Feeling the Heat in Bangkok
Back in steamy Bangkok! Two months had passed since we were last there, and we had become acclimatised to New Zealand’s more moderate temperatures. Now we were back in South East Asia. Thailand’s pre-monsoon heat had been building up during that period, and it was hot, hot, hot!
The Ancient City of Ayutthaya
One of the things we had intended to do last time we were in Bangkok was to take a day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, one of Thailand’s former capitals. Ayutthaya is a UNESCO world heritage site and is situated 87 km north of the Bangkok. In 1767, Siam had been invaded by the Burmese and many of Ayutthaya’s temples had been reduced to rubble. There were, however, a significant number of temples remaining.
This time we were determined to get there. It helped that our hotel was located opposite Hua Lamphong Railway Station, from where we could catch our train. At 8.00 am we boarded the train and approximately an hour and a half later, we found ourselves in Ayutthaya.
Exploring the Temple by Bike
We caught the ferry across the narrow river to the island where many of the ruins are situated. Despite the intense heat, we had decided that we wanted to hire bikes to explore the city, and we set off through the teeming traffic on a couple of old bone shakers.
The experience wasn’t quite as relaxing as our cycle ride around Sukhothai in Thailand as much of the time we were cycling on busy roads. There were, however, periods of tranquillity as we cycled through some of the green areas, passing crumbled temples, Buddha statues, lakes and flocks of egrets that took off into the sky as we trundled along.
Two Famous Buddha Sites
Two of the main sights that we had wanted to see were the Buddha head tangled in the web of tree roots at Wat Phra Mahathat and the reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaysutha. Both of were as impressive as anticipated. We continued cycling and checked out a couple more temples until the heat got the better of us and we decided to head back to Bangkok. Ayutthaya makes a great day trip from the capital and getting there is cheap and straightforward by train.
A Stormy Night in Kuala Lumpur
Three days after we had arrived in Bangkok, we flew to Kuala Lumpur, a new destination for T and a return trip for Ku. Our flight arrived at 11.30 pm, and we took a taxi to the city. After some fierce thunder and spectacular fork lightening en-route, the heavens opened.
The road was flooded within minutes, and it was still pouring when we arrived in China Town, where we were staying. Our taxi driver couldn’t find our hotel and had to keep getting out of the car in the pouring rain to ask people. Eventually, we found it. She had done a great job getting us there safely in such horrendous conditions!
Exploring Malaysia’s Capital
We spent a couple of days exploring and orientating ourselves. We checked out KL Tower, the Petrona Towers, China Town, Central Market and Little India. Also, we visited the Hindu temple at the Batu Caves – it brought back memories of India – the garlands, brightly coloured saris, incense, aromas from the food stalls and a gigantic green Monkey God! The caves are impressive and home to lots of mischievous monkeys and several shrines.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Malaysia is the hotchpotch of cultures – Malay, Indian and Chinese are all very evident. It certainly makes travelling there an interesting experience.
From Kuala Lumpur, we took a bus to Malacca, which we really enjoyed. More laid back than KL, we had fun wandering round the colourful old buildings built by Chinese traders.
Neighbourhoods of KL
Back in the capital, we pounded the streets around Bukit Bintang. The Malaysians love their malls and KL had malls in abundance, very much in contrast to Jalan Petaling, the dusty China Town market.
We wandered through Perdana Botanical Gardens and Asean Sculpture Park, where were able to escape the madness of the city streets. In Deer Park, we saw tiny mouse deer. We ate curry and potato puffs and Ku sampled bandung, the bright pink concoction of iced rose syrup cordial and evaporated milk, sold on every street corner. In Masjid India, we had a fabulous lunch of paneer makhani, mutter paneer, garlic fried rice, garlic naan washed down with mango and lime juices.
Air Malaysia Flight 370
We both really enjoyed our visit to Malaysia and found everyone to be very hospitable and friendly. It was a strange time to be there, as it was about three weeks after Air Malaysia’s missing plane incident. All over Kuala Lumpur were posters and makeshift tributes – indeed it was a very sad time for the nation.
Khao Lak and the Tsunami
From KL, we flew to Phuket and spent one night in town, before taking a bus to Bang Biang Beach in Khao Lak, where we had a very chilled few days. The Andaman Sea was warm and good to swim in, a refreshing relief from the heat. Whilst there, we did a short trek in Khao Lak National Park. The trail followed the coast and finished on a beautiful, (almost deserted) beach.
The 2004 tsunami killed three thousand, two hundred people in the Khao Lak region and the area was pretty much destroyed. They had done an amazing job rebuilding. We went to see the police boat which had been moored a mile offshore when the 2004 tsunami struck. It had washed a mile inland, and had been left where it was found as a memorial.
At lunch times, we ate at a simple, but excellent restaurant on the beach. A very cute puppy lived there, along with some friendly women who served up the best Thai food we had eaten.
Ao Nang – Paradise Lost
Our penultimate destination was Ao Nang, another place Ku had visited many years previously. We took a long tail boat to Railay Bay, where the beach was overlooked by towering limestone cliffs. Back in Ao Nang, Ku fell in the sea when attempting to jump off the boat, much to T’s amusement! We explored Krabi Town, where we picked up some bargain trinkets, walked by the river, checked out a temple and ate pad Thai for lunch.
Ku noticed how much developed Ao Nang had become since she was last there. Buildings had even encroached onto the beach. What had been a wide stretch of sand was now a narrow strip and what had been a village was now a sizeable town brimming with tacky souvenir stores, bars and restaurants.
We headed back to Bangkok for a couple of days before catching our flight back to the UK. It had been a great trip. We’d covered Vietnam, Thailand (several times!), Malaysia, Myanmar and New Zealand. It was time to plan the next adventure!