Kanchanaburi กาญจนบุรี

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PskoqCtRFD4&w=560&h=315]

This is the ending of a popular film called “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) based on a book by French writer Pierre Boulle. The bridge in the film was located near Kitulgala (Sri Lanka). The bridge on the river Kwai is located in Thailand in Kanchanaburi.
River Kwai BridgeThe black iron bridge was brought from Java under the Japanese supervision by Allied prisoner-of-war labour (mostly Australians, Dutch and British) as part of the Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma. Still in use today, the bridge was the target of frequent Allied bombing raids during World War II and was rebuild after war ended. The curved spans of the bridge are the original sections. A daily train is still following the historical route from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok Railway Station.Train River Kwai Bridge
I was able to take some picures before my battery went dead. So not many pictures but hopefully interesting information.
This railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route which traversed deep valleys and hills. All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available. River Kwai Bridge Train stationThe railway line originally ran within 50 meters of the Three Pagodas Pass which marks nowadays the border to Burma. However after the war the entire railway was removed and sold. The prisoners lived in squalor with a near starvation diet. The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to walk many kilometres through the jungle to return to the camp. Due to the difficult terrain, thousands of laborers lost their lives. It is believed that one life was lost for each sleeper laid in the track. You can find more information here.

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There is a War Museum at the bridge. Open from 7:00 AM to 6:30 PM, admission fee 30 Baht. We didn’t go inside. Instead we decided to walk over the bridge and the see caves located nearby. Also we had some time to browse souvenirs in a nearby shops. I don’t think I got anything but it’s one of a few places where I remember looking for things to bring back home.

The Kao Pun Wat and the caves are located about 5 km from the town and you can (as we did) take a boat to get there (or drive). You need to pay the admission fee of 20 Baht. The Wat Tham Khao Pun is located within a well-lit limestone cave with an many Buddha images. It is one of the more interesting and extensive temple-caves to visit in the region.

Wat Tham Khao Pun became notorious in 1995 as the site where a drug-addicted monk that lived at the wat buried a British Tourist and disposed of her corpse in a nearby sinkhole. The caves were also used during WWII by the Japanese to store weapons and equipment.

River KwaiWhen we got there we were welcomed by a group of young kids, some boys and a girl. They wanted to show us around what ended in them running from one thing to another not giving us much time to look around. I think it was a matter of competition who will get the tip. It was so funny to look at them not being able to say a word in English and still trying to draw our attention with facial expressions to show us what is worth looking at.Wooden cottage River Kwai

I remember we really wanted to live in a wooden house on the river but couldn’t find a place we liked in a good price. Finally we decided to spoil ourselves with a nice hotel with beautiful pool overlooking the river. One of more expensive accommodations on our way. The water was lovely and in the evening we sat at the pool drinking and swinging on a wooden swing.

Pool at KanchanaburiFrom Kanchanaburi we travelled to Bangkok to give back the car and then head south to have tropical paradise holidays.

Summary: If you loved the movie there is a point in going to Kanchanaburi otherwise it’s nice but you could do better 😉

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London Introduction

London February 2009I arrived to live in London straight from sunny Mexico. Well maybe not that straight as I had aflight from mexico City to Madrid then Dublin and then London. It was the winter at the beginning of 2009. If you remember it many flights over Europe were cancelled because of the snow. So was mine.

I got stuck in Dublin airport with luggage containg all the things I gathered during the time I was living in Ireland. Yes I took it all with me to Mexico. So one 80l backpack and small backpack for hand luggage. I have saved some money and after a long consideration decided to try my luck in London.London cranes Britannia Village

So there I was tired with the journey from another side of the World waiting for information on my budget flight to London. As usual not much was known as the situation was dependent of weather conditions. In the end my flight was postponed untill the next day. I decided to rent a room in a hotel €50 if I remember correctly. I didn’t want to waste money but decided to spoil myself nontheless.

It was snowing all the time. Big flakes of snow in the street light looked like a big adventure. I was restless. Excited, afraid and still thinking if I’m making the right choice. And so I went to visit my friends who then lived in Dublin City center. We always had a good laugh together. So was this time. I couldn’t stay long as I wanted to get to my hotel before they shut the public transport. It felt so weird thinking I might as well never be coming back to Ireland. I suppose to appreciate how big decision it was for me you should know I love the green island implicitly. This doesn’t mean I don’t see the faults it’s just that I take them along.

Royal Docks LondonIf I had to choose a decision that changed my life the most it was the one to move to London.

Let’s skip the night, the morning departure and let’s just arrive in London on a sunny and frosty morning. My boyfriend found us a room in Britannia Village, Royal Docks near London City Airport. Wonderful view on plans taking off and landing as well as Canary Wharf. As this is first post on London of many I will just write a bit about Royal Docks and Britannia Village. The apartment building we were living in was quite new and clean, tall but narrow. It had 3 storeys. Ground floor – entrance, utility room, micro bathroom and garage (converted into a room in our house), first floor – box room, living room and kitchen, second floor two rooms and a bathroom. All that know living conditions in London will appreciate we actually had a living room. Everything was cramped and small. I was used to living in one family houses with big kitchen containing dining area and separate large living room. My single room was the only a bit smaller than the room I had to share now with P. It was quite difficult as you can imagine.Britannia Village London

The most distinguish feature of Royal Docks area is a high foot bridge above the dock just opposite to the London City’s runway. You get a beautiful panorama view when you climb it. Long after those first days I used to visit my friend in Britannia Village we would walk around the dock and then sit on the bridge observing the sunset and talk about life. I miss it even though I don’t miss London.

Next to the Royal Victoria Dock ExCeL Center is located. It’s the international exhibition and convention centre. I was once inside to use the toilet I think and wanting to get something to eat. I think in the end P. treated me to something sweet but I know he visited an exhibition and was happy about it. So was my friend M. after sightseeing the sailing boats fair. I think there are plans to revive the area and recently a Cable Car was build. i think in time for the Olympics. I have to say thanks to the Olympic village the whole East London was revived.

Bridge the Royal Docks LondonThe Royal Docks comprise three docks in east London – the Royal Albert Dock the Royal Victoria Dock and the King George V Dock built on riverside marshes. They were built for large vessels that could not be accommodated further upriver. What else I can say that there a a couple of restaurants worth recommendation among them Thai restaurant – Nakhon Thai (there’s another on the Isle of Dogs) and Caribbean – Caribbean Scene Royale, the second I never visited. Shame on me. Also that the windows prevent pretty much the noise of the airport of intruding the houses. The problem emerges when you want to open the window.

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Ayutthaya, Thailand part 2

Three Buddhas

In the last travel post I started to describe what we saw in Ayutthaya concentrating mainly on the city Island. I would like to continue doing so and at the end describe Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Phra Mongkonbophit.

Wat Ratchaburana (วัดราชบุรณะ) is also called the Monastery of the Royal Repairs or the Monastery of the Royal Restoration.

In 786, a year of the dragon, King Intharacha I became ill and passed away. At that time Prince Ai Phraya and Prince Yi Phraya, young sons of the King, fought each other on elephants at Than Forest Bridge and both of them died there. So a young son of the King, Prince Sam Phraya, ascended the royal throne of the Capital City of Ayutthaya and took the royal title of King Bòromracha II. And he then had two holy monuments built to cover that spot in the Municipality of Than Forest where Prince Ai Phraya and Prince Yi Phraya fought each other to the death on elephants. In that year Ratchabun Monastery was founded.

Wat Racha BuranaNot much is known on the history of this temple in the period between its establishment in 1424 and its destruction in 1767. The most significant feature is the nearly 600 year old chedi said to enshrine relics of the Buddha. However, there is no access to the chedi’s spire. On ayutthaya-history.com you can see some pictures from inside the temple. I love the one showing the ceiling and this is why I enclose it here. I did not go in to the temple of any of the surrounding buildings in which a showroom displaying old coins, bank notes, musical instruments and glass objects is available.Wat Racha Burana There is a fee of 50 Baht (1.63 USD) to enter the grounds of Wat Ratchaburana. The temple is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm every day.

In september of 1957 A.D. looters dug into a two-level crypt inside the main prang (Khmer-type tower) and stole a great quantity of valuable material. Police arrested some of these looters. The Fine Arts Department proceeded to excavate the site and found Buddha images and many artifacts made of gold. Among these  were a large number of votive tablets made of gold and lead. Wat Racha BuranaStaff of the Thai Fine Arts Department conducted a further excavation and discovered that there were the vault had three stories. Confiscated artifacts amounted to 2,000 items. Among them were more than 100,000 votive tablets and more than 100 kilograms of gold jewelry. Since the Buddha images were very numerous the ministers approved giving some of them to people who had contributed to the building of the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.Chedi Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Rachabutana has three porticos facing east, north and south. The ruins of various satellite chedi and the walls of viharns surround it. There is a two-level crypt inside the main prang, and visitors are able to go down the steps to view the fine 15th century mural paintings that are preserved there. The lower level murals are of Chinese influence, while the upper level depict stories of Buddhism and Buddha’s lives. Flanking the base of the Chedi are stucco images of Yaksha demons and animals of the Himavana mythical forest.

Ayutthaya Elephant CampThree more sights I think are worth visiting (even though I haven’t seen them) are Wat Yai Chai – mongkol, Wat Phanan Choeng and Wat Naphrameru.

There is also an elephant camp just opposite Khum Khun Phaen offering elephant rides as well as daily shows and feeding from 9:00 to 17:00. You are seated comfortably high up on a cushioned howdah and travel in royal style.  Just to warn you the ride is far more expensive than the one in Chiang Mai. Also in Chiang Mai the elephants will track through the jungle while the ones here just walk along the street.Ayutthaya Market

Next to all the monuments is a wonderful market full of colorful wares and food. Enjoy the pictures in the slideshow at the bottom of the post.

Phra Mongkonbophit (Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence) is a sanctuary housing the large bronze Phra Mongkhon Bophit Budha image. It was previously damaged by lightening and then restored in the Rama V period.

Phra MongkonbophitAnd the last but not least Wat Chaiwatthanaram (วัดไชยวัฒนาราม). It is one of the most beautiful ancient Buddhist monasteries. It is believed that it was located on the site of King Prasatthong former home. The reason for building it was to make merit for his mother.

What does it mean to make merit you may ask. One of the most common religious practices among Thai Buddhists is merit making.  Whether it is giving food to the monks on their daily alms round, bringing offerings to the temple, or chanting in the ancient language. Wat chaiwatthanaramThe majority of Buddhists who make merit are hoping to gain happiness in the present life but it is also believed that this merit will have good effects on your next life. Another reason to make merit is to help you see the truth about life, namely that life is always changing and never certain, that there is birth and death, there is meeting and parting, and material objects are impermanent. It helps to reduce desires and cease attachment to worldly things.

Main prang at Wat ChaiwatthanaramThis Wat consists of main prang (Khmer – type tower) and four lesser prangs, all built on the same baseand surrounded by eight lesser prangs and a gallery. Along the gallery were placed 120 gilt lacquered buddha images in the attitude of maravijaya or Victory over Mara, the Evil One. Within the eight lesser prangs there are twelve crowned Buddha images. The ceiling of each alcove was made of wood and was decorated with gilded star-like patterns on black lacquer. Walls inside have mural paintings while the outside walls were adorned with twelve stucco relief decipting stories from the life of Buddha.climbing prang at Wat Chaiwatthanaram

The main prang is 35 meters high and was built in early Ayutthaya style. The four lesser prangs on the other hand are in the style of King Prasattong. They have seven levels. We climbed one of them. The stairs are very steep, the higher the worse.

The Wat Chaiwatthanaram structure reflects the Buddhist world view, as it is described already in the Traiphum Phra Ruang, the “three worlds of the King Ruang”, of the 14th century: The big “Prang Prathan” that stands in the centre symbolizes the mountain Meru (Thai: เขาพระสุเมรุ – Khao Phra Sumen), which consists the central axis of the traditional world (Kamaphum – กามภูมิ). Around it lie the four continents (the four small Prangs) that swim in the four directions in the world sea (นทีสีทันดร). On one of the continents, the Chomphutawip (ชมพูทวีป), the humans live. The rectangular passage is the outer border of the world, the “Iron Mountains” (กำแพงจักรวาล).

Wat ChaiwatthanaramAt the entrance to the monastery we had our pictures taken and then were able to purchase a plate with it. Mine is right now at my grandparents place so I can’t show you the picture. let me just say I never regretted buying it. A nice souvenir. I really wish we had more time to sightsee Ayutthaya. Don’t go on a one day tour offered in Bangkok it will not be ebough as you spend only 3-4 hours at the sight. It’s worth 2 days. Other attractions include cycling, boat cruises along the river and kayaking in the canals. you won’t be bored.

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Ayutthaya (Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) พระนครศรีอยุธยา

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai and remainded capital for 417 years. It has been registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

The Legend of Ayutthaya, tells of Prince U Thong – who later assumed the royal name Ramathibodi (1350 – 69) – discovering an exquisite conch shell buried in the earth. In a moment of revelation he elected that very ground as the site for his future capital. First he placed the shell upon a pedestal tray and had a pavilion constructed around it.  He gave his capital the name Ayutthaya – after Ayodhya in Northern India – the city of hero Rama of Hindu epic Ramayana fame.

We arrived at Ayutthaya late and began with searching somwhere to stay and somewhere to eat. I remember this was the first time I tried Pad Thai (ผัดไทย) which became one of my favourite dishes. There are all sorts of Pad Thai the base being stir-fried rice noodles with eggs. We slept in a lovely place and I have photo with the owners.Baan Eve It was called Baan Eve (tel. 081-2943293) address: 11/19 Baan Eve, Soi Pridi-Panomyong 3, Pridi-Panomyong Rd., Ayutthaya 13000 on the opposite side of the river from train station.

We didn’t sightsee the main temple complex all together. I decided to wander on my own. Afterwards we met where we started and drove to a separate temple called Wat Chaiwatthanaram on the other side of the river. I guess we didn’t stay in Ayutthaya long enough but to be honest everywhere we worked on a tight schedule. If you have more time than one day it is worth it. I will list some of the places I’ve seen and then in the slide show you will find some pictures that are not necessary monument centered or I had no space to include them in the text.

Ayutthaya Tourist Map

Wat Phra Si Sanphet (วัดพระศรีสรรเพชญ์) is situated on the city island in Ayutthaya. Wat Phra Si SanphetThis monastery was the most important
temple of Ayutthaya and situated within the Royal Palace grounds. It served as a model for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. In 1350 Prince U-Thong ordered a palace built in an area called Nong Sano, actual the
area in the vicinity of Bung Phra Ram. The palace contained three wooden buildings named “Phaithun Maha Prasat”, “Phaichayon Maha Prasat”, and “Aisawan Maha Prasat”. Upon finalization of the palace in 1351, he established Ayutthaya as his capital and was bestowed the title of King Ramathibodi I. The original size of the old palace compound is believed to be the same as the area of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet today.Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, being part of the royal palace, was exclusively used by the Ayutthayan Kings. No clergy was allowed to reside on the grounds, with exception of an occasionally invitation to pray and to perform ceremonies such as the taking of an oath of allegiance for royal officers and for preaching and merit-making by the King. It was used for royal ceremonies and rituals including giving alms to the monks from other temples and performing the Wian Tian (Candlelight Procession) ceremony on the Buddhist holy days.

The temple enshrined also the Phra Buddha Lokanat (Protector of the World) and the Phra Buddha Palelai. Ashes of the members of the royal family were placed in small chedi constructed at the site.

Wat Phra RamWat Phra Ram is a restored ruin located to the east of Grand Palace and Wat Phra Sri Sanphet in a swampy area called Bung Phra Ram. The monastery was constructed on the cremation site of the first Ayutthayan monarch, King Ramathibodi I (r. 1351-1369).

And on the cremation site for King Ramathibodi I, he who had founded the Capital, the King had a holy monastery established, consisting of a great holy reliquary and a holy preaching hall, and he named it the Phra Ram Monastery.

At the front of the temple is a large swamp, swampwhich seems to have been in existance before the founding of the city. It was probably smaller than it is at present. During the founding of the city earth must have been dug out of it for levelling the sites of the Royal palace. Now this whole swamp is planted with lotus and must appear beautiful during the flowering season of this plant.

WatWat Mahathat (วัดมหาธาตุ) or the “Monastery of the Great Relic” stood on the west bank of Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak, an important canal, which has been filled up somewhere in the early XX century. In ancient times the temple was likely fully surrounded by canals and moats.

Then the King went out to observe the precepts at Mangkhalaphisek Hall. At ten thum he looked toward the east and saw a Great Holy Relic of the Lord Buddha performing a miracle. Calling the palace deputies to bring his royal palanquin, he rode forth. He had stakes brought and pounded into the ground to mark the spot. The great holy reliquary which he built there was nineteen meters high, with a nine-branched finial three wa high, and named the Maha That Monastery. Then the King had the Royal Rite of Entering the Capital performed and festivities were held in the royal residence

Wat Mahathat was a royal monastery and served as the seat of the Sangaraja, the head of the Buddhist monks of the Kamavasi Sect. Wat Maha ThatIt also enshrined relics of the Buddha and used to house an unusual Buddha image made of green stone in the form of Buddha seated on a throne which was then moved to Wat Naphrameru.

The design, architecture and decoration of a Khmer temple were modeled according to a series of magical and religious beliefs. Devotees moved from the mundane world to a spiritual one by walking along one of the four axes, each of which has a different astrological value. Wat Maha That consisted basically of a Wat Mahathatlarge central prang surrounded by four subsidiary prangs at the four inter-cardinal points, standing on a raised square platform. The quincunx was surrounded by a courtyard and a roofed gallery, lined with a row of Buddha images. Typically for the Ayutthaya period is that often the gallery was penetrated by a monastic structure, being an ordination or an assembly hall, or even sometimes both.

Ok this is it for today. I will devote one more post to Ayutthaya as there are some more things I would like to share. In the meantime enjoy the slide show:

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