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In the Land of Kings and Hawkers - Rajasthan

January 22 - 31 Delhi – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Pushkar – Ranthambore Nationial Park

sunny 23 °C
View World Tour 2012/13 on Elmar123's travel map.

Fear not, I'm not planning on doing a step-by-step recounting of our tour. Instead I'll let the pictures do most of the talking and share some additional thoughts of each city and anything interesting on the way. The plan is one full day of travel as it's often several hundred km between these cities. We will have an evening and one full day in each city. Pretty much, the days will be filled with driving or wandering around forts, temples, mosques, palaces, shops and tombs.

Jaipur, the Pink City. Youngest city named after Jah Singh II. Known for textiles and jewellery.

One of the things we feared is that our tour would resemble 'see India's Golden Triangle in 12 days', similar to the busloads of tourists who see 'Europe' in 7 days. So we told our driver who had his list of tourist attractions for each city, that we didn't want to be just passive observers of India's past but also wanted to interact with people and find out what's on their mind, and we preferred to eat at local jaunts that every day people visit rather than the tourist approved places. We hoped our message was getting across because we were noticing that often people don't wait for you to complete your thought but are so eager to take action, tell you what they think you're going to say and hurry off to do it. Our driver, Ajay Sony with the A pronounced like apple vs able, was supposedly fluent in English but we were struggling to understand him and weren't sure that he always understood us. Our first stop however let us know that he understood perfectly. We stopped right off the highway at a little 'dhaba', which is Hindi for food place selling local food. I hesitate to say restaurant as that might set the wrong expectations. This place, which was a typical roadside dhaba is basically a very simple concrete space that served as a kitchen. It has an open clay oven for making parathas, naan and the like, counter space and a single burner hot plate. Nothing was in English. The plastic tables and chairs were set out in the dirt and were open to the elements. We could see a covered building close by but when we glanced inside it was empty and we figured only used when the weather was prohibitive. Ajay rattled of the options and very shortly we had a wonderful fresh cooked meal of chapatti (bread), vegetables and various sauces. The sun was hot and felt very good as we enjoyed our meal with near by guests staring unabashedly at us. We ended the meal with freshly made tea or chai as they call it. The cooks graciously allowed me to observe them at work and to also try my hand at making the chapatti. I was marginally successful in mimicking them; whipping the dough from hand to hand then flinging it along the wall of the cone shaped oven, but they were encouraging. It's amazing sometimes how much can be communicated without words. 43DC6DAD2219AC6817E0F83F5FB01DCC.jpg43DB80122219AC6817E4F84F58A1D906.jpg43DE06B02219AC68174371FFE06B8CDC.jpg (At a roadside dhaba on the way to Jaipur)

The next stop was a wonderful family whose home was again right off the ‘highway’, deep in Rajasthan’s countryside. They were farmers and were delighted to welcome us. The family included the standard mother father and several children and also several aunts uncles numerous cousins grandparents I guess anyone remotely related to them. They crowded around us and one daughter acted as the spokesperson mainly because she was the clear extrovert in the family. She was delightful. Her English was pretty limited but she didn't let that stop her. She led the tour of the sparse but neat room she shared with her sister and the couple other spots where several people slept. 43DEF9132219AC6817A6D090F3FFDBB2.jpg 43E0C6EB2219AC68170E595B20716BE9.jpgA5A422C92219AC681701E1BE067A8907.jpg

The new litter of puppies, how they harvested crop, carried firewood and in general what life is like for them. The children all go to school but also work very hard alongside the adults to maintain the home and farm. There is no running water in the house but they do have a well with a pump close enough to the house. We were offered chai, which we of course accepted and then watched as the older sister milked the cow then built up the open fire on the ground and cooked our chai, which is a mix of cardamom, ginger, masala, cinnamon and other spices. It was delicious and I guess they could read our delight because the mother joined us and insisted that she wanted to make us another cup and enjoy it with us. It was wonderful to see the family interacting, vying for our attention like typical kids and also how everyone contributed. It was especially nice to see the younger boys taking care of the babies. When we left, we felt privileged that they allowed us into their home. With Ajay's help we could ask and answer questions but he mostly left us on our own with them. He was probably relieved not to have to translate the question about “if I was black”. It's not a stupid question because I've been told since arrival I look Indian and since my mother is half Indian I figured they were noticing things that typical westerners wouldn't. At the end of the visit I wanted to show my appreciation but didn't want to insult their kindness by offering money so I pretty much emptied my back pack of every pen lotion sweet and gum that I had and the kids went crazy fighting for each piece. Despite the short time, we somehow felt we'd made a connection and I know we'll never forget them. A5B2F3BC2219AC68172438B8D2B7F49B.jpg43DFCB882219AC6817851E50E3F7BB09.jpg A5AF5FDB2219AC6817D6EAA46AC3501B.jpg

Our hotel Shahpura House was as lovely as advertised and alleviated some concerns re us being scammed. Many of these tours offer different categories to fit your budget and it's difficult to judge what you're getting if you don't have the opportunity to speak with fellow travelers. DSC02734.jpgDSC02730.jpg (One of several 'Heritage Hotels' we stayed at)

I've promised not to provide excessive details but bear with me as this experience is worth sharing. Each morning we met, Ajay would have some local sweet, or blessing from the temple he visited, in the form of a finger touch of colour between the eyes and a stick of incense burning in the car. The morning of our tour of Jaipur he had a lei of red roses for me and wouldn't you know it, it matched my outfit perfectly so I decided to keep it on. We visited a simple yet peaceful Hindu temple where we witnessed a Brahman, (the highest caste in India) bathing in the open as he calmly sat on the ground across from the temple. I didn't want to stare but the whole time Ajay was talking about the temple I watched him out the corner of my eye. How could he be so comfortable I wondered knowing that I was there. I was to learn that bathing in public is a common practice and is done gracefully and efficientlly. He kept his groin covered with his dhoti which is an ankle length piece of cloth that men wear and often pull up to tie at their waste and hitch between their legs to make walking or climbing or in this case bathing easier. He had a bucket of water and soap and he lathered every, I mean every part of his body from head to toe vigorously. I saw nothing exposed that shouldn't be and that wasn't because I was watching indirectly but because I wasn't meant to. That isn't the point of my story but apparently I can't help the digression. I'll just say he was not unpleasant to look at, nope, not at all.

But back to the real story I want to tell. We then went to the imposing Nahargarh or Tiger Fort north of the city and were amused by the many Macacques playing around the parking lot. DSC02809.jpgDSC02758.jpg (At Nahargar/"Tiger" Fort - notice the flowers around our necks...)

Elmar was busily taking pictures and I was watching the antics of a couple of them right in front of me while waiting for the driver. Suddenly, a mamma macaque some distance away raced across the lot, her little baby hanging on to her belly, and before I could blink she jumped up on me and grabbed at my neck. I've always thought in these situations I'd be like Sydney Bristow from Alias, you know, reacting decisively and effectively, well, I didn't disappoint. I flung my hands up and yelled immediately and quite effectively I might add -"Elmar!" He raced toward me waving his hands and kicking at the macaque who was far too fast to be touched and scampered away. I couldn't figure out why she had attacked me but then someone explained she wanted my lei and Elmar added that she had a baby with her. It was unnerving but thankfully only my dignity hurt. Lesson learned, no flowers or fruit around macaques. Those sharp teeth and human like hands are no fun up close and personal. DSC03251.jpg (Macaques everywhere)
Our outstanding impression is that Jaipur is even more chaotic and dirty than Delhi and the vendors took aggressive pursuit to a new level. If you choose this city to visit, you should gear up mentally and physically, it's not for the faint of heart. We enjoyed what we saw tremendously but were more than ready to move on.

A5BA1DD42219AC6817943DE3114E1939.jpg (At the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur; marble structures that tell the time with a +/-10 sec. error)
DSC02726.jpg43E4B7462219AC6817EA48599374B1B8.jpg43EC362C2219AC681732ADE873D14D1E.jpg (Lake Palace and Palace of Winds in Jaipur)
DSC02870.jpg (City Palace in Jaipur)

One other thing I want to mention that doesn't show up in the pictures is that we made sure to contribute to the economy with a few purchases here. We haggled, and for sure you would not be respected if you don't, and got decent prices but not dirt cheap. I learned Asian haggling from a dear Indian friend who I watched with amazement when she visited me in China. I could not believe when she offered 50% of asking price and got away with it repeatedly. Her arguments and strategies varied but her favourite in China was based on making multiple purchases and not being afraid to walk away and not look back. In India, I learned over time that I had to literally not care whether I got the item or not because they are astute readers of emotions, a bored look works, and not be affected by the vendors subtle hurt feelings to manipulate you into feeling bad. The stories of how your purchase will help are designed to tug at the coldest heart. Even if you don't intend to purchase anything you must be prepared as part of any tour, whether planned or spontaneous will always include a stop at a gem store or someplace equal. You won't see it on the itinerary but clearly the drivers get some kind of kick back. After a torturous hour at a gem store because Ajay really wanted us to stop there, we were specific with him re what we were interested in and serious about buying and asked him to not take us to the other places. 43E745CA2219AC6817BCDCDBAD9131F5.jpg (Which vehicle has more horsepower?)

Jodhpur: The Blue City. 15th C named after chief Rao Jodha.

With relief I noted that Ajay didn't bring flowers the next morning. We set out for Jodhpur, the city where the well known riding trousers (sorry, 'pants' didn't feel right, guess I'm still under UK influence) gets its name.
We stopped for lunch at a truck stop and ate a hearty and very tasty lunch. The price for all three of us was $5.00. Elmar amazed the locals who watched in wonder as he mixed his rice, veggies and several sauces together, topped it off with some curd then smoothly and naturally proceeded to shovel it into his mouth with his hands despite being provided with a spoon. Ajay himself was amazed and forgot his lunch so he could take several pictures and a video. Eating with his hands is surprising enough but knowing how to mix the food together is something very few foreigners know how or desire to do. After lunch we walked around and I got to chew on the leaf of the Neem tree growing in the back of the property. It's famous for its use in Ayurveda to make lotions, treat acne, and nourish the hair and as tooth paste. Apparently I was hoping for the full benefits in chewing the leaf. I have a real soft spot for kids and there were some really sweet ones here. Hard working well behaved and gracious. We didn't leave money but we bought them some treats. It was funny to see something so small such a thrill for them and what a relief for us that they were completely satisfied and never hinted at wanting money from us.DSC02943.jpgDSC02941.jpg

Our next stop was a village and it was refreshing to finally see some green farmland instead of the arid and rocky landscape we crossed during the last couple of days. The journey so far had been dusty and bumpy and the landscape boringly flat and filled with either manufacturing plants or other unmemorable buildings. Here, the red soil was reflected in the brick homes, many of them with intricate designs. We met a number of the townfolk as the longer we stayed, the larger the crowd grew. The kids were very polite and orderly (we had treats and they waited their turn and didn’t fight each other or grab), the men flirty and the women shy. It took a little coaxing to get the women to share with me. As usual many were startlingly pretty and their clothes a vibrant kaleidoscope of colours. Every girl wore an ankle bracelet and even the babies had their eyes rimmed with kohl. We had noticed before but even more so as we travelled through the country side that there's an innate grace to the women. People recognize it from the bollywood dances but it was evident even when we saw them walking down the streets with stacks of wood on their heads. We were curious about daily life and what we heard and witnessed soon became a pattern as we stopped at various villages. The women start their day around 5:00am gathering sticks for the fire then heading to the closest pump for water which may be miles away and will again be carried on their heads. They plant, harvest, take care off the animals, children and prepare meals. Basically it's non stop back breaking work for them. DSC02986.jpg (A group of women getting water at a nearby well; often they have to walk for miles at a time)

Not that there weren't men working but every village we passed or stopped at we saw several groups of them playing cards and drinking chai. Ajay confirmed that this pattern was pretty normal and acceptable. DSC02969.jpgDSC02963.jpg

When we got to the city it was more of the same - chaos and lots of garbage everywhere but we found that we kinda enjoyed the blue city. If you visit, stay at a hotel with a roof top as the view is great especially as the sun is setting. We stayed at Pal Haveli, which is definitely not back packer price and is a lovely old red stone noble home with a great roof top restaurant. DSC03000.jpg (View from the rooftop terrace at our hotel Pal Haveli)

There are no elevators so be prepared for unusually steep steps. The rooms can be a little dark and as with most old buildings the plumbing is an adventure. We had to take our shower squatting under the 3 foot high faucet as there wasn't a tub and the water couldn't make it up to the shower head. Wish I could share a picture of 6 foot 4 Elmar doing his 'shower' moves, I call it the chicken squat. Another reason we like the city is we were already tired of being led around by Ajay as nice as he was, so we took off on our own and just wandered around. We ended up in the more residential area away from the tourists and touts and discovered quieter and cleaner streets. People were genuinely helpful when we asked for directions and no one tried to sell us anything. We met two lovely very articulate young girls who stopped us asking the same questions, where are you from, what's your name, but they were just wondering if we had any simple coins from our country they could have. It was great just having a normal conversation without a hidden agenda and to hear their passion for school and curiosity of the world. They also stirred my curiosity because I've been noticing how self assured young girls are here regardless of status. I have no research to base it on but I also noticed that many fathers are more nurturing toward their children here. They frequently hug and nuzzle, carry around and play with boys and girls alike and I wonder if that with the high emphasis on education in many states are factors. Would be interesting to explore further. DSC03157.jpg (That's why Jodhpur is called the 'blue city')

There are many Muslims in the northern cities of India and it’s been that way for centuries. Mughals conquered the Rajasthan region during medieval times but were fairly lenient in some aspects because they often allowed the Maharajas in different cities to continue ruling independently as long as they were allies and paid their dues.Today, the Mughal influence can be seen everywhere in the architecture of many of the sites and Islam is a choice religion for many Indians. We saw so many women with their saris covering their entire faces and were often woken at 5:00 am with the call to prayer blaring through loudspeakers. I deeply admire the Indians' tolerance. They have no problems with existing peaceable with other faiths and in fact, in the Hindu belief the ‘guru’ Sai Baba teaches to accept and reflect all others.

Our favourite site here is the Meherangarh fort and is not to be missed. It rises majestically and imposingly right from the mountains. There are several options to get to the entry gate from the road including a ride on a decorated elephant; however, we went with the mundane car and driver. Most of the sites have audio guide tours and while we would say bypass most of them, the one at this fort was pretty decent. DSC03065.jpgDSC03083.jpg (Meherangarh Fort)

The other must experiences are two food delights. Right at the base of the town clock in the main town square is a very tiny stall where the renowned ‘Omelette Man’ cooks up a mean fare. He started out cooking a variety of dishes but after the Lonely Planet, which seems to be the bible of guide books these days, can make or break your business, extolled his omelets, he now only specializes in omelet making and is much richer and happier for it. You can believe the hype, they are delish and cheap. We tried the masala and the cheese and it was finger lickin’ good. Despite his increased wealth he refuses to change anything about his winning approach so each day he stands all day from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm in a little area of no more than 1 by 1 meter and with one omelet pan churns out each order. DSC03011.jpg (The 'Omelet Man' in Jodhpur)
His son who is very proud of his dad takes the orders and tries to get you to visit his little souvenir business down the street and also plans to open up another restaurant. It's always nice to see passion and honest hard work paying off and we wish them luck. The other food delight is the lassis from a little sweet shop right around the corner from the omelet man, right underneath the clock tower and called ‘Mishrilal Hotel’. Lassi is a yogurt drink that is a staple in the local diet and can be bought anywhere on the street either salty or flavoured with spices or fruit. I have heard that there is a version flavoured with cannabis but I can't speak to that. This guy's is the gourmet version. His drink has added spices to the unfruited version and is more like a super thick milk shake that you eat with a spoon vs drink it. Believe me it was addictive. So much so we couldn't resist making one last stop on our way out of the city.DSC03274.jpgDSC03277.jpg (Easily the best lassi and sweets in India)

Udaipur - Southern Rajisthan estab mid 16th C by Udai Singh II of Sisodia royal family. Probbably one of oldest surviving dynasties in the world

Rather than via highway, our guide took us through the back roads to Udaipur. We discovered a much greener India and at times much cleaner. It was Republic day and we stopped on the way to experience some of the celebrations. He chose a village school and we joined the program already in progress that was put on by the students. As with all things with kids, the performance was endearing. We met and took pics with the Maharajah of the region. We were allowed to sit up front with what looked like the dignitaries and I felt slightly awkward as I noticed that there was only one other woman there. The others stood around or sat on the ground with the children. They treated us very graciously and included us in the meal after the program. I was encouraged to see a booth in cooperation with one of the UN agencies educating all on the importance of nutrition, education and care of infants to toddlers. It was simple but effective and run by a woman who seemed to love and was proud of what she was doing. DSC03294.jpg (Celebrations on Republic Day)

The next stop seemed random. Ajay noticed a man through a doorway right off the street who appeared to be churning something. He backed up and as he explained it that he was making mustard seed decided to get out the car and join the man for a closer look. Pretty soon other villagers poured in and were warmly welcoming. They always want to share something with us, usually water or chai. The chai we can drink but the water which is so precious to them we always have to refuse which I hate doing. We met a couple college students who were best friends and the proud father who shared his story and delight in sending all his children to school. The girls, dressed alike, both wanted to be teachers and seemed determined to achieve their dreams together. They were both fluent in English so our conversation flowed easily. The woman in charge of the mustard seed churning shared a horrible tasting sweet made from the mustard seed and we could tell she was very proud to share with us. I really tried to get down a couple bites but it was tough. I was able to palm it off to Elmar to finish to avoid any embarassment. Mustard seed oil is apparently good for skin, hair, cooking and massage oils. We would have bought some but this was the raw manufacturing stored in clay pots and we didn't have a bottle or anything handy. It's always hard to leave the villages as they enjoy us as much as we enjoy them but it was time to push on.

We next stopped at an extraordinarily beautiful marble temple and learned it was built by the followers of the Jain religion. We did the tour with the temple priest/guide who said its no wall, 1,400 column structure was built by illiterates. The religion sounded weirdly interesting. They don't believe in the caste system and promote non violence to the extent that they won't eat root vegetables because harvesting them means killing bugs. Pilgrims can stay there free of cost and I was beginning to think, hmm pretty good until the priest made it clear that what he initially offered as a no additional charge tour really meant not just a tip of our choosing but a tip that he approved of. We had already intended to leave a gift and still did but somehow I'm still taken aback at the blatant begging and leaching of tourists especially when it comes from people you don't expect it from or after you think you're connecting with someone on a different level. DSC03323.jpg

I'm not going to say much about the city of Udaipur except that I was disappointed on many levels. It's touted in the guidebooks as THE romantic destination as the city cradles what's referred to as beautiful Lake Pichola and is overlooked by towering mountains. I found the lake dirty and smelly and while the palace we visited was lovely, we were disappointed that the current royal family lived in California and received not only the profits from the tours, but anyone who did business in the palace, such as selling souvenirs or running a little cafe had to fork over 50% of their earnings. I wouldn't care about this except that there didn't seem to be any giving back to the city. Poverty is rampant here with many in shantys or sleeping on the street. The roads are terrible, clean water a problem and buildings in poor condition. Accommodations were severely over priced especially if you opted for any of the hotels on the lake but in general as well. It was hard for me to feel romantic or that I wanted to spend anymore money here.DSC03362.jpgDSC03387.jpg (City Palace in Udaipur)


I unfortunately developed a bad cold after Udaipur which may have also contributed to my blighted view so we didn't make any stops on the way to Pushkar. To be honest, I don't remember a lot other than it being more of the same arid, dirty desert cities we'd been experiencing so far and that we had problems with the hotel not having our booking. We couldn't tell if the booking agent had messed up or the hotel decided they could get a better rate from walk-in guests. Reception was barely polite and his suggestion of coming back the next night unacceptable. This is where a seasoned guide comes in handy because Ajay got on his phone and soon had us booked in a decent place he knew of. Pushkar is a strictly vegetarian city so no eggs, meat or alcohol are allowed but there are around 500 temples dotted all around the lake so I guess you find one if the urge for non veg or a little spirit hits too hard. Apparently too this is the mecca if you're looking to buy a camel or two. It's the largest camel market in the world and we'd just missed the annual event. It sounded interesting in theory but as Ajay described some of the details like thousands of camels and dealers haggling all day I couldn't drum up one bit of regret. More interesting for us is connecting with people and we had an interesting conversation with the owner of the pizza restaurant where we went for dinner. Pizza would not be our choice usually in India but he was a friend of Ajay and invited us to join him around an open fire just as we were leaving. Like so many Indians he was very well educated and had very strong views, particularly about respecting life, which he spoke passionately about. His ultimate point was that he was frustrated that as the most developed of life forms we as humans choose to kill animals for food when we don't have to. It was a lively conversation that we thoroughly enjoyed and left some food for thought as well as he raised some good points. Sadly he also spoke about the rampant corruption in the government that kept too many people trapped in poverty. We spoke long into the evening about what life is really like in India and might have gone longer but we noticed poor Ajay struggling to keep his eyes open. So we quickly said our goodbyes and left with that satisfied feeling you get when you've had a really stimulating conversation with interesting company.DSC03447.jpgDSC03462.jpg (The holy lake in Pushkar) DSC03478.jpg (Impressions from Pushkar) DSC03488.jpg (A local specialty, chapatis soaked in honey)


Our next stop provided a release from the standard meandering through temples, palaces and tombs. Ranthambore is a small national park and is home to a healthy population of tigers who we were told hunt in the open and are not perturbed by jeep caravans of humans invading their territory. Rather than a hotel, we stayed in a luxury tent that had an ensuite bathroom and a little heater for the cold nights. We were one of five guests staying there so it was very quiet and peaceful. The tents surrounded a nice size lawn area with comfy chairs and tables and individualized wood burning fires to keep you warm. It was very cosy eating then lingering late to talk and gaze up in wonder at the brilliantly star studded sky. I thought of my good friend Craig Smith who is an avid star gazer and how much he would love it here. That's something that you do miss a bit. There are so many times during a trip like this that you think of friends and loved ones you want to share different experiences with because they would love it too. Our wake up call was at 5:30 am so we eventually went to bed and slept very comfortably in our queen size bed. The next morning just as the sun was coming up we had a hot drink then with heavy blankets provided by the hotel we headed out in an open topped jeep. Because of its close proximity to the Golden Triangle stops of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, this is a popular destination and it can be very difficult to secure a jeep. In fact we had a few tense moments wondering if we did have a reservation but Ajay again made sure we had a jeep with a small group of two other couples rather than the open top buses that hold upwards of 20. It was very cold but exhilarating and we saw lots of antelopes and other wildlife but unfortunately only tiger tracks instead of the real thing. DSC03642.jpgDSC03644.jpg (In Ranthambore)

While we were disappointed we still relished being out in the forest and walking around in designated areas. We often spotted villagers hiding in the forest foraging for wood. At one point two women with huge bundles of firewood on their heads heard our jeep and must have thought we were the rangers. They started running and then ditched the wood to secure a hiding place. Deforestation is a serious concern in many areas throughout India and you wonder who will win the battle, struggling families trying to fill their basic needs or the conservationists. DSC03534.jpg (Our 'luxury' tent in the national park) DSC03554.jpgDSC03595.jpgDSC03610.jpg (Fresh tiger tracks...but no tiger)

The mini safari lasted about 3 hours and we returned to a pretty good breakfast then headed out to Agra. We'd been discussing what we would do after the tour which was nearing it's end, and although we knew we definitely wanted some beach time we couldn't decide exactly where. That's one of the beauties of India, you can climb the Himalayas, tour desert cities or laze on world class beaches. We'd been debating Andaman islands vs Kerala which is a lush southern state. Luckily for us, on our safari we met an Indian from the south and he was very discouraging about the Andaman islands. He was there recently on holidays and was himself appalled at how dirty the beaches were. That cinched it for us and we booked our flight to Kerala where we could do a backwater tour. DSC03471.jpgDSC03523.jpgDSC03527.jpg On the road in Rajasthan)

Posted by Elmar123 00:35 Archived in India Tagged landscapes art buildings people animals city sites historic Comments (1)

Thailand’s former capitals – Sukothai and Ayutthaya

December 18 - 20

sunny 32 °C
View World Tour 2012/13 on Elmar123's travel map.

Instead of writing a long report about the historic sites and significance of Sukothai and Ayutthaya I just provide a weblink and a few photographs, so everyone who is interested can read up on them. Instead, here are just a few impressions about these two places, which are naturally firmly established locations on the tourist circuit.

On a vey general level, we definitely preferred Old Sukothai and the historic park of Sukothai over Ayutthaya although this is clearly a very broad statement. But at least the historic sites of Sukothai seemed to be better maintained and cleaner. We enjoyed the main historic park in Sukothai and the temple complex within it. It just exerted a more peaceful, relaxing and quiet atmosphere. The audio tour that one can purchase is very interesting as well and it always helps to connect with a place more than without any explanation.

Sukothai Wikitravel Info


We probably spent about 3 hours in the main historic site of Sukothai and then drove around using our car to see some of the other temples that are scattered around in a relatively vast area around the main site.

DSC01894.jpgDSC01900.jpgF3DD95E72219AC6817AA9763A650FDE5.jpg(Historic Park Sukothai)

It was quite hot when we finally left for Ayutthaya but it is a relatively comfortable ride just following the main highway for about 4-5 hours heading South.

Once in Ayutthaya, again it was dark already at around 7 PM, we found our place very easily since we knew that it was close to the main train station. We were a little surprised when we drove into the street where the hotel was since it felt like we were entering a very local neighborhood, with small alleys and old and very simple wooden houses. And it was indeed a very local neighborhood right at the river. There were two guesthouses and our place, which was called Baan Are Gong Riverside Homestay, was an old teak wood house in traditional Chinese Thai style. Our room was adjacent to the main courtyard in the middle of the house and right in front of our window was the small reception desk. The lovely hotel owner and manager was a woman in her forties who spoke very good English. She inherited the house from her parents and was running it together with her sister. The little restaurant, very simple wood structure and wooden benches and tables, was right on the river and we could see the ferry leaving from just underneath the deck to the other side of the river. Our room rate was US$18 and again, it was clean, comfortable yet very simple. We were a bit afraid that it could get pretty noisy being so close to the action outside the room since other guests and staff would pass by our window but since it was relatively quiet and not too many tourists stayed there it was fine and we actually slept very well.

172152B32219AC68178D4CFD7006AC84.jpgDSC01945.jpg(The two sisters and owners of Baan Are Gong)

Before we settled into our room though we went to grab some dinner and decided to go to one of the local night markets. We took a tuk tuk and were surprised to see that the market was about to close when we arrived there at around 8 or 8:30 PM. But we found a small street restaurant at the corner of the market where we could eat our Thai favorites, have some drinks and watch the action at the night market. When we left and walked towards the main street where we hoped to find a tuk tuk we noticed a street dog following us. He just walked right alongside us and whenever we took a turn or changed sides on the street he would do the same. We must have walked for almost a mile and he was still following us, regularly fending off other street dogs that were about to attack him. He obviously must have decided to “adopt” us as his new owners and it felt sad when we eventually stopped a tuk tuk that took us across the river back to our hotel. Our new K9 friend was just sitting on the roadside and watched us leave with sad eyes until we couldn’t see him anymore.

Next morning we got up early, packed, had breakfast on the deck above the river and left our luggage at our little hotel in order to see the sights of Ayutthaya. When we drove into town we received an SMS from our friend Martina from Germany, who was actually on her way to Ayutthaya as well, together with her partner Uwe. We knew they were in Bangkok and we were planning to meet them there when we arrived back in the “city of angels” so we were surprised to hear that they had decided to do a day trip to Ayutthaya as well. And wouldn’t you know, in a city that is filled with tourists and temples, we actually ran into them at the entrance of one of the main temples – what a coincidence. We were greeting and hugging each other euphorically but parted ways quickly since they were part of a tour group and didn’t want to miss the group and their bus. But we were planning to meet up with them anyway the next day in Bangkok.

DSC01961.jpgDSC01985.jpgDSC02012.jpg(Historic Park Ayutthaya)

So we just wandered around the different historic sites, which are scattered across the city. To be honest, while it was still enjoyable we didn’t like it as much as we expected judging by the reputation as one of the prime tourist destinations in Thailand. Part of the reason for that was the sad state of some of the monuments and the garbage that literally was everywhere, along the streets but also at some of the most important historic sites. It seemed as if some of the remains of the King’s birthday celebrations hadn’t been cleaned up completely but it was a pity to see these important historic sites filled with garbage and nobody seemed to care about cleaning up the mess. There might also have been some impact from the previous year when Ayutthaya including some of the main historic monuments were under water for weeks. We saw some of the renovation work going on but in our opinion there’s just no excuse for not cleaning up the garbage in a place like Ayutthaya that lives from tourism.

Ayutthaya Wikitravel Info

Anyway, after a few hours of sightseeing we drove back to our hotel, parked the car and went on a boat trip around the old city of Ayutthaya. We arranged this trip through our guesthouse and for the next two hours or so we were skipping along the many temples, stopped every 15 minutes to get off the boat and wander around the site and we eventually made the whole circle around the old city and arrived back at our starting point, the guesthouse. We said good-bye to our hosts for the last night and got into the car for a relatively short drive back to Bangkok.

DSC02073.jpgDSC02101.jpgDSC02145.jpg(Boat trip along the historic sites of Ayutthaya)

We had to drop off the rental car at Suvarnabhumi airport and unfortunately we had a small crack in our windshield, which happened while driving on a highway and a small stone hit us. The guys at Hertz told us that we could either pay for it since it wasn’t covered by the insurance or we could have it fixed ourselves, which would be cheaper. One guy form Hertz even offered to take us to a repair place where they fix broken windshields. So we drove with him to a Bangkok suburb close to the airport and stopped at one of the places that repair windshields just to find out that the crack on our car couldn’t be fixed because it was too big. We needed a new windshield. But how could we arrange having a windshield repaired in a small repair shop in Bangkok? English is still only common for high school and college educated Thais. So our guy from Hertz offered to meet us the next morning at our hotel and take us to a repair shop which should be much cheaper than paying directly to Hertz. We were not sure what to think of this and whether this was a scam but somehow agreed to it and gave him a few hundred baht for taxi money for a ride to our hotel. Well, we found out the next morning that we got scammed since he never showed up and I had to take the car to Hertz at the airport eventually since our time was up. But it turned out to be only about US$ 100 to replace the windshield, something that would cost ten times as much in Europe or the US for the car we had. So, while being relieved that we didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg on the repair we felt angry about falling for the scam. We are only talking about 10 or 15 dollars but nevertheless, no one likes to think they were naïve and as seasoned travellers we should have known better. We even tried to hunt him down at Hertz again but for some reason we never saw him work there again – probably for a good reason.

In the afternoon we eventually met with Martina and Uwe and spent the day driving up and down the Chao Praya on one of the taxi boats that we took many times before. They both enjoyed the hustle and bustle on the boat and doing sightseeing for 20 cents per person.


In the evening we decided to go to one of the night markets to have some dinner and soak up the atmosphere of a typical Bangkok night market/eating area. Unfortunately one of our former favorites, the Suan Lum night bazaar close to Lumpini Park doesn’t exist anymore since the lease ran out and the operator of the night market and restaurant area needed to close shop. On the internet and through the concierge at a hotel we found out that the “replacement” of this night market is called “ASIATIQUE The Riverfront” and it has a free shuttle boat. However, when we got there it was nothing like the old Suan Lum night bazaar and is now a glitzy, high priced entertainment park with brand name shops and air conditioned restaurants.

DSC02200.jpg(Dinner with our friends Martina & Uwe at ASIATIQUE The Riverfront)

We still had a decent dinner and enjoyed Martina’s and Uwe’s company before we wished them “Merry Christmas” and went our separate ways. They were leaving the next day back to Germany and we had one more day in Bangkok before we were heading off to Miami in order to celebrate Christmas with Anna’s family.

Posted by Elmar123 00:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged art buildings historic Comments (0)

Ancient cities of Isaan – Phanum Rung and Phimai

December 15-16

sunny 28 °C
View World Tour 2012/13 on Elmar123's travel map.

After a nice long breakfast and a chat with Mike, one of our newfound friends from Cleveland who we met on the jungle tour the day before, we left for Phanum Rung. Phanum Rung is an ancient Khmer temple complex East of Nakhon Ratchasima and close to Buriram and Surin.

As soon as we left Pak Chong and the vicinity of Khao Yai heading eastwards Isaan revealed its true nature – endless countryside, only broken up by small dwellings, forests, lakes, rice paddies or sugarcane fields. As mentioned before, we always enjoy taking in the Thai countryside as it is so green and soothing and Isaan is no different. And again, even though we were in one of the poorest and most remote regions of Thailand, the streets are well maintained.

We arrived in Phanum Rung mid afternoon and after a quick lunch on the roadside eating my all-time Thai favorite Phad Khra Pao, we bought our entry tickets and walked into the temple area. Phanum Rung is beautifully located on top of a hill with views over the countryside and surrounded by green shrubs and forest. Since it is in “the middle of nowhere” it has a very quiet and peaceful atmosphere and we saw very few foreign tourists – it’s just not on the main circuit of Thai tourist sites for foreigners. So we just walked around the temple complex, meandered along the long walkway from the east gate to the steps up to the temple.

Phanum Rung Wikipedia site

DSC01514.jpg (Phanum Rung historic park)

Coincidentally, on the day of our visit a Bangkok film crew shot a Thai movie production, apparently one of these historic epic movies, with lots of swords, fighting and the like. We were sitting in the shade of the trees for a while and just watched the painfully slow process of adjusting and re-adjusting the cameras, repositioning some of the poor “extras” mere inches, some of them getting really bored and starting to pick their noses. The obvious “star” of the movie was this 6ft 3 tall, muscular handsome guy with long hair (actually a hair piece as we saw them readjusting it) who tried to look so cool it could have frozen all of Thailand. It was quite fun to watch this unfold and in the breaks some of the scantily clad extras were more than happy to pose with tourists for photos.

DSC01605.jpgDSC01608.jpg (Movie set at Phanum Rung)
DSC01525.jpg (Actors/extras from the movie set)

Besides the fun we had with watching the movie set we really enjoyed Phanum Rung and both decided after our little round trip that it was our favorite temple. The peaceful atmosphere, beautiful temple ruins itself, the layout of the place and grounds and the position on top of the hill will leave a long lasting memory as one of the “temple highlights” of Thailand for us. Once we paused for a while and took in the whole setting and scenery it actually felt like a former spiritual place unlike some other, more commercialized temples we’ve seen across Thailand and Asia.


But it was time to leave Phanum Rung and make our way towards Buriram where we had booked a small hotel for the night. It took about an hour from Phanum Rung to Buriram and driving through the countryside at sunset was almost “magical”, the last rays of the sun turning the rice paddies, little lakes and small villages into a picture perfect backdrop for our adventure through Isaan.

DSC01773.jpgDSC01802.jpg (Isaan countryside)

It was already pitch dark when we arrived in Buriram, which is a very typical little town (and province) in the middle of the Isaan region although it is still very close to the Cambodian border. Many people in this region speak several languages or dialects - Thai, the Isaan dialect which is almost a separate language as well as Khamen or Khmer, the language of Cambodia. So, it doesn’t get much more Northeast than this.
Using our GPs and a map we bought before our trip we actually found the street and our hotel relatively quickly and we checked in to our room, which turned out to be the most expensive one during our whole trip through Isaan – we actually paid a whopping US$45 for a nice, large clean room including balcony. The hotel even has a nice pool – the only one in Buriram by the way – and it has a nice restaurant that serves Thai and Italian food, including a large selection of pizzas. The hotel is called “Muang Pizza & Resort Buriram” and many locals just call it the “Pizza Hotel” since it is still the only place in Buriram where you can get a decent Pizza.

DSC01619.jpg (Our room at the "Pizza Hotel" in Buriram)

We got to know the owner a little bit and had a chat with him. He’s a Dutch guy and married a girl form Buriram so they both manage the hotel together. Like so many other stories in Thailand, their story is very similar but also somewhat different, “same, same but different” as many Thaissay: Boy (or often man and in many cases old, ugly man) meets Isaan girl in Bangkok – mostly in a beer or gogo bar - he falls in love (she falls in love with the little money he has), they marry and in many cases it doesn’t last very long for any number of reasons. In their case, however, it seemed to work really well. They were both! attractive and relatively young, they had been living together for a couple of years in Bangkok before they decided to move to Buriram, the hometown of the girl, to build a small business. They started out with a Pizza place after some research and finding out that there’s good demand for Pizza but no “Pizzeria” in Buriram. And they were right, the little business took off and after a couple of years they bought some land and built this very nice small hotel where we were staying. He was managing the hotel and his wife was doing administration, reception and the like…and probably managing most of the staff in the “appropriate Thai style” whenever needed. So it sounded like a really nice success story and we both wished them all the luck for their future.

We were getting pretty hungry after we checked in and we decided to go out and not have Pizza in the hotel restaurant – it just doesn’t feel right to us not to have Thai food in places like this and we wanted to sample some of the local fare. So we just took a little walk and not far from our hotel was a little outside eating place where we stopped. It had a nice outside kitchen, a little bamboo style bar and a large screen showing English Premier league football. Thais are crazy about football and especially the English Premier league. You can get pretty much any PL game on some of the many satellite channels in Thailand and most restaurants and bars have screens or flat screen TVs showing just this. So we felt right at “home” and ordered some of our Thai favorites Phad Khra Pao, som tam thai (spicy papaya salad), tom yam goong and Leo beer, which is my particular favorite. Food was very tasty and the folks at the restaurant were very friendly, only one person speaking some broken English but that, together with our broken Thai (at least we know the names of the food we like), pictures on the menu and many hand signals we were perfectly able to communicate.

Totally satisfied we took a nice long walk in the relatively “cool” air (approx. 25 degrees celsius) and since it was a Saturday night we decided to have a night out in town. Buriram actually does have a little bar and nightclub area in the middle of town but don’t expect it to be anything like Bangkok or Pattaya (or many other larger cities in Thailand for that matter). It’s a string of about 20 small bars and a couple of night/dance clubs and we counted approximately 7-8 foreigners overall. Other than that it was a young Thai crowd going out and having fun. While we were having drinks in one of the bars, we curiously observed a group of 4 young women who were “getting ready” for the night. They all had a small snack but ordered a large bottle of whiskey and soda water. Before changing location to the adjacent nightclub they each must have gulped down 3-5 glasses (by the way regular water not whiskey glasses) of whiskey just watered down with some soda water. Surprisingly, none of them showed any signs of intoxication so we figured that couldn’t have been the first time they were doing this. But ordering a bottle of whiskey for a small group of people, no matter whether men or women, is very, very common in Thailand. You can still get a decent bottle of whiskey for a reasonable price and quite honestly, “it gets you drunk cheaper and quicker” than drinking e.g., wine or beer. Beer is actually priced at a premium rate compared to many of the whiskeys in Thailand. At the low end a cheap bottle of Thai whiskey costs the same as a bottle of beer. So there’s a real economic reason for the high consumption of whiskey in the country and it is indeed one of the biggest markets for many whiskey produces like “Johnny Walker”.
So we really enjoyed our night out and the people – e.g., staff at some of the bars – were all very friendly albeit not able to hold any meaningful conversation in English. When we decided to call it a night just after midnight we had a hard time finding a taxi or tuk tuk as this is not what you’d call a bustling nightlife city but we finally managed to round up a couple of guys with their motorcycle taxis who raced each other to take us back to the “Pizza Hotel”. By the way, taking motorcycle taxis is often very cheap and quick and, although it doesn’t always feel safe, is really good fun. Just tuck your knees in when they navigate through heavy rush hour traffic and don’t worry too much about the fact that the only person wearing any form of protective gear, i.e. helmet, is the driver.

The next day we had a lot of driving to do since we wanted to reach Nongkai, which is almost 500 km from Buriram. So we left Buriram early and a stopped in Phimai, the location of one of the other big Khmer temple complexes in Isaan.

Phimai Wkipedia site

DSC01638.jpgDSC01655.jpg (Phimai Historic Park)

Different from Phanum Rung, the Phimai historical park is in the middle of a small town called Phimai but once inside the temple complex, it is almost as peaceful and quiet as Phanum Rung. If you have been to Siem Reap and the temples of Anchor Wat in Cambodia you will notice the many similarities between the architecture and layout of the temples. But while Anchor Wat, due to its sheer size and the many temples surrounding it, is certainly impressive, we enjoyed Phanum Rung and Phimai as much or more than Anchor Wat. One reason is also the fact that the Khmer temples in Isaan are much less known to at least foreign tourists so you don’t have to deal with the hordes of European and Asian tourists on their photo safaris.
In that context (i.e., hordes of tourists travelling to Anchor Wat) here’s a little fun I’d like to share with you and hopefully it will make you chuckle as much as me. It’s a pictogram found at the airport restrooms in Siem Reap which welcomes many tourists now from countries and regions that are not familiar with the concept of urinals.


Anyway, we really enjoyed the temples in Phimai as well and after a couple of hours wandering the grounds and some sweet and spicy crepes form one of the street vendors we left Phimai and headed towards Nongkai. It was quite a long ride and we passed typical Isaan cities like Khon Khaen and Udon Thani before we reached Nongkai in the dark. We hoped we would find the little hotel we booked on agoda.com as easily as the one in Buriram but this time was much more difficult. We drove around for almost an hour, frequently stopping, looking at our map, checking the GPS and asking a few tuk tuk drivers. We finally found it by way of “eliminating” every little alleyway off the main road where we suspected the hotel to be. The reason it was so hard to find for us was because it was tucked away at the end of a little alley and the sign on the main road was written in Thai only. We checked in and were again pleasantly surprised to find a clean, comfortable room with ensuite bathroom, TV and little balcony for US$ 14. We were also immediately greeted by the two puppies of the owner, dressed in camouflage shirts and named King and Kong; they were just adorable and followed us everywhere we went.

DSC01693.jpg (Baan Tawan Hotel in Nongkai) DSC01686.jpgDSC01691.jpg (Our friends King and Kong)

After the long ride we were quite hungry and walked around for a bit in this sleepy little border town and ended up in the most “popular” place around the corner from our hotel, which was a Chinese & Thai open air restaurant. Again, delicious food was had by all and we ended our day with a very strange encounter that I will tell you more about in our next blog entry “Nongkai – the Visa Run city”.

Posted by Elmar123 08:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged landscapes art buildings historic Comments (0)

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