Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exploring Northern Thailand and Laos

For many, it’s quite difficult to travel and get away from work for more than a week. If we do get the chance, we always try to make the most out of it. Last November, I spent three weeks in Thailand and Laos.

From Bangkok we flew to Sukhothai to attend a cultural tourism workshop. The Historic Town of Sukhothai, the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam between the 13th and 15th centuries, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the first day, we got to tour the ruins of the royal palace and ancient temples in the Sukhothai Historical Park.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thailand: Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang or the Temple of Lampang's Great Budhha Relic is a Lanna-stlye Buddhist temple in Lampang, Thailand. From Sukhothai, we proceeded by land to Chiang Mai, making a brief stop at this revered temple in Lampang. It's said to be the most beautiful wooden Lanna temple in northern Thailand. We had now crossed into the territory of the old Lanna Kingdom, which was a separate kingdom until 1775.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
When Buddha was cremated, there was a rush to collect bones and ashes as relics which have been venerated for centuries in temples such as this all over Asia. The relic is in the main chedi of the temple. The fortified temple or wiang, built on top of a mound and surrounded by high walls, dates back to 1476 and is said to be the oldest surviving wooden structure in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
A very intricate gilded altar or mondop is the highlight of Wihan Phra Put, the main prayer hall or wihan where the image of Phra Chao Lan Ton (Buddha Lan Ton), a bronze statue of the Buddha, is enshrined. There are other wihans, some of them containing traces of the original murals, which means they may also be among the oldest in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
At the back is a structure which only men can enter. Close the doors to be able to see a camera obscura image of the wihan and chedi projected upside down on a white cloth. Another camera obscura image can be found in Wihan Nam Tam, the wihan with a three-tiered roof.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
On the way out, you will pass by a sacred Bodhi tree symbolically supported by dozens of wooden poles offered by devotees, a Lanna ritual. Every year, during the Songkran or Thai New Year, the Northern Thais hold the Hae Mai Kam Salee, a ritual of the Bodhi tree's pole. The Bodhi tree represents Buddhism and placing supporting poles beneath the tree's branches signifies the support of the laity.

This temple is about 20 kilometers from Lampang itself. We were rushing from Sukhothai since they closed the temple before 5 p.m. Good thing we made it! After that brief visit, we were off to Chiang Mai for dinner.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thailand: Si Satchanalai Historical Park in Sukhothai Province

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is one of three ancient towns included in the World Heritage inscription Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns. If Sukhothai was the political and administrative capital, Si Satchanalai served as the spiritual center of the kingdom, with its many temples and Buddhist monasteries. The town is 90 kilometers from Sukhothai.

As part of the tourism workshop we attended in Sukhothai, the plan was to bike all the way to Si Satchanalai. But plans were changed and we took a van to Sawankhalok, and did the bicycle tour to Si Satchanalai from there. The 40-kilometer bike trip ended at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, a first class royal temple three kilometers outside the Si Satchanalai wall.

Other major temples and sites are located within the old town of Si Satchanalai. Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo is one of the most beautiful temples of Sukhothai Province. Its features include a main chedi and 33 subordinate chedis. The temple is believed to have kept the cremated remains of the Sukhothai royal family.

Wat Chang Lom's main landmark is a bell-shaped chedi on a platform supported by 39 stucco elephants. Between the chedi and the platform are niches with statues of Buddha subduing Mara.

Delicate stucco reliefs have survived on one of the walls of Wat Nang Phaya. The wall is protected by a roof to prevent further damage from the elements.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thailand: Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam during the 13th and 14th centuries. Most of the ruins of this ancient city are located within the Sukhothai Historical Park. Together with Si Satchanalai and Kampaheng Phet, they form the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, a World Heritage Site. And since it is a World Heritage Site, it was definitely on my bucketlist!

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
During my first visit, despite the gloomy skies, I still went ahead with the seven hour bus ride from Bangkok to Sukhothai just to visit its famed temples. I had learned upon my arrival that much of Sukhothai was submerged under water just a few days before. In fact, there were sandbags all over the place and you could see that the water level of the rivers was high. On the way to the park, it was still raining. But when I arrived, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out later in the day. So I was lucky!

While it's not difficult to walk around the park, you can rent a bike or hire a motorbike or tuktuk to speed up your pace visiting the ruins scattered around the park. I hired a motorbike with driver from my hostel to take me around.

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Last year, I was back again in Sukhothai for a workshop of the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee. This time, the weather was beautiful and the sun was out! Wat Mahathat was the largest and principal temple of Sukhothai. The wat is surrounded by a wall that is said to represent the outer wall of the universe. Around the wall is a moat representing the cosmic ocean. The large Buddha images and chedi spires in the lotus-bud motif are iconic images which adorn many photos from Sukhothai. If you look closely, you will see that some of the original bas relief details layared with stucco can still be seen at Wat Mahathat.

There are so many ruins and historical sites in the park. And depending on your level of interest (for some, if you've seen one, you've seen them all), you can try to visit all the major ones, about twenty or so, or select the more interesting sites if you want to take it slow.

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Another famous temple is Wat Si Sawai which features three Khmer-style towers. It reminds me of Angkor Wat, and was in fact, built by the Khmers as a Hindu temple. Wat Sa Si is a temple that is built on an island in the middle of Traphang Trakuan Pond.

Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
Then there is Wat Si Chum which features an eleven-meter Buddha image covered in stucco seated inside a brick Mandapa building. This 13th century temple is also known as the Temple of the Bodhi Tree. I had a photo taken right beside the Buddha's large hand that has been covered in gold leaf offered by devotees.

I can't remember how many temples I got to visit. I tried to visit them all since it's a single ticket for all the temples within the inner city, and another ticket for all those outside. Hopefully you don't get all templed-out before seeing them all because each Sukhothai temple is definitely worth a visit.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Thailand: Bicycle tour from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai

Sukhothai, Thailand
I never thought I'd have fun biking that far! When I arrived at the Sukhothai Airport for a tourism workshop, my Thai colleague told me that he had assigned me to a group that would bike 70 kilometers from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai. I thought he was joking and laughed off the idea.

Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
When the workshop started the next day I realized he was serious! The ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee was in Sukhothai to try out different tourism experiences in order to make recommendations for a tourism plan they were finalizing. While most teams were comfortably seated in air-conditioned vans, moving from one attraction to another, one group was assigned to try out the bicycle tours through the Sukhothai countryside hosted by Sukhothai Bicycle Tour.

Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
Just looking at the large roadmap taped to the wall during the orientation was daunting enough. But the next day, I was glad to hear that our team leader had cut the ride to 40 kilometers and we would take a van to Sawankalok, which was half the way to Si Satchanalai.

Cricket Farm in Sukhothai, Thailand
Cricket Farm in Sukhothai, Thailand
The group rode through small rural villages, on concrete roads to small narrow dirt paths that bended left and right, following the course of a river. We did rest stops at interesting, and at times, odd places. A cricket farm caught our attention. I didn't realize those deep-fried bugs sold along Bangkok's colorful streets were grown in backyard farms like these.

Salapao vendor in Sukhothai, Thailand
I heard a salapao vendor motor by and caught up with him to buy some hot steamed pork buns. I was quite hungry and this is what I needed! At each rest stop, we were also served fruits such as bananas, longkong (lansones) and mangosteen, crackers and drinks.

Traditional rooster cage in Sawankalok, Thailand
A colorful temple also served as another rest stop before we biked through a small sugar cane field. I didn't know what got into my head but a steep incline up ahead challenged me to bike even faster. I reached the top without any walking but suffered from cramps as a result. So I called it a day after 30 kilometers of biking. Not bad for someone who hasn't biked for years!

Weaver in Si Satchanalai, Thailand
Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Thailand
Good thing these bike tours come with a back-up team plus a support vehicle that has drinks and snacks for the bikers during the rest stops. So I rode the last 10 kilometers in a pick-up truck to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explored the temples and got to see some of the colorful local activities before heading for a sumptuous lunch at a farm near the Sukhothai Airport.

If you want to try out the bike tours in Sukhothai, e-mail

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thank you 2013! Where in the world was I last year?

Machu Picchu, Peru
It's fantastic thinking how much of the planet we've covered in the past twelve months. I've actually decided to slow it down a bit this year. But to welcome the New Year, here are highlights from international destinations I visited in 16 countries in 2013. It was quite difficult to remember every city I visited. But thanks to Instagram @ivanhenares, it's all there!

Hanoi, Vietnam: Huc Bridge, Ngoc Son Temple & Hoan Kiem Lake
In January, I led a tour group to Hanoi, Halong Bay and Tam Coc, Vietnam in pleasantly cool weather. Don't we all love that boat ride through the limestone karst formations of Halong Bay?

February saw me back in Thailand with my UP AIT students. We explored Bangkok and visited the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC
I visited a new continent in the Summer of 2013 ― South America! My trip started in the US; stayed in Washington, DC for a week and visited a classmate in Baltimore, MD. Then I was off to Rio de Janeiro with tokayo Ivan Man Dy for our five-week South American adventure.

View of Sugarloaf Mountain & Rio de Janeiro from Cristo Redentor
Rio is a charming city! We made sure to visit its famed urban beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, and took a tram ride up Cristo Redentor where we were afforded a spectacular view of the city, Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay.

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay
From Rio de Janeiro, we took a bus to São Paolo and then to Porto Alegre before crossing the border to Uruguay. Yes, it's the country famous for legalizing marijuana this year! In Uruguay, we walked the charming streets of Montevideo with its fantastic architecture, ate a sumptuous steak at the local market, and then visited old Colonia del Sacramento before taking a ferry to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Argentine tango in Barrio San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Of course, like every visitor to Buenos Aires, we payed our respects to Evita at the Recoleta Cemetery and enjoyed the street tango at San Telmo.

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús in Córdoba, Argentina
Estancia de Santa Catalina, Cordoba, Argentina
The next day, we took an overnight bus and visited the Jesuit Block of Cordoba and the estancias of Alta Gracia, Jesús María and Santa Catalina. We found out that Alta Gracia is where Che Guevara grew up. His family house has been converted into a museum.

Cerro Concepción, Valparaíso, Chile
From Cordoba, we took a bus to Mendoza, and from there took another bus that crossed the Andes and the border, and finally to Santiago, Chile. After spending a night in Santiago, we moved to neighboring Valparaiso and spent two nights there before taking a 24-hour bus to San Pedro de Atacama to experience nature at its finest.

Salar de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile
We visited the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region at the heart of the Atacama Desert and its sites such as Los Flamencos National Reserve, Laguna Miscanti, Laguna Miñiques, Salar de Atacama, Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte and the Géisers de Tatio.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
After exploring the driest place on the planet, we hopped on another long bus ride to Arica, the border town of Chile, crossed the border by taxi to Tacna, Peru's border town, and took a bus to Arequipa from there.

Cuzco's Plaza de Armas from the Iglesia de San Cristobal
We had a few hours in charming Arequipa before taking off on another long bus ride to Cuzco. We spent several days there, highlighted by our visit to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is such a historic city with a colorful local culture.

Machu Picchiu, Peru
Casa de Pizarro, Palacio de Gobierno del Perú, Lima
So many long-distance bus rides in Peru! And we weren't done yet! From Cuzco, we traveled by bus for a day to the capital Lima. It's Plaza Mayor is stunning! Lest we forget, Lima was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which for a time covered most of South America. We also got to watch the changing of the guard at the Government Palace of Peru.

Uros Floating Islands in Puno, Peru
We then took a bus back to Arequipa (yes, another long bus ride) where we hopped on another bus to Puno, the gateway to Lake Titicaca.

Fraternidades Folklóricas de Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia to honor of the Señor de la Santa Cruz de Colquepata
From Puno, we crossed the border into Bolivia and stopped by Copacabana where we were lucky to witness the festivities of the Señor de la Santa Cruz de Colquepata. It wasn't easy finding a place to stay though because of the fiesta, and it wasn't cheap! But it was well worth it. We explored Lake Titicaca again the next day.

Palacio de Gobierno / Palacio Quemado in La Paz, Bolivia
Potosí, Bolivia
From Copacabana, we went to La Paz, explored the highest capital city in the world and shopped at the Witches Market before visiting Sucre and Potosi. We made an exciting border crossing into Argentina, a story we'll keep a secret!

Iguazu / Iguaçu Falls in Argentina & Brazil
In Argentina, we visited Salta and from there took a long-distance bus to Iguazu Falls, more than a day if I remember it right. It was raining really hard, but we got to ride a speed boat that took us under one of the falls. We crossed over to the Brazilian side where the better views are, before rushing back to Rio de Janeiro to catch our flight back to the US. I spent the next few days recuperating in DC, except for a one-day visit to the wineries around Aldie, Virginia where I got to enjoy basted pork ribs slow-grilled over hickory wood at a roadside grill. Yum!

Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia
May ended with a tour to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the famed temples of Angkor. When the group left, I hired a car and visited Preah Vihear, a spectacular temple built on top of a mountain. Visit it while you can and before the crowds discover it!

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, Bali, Indonesia
In June, I was back in Bali leading a tour group. We visited its famed temples and experienced its colorful culture. After the tour, I visited the Jatiluwih Rice terraces.

Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal
In August, we had another tour group, this time to Nepal. We stopped over at KL before flying to Kathmandu. We visited Nagarkot, Pokhara and Kathmandu Valley. Pokhara was an exciting destination with many activities. I went paragliding for the first time.

Durbar Square, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Aside from Kathmandu, I also got to visit Bhaktapur and Patan. Bhaktapur is my favorite!

Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The month ended with a trip to India hosted by Jet Airways. The group visited New Delhi, Agra and flew to Kashmir. Our itinerary included Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonamarg. Indeed the place is Heaven on Earth!

Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Sonamarg, Kashmir, India
I definitely enjoyed the pony ride to the Himalayan glaciers of Kashmir Valley, the great food and the colorful culture of the region. We also got to stay in the luxurious houseboats of Dal Lake.

Khoo Kongsi, Penang, Malaysia
In September, I led UP AIT students and staff to a food and heritage experience in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Everyone was still talking about the food when we got back!

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand
We attended the 2013 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee in Sukhothai and Chiang Mai, Thailand in October. As part of a workshop to help Sukhothai with its tourism master plan, I biked thirty kilometers through rural areas, to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. I haven't biked in a long while, but I survived that one!

Luang Prabang, Laos
After the meeting, we explored Chiang Rai, crossed the river border at Chiang Kong, Thailand to Houai Xai. Laos. And from there, it was a grueling overnight bus to Luang Prabang, the old royal capital. Luang Prabang is still as charming as every with its colorful temples, colonial architecture and delicious street food!

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos
I got explore Vientiane, met up with my SSEAYP friends and explored the city's temples, before going by land to Udon Thani for my flight back to Bangkok.

Sanam Chandra Palace, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
I could not believe it, but I was back in Bangkok, and stranded for a week in November, experiencing my first flight cancelation ever! So I spent my time working (and eating). My only out of town trip was a visit to Nakhon Pathom's Phra Pathom Chedi and Sanam Chandra Palace.

Cishou Pagoda, Jinshan Temple, Zhenjiang, China
My last international trip for the year was to China to attend the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit in Zhenjiang. But because of the smog problem in Shanghai, I had to deal with two flight cancelations (I was on a roll), rerouting to Xiamen were I took a flight to Shanghai, and a bullet train to Zhenjiang before arriving at the summit.

The Bund, Shanghai, China
I went around Shanghai for a day (I was planning to see Suzhou but the smog was bad) before flying back to Manila.

So there! That was 2013! Happy New Year to all! Here are more photos from my 2013 trips. Next up is my post for Philippine destinations.

Do you want to see last year's? Now where in the world was I in 2012?

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