The Adventures of The Roving Route #16
With great sadness, we left one of our most beloved countries to continue exploring. Before we were able to fully explore Thailand's capital city, we had one more adventure; sleeping in the airport. This was a first for Jacki. Arriving into Bangkok International Airport at around 3 am, we had no place to stay except for a few tips from one of our favourite websites sleepinginairports.net. This amazing resource breaks down everything from lounges to airport hotels, wifi, and our favourite free sleeping areas. Did you know that many airports have designed areas with comfy chairs, loungers, and sometimes even beds? Bangkok's airport is massive so we were hoping to utilize these areas however the airport is built over two levels with arrivals and departures on top of each other. With no connecting ticket, we were not able to get upstairs and had to resort to uncomfortable benches to get some shut-eye. Luckily we had our packing cubes for pillows and towels for blankets. When you travel for multiple months with two carry-ons it's important that everything has a dual purpose!
We are excited to start the new year off in a new country and such a famous city. At 14 million people we figured the New Year's party would be quite the show and we were not disappointed. Just a block from our hotel was Khaosan Road: a former small rice trading street that became the centre of the travelling hippy community in the 70's. Now it is full of bars selling drinks and laughing gas, street vendors, and of course the odd person selling all sorts of creepy crawlies. Not to be confused with the infamous red-light district this much less seedy area was absolutely packed with people partying for New Year's. Making friends with two groups of locals, we had a ton of fun ringing in the new year in Jacki's 17th new country of the year and our 19th country overall!
New Year's Day was a bit of a whirlwind as we found out that many of the main attractions were free for the day. Luckily we were super close to them so a full day out and about was all that was needed to see half of the Grand Palace and the National Museum.
The palace itself is 2.5 million square feet and though a good chunk of it was closed for the day, the Emerald Buddha was available to be seen. Sitting at just over 2 feet tall, the jade (not emerald as the name suggests) Buddha is the holiest in the country. Many legends surround this great statue and he is seen as the palladium of the country- the item that keeps the country safe. Millions pay respects to the small Buddha per year. Depending on the season, he has three outfits that he wears, two of which were made by King Rama I (1782-1809) and one by King Rama III (1821-1854) all of which are made of gold. As such an important Buddha, it's one of the best entry points into the Buddhist religion.
Surrounding the main temple are dozens of small chedis adorned with coloured tiles, semi-precious stones, and hundreds of feet of murals. The murals tell the story of Ramakien- a classic battle between King Rama I and demons who kidnap his Queen.
With fading time, we made a quick stop off at the National Museum. Once again, as it was free, they did not have the entire place on display but still numerous important and unique areas were open. Our favourite was the hall of royal funeral chariots and urns. As with most other monarchies, the royal family are some of the most revered people in the country so it is no surprise that when someone dies, it is a big deal. Even today, when a member of the royal family passes, they are carried to the royal resting ground in chariots that were built in the late 1700s. After the fall of Ayutthaya (see below) to the Burmese, Bangkok was named the capital of Thailand. King Rama I one of the first kings based out of Bangkok, took it upon himself to rebuild the royal chariots that were destroyed by the Burmese. These 30-foot tall structures are needed to be pulled by hundreds of men and are completely covered in gold and ornate decorations. In 2017, when the King of Thailand passed, it took 216 people to pull the chariot and his ashes through the city! Along with a few other smaller chariots in the museum, are the decorative urns that once carried the ashes of princesses, princes and other royal family members.
The other exhibit that was of specific note, was 10 Buddhas from around Asia and over the centuries that have been donated to the Thai Museum. Siddhārtha Gautama, the man known as Buddha, was born in the 7th century BCE and after years studying Hindu texts could not understand the amount of human suffering through death and rebirth. After years of tweaking its ideologies to suit what he believed would be the better form of spiritual living, he eventually became "enlightened" and his following grew. In the centuries that followed, his religion spread through much of Asia and was adopted by millions, though it evolved with each new era and area. The further the religion spread, the more the religion adopted the local culture in both the way it was practiced and how Buddha looked aesthetically. The 10 statues sitting in this temple show the evolutions over time. The statue originating in India from the 2nd century AD has major influences from Hindu images as it was still close to its origin, whereas one from Japan dating to the 12th century is more heavy set with Japanese facial features. It is interesting to see how the same person changed images drastically as it was adopted by new areas.
With just a few nights in Bangkok, our time was way too quick to explore the full city but just enough for a taste. With a good start to our curry, pad thai, smoothie, and whatever other Thai dish diet underway, we moved a few hours north to the town of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was the capital of the Thai kingdom for 400 years (1350 to 1767) before it was destroyed by the invading Burmese army. During this time period, the kingdom was extremely prosperous and had a capital to match. With a trading empire that spread to the far reaches in Europe and the Middle East, it was the first kingdom to put Thailand on the world stage. The city was built on a natural bend and convergence point of 2 rivers and the remaining land connection was dredged to form a completely separate island. With heavy walls and few entrances, the city was extremely difficult to attack and quickly became the most populous city in the kingdom. At its peak, the city had roughly 1 million inhabitants making it one of the largest in the world, many of which were foreigners who helped facilitate the trading networks around the world.
The Burmese were eventually able to successfully invade and left the city in ruins. The hundreds of Buddhas (some up to 30 feet tall) were either fully destroyed or had their heads chopped off. The sight of lines of headless Buddhas now is quite the sight!
Though the vast majority of the buildings were destroyed, there are a few that were able to be rebuilt or salvaged. Biking through the UNESCO site is an amazing experience. Small channels run between temples and royal halls that are up to 600 years old! We lucked out and found an incredible hotel that was right across from the ruins and were able to wake up to a morning coffee overlooking them!
We continue our travels north to a few other ancient towns of the Thai Kingdom. Each seems to be unique and some even hold little surprises so we are excited to see what the country has in store for us!
Whenever we start out in a new country we always look for the history/evolution of the area videos to watch to give us some insight before exploring. If you are wanting a bit more information than what we provided above and what we will talk about in the next few weeks, we recommend watching this.
Cheers from Ayutthaya, The Roving Route