Most of the pictures posted on this site have been made during a 10-day trip through Thailand, as part of a tour group. I actually had seen almost all of the places we visited on previous travels, but I now joined some relatives on their first travel through the country. Joining a tour group has both benefits and disadvantages, which I will later elaborate upon.
First two nights in Bangkok were spent at Radisson Hotel, which I can hardly recommend since it is located in the middle of nowhere. We visited Silom Village on the second night for the obligatory Thai dinner and dance session. I am not sure I had been there before, if so possible more than 10 years ago. The surroundings were amazing and this is were I first realized there is a whole side of Bangkok and Thailand that just caters to tourists, and hardly is ever noticed by local Thais or local foreign residents.
On our only full day of visiting Bangkok we started to visit the Royal Palace and Wat Phrakaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha, a small but venerated Buddha image. Lines of tour buses line up in the streets leading up to the palace. This really is a busy tourist attraction nowadays, and people are hurried along through the entrance gate. This is where I first noticed our Thai guide did not really know a lot about Thai history or in any case was not very communicative about it. I would notice throughout the whole trip that my long stay in Thailand had learned me a lot about the country, and that the conditions to become a tour guide must not be that stringent, whether for Thai guides or guides from the country of origin of the visitors alike. The crowd at the Royal Palace and Wat Phrakaew did not take away from the utter beauty of the place though. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take pictures inside Wat Phrakaew. We also paid a visit to Wat Traimit with its 5,500 kg golden Buddha, but unfortunately our visit did not include Wat Pho, which should be included in any visit to Thailand.
We spent the rest of the morning visiting (unfortunately) a local vegetable and flower market, and after dinner on theChao Phraya river site, we took a boat ride on the river and went to visit Wat Arun. Wat Arun looks quite gray when seen from a distance, but on closer inspection is more colorful and interesting.
The second full day we took a bus ride to Damnoen Saduak to visit the floating market. Another interesting thing of tour buses is that they all seem to follow the same routes, and one encounters the same people from other buses on different sites and even at petrol stations etc. We took a boat ride through the klongs (waterways) around Damnoen Saduak and then visited the market, which is quite busy nowadays, mainly off the water though.
Then off to Kanchanaburi. It is a large province of Thailand with lush green environment and river sites. It definitively is a good place if you want a few days to wind down, but there are not that many cultural sites to visit. What is interesting to Westerners is a visit to the bridge over the river Kwai, made famous by the movie of the same name. Part of the bridge standing is still original (after all, it was made unusable during the Allied attack on it). One advice, to go on the bridge which a lot of people do (and I saw no warnings!), is a little bit dangerous. A few missteps and you can fall to your likely deaths off the bridge down to the river about 20 meters below. So beware, especially if it is a little bit crowded up there. Lots of restaurants along and on the river. Kanchanaburi is famous for its 'disco' boats. We visited the JEATS war museum, which is a private effort. However, the exhibit has seen better days, and a lot could be done to make it more attractive. The local war cemeteries are well maintained and I am sure still important to many relatives or countrymen of the people who died during their forced work at the bridge and Death railway track. We took a one hour train trip which was relaxing and hot at the same time. The night was spent in one of the local resorts, not exactly the best one.
On the third day, we spent a lot of time riding the bus. We visited Ayuthaya in a hurry, possibly spent about one and a half hours at the historical sites, visiting Wat Wattanaram and Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. While this was supposed to be a 'classical, cultural tour', it was obvious that most of the travel companions were not at all that interested in historical sites at all. Temples and ruins looked all the same to most of them. Since I had visited Ayuthaya already a few times, I used the limited time available to hurry around the ruins, taking pictures.
After Ayuthaya, we went all the way to Phitsanulok, a city that has quite a few good hotels, and is a good base to visit the surrounding cities of Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai.
The next day, we visited the important Chinnarat Buddha at Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahathat. This beautiful Buddha image is generally regarded by Thais as the second most important in the land, after the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. Then we took a short ride to Sukhothai to visit the historical site. We took some more time here than at Ayuthaya and the ride in group by bicycle through the ruins was good fun. We visited Wat Mahathat, Wat Sri Sawai and Wat Sa Sri. After visiting Sukhothai we had a long ride to Chiang Rai, where we would spend two nights in a local resort. I had a nasty fall down some slippery stairs at the resort, not a good experience and I had worries about my back for a few weeks.
We spent some time the next day to visit the so called Golden triangle between Thailand, Laos and Burma. This was an infamous place for heroin traffic in the past, now mainly a tourist attraction. We had a boat ride on the Mekhong river and visited an island in the stream, where we were supposed to be in Laos, and could walk around doing some minor shopping. Children at the Golden Triangle dress up in hill tribe costumes and sing songs, for some reason in French, to ask for some money. In the Chiang Rai area we also had the obligatory visit to some hilltribe villages. It is quite obvious to the observer that some inhabitants could not care less about the visitors, thought some do a good trade in selling colorful local textiles to the tourists.
After our second night in Chiang Rai we were on the way to Chiang Mai, through ever more ricefields along the route. Before being dropped off at the hotel there, we visited the local handicraft centers, including umbrella making, lacquer and wood shops. Just a reminder, if you want to buy something, it is better to get the address(a business card) and go back on your own (send off the taxi!) later. You will get a better deal, try to bargain. Tour guides are well known to get commissions on all sales, so the shop has to charge you more for that reason. The hotel in Chiang Mai was again located outside town, making it difficult to stroll around in the evening conveniently. The first night most of us visited the local very active 'night market'.
Our first day in Chiang Mai, we had a little safari which was rather pleasant. It included an elephant ride, a ride in a buffalo carriage and a nice trip on the river.
The next day we visited the marvellous temple of Doi Suthep. It takes quite a climb up the hill, which would figure favorably in the Tour de France. In the afternoon, when we had some free time, I visited the old Haripunchai site at Lamphun, which is located just about 25 km from Chiang Mai. I took a taxi ride to go there, and this is something I can recommend, even to visitors on a budget. Having to go to bus stations etc. can make one loose a lot of time, and it is very convenient to have transportation between different sites, instead of having to walk all the way, or look for local transport.
In the late afternoon the next day, we took the night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. While I myself can never sleep on a train or plane, it is not a bad way to make the trip between the two cities, certainly better than any long bus ride. An alternative of course would be to go by plane. Airline ticket inside the country are quite cheap in Thailand, and a one way ticket between Chiang Mai and Bangkok cost just a little more than 2000 baht.
All in all, an interesting trip, although being in a tour group has its disadvantages. I was a good experience to see again some sites I had not visited in a while, and certainly it was good to be with some family member I had not spent a lot of time with lately. You will notice the trip altogether was not that long, and personally I would recommend anyone visiting Thailand to spend close to three weeks in the country. You will be able to see more, and at a slower pace.