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BANGKOK and beyond

The exciting capital of Thailand, fascinating ruins, natural parks and waterfalls
Travel itineraries, hiking, kayaking and sailing in Italy and around the world

BANGKOK AND CENTRAL THAILAND: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Bangkok is one of the most exciting and chaotic cities in the world. It you want to see a different Thailand, you just need to travel for a couple of hours: our itinerary touched the relaxing Phimai and its Khmer ruins, the parks of Khao Yai and Erawan and their incredible waterfalls, the gigantic ruins of Ayutthaya and its history. Below there is a description of this travel itinerary, with many photos, lots of information and a trip report.
(For information about prices, climate, transports, etc, visit the page dedicated to travels in Thailand and Laos, where you will find links also to the other destinations, including Phuket and the beaches of southern Thailand).

Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok
Statue of a demon near Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok

BANGKOK AND CENTRAL THAILAND: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

The chaotic capital of Thailand is a perfect place where to spend an exciting night, full of markets, restaurants and bars (where you can go cheap or splurge), massage centres and, for those who want it, a lot of prostitution. As I was traveling with my girlfriend, I decided to have a healthy itinerary in Bangkok, starting from Khao San Road and all the nearby narrow streets full of small restaurants and stalls. For dinner we had fried chicken with cashew nuts and steamed rice, then with a Chang beer we heppily kick-started our trip. Prices were low: after dinner our wallet was as half full (or as half empty) as before.
Tuk tuk, shops and stalls at Bangkok
Tuk tuk, shops and stalls at Bangkok
During the day we visited the royal palace and the main temples in the city center. We were impressed by their magnificence, every millimeter of each column carved to perfection, every golden roof as shiny as the sun.
Royal Palace of Bangkok Statues at Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok
In the huge area of the Royal Palace of Bangkok there is also the Wat Phra Kaew temple, which is rich of golden statues and incredible buildings
There were many tourists, of course. Instead, when we walked to Chinatown and its alleys full of markets selling chinese goods and unhealthy food, we were the only Westerners. It was a great feeling, but also a bit disturbing: it was easy to get lost in the streets and, as we liked that sense of disorientation, we also wished, sometimes, that we could see the ruddy face of some bored German tourist intent to take photos of a monument before going back to a 4 star hotel where to eat tons of sausages.
Chinatown in Bangkok is very picturesque, with the tents of the stalls so thick that below it's dark, with hundreds of electric and telephone lines between the buildings.
Chinatown, markets and crowded alleys in Bangkok
Chinatown, markets and crowded alleys in Bangkok
After walking for hours, we were on a pier; uncertain about what to do, we followed four Frenchmen on a boat that was going to tour the canals of Thonburi, the part of Bangkok beyond the river. It was quite interesting: the canals were overlooked by beautiful houses, barracks, temples and one-meter-long monitor lizards.

Luckily, at the end of the trip the boat left us at the pier in the modern city. The idea was to have a drink at a sky bar on the top of a skyscraper, in order to enjoy the view of the city at sunset and then at night. However, the only bar we found opened at 6 PM, when the sunset was almost finished; moreover, it was a very chic and I suppose expensive environment, requiring appropriate clothing (no shorts, for example). So we gave up, we walked a little bit more until we stopped at a cheap bar on the river. A beer is always a good way to end a long walking itinerary.
Pre-dinner drinks on the river at Bangkok
Pre-dinner drinks on the river at Bangkok
Our guesthouse was in Khao San Road; we went back there by public boat, it was a nice trip on the river. We enjoyed another evening wandering around stalls and small restaurants, having also a pleasant foot massage .
The next day we took a flight to Krabi as we wanted to go to Ko Yao Noi (about this, you can read the trip report of our travel itinerary in Southern Thailand). A week or so later we flew from Phuket to Udon Thani to visit Laos (travel itinerary described here). After one week in Laos, we went back to Thailand, crossing the border at Nong Khai, on the Mekong River. And from Nong Khai we can start again the trip report about this journey in central Thailand.
Visiting Nong Khai was... nice. It's the right word. We reached Nong Khai by bus from Vientiane, and soon we found an original guesthouse run by a mad but very nice man. Then we spent the evening on the Mekong riverfront. There were stalls, some bars, music... A few tourists were in a nice pub where we had burgers and fish and chips (after over two weeks of rice or noodles, we felt ready for a change). Most travelers passing through Nong Khai aren't the usual tourists, but instead long-term travelers, many of whom, traveling for months and months, need to get out of Thailand and back to renew their visa.
The day after, a minibus, for a small price, took us to the airport of Udon Thani, where we collected a rental car. We drove (on the left side, differently from Laos) to Phimai; along the highway we found some traffic, but it was worth it because Phimai is a quiet and relaxing town, also thanks to of its fantastic Khmer ruins and its curious banyan.
Khmer ruins of Phimai
The wonderful and peaceful Khmer ruins of Phimai
The Khmer ruins, in the style of Angkor Wat, obviously smaller but with almost no tourists, are really spectacular, with red stones that rise from green meadows among large tree branches. They are worth a trip here. Admission was free, the place was so relaxing that we wanted to stay there and play and do somersaults on the grass and a picnic and a nap.
Khmer ruins of Phimai
The grass and the trees around the Khmer ruins of Phimai are really enjoyable
The banyan of Phimai is the largest of Thailand - and, perhaps, of the world. The fundamental point, however, is: what is a banyan? We found out that it is a tree, a kind of ficus, from whose roots grow several trunks, with branches and foliage that meet and cross three meters above ground. This single tree covers an area equal to half a football field, and the cool shade under its branches is a religious place for Buddhists. For us infidels, it was a fascinating place of pleasant relaxation.
The banyan of Phimai, central Thailand
The banyan of Phimai is another place of peace and contemplation
In the evening there was a small market, but the food offered there wasn't very inviting, so we had dinner at a restaurant. Phimai wasn't a very touristy town, so the restaurant was cheap and the hotel was even cheaper.
The next day we continued out travel itinerary in Central Thailand by driving from Phimai to the natural park of Khao Yai; we drove through the natural reserve from side to side, sometimes stopping to walk along the best paths. We saw monkeys and deers, we admired the greenery and the beautiful Heo Suwat waterfall (the one in the film The Beach).
Monkey in Khao Yai park, central Thailand Deer in Khao Yai park, central Thailand
A monkey and a deer in Khao Yai park; we could spot them directly from the car
One of the walks along a stream was particularly fascinating, between the water and the jungle.
Heo Suwat waterfall, Khao Yai park, Thailand
Heo Suwat waterfall, where Leonadro Di Caprio jumps in the movie The Beach, in Khao Yai national park. Everybody mentions the movie here, but this waterfall is much more beautiful than that film
Maybe the park of Khao Yai is not unmissable, but still nice... and it was right on our travel itinerary.
Khao Yai national park, Thailand
Khao Yai national park, central Thailand
We stopped at a nice hotel along the road (it was night when we found it: we rarely book anything in advance, but in that case this strategy almost left us without a bed for the night! Anyway, in the end that hotel was perfect, right along our travel itinerary) . The next morning, early on, we drove to the Erawan waterfalls, the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand. It was quite a long journey, but it was worth it, because the Erawan waterfalls, as well as being really cool and full of jumps and rock pools, offer the opportunity to swim and walk along them. In particular, we descendeded along the creek from the seventh level (the highest) to the sixth; if you are careful and you don't slip, it is a small adventure in a stunning setting.
Erawan waterfalls, Thailand Erawan waterfalls, Thailand Erawan waterfalls, Thailand
Erawan waterfall are in a stunning scenery, about 200 km west of Bangkok
From the waterfalls we drove up to an artificial lake upstream (rather close to the border between Thailand and Myanmar). Just enough time to take some pictures and drove back to Krachanchaburi, the town with the famous Bridge on the River Kwai (the one in the old, award-winning movie). We had dinner and we lodged for 4 euros each in a random guesthouse on the river. Actually, it was good, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset there, perhaps the best sunset of the trip.
Bridge on the River Kwai, Thailand
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is very important in the history of World War II, and is also quite photogenic at dawn. Then we left Krachanchaburi and we continued our travel itinerary in Central Thailand by driving to Ayutthaya. The old capital of Thailand before Bangkok, Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese kingdom (the history of the region is very tormented: what happened, more or less, is that that there were several kingdoms; over the centuries, in turn, one became more powerful than the others and tried to conquer them; if the king was in a bad mood, he decided to raze the cities).
Ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand Head in the tree, ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand
The ruins of Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, are really impressive
In Ayutthaya there were many ruins, some really impressive and spectacular, others falling into neglect near dirty streams inhabited by monitor lizards and meadows full of rubbish. That said, Ayutthaya must definetely be included in a travel itinerary in Thailand, because it's still very charming.
Ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand A monitor lizard near the ruins of Ayutthaya
Besides the ruins, the historic park of Ayutthaya includes trees, small laked inhabited by monitor lizards, birds and some rubbish
Eager to buy some souvenirs - it was the last day of our 3-week trip - we visited the floating market of Ayutthaya, a faux-traditional place dedicated to Thai tourists; there were, for example, open-air theater shows, of course in Thai language. After the floating market we visited the night market. In both cases, we didn't buy anything - in Laos, at Vientiane and at Luang Prabang, we hadn't bought much better souvenirs - but at the night market of Ayutthaya there was good food that could be eaten sitting comfortably in the tables along the river; it was a good consolation, under a pink sky that got darker and darker while the sun went down and we finished our noodles, the last noodles of our travel itinerary in Thailand and Laos.
After dinner we left Ayutthaya and we drove to Bangkok International Airport, which we reached easily. The day before we had booked on the Internet a hotel near the airport, but we took the wrong road and we ended up in a mega-hotel with gilded towers and swimming pools. At the reception they asked us for 300 euros per night (more or less what we had spent totally for all the hotel rooms in our entire trip of three weeks), but they were kind enough to let us use the internet to look on google maps for the right road to the hotel. We found it and the next day at dawn we flew back to Italy with the help of Air France.
Our rich travel itinerary in central Thailand is still in our hearts along with memories of the wild Laos and the fantastic experiences of southern Thailand. Goodbye!!!
Monkey in Khao Yai park, central Thailand
A monkey and I tell you goodbye:)

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