A group of us took a day trip to the Ancient City just outside the city. No, it's not an ancient city. Rather, it is a park that has replicas of most, if not all, the major architectural or historical sites in Thailand. Some lifesize, some miniature. Basically, all of Thailand in a single plot of land. So, if you are hardpressed for time as well as money, this is the place to go.
It sounds hokey, doesn't it? Miniatures and replicas of thousand year old sites and relics. How corny. And what a tourist trap!
Actually, it was fantastic. The park is huge- over 300 acres, and pretty spread out. The replicas are very well done... some of them not aging well and actually beginning to look, well, aged. The best part was the park admission included a bike rental, which is the best way to get around. Golf carts are available in 2, 4, 6 person configurations at additional cost. We lucked out. We went on an overcast day that cooled down after early morning showers. We still sweated out there, but soon reached a point where our body adjusted and the heat became tolerable. Had we gone the day before as originally planned, we wouldn't have lasted the entire afternoon.
That's how much time we spent there. It took us two hours to find the place (and 20 minutes to get back home). We spent four hours in the park.. and were still rushing to get through and out of the park before closing time. Did I mention that the park is ginormous?
Oddly, the replicas did not seem tacky at all. And they were spaced out wide enough to keep us moving through the park yet not so far that we couldn't look ahead to see what sites of interest were coming up.
We got hungry and stopped at a little cafe, which looked cute in the open air, under a roof, along the stream, with a view of a couple of "ruins" and the park's lawn mowers and fertilizers- cows. How rustic, right? We found out quickly there was no menu, let alone one in English. Of the two women working there, one looking like she is in her teens, the teen spoke some spotty English. Inexplicably, my companions still sat down. I guess they were just that hungry. I hate how both women looked at me expectantly, thinking I'm the translator. As we saw down, it became a guessing game. Each of us took turns listing a dish we know how to speak in Thai, hoping for a nod of the head. One frustrated guy finally blurted "gai!" (chicken) and we were surprised to get a nod. The girl finally offered a suggestion, which none of us understood, but promptly ordered five orders of it. For all we knew, we could have ordered five whole raw de-feathered chicken carcasses.
It was chicken fried rice.
It was at that meal that I discovered how drinking fresh cold coconut water is the best cure to heat. I think I drank up at least three coconuts. Yummm... I'm going to have to start getting more coconuts off the street vendors. It's only 10-20 baht!
Perhaps the highlight, for me, is the Preah Vihear miniature. Since it lies amidst the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, this probably is as close to the real thing as I will get without having to worry about safety. While a miniature, the structures were large enough for us to duck though and into portions. And big enough to make us appreciate just how much area the original 11th century temple is. Just the miniature alone seems to span the area of an acre on a cliff.
(I also realised midway in our exploring Preah Vihear that I'm wearing my favourite t-shirt that screams "Cambodia")
Amongst five of us, we had at least three digital SLRs and three point-and-shoot cameras, so the whole afternoon turned quickly into a photographic expedition. And, boy, did we snap the heck out of the place. Thank goodness for the transition from film to digital!
For a place that sounded suspiciously like a bad tourist trap, it was one of the most fun places I've been to in the area. And one that I intend to take people back to, weather providing. Unfortunately, they didn't offer an annual membership or I would have signed up in a heartbeat. It's a place I would return to, if nothing else just to continue honing my photography skills. Since I have a car, and now that we know how to get there, access is not an issue. And for tourists, it truly is Thailand in a day, without additional plane tickets.