Monday, November 28, 2011

Exploring Bangkok on a Tuktuk

The best way to explore Bangkok is through its very popular auto rickshaw vehicle – Tuktuk. They are readily available in every street corners of Bangkok so it is easy to spot them to get a short trip within the city. It is a very popular mode of transportation in Bangkok so there is no reason to excuse myself in a taking a wild ride of tuktuk especially as a first time visitor in Thailand.

Our tuktuk driver and city tour guide, Dalin, literally drive us through-out the city to explore its great sights ans places of interest for a whole day. Since tutuk is a small vehicle, it can easily pass through the traffic jams of Bangkok and small alleys for shortcuts. My tuktuk ride wasn’t just a great experience of exploring Bangkok but also a great way to sample the urban life scenes in Thailand’s capital.

Exploring Bangkok on a Tuktuk!
Our tuktuk driver/tour guide - Dalin, driving us in every part of Bangkok.
First thing that I noticed in the streets of Bangkok is that it is less polluted in smoke even though there are times it is traffic and heavily packed by vehicle. The streets are also cleaned, well maintained most of the time free from litters and trashes. I am also fascinated by bright and loud colored taxis that brings lively vibes to the busy streets of Bangkok. Malls and shops are in every street corners making the city a real shoppers paradise.

The streets of Bangkok on a tuktuk's eyeview.
Tuktuk can easily pass through the network streets of Bangkok. That’s why going through the nearest attractions of Bangkok just like a breeze. One of the nearest museums in Pratunam and Ratchaprarop train station is Suan Pakkad Palace. This museum is a collection f traditional Thai houses collected by Prince and Princess Chumbot. Some houses belonged to the prince’s family and all are more than a century old. Don’t miss to see the Lacquer Pavilion. It is an extraordinary example of Thai art and consists of a room within a room styled structure decorated with richly carved gilded wood.

A few short hops on tuktuk, we passed by the palace residence of the Thai monarchy, The Chitlada Palace. Though it is beautifully covered with fountains and canals in its gates, it is impossible to see the palace as it is mostly covered with trees and always close to the public. We drove to our intended destination, Wat Benchamabophit or The Marble Temple is the most beautiful temple I saw in Bangkok. It is just located opposite one corner of Chitlada Palace in Dusit district. The temple is noted for its stunning and majestic architecture which is distinctly Thai. You’ll admire the temple’s stunning architecture from the gold and orange encrusted roofs to the ubosot (hall) covered outside by marble from Italy. Take a peek into its altar and it main Buddha image (Phra Buddhajinaraja) as these is the most beautiful in Thailand. Take time also to look the surrounding cloisters of the temple where there are numerous Buddha images on display as well as significant buildings like Song Dharm Hall and Sri Sri Somdej Pavilion.

Wat Benchamabophit or The Marble Temple.
The surrounding canal inside The Marble Temple.
Wat Benchamabophit - The most beautiful temple in Bangkok!
Various Buddha images found inside the temple's cloister. 

The author and the stunning Marble Temple.
A reminder that you are in the land of smiles!
Driving past Bang Lumpoo district, I saw the Democracy Monument, a public monument commissioned in 1939 to commemorate Siamese Revolution of 1932. After a few rolls, we reach Rattanakosin where a few steps from our drop-off is the large Sanam Luang Park. On opposite of the park is one of Bangkok’s major attraction – The Grand Palace. It is a complex of palaces and temples where for 150 years was the home of King and his court. It is here where I became amaze by the different and detailed architectural structures of buildings, palaces and temples. Everything is bejewelled in gleaming stones and gold! Wat Phra Kaew or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most important temple inside the complex because it houses the Emerald Buddha. Some of the most remarkable building inside the complex were The Royal Pantheon or Prasat Phra Dhepbidorn, Chakri Maha Prasat Hall and Dusit Maha Prasat Hall. All of which are architecturally stunning buildings. The Grand Palace is a grand invitation to Thailand’s rich culture, history and heritage.

The entrance facade of Grand Palace.
The grand temples and palaces of Grand Palace.
Admiring the grandeur of Chakri Maha Prasat Hall.
A grand invitation in Grand Palace.
Almost right next door is Wat Pho, better known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha because of the reclining Buddha sparkling in gold. Aside from the golden reclining image, the temple also has four largest chedi (Thai buddhist monument or pagoda). They are decorated with ceramic tiles and three dimensional ceramic pieces which form intricate floral patterns. Its four highest chedis which is also each colored distinctly actually represents the kings who ruled the country in the past. I was surprised to learned that the four chedis is just part of the 91 chedis that can be found inside the temple. There are also 400 buddha images on display in the surrounding cloisters of the temple. All are gleaming in gold! Wat Pho is also known as the oldest temple in Bangkok and actually much older than the city of Bangkok itself. It was founded in 17th century.

The reclining golden buddha, sparkling in gold!
The stunning wall design of the reclining Buddha hall.
One section of the cloister surrounding Wat Pho with numerous buddha images.
Via tuktuk, you can also reached the Royal Barges Museum. The museum displays 8 of the 50 royal barges on display that is used in formal processions during the old Ayuthaya period. The barges on display very in size and function. The most important of all is the Suppanahong or “Golden Swan”, with its figurehead prow in the shape of a huge golden swan. Next to it is the Narai Song Suban with King Narai riding a Garuda on its prow. Around the sides and back of the warehouse are display cases with oars, flags, and other paraphernalia of the procession ceremonies.

The head of Suppanahong or “Golden Swan”
The Royal Barges in the museum.

Also in a day you can explore the almost the side by side sights of Loha Prasat (a unique temple structure in Bangkok for its “metal castle” concept and Wat Ratchanadda) and Wat Saket (or Golden Mount is located just outside the old royal city precincts, famous for the golden chedi sitting on a man-made mountain). Then you can also proceed in exploring Vimanmek Mansion. Billed as the world's largest teakwood mansion, it was built as a royal residence in the first few years of the 20th century. Its now a large complex of museums where the buildings themselves form part of the "collection" on display. Next to the mansion, the tuktuk can fetch you to the nearby Dusit Zoo. A favorite for families in Bangkok, the zoo is popular as a picnic spot as it is for the animals. The park has many food stalls with a reputation for delicious food at very low prices. Its central location makes it easy to get to.

Bangkok experience is not complete without taking a ride of Tuktuk. (Video)

I had a satisfying whole day exploration of Bangkok via Tuktuk!
A day exploration of Bangkok is an indulgence to the senses but it also involves tiring walks, getting lost and dealing with hot weather. So it just rightful for Dalin to drive us one of the best seafood restaurant in Bangkok to replenish energy from a tiring day. This is a great way to end my day of exploration of Bangkok – to start exploring it this time by trying Thai cuisines! Who wouldn’t agree? A tiring day of exploration needs a yummy bowl of Bangkok! 

Exploring Bangkok on a Tuktuk is part of my Thailand's Amazing Smiles series where I share my wonderful trip to the land of amazing smiles last October 25-28, 2011. We actually did not visit Royal Barges Museum because of the flooded situation and we only passed by Suan Pakkad Palace but each site can be easily reach via tuktuk and other main attraction in Bangkok. For a helpful trip to Bangkok visit Bangkok for Visitors website for more information.You might also like the other parts of the series: 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thailand's Amazing Smiles

Sawasdee kap! A warm welcome from the land of smiles and one of the most exciting destination in Asia – Thailand. The country can really claim the right to its tourism tagline as “land of smiles” and “amazing” as most Thai people you’ll meet are often smiling and seldom does not in addition to its amazing, beautiful and unique places, natural wonders and culture for every visitors to enjoy.  These unique charms of Thailand makes it one of the  most famous destinations in Asia. That’s why it is no wonder that this kingdom fascinated Hollywood to do movies about it or associated with it like Anna and the King (1999) and The Beach (2000) and stage world events like 2007 SEA Games and Miss Universe in 1992 and 2005. I myself is amazed to Thailand as my latest trip this year.

Sawasdee kap! Welcome to Thailand.
The trip happened last October 25-28 and guess what is my first experience in its capital, Bangkok? Getting lost in the alleys and streets like that of an Amazing Race episode! My trip to Bangkok was threaten to be spoiled also because during the time of my visit there’s a flood threat crisis to flow in the inner parts of the city. The flood flow comes from the northern provinces near the north part of Bangkok. Though, there is flood already in the north area of the city, I’m still happy that it did not spoiled my trip in exploring the country. While some sights in the city that I intent to visit can’t be visited due to the flood especially near the Chao Phraya River, I was still able to see the must-see and must-do in Bangkok. I mainly visited Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. But I also visited the province of Ratchaburi and Nakhon Pathom to see some important sites as well. I am very happy that I enjoyed this latest trip of mine to the fullest.

My first impression about Thailand is that it has many similarities to ours. But I am glads to learn that the Thai people are very much impressed to our good command in English according to our Thai tour guide. Well, I adore their friendly and warm attitude and resiliency in times of adversity like the flood crisis they are facing now. I also notice that most streets in Bangkok are clean and well-maintained.  Traffic jams exists especially at rush hours but air is less polluted. The Thai people are always smiling and very polite.  They highly revered their king as seen in every public building adorning his portrait. Just within the city there are already many historical sights, places, shopping plazas and activities to try that makes it popular to tourists. A traveler here can experience the best of Thailand by just visiting within the city.

The grand palaces of Grand Palace.
Bangkok is the capital and largest urban area city in Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep, meaning "city of angels." The full name of Bangkok is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. The 167 letters make Bangkok's name the longest city name in the world. It has more than 400 richly decorated temples, some of the biggest shopping centers in Asia, and six universities. Its numerous canals, some of which are home to floating markets, give Bangkok the name "Venice of the East."

A warm welcome from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam is located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest. With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and great beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers the world over.

Here’s the preview of my Thailand trip stories that you’ll expect in my upcoming posts: (Links will be available soon)

The best way to explore the city of Bangkok is via its popular mode of transportation – Tuktuk. It is an auto-rickshaw readily available within the main and alley streets of Bangkok for tourist to try in seeing the best sights of the city.  Our tuktuk driver and tourist guide, Dalin was a gentle Tuktuk driver and had us literally exploring Bangkok. Since it is a small vehicle that it can pass easily the traffic jams of the city, via Tuktuk the must-see places are easily reached like Wat Benchamabophit, Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Chao Phraya River boat stations, Suan Pakkad Palace and Royal Barges Museum. Tuktuk is a great way to explore the city because you also get to see the every city life scenes of Bangkok in every corner.

Exploring Bangkok on a Tuktuk
When I visited the grand temples and palaces in Bangkok, they have one color adorned in every structures – Gold. The Marble Temple or Wat Benchamabophit’s ornate roofs and windows will amaze you with its detailed and intricate designs but the gold embellishment will always caught your attention. Moving to Grand Palace, the gold intensity rises with all its gold sparkling temples and palaces in the complex.  Every structure seems to be carved out of gold with its bejeweled Thai architecture. The Grand Palace is not only a historical place for Thai architecture appreciation but also a hotspot treasure off Thai’s religious background. Nearby is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Pho where the first sight of the image of the reclining Buddha is an ultimate burst of gold. The reclining image image if not made of gold, is painted wholly with gold making it an ultimate gold experience in Thailand. James Bond’s nemesis Auric Goldfinger would love Thailand because he loves only gold.

Everything is gold in Bangkok!
A Bowl of Thailand
Discovering Thailand is not complete without taking a food trip! Thai cuisine are often dubbed as one of the best food in Asia for its interesting taste and spice mixes. And I myself would not let to pass the opportunity to experience a plate of Thailand. I’m intrigued to taste its famous dish, Phad Thai – a mix dish of bean sprout, tofu, shrimp, spices and eggs. Too bad, I did not had a plate of this dish during this trip. But there’s still some worthy Thai dish I’m glad to taste. Warning, if you’re not a fan of spicy foods then Thai cuisine is not for you as most of their cuisines are spicy, often mixed with chilies suited for a spicy-hungry tongue. But do not fret, Thai cuisines also has non-spicy servings that can easily be found as street foods like Khao Phat (Thai fried rice with mixed meat and veggies) and Kannom Krok (sweet breakfast dessert made from coconut milk). Thai cuisine is sure to satisfy one’s hunger for a food trip. It tastes delicious, promise!

The scenic Chao Phraya River.
Life in Bangkok has always center around the river, particularly on the famed Chao Phraya River on whose banks most of the city’s attraction are also to be found. Viewing the sights from the river barges’perspective is the perfect way to sightsee Bangkok in a nutshell. Nothing can compare to the experience of fresh air breezing on your skin while enjoying the unique oriental sights of Bangkok via a river cruise. A Chao Phraya River cruise gives visitors an easy access to its major attractions like  Temple of the Dawn or Wat Arun, Royal Barges Museum, Wat Pho and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Crossing Chao Phraya River will be the same experience once you try to cruise on it to explore Bangkok.

The Charming Canals of Ratchaburi.
How would you feel when you had a chance to be in one of the set location of a James Bond movie? Total bliss, right? I had a unique experience when I cruised on the charming canals and floating market in Ratchaburi. I get to see how life moves living in the canals of the province. I also learned the different livelihood that the Thai people does in the province. The floating market was a charming experience about learning the everyday life in Ratchaburi. All of the bargains sold in the floating market are also tempting to buy. From souvenirs, Thai fruits, local cuisine, silk linens, wooden masks, accessories up to spices, everything is sold under the sun in the floating market! Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and its canals is one of the set locations of 1974 James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.

The Royal Orchids of Thailand
Thailand has always been known for its stunning orchids. So I was surprised to learn that the orchids is not its national flower but the Golden Shower Tree flower. Orchids from Thailand are one of the best if not the best variety for export and garden breeding. It is no wonder that many horticulturists are fascinated with this flower. This also has made Thai orchids an unofficial national flower of Thailand. It still continuous to become a symbol of the country for its enigmatic royal beauty.

Siam Elephant Encounters made me Smile.
An encounter with the elephants is one of the unique experiences I had in Thailand. Traveling for two hours to Sampran, province of Nakhon Pathom is the only way to get up close and personal with these gentle giant mammals. The Siam elephants are the revered national animals of Thailand and considered to be an animal of the royalties. The elephants made me smile in a show I’ve watched that presents their intelligence and display of learned tricks but at the same time I learned their importance in Thai history. They are smart! And very docile! I also tried to hug and feed them. Elephant encounters up close has never been much enjoyable as this experience!

Pratunam’s irresistible bargains.
Thailand is one of Asia’s shopping capital. Shopping can mean from the highest luxury goods and fashion boutiques down to the lowest wholesale market trooped everyday by the locals and tourists as well.  Bangkok is widely known for its day and night market’s irresistible bargains. Whether inside a building or streetside stalls, bargains of shops from shoes, clothes, accessories to underwears are endless! Be ready to cash out all your money as credit cards are not widely accepted in stall markets. Plus hold your impulsive buying attitude in you as this endless paradise of shopping bargains are all in Pratunam, one of Bangkok’s shopping mecca.

How about a view of the City of Angels (as what Bangkok is known for) from the sky? I experienced seeing the city of Bangkok from every angle as I got a 360 degree view of the city when I visited Baiyoke Sky Hotel observation deck. Who wouldn’t have a great view of Bangkok from the sky when you are at the city’s tallest building. The lights of the city is best appreciated at night when every part of Bangkok is sparkling like a nebula of stars. Viewing the splendid glitter of lights and skyscrapers while enjoying a piƱa colada on a rooftop bar is quite the most relaxing experience I had in Bangkok.

Suvarnabhumi Airport: Thailand’s mega structure.
An airport review of one of the biggest airport I have been in my whole travel life, Suvarnabhumi Airport is also Thailand’s megastructure. Imagine, three buildings of SM Mall of Asia together just composed the main building of the airport. Satellite airside gates are not yet included. Be sure to pronounce the nameof the airport correctly. It spells Suvarnabhumi but pronounced as Su-wa-na-poom. I tried to stroll the whole airport just to savor how mega structure it is. I had a good sense of wonderment at first but it only gave me a tiring last hour stay in Bangkok’s main air gateway.

Thailand made me smile. The people, the cultures, the sights, the cuisines, the places.. there are so many things about this wonderful country that made me smile. It has a unique charm of an orient country. It is fascinating that everyone would love anything about it. I’m lucky to experience its warm welcome of “Sawasdee kap” that let’s me response “Ka pun kap” (Thank you) for the wonderful experiences I had there. For me, its not just amazing as what its tourism tagline prides of. Thailand “always” amazes that’s why it makes everyone smile.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

About the Writer

Ni Hao, Mabuhay and Aloha!

I have been traveling since 7 years old. So it is no wonder that since my first exposure to travel at an early age made a "viajero" passion in me. It is since then I keep on discovering and exploring places to travel. My first international travel was in Sydney, Australia and my earliest within the country travel that I remember is in Iloilo, where my father hails from and our my family's frequent vacation destination. I am proud Caviteno, half Ilonggo (sounds global?) and born in Cavite City, Cavite where I still currently resides. 

Most of my travels before were all just about family reunions especially in overseas trips but my recent trips in the last 5 years were now more about exploration, discovery and experiences about a certain place. I make wide research about the place now and I do careful itinerary planning before going on a trip. It gave me a deeper knowledge and wider perspective about the place I am about to visit. Honestly, I would want most of my travels to be out of the country. It was just recently maybe 3 years ago that I did take a round the Philippines trip experiences and discoveries. Discovering the wonders of other countries make me crave to discover more. But taking an adventure around the Philippines is also a great discovery of its 7, 107 wonders!

One of the best within the country trip - Puerto Galera.
I never experience traveling solo. And I think I wouldn't. They say to try solo travel for you to have experience independence, self-confidence and had more to time to reflect about oneself. But for me, travel is best experienced when shared with others like family and friends. You create memorable memories, learn a lot of things and get unforgettable trips when you have companions in your viajes. Hence, why most of my travels, I had travel mates - either my family, relatives or friends!

Memories of my first travel in Sydney, Australia.
Summer 2010 in Matabungkay, Lian, Batangas.
I've worked in the travel industry as a travel agent for a year before I landed to my current job as a ground steward in a ground handling company at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Even in my career, you can see my passion for travel still lies as with these backgrounds on travel, geography, tourism and airlines, my passion in travel just intensifies.

Maybe you are also wondering how do I get to travel a lot if my source of travel fund is only my salary. Well, I going to tell a secret. I have yearly travel benefits via ID tickets courtesy of my mothers' benefits who worked as an airline employee from an airline with a slogan of "Asia's first, shinning through" A reason why you often see her in my trips. Actually, my mom is the real viajera, dragging me and my siblings in her travel trips often since we're young. I am very much thankful for this travel benefits that I get because without it I wouldn't see the world! I would never enjoy travel to the fullest without it! I am very lucky to have it!

Aloha to Hawaii's Paradise.
Siam elephant encounters in Thailand.
I also love writing. I started writing way back in writing school project essays and poetry. But I did not expect that from simple poems and essays, my passion for writing will emerge. Travel combined with my passion for writing is something I did not expect to be a great combination of a life-long passion. I like to share my travel experiences through writing. This is why I wrote all my travel stories to the best that I can describe it so readers can have a great image of the adventures I had through words.

Ian meets the 7,107 islands of the Philippines in Alaminos, Pangasinan.
Travel let me experience the best of life can offer. I don't only appreciate the places I am visiting or the sights I am seeing but it let me appreciate life at most through discovery of having a positive outlook in life at all times and embracing the different sides of it - good and bad, ups and downs, beauty and ugliness... The happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment I get from this passion is something that money can't buy or equal. And no experience of life can equal the lifetime opportunity to see the beauty of our country or the rest the world through traveling. It is a good way to learn the realities of life, the cultures surrounding us and the rich heritage of our country. Travel let me have experiences of a lifetime.

- Ian Roger C. Poral

More things about me...
  • Dream destination: Beijing, hopefully in 2012. And far-fetched - Greece and Egypt as well as Bahamas.
  • I don't travel without... camera of course! And hankies since I sweat easily.
  • Historical trip vs. theme parks: I'm not fond of theme parks. I more on historical trips because I learn more about the place or its history. Its a better way to understand the place and its people. History is also my favorite school subject.
  • Most romantic destination: Paris
  • Favorite TV Shows: Reality shows, travel shows and Amazing Race of course!
  • Worst travel experience so far: Getting lost in the unfamiliar streets of Bangkok just to look for hotel.
  • Things I collect from trips: I usually collect keychains and souvenir t-shirts but I also collect model airplanes from inflight duty-free or in airport shops.
  • Window seat vs. aisle seat: Always window seat! I love seeing the views all the time. Aisle or middle seat are nightmares for me on airplane trips.
  • Travel tip: Research about the place that you are going to visit like reading tourism sites and travel blogs that discusses the place you want to see. They are very helpful in your itinerary planning and what to expect to the place.
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