While I could take my friends on any number of day trips, a UNESCO world heritage site should not be missed. Hence, we will be heading North to Thailand’s central plain to see ruins, ruins, and more ruins.
Ayutthaya (January 5, 2010)
After a simple breakfast at the hotel buffet, Kasma related some of the history of the Thai kingdom when it was centered at Ayutthaya. We also discussed our itinerary for the day, which in its essence was: ruins, shopping, temple, ruins, shopping, snacking, ruins, ruins, ruins, drive, lunch, drive, snack, drive, hotel. Unless I missed something.
Bangkok (January 4, 2010)
Our early morning getaway began under cover of darkness around 5:45AM. We were split among two vans, and unfortunately we became separated. Our driver in the second van is actually a mechanic, so he is not as familiar with the twists and turns of Bangkok as would be ideal. Directions came by mobile phone and from locals on the streets. One road we turned down had giant humps, large enough to hide a vehicle, far too frequently. Snoozing dogs barely looked up from the edge of the road as we desperately tried to escape the city. Eventually, we made it to the highway and caught up with our fellow travelers. We would arrive at the floating market about 20 minutes later than planned, but at least we would be together.
Every year, Kasma Loha-Unchit leads groups of her cooking students and other fans of Thai cuisine on trips to Northern Thailand. Highlights include exploration of UNESCO World Heritage sites; cultural exchange in “hill tribe” villages; shopping in vast markets featuring fresh fruit, vegetables and prepared foods; riding an elephant; and eating lots of delicious Thai food. For a general overview of the experience of traveling with Kasma, see Visiting Thailand with Kasma Loha-Unchit.
What to Expect on the Northern Trip (Trip “B”)
The 19-day Northern trip typically starts in late December. The Fall trip combines the Northern trip with a brief visit to the South. Here are a few notes about the Northern trip from one visitor’s perspective, based on taking the trip in January 2008 (and updated after a second trip taken in January 2010).
Bangkok is only the most recent capital of Thailand, whose various predecessor kingdoms date back more than a millennium. Ayutthaya (also spelled Ayuthaya and Ayudaya, and pronounced eye-YOO-tea-yuh) was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was sacked by the Burmese. A few years later, the capital was re-formed in Bangkok and Ayutthaya’s temples — looted of their gold by the Burmese — fell into disrepair. Today, they consist largely of brick ruins with beheaded Buddhas (some were destroyed by the Burmese, while others were crudely broken off for the antiquities trade before the city became a protected site). Still, you can get an impression of the grandeur of the city during that time.
Before heading North to Ayutthaya, we snuck out of Bangkok under cover of darkness to the heavily touristed Damnoen Saduak “floating market.” We stopped along the highway for some serious shrimp paste and fishy snacks before rolling into the already busy market just at its 7 AM opening time. We rented three low boats, steered and powered by an oarsman at the rear. As we slipped up the canal, we quickly purchased some fried bananas and remarkably delicious coconut pancakes. Other vendors offered young coconuts for drinking, numerous fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and every manner of trinkets, especially at shops along the banks of the canal. I picked up the mandatory market t-shirt at one of these stops. Occasionally a smelly diesel powered boat would charge by, detracting from the otherwise pleasant ambiance.