Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bangkok : First Impressions

             We got up early on the day we're leaving for Bangkok and we took our free breakfast of french bread, scrambled eggs and slices of tropical fruits. All our efforts to get up early was wasted because the van that would pick us up did not arrive until 8:30 AM. It ruined our plan. We were hoping to reach Bangkok before 5pm so we could go to a night market. We were transferred from a van to a bus at around 9AM . The bus roamed around Siem Reap to pick up the other passengers from their respective guesthouses and hotels .

Back in Bangkok


                  The trip back to Bangkok from Siem Reap took so much longer than we had expected. It went smoothly at first until we reached the suburbs of Bangkok. The road became congested and that's where we got stuck. We had been traveling for 8 hours and I had been putting up with the Thai songs blaring from the bus' stereo since I didn't have my earphone with me. I kept on complaining to Anna that everything in Bangkok so far looked like Manila. It was already 7 pm when we arrived at the Mo Chit bus station. I thought the bus station was just a walking distance from the skytrain station. I was wrong. According to everyone we asked , we had to take a cab.We were staying at my friend's place not so far from Khao San, the famous backpacker's area in Bangkok. I just can't remember the name of the street. It's a challenge when you're dealing with Thai nouns which usually are consist of consonants that outnumber the vowels by a mile. To avoid being stuck in traffic the original plan was to take the skytrain from the Mo chit station and get off at the Saphan Taksin station then walk to the Central Pier (then maybe pass out for a few minutes) and take the boat along Chao Phraya river to get to Pier 13 (again I can't remember its name but each pier has a corresponding number).We paid the cab driver 70 baht to get to the skytrain station. I slammed the door at him because he initially refused to take us to our destination. He just  had no choice since it's his turn to pick up passengers otherwise he would have to queue up again and wait forever for his next turn. There is no skytrain station near Khao San so our plan would have been the best way to avoid the dreaded traffic.The thing was the boats that ply the Chao Phraya routes only operate until 6pm so that was out of the question. We took a bus instead from the National Stadium station to Khao San area. We arrived at our destination in no time since it was already 9pm and the roads were almost empty. We were dropped off near a 7-11 store.We hadn't eaten dinner yet so we bought cup noodles and shortly after I had my introduction to Thai flavor.It was so hot and spicy that I felt sick afterwards.



             We walked towards the area near the Democracy Monument and there we found my friend. My friend is a fellow Filipino who works as a teacher in Bangkok. He lives at an apartment near Khao San and he would be our host for the next four days. I didn't feel like sleeping yet even though I was tired so I left Anna with my friend. Neither one of them could accompany me, Anna was dog-tired and my friend had to go to bed early since he had classes the following day. After we settled our things at my friend's place I went out alone to explore Khao San.
             I was hoping that my first impressions about Bangkok wouldn't last as nothing so far that I had seen impressed me.

Angkor Thom and the Other Ancient Temples In Angkor

                  When we were done exploring Angkor Wat we went back to Bana, our tuktuk driver and he suggested we visit Angkor Thom next. In Angkor there are actually dozens of temples. The others are not as popular as Angkor Wat but they're also worth a visit. A lot of those lesser-known temples are located within Angkor Thom which is an ancient city in the Angkor region . Like Angkor Wat , Angkor Thom is surrounded by a moat and is one of the largest of all the Khmer cities. Bana gave us instructions on how to find him after we explore Angkor Thom and then he dropped us off on the avenue leading to the gate of the ancient city. We walked through the impressive avenue lined with statues of guardian gods (devas) and asuras (demons). On the left side were figures of the gods and on the right were the asuras (demons), who had fierce grimaces on their faces.Not knowing what they were, I kept on posing right next to the asuras.

Avenue leading to Angkor Thom

               The avenue leads to the gate of Angkor Thom which is no less impressive. The gate looked so magnificent. It's made of stone and had an arch capped by a face-tower that faced the four directions . It had an enormous wooden doors that were swung open. When we saw an elephant carrying tourists on its back and was walking slowly through the gate , the more I felt like we'd been transported back to the 12th century. Our first stop was the spot where ladies were selling the $15-dollar tickets for a 30-minute elephant ride. They told us that we had to come back at around 3pm because it was already too hot for the elephants to be walking around. We knew we wouldn't be coming back in the afternoon. We were already exhausted, starving and dehydrating so we thought of trying the elephant ride in Bangkok instead.


One of the Face Towers Of Bayon

             Just in front of us was an ancient temple, the Bayon. From afar it looked like just a mere pile of stones but if you get closer you can make out the massive stone faces on its towers which is the distinctive feature of the Bayon . The towers of Bayon resemble the tower on the gate of Angkor Thom. The Bayon may not be as magnificent as the more famous Angkor Wat but it's definitely worth a visit. Aside from the towers I also admired its ornate carvings. The entire structure looked fragile though. It seemed like it would crumble down at the slightest tremor.There were so many tourists at the temple and I stumbled upon a group of Korean- (or maybe Japanese, how could I tell? ) looking tourists.

Carvings on the Elephant Terrace

          We didn't spend much time at the Bayon.We made our way to an open field at the center of Angkor Thom. Every few meters a kid would approach us. I knew what they were up to. I'd learned that those kids would start telling you bits of information about the temples then would ask for money as payment after. We ignored them and continued to walk to the open field. The field is surrounded with ancient structures and I learned later that it was actually the city square in the early days where functions were held. One of the structures that look out over the field was a long terrace with nice carvings of elephants on its walls. The carvings gave the terrace its modern name, the Elephant Terrace. On the other side of the field lined a couple of reddish towers , the Prasat Suor Prat. Unfortunately, we were too weak to walk towards them. We would have passed out in the middle of the field had we dared. We looked for our driver instead but still that required us to walk hundreds of meters. Walking a long distance under the oppressive sunlight every time we had to look for our driver was something that I hated the most on this tour. Apparently,  there were only designated spots where they could park. We walked across a dusty field before we found Bana. Our last stop was Ta Phrom , famed for being the location of the Angelina-Jolie movie Tomb Raider. Upon reaching the place I remembered one particular spot in the temple that had become popular because of the movie. I kept on looking for it. I pictured out a spot where a tree had grown intertwined among the ruins but there were about a dozen of those silk-cotton trees that did it. Ta Phrom is in a partly collapsed state. We saw cranes in the area which meant that restoration work was ongoing.

Cotton Tree At Ta Phrom

Location of the Angelina Jolie-Movie Tomb Raider

                   Finally, we're done temple hopping. We were templed-out (that day) but I was sure that I wanted  to come back. I suggest that one buys the three-day pass so there will be time to rest in between the temple hopping.