first stop was the bamboo grove in Arashiyama. As we were walking there, we went pass a dirty river, up a Main Street full of souvenir shop and the cutest train station (it has a statue, colourful pillars, a garden and a foot spa).

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The bamboo grove was absolutely incredible. Words cannot describe them. It is basically a path with thousands of tall bamboo trees that reach to the sky. It is definitely one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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We then trekked it on the subway to the other side of the city to see the Fushimi Inari Taisha. Again, this was an awesome experience. It had long, meandering tunnels of bright orange torii arches. You would see nothing like these in England.

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After we travelled on a subway to the main Kyoto station to find out some information about the Japanese theatre, we got an all day bus ticket (£3.25 – what a bargain) to the bottom of the hill to the oldest temple in Kyoto, Kiyomiza, which nestle lovingly against steep Mt Higashiyama. It looked incredible apart from all the scaffolding around it. The steps that lead down to Otowa-no-taki, there is a waterfall where visitors sip water from the spring believe that it brings health benefits. There was a huge queue to do this.

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On the path up to the temple, there were plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants full of tourists and several statues.

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A stroll from here took us to Gion district, which is known as Kyoto’s main historical centre of traditional theatre, arts, antiques and the place to seek out geishas (unfortunately we didn’t find one on the streets).

As we were trying to find Yasaka Hall, the heavens decided to open so we got absolutely soaked. What seemed like forever, wandering through narrow streets, we found Gion Corner, which provides a selection of bite-sized samples of Japanese culture for tourists:

Chado (tea ceremony) – they used two people from the audience to perform this, where the lady was wearing a traditional kimono, blessed and washed the the equipment in particular way.

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Koto (Japanese harp) – two ladies played a thirteen- string instrument, playing court music. This was very peaceful.

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Kano (flower arrangement) – while the koto was being played a lady cut and arranged flowers in a special design.

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Gagaku (court music) – on half the stage, 6 men were sitting on the floor playing a variety of instruments: gong, drum, woodwind, while another person dressed in a bright red costume with a scary looking mask danced on the other side. He was repeating his moves, pointing, swinging his arms and chuffing. It was interesting to watch but I person did not enjoy the music: it was screechy and high pitch.

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Kyogen (ancient comic play) – this was a comedy sketch with three men, where one man wanted to protect his sake so he tied up the other two men. However, they managed to drink it and started singing and dancing. Even though they were speaking in Japanese, the acting showed what was happening and it was very funny in parts. It was great to watch and I could definitely watch this for hours.

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Kyomai (Kyoto style dance) – here two geisha with serious faces came onto stage and danced to the Japanese harp, mainly gentle movement repeated, some in sync with each other, some on different layers, some in cannon.

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Bunraku (puppet play) – this was a love story, which only used one life sized puppet, which was controlled by three people. Skilfully, they carefully glided her around the stage. I love watching this but was hard to understand even though there was no real spoken words.

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Anyone going to Japan, I would recommend to see traditional Japanese theatre, it was brilliant.

In the evening, after having some food, we went back to the hotel to enjoy a beverage and a game of uno. We then walked back to the Gion district to find a bar but found that most of them had expensive sitting fees. However, we did go in one up on the sixth floor, where a young guy basically took us, served us and translated everything for us, for the majority of the night.

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