There are times when you want to follow the usual tourist trailer, there are others when you want to discover a new part of a country or a city. The fact that this part is not so popular may be because it is hard to access or may be just dangerous. Embarking in a favelas trip on your own is an easy thing to do, although you may have some problems on the way, not really suggested. Travelling on the ancient Khmer highway from Phimai (Thailand) to Angkor (Cambodia) is not as easy to organise and you may experience unpredictable situations once on the border. Of course we have done it 😀
This is a trip you need to organise in advance. So we did and we could not find any tour operator that could help us. We were presented with two options. The first one was to hire a private driver that could take us wherever we wanted. Beside being quite expensive it was not the choice that would have given us much freedom.
So we opted for the second option, rent a car and drive it ourselves. I spent 5 years of my life in Rome and I thought I had enough driving experience after the Italian capital. I thought it can’t get worst than that. How did it go? You will find it out.
It was not our first time in Bangkok and we knew how crazy is the city. Give a check to Crazy traffic : Best places to make a photo in Bangkok to have a full idea. So, this is the first suggestion, rent your car at the airport so you can drive it without getting stuck into the unpredictable city traffic. So we did. Early start of the day, train to the airport and here we go, we are now driving in Thailand.
There was only one question mark. What to do with the car once at the Cambodian border?
Use any map website to get the best route to the formal capital of Siam. We downloaded the Google maps on our mobile, such an easy free solution to navigate through any country.
The good side of travelling on your own by either car or motorbike is that you are going to experience what the locals do when travelling. Even stopping at the petrol station is an experience, not to mention having a break at the local street market to buy some fruit and local food. This is not something you can have if travelling with a group. Of course most of the people will not speak English but somehow, magically, you will end up understanding each other.
Nowadays you can get ready with an easy food trick, if travelling to countries where you believe it will be hard to communicate. Load your mobile with few photos of basic food like chicken, fish, pork etc. Show to the restaurant host what you would like to eat. He will take something to you. You do not like it spicy, add a chilly photo with a big red X, do the same for any food you do not like or you are allergic. It works great.
We decided to include in our trip some major sites, of which the first one was Ayutthaya, the formal Siam Capital. It was one of the biggest city in the world with over 1 Million people in the 1700, also called the Venice of the east. As it happens sometime in history, it all collapsed with a nearby army invasion, this time the Burmese. The ruins of the city are still so well preserved though, a must visit for anybody interested in historical sites.
Ayutthaya, the formal Siam capital
The historic city of Ayutthaya is an Unesco World Heritage Site and it covers a vast part of the new modern city. It is such a vast area that you would expect to spend there the entire day.
“Ayuthistparkmap” by Heinrich Damm (User:Hdamm, Hdamm at de.wikipedia.org) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Start with the Wat Mahathat and the famous head of Buddha imprisoned in the roots of the tree, such an iconic photo.
And the Wat in the night
You can wonder around the Wat and easily spend the morning there. By 11 am it will be already quite hot, so plan a break for food or at the swimming pool, if you have it at your hotel.
Allocate the afternoon for the Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. This is another great example of Buddhist Temples that should not be missed.
It was smaller than expected so we decided to drive the car to the more modern Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol. The rented car did make things so much easier I must say. Here you can experience the present Buddhist life
The first day by car was absolutely positive. The traffic outside Bangkok was manageable and much much better than expected. We could stop wherever we wanted to experience the local culture and even better moving between the local monuments and temples at an easier pace.
Before leaving the city we wanted to take once again advantage of our freedom stopping at two more temples.
The Wat Chai Wattanaram is one of best known temples and a major tourist attraction, although we saw maybe only 4-5 western people. It can be reached by car and by boat, across the river from the other sites in the main heritage park.
It is one of the greatest example of Khmer architecture and not to be missed. It was a royal temple where the king and his successors performed religious ceremonies. Princes and princess were cremated here as well.
The last temple was Wat Phu Khao Thong, completly different from the others. It was built by King Ramesuan in 1387 and still well preserved and painted in an outstanding white. Have a walk to the top for the amazing view and the internal small chamber
It’s time to drive to the next destination