Tag - ancient city

Chanthaburi, Thailand

Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand

Popularly known as the ‘city of the moon’, Chanthaburi is famous for its large quantity of tropical fruits and also as a centre for beautiful gem stones. This interesting province is blessed with lush forests featuring sparkling waterfalls, fishing villages and tranquil beaches on which to relax and soak up the sun.

A great place to get an idea of the natural beauty of this province is to visit the Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, whilst Khao Khitchakut National Park contains a breathtaking waterfall and is a good place to spot wild elephants. Another great reserve is the Namtok Phliu National Park which, as its name suggests, contains a large number of enchanting waterfalls to splash about in.

If you are interested in water sports, Khlong Pong Nam Ron is a great place to go white water rafting, the best time being between July and January. Another breathtaking experience is the view from the top of Khao Phloi Waen, which means Sapphire-Ring Mountain in the Thai language. The mountain is an impressive 150 metres high and has a Sri-Lankan style chedi on the top. Many visitors to Chanthaburi Province go there in order to pay their respects at Wat Khao Sukim, which has a famous meditation centre. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Phlup, Wat Hai Lom and the very pretty Wat Mangkon Buppharam, which has been built in the Chinese style.

The Chanthaburi Cultural Centre is a great place to go to get an idea of the area’s diverse history and culture. The ancient city of Khai Noen Wong also makes an interesting day trip and you can combine your visit with a trip to the Underwater Archaeological Office, which is a kind of maritime museum.

The province is home to some extremely pretty beaches and the quiet, shaded beach of Hat Ao Yang is great for relaxing on, while the larger stretch of sand at Hat Laem Sing is also a good place to hang out.

There are plenty other interesting attractions in and around Chanthaburi. The Chamsom Crocodile Farm and Zoo offers visitors the opportunity to see different crocodile species and a range of other animals. Another good way to see Thailand’s wildlife is to pay a visit to Oasis Sea World, while the King Taksin Park is a great place for a picnic.

When it comes to food, there is plenty to be found, especially if you enjoy fresh seafood. A good place to find a cheap meal is at the local night market, and there are plenty of restaurants around catering to every taste and budget.

Chanthaburi Province is well known for some special festivals, and a good time to visit is during the Gem Festival, which takes place in early December and features jewellery shows and a gem design competition Another interesting festival is the annual fruit festival in the first week of June.

Hanoi by Foot

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
hanoi_vietnam_3
hanoi_vietnam_4
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Further north than Bangkok, Hanoi is refreshingly cool and is a perfect blend of colonial French and Asia at its exotic best. I’d heard horror stories about this ancient city but couldn’t find an awful lot wrong with it. My only complaint was that I’d not bothered to visit sooner.

The taxi from the airport to Hanoi centre took about 45 mins and cost US$10. The fare each way is pretty much standard so ignore any driver trying for a higher price. I checked into the Old Darling Hotel in the Old Quarter. I’d found the place on the internet and it sounded reasonable at US$15 a night for a room with en-suite, fan and air-con and a TV.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is something along the lines of a local Khao San Road, but bigger. It’s a network of narrow streets with guest houses, hotels, food outlets, cafes, art galleries and travel and tour companies. The French influence is strong. Caf? culture is alive and kicking, art galleries are two a penny and I saw at least half a dozen old Vietnamese decked out in waistcoats and berets.

The traffic is something else. There are traffic lights and directions painted on the roads but it’s not immediately clear why as no one seems to pay any attention to them. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roads. Young Vietnamese girls glide through the streets on Vespas and their latest Japanese equivalent with a truly Parisian grace.

At intersections traffic moves in from all angles simultaneously. It seems impossible but it works. A friend who studied engineering once told me about some daft theory whereby if all the molecules of two solid objects were facing the same direction the objects could pass through one another. This is exactly as it seems to happen on the streets of Hanoi.

The best way to cross the road is slowly. Just position yourself on the pavement pointing in the direction you want to move and then slowly advance. Traffic will somehow move around you. It’s scary but it works. I’m convinced you could close your eyes and get across unscathed; but never did pluck up enough courage to test the theory. Try it back in Bangkok and you’ll get flattened.

The best place to observe Hanoi’s vehicular chaos from is the excellent Papa Joe’s caf?/restaurant on Cau Go, overlooking a ridiculously busy intersection and the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. From the balcony you can watch Hanoi bustle by whilst sipping on a fresh juice or coffee.

Daytime the streets are alive and teeming with people. Street markets provide the familiar aromas so common with many Asian cities. Street vendors weave their way between pedestrians, carrying baskets of goods slung from poles across their shoulders. Everywhere you look someone is selling something and calling for your attention.

The streets were alive at night with foreigners and locals alike. Restaurants were generally busy and early in the evening gangs of people gathered for a gossip and some beer at street stalls selling the famous Bia Hoi.

Apparently the Czechs taught their knowledge of brewing to the Vietnamese and now there are micro-breweries everywhere. This un-preserved draft beer is available all over Hanoi. It’s dirt cheap at something like 13 baht a glass (half litre) and is so smooth you’ll want to keep them coming all night. 100 baht will get you almost 8 beers! These street-side beer stops are a very multi-cultural affair with locals mixing happily with backpackers and tourists.

By nine at night the streets had changed. Office workers and the night’s early shift had dined, supped and moved on home, leaving party goers and less desirable types to come out to play. The only annoyance I encountered was the continual attention from motorbike taxi guys who are everywhere and seem to think that every foreigner is in need of a lift somewhere. Oh, and a street hooker and her pimp tried coercing me into a quick sex session which, I felt, would have left me severely out of pocket one way or another.

Out by six the next morning in time to watch the sun rising. Traders were getting into their stride, cafes and restaurants preparing for the early morning trade and motorbike taxis still hawking for business. On the wide path at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake ladies were practicing Tai Chi with red fans. It’s therapeutic just watching.

Apart from art galleries and cafes the Vietnamese also inherited a love of fresh bread from their old colonial masters. Every few yards there were women with baskets of freshly baked crusty baguettes for sale. The smell is very inviting and hard to resist.

East of the Old Quarter on Pho Bien Dien Phu is the Army Museum. It’s worth a look. It’s basically a celebration of the most recent Vietnamese victories over first the French, then the US and finally China. There is a collection of captured and shot-down US and French hardware including a helicopter, rocket launchers, and numerous pieces of aircraft shot down and piled together as a piece of art. There are also weapons used by the Vietnamese in their military victories.

As expected the picture painted of the noble Vietnamese soldier is nothing short of saintly whilst the opposition are always evil, cloven hoofed and horned monsters hell bent on torture and destruction. One thing for sure, the Vietnamese are clearly a force to be reckoned with whatever they are armed with.
 
 
A long walk south from the Temple of Literature is Lenin Park. This is a huge recreational area set around Bay Mau Lake. This is where locals come to exercise, dance, eat, listen to live music, watch traditional dancing and generally chill. The entrance is lined with stalls selling local produce, ready to eat food, and gifts.
 
On a large stage by the top of the lake local girls were demonstrating traditional dance, similar to Thai dancing. Another stage had a modern singer belting out local favourites at deafening volume. Many people are simply using the park for exercise, a past-time that seems to be taken quite seriously here.
 
Back up to Hoan Kiem Lake and it seemed that the Vietnamese who weren’t exercising in Lenin Park were here. Hundreds of locals were marching anti-clockwise around the lake in a grand display of communal fitness. Early evening has a very Chinese feel to it with families coming together for exercise and general interaction.
 
On the last morning I head out on foot again, after an excellent breakfast at the Paris Deli, for the Vietnam Revolutionary Museum and the Vietnam History Museum. Both are interesting and well worth the hike, despite the formers somewhat one-sided view of things.
 
This was my first visit to Vietnam and will certainly not be the last. The people are surprisingly welcoming and at the same time don’t smother you with attention (with the exception of book sellers and motorbike taxis).
 
The level of English is lower than Thailand but there is more chance of a stranger trying to strike a conversation even if they can’t speak a word of English. On several occasions I was invited to join people on the street for tea and a chat. No catch, no con and no payment, they just wanted buy me a tea, chat and try to learn a few words of English.
 
Hanoi can be a cheap destination. There are cheaper places than the hotel I stayed in and to be honest, it wasn’t really worth the money. Food is very affordable and even the classier restaurants aren’t prohibitively priced. As for beer, I doubt anywhere in this region can compete on that front.
 
With Air Asia offering return flights for around 5,000 THB all in it is no more expensive to get to than Singapore, Vientiane or KL.
 
There are many things to see in Hanoi alone even before venturing up country and I only touched on what the city has to offer. The leading tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. As much as I wanted to see it the queue was too much just to see another jaundiced communist leader stiff as a board in a glass case so Uncle Ho will have to wait until next time. 

Ancient City

Ancient City, Near Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Near Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand
Ancient City, Bangkok, Thailand

There are so many interesting places to explore in Thailand that trying to visit them all can take many months, if not years. One good solution to this is the Ancient City, which contains 116 replica monuments, buildings and shrines other places of interest in Thailand.

Officially named Muang Boran in Thai, the Ancient City covers 320 acres and is arranged in the shape of Thailand. The park was opened to the public on 11th February 1972. In my opinion, the best way to explore the park is by bicycle, which can be hired for just 30 baht by the park entrance.

CITY 1 After paying my admittance fee, I pass through the city wall and gate. Modelled after Thailand’s oldest stone fence, which dates back to the 12th century B.E and is situated near the Maha That Temple in Sukhothai, the gate features beautifully decorated rounded pillars.

I cycle through the gates and first come across a reproduction of a city sala, which is a wooden building, constructed by townspeople within the city walls to act as a meeting hall. The one here is modelled on Wat Yai Intharam in Chonburi.

After looking around the sala I cycle past the stupa of Phra Maha That to the old market town. This mini town has been recreated to represent the atmosphere of an ancient Thai self-contained community. There are shops selling goods, theatres, casinos and religious monuments. One of the best features of the Ancient City is the fact that you are free to wander in and around the structures, and I spend some time exploring the traditional-style houses and shops, which are filled with relics and implements. Everything is perfectly placed and it feels as though this is an actual village, the inhabitants having left momentarily to attend a meeting or festival.

As I climb on my bike once more, I am particularly drawn to the bell tower, a red-hued wooden structure elaborately carved and decorated in the ancient style.

Scattered with pagodas, statues and carvings all following the Chinese style, the palace garden of King Rama II is not to be missed. Next to it, the audience hall of Thonburi, with its murals depicting the fall of Ayutthaya provides an interesting insight into Thai history and style.

Situated next to a beautiful pond, the Khun Phaen House shows an Ayutthaya-style house, which would have been owned by a wealthy family. I park my bike for a minute and wander around, gazing enviously at how the other half lived.

Back on my bike, I ride past a large statue depicting a battle atop elephants, past a wooded area and pause briefly at three stone pagodas, replicas of those at Three Pagoda Pass near Kanchanaburi. The originals are a bit difficult to get to unless you are willing to go on a package tour with dozens of other tourists, so I welcome the opportunity to view these at my leisure.

Also not to be missed is the reproduction of the Grand Palace, complete with murals but minus the crowds and the nearby Sanphet Prasat Palace of Ayutthaya, complete with shining silver roof and red brick ruins.

Further into the park, I am taken by the sight of the Phra Kaew Pavilion, an octagonal, red-roofed building set beside a lily pond and ornate bridge.

But for me, the highlight of the park is the footprint of the Lord Buddha, originally located at Saraburi. I have often read about this relic, which legend tells as having been discovered by a hunter named Phran Boon. One day, the hunter shot and wounded a deer. After following the deer to a pond it was drinking from, Phran Boon saw the deer’s wounds magically disappear.

Investigating the pond, the hunter realised that it was actually the footprint of Buddha. An impression of the footprint is located in an elaborately decorated shrine atop a flight of steps and for me, visiting the replica is still an auspicious event.

I spend the next two hours cycling around the Ancient City, past the magnificent ruins of Lopburi, Singburi, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.

The outstanding Garden of the Gods provides another resting point, as does the scale version of a traditional floating market, complete with vegetable sellers in boats, bridges and networks of waterways.

At the very north of the park I am filled with awe by the reproduction of the Prasat Phra Wihan, originally of Si Sa Ket. This ancient monument is seated atop a high hill, reached by a long flight of steps. Surrounded on all sides by lush plant life, I am reminded of the monuments of Angkor Wat. Climbing to the top offers spectacular views over the park and of the lush fields and waterways beyond.

Cycling around the Ancient City takes me about four hours and each site offers a new surprise. As I approach the exit I am greeted by yet one more surprise. The enchanting rainbow bridge is a tribute to Thai people’s belief that rainbows symbolise Thailand’s fertility, happiness and natural beauty.

As I reach the city gate once more I feel reluctant to leave and contemplate going around again. However, the park will be closing soon, so I’ll have to wait for another day.

Information Address:

Samut Prakan,
km 33 (old) Sukhumvit Road,
Bangpoo

The admission fee is 300 baht for adults, 200 baht for children.

Website: www.ancientcity.com


Getting There:

A taxi from Bangkok should cost no more than 400 baht. Alternatively, catch air-con bus 511 from the Southern bus terminal (Ekamai) to the end of the line. Then take minibus no 36, which passes by the entrance.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is currently living in Bangkok where she she is a travel writer.