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Cultural sojourn

With countless tourist attractions such as historical sites, old markets, indigenous lifestyle, both, the island of Koh Samui and Bangkok offer visitors a cultural treat, recounts Kahini Chakraborty

A destination rich in tranquility, breathtaking rich natural resources, long stretches of white sandy beaches with clear emerald waters, coral reefs and coconut trees, Koh Samui (Koh meaning island in Thai) is the perfect retreat for mind and body. The fascinating archipelago of 40 islands, Ang Thong National Marine park, which lies to the north west of Koh Samui houses beautiful natural caves, blue lagoons, stunning rock formations, an inland salt lake which is surrounded by ochre-coloured vertical walls, truly an unspoilt jewel for swimming and sea kayaking.

Apart from the exciting panorama, Koh Samui also has been a source of mirth and wonder with the rock formations- Hin Ta and Hin Yai, which are known as the famous Grandpa (Ta) and Grandma (Yai) - on the coastline between Lamai and Hua Thanon. Folklore tells of a story of an old couple who lived with their son in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat and since it was time for the son to get married, the couple decided to sail to the neighbouring province to ask for the hand of the daughter of a man named Ta Monglai. During their sea journey, their boat capsized in the storm the couple died turning into rocks.

Temple trails

One of the main attractions of Koh Samui is the 12 metre tall Big Buddha,sitting majestically in the Mara posture, in a symbol of steadfastness, purity and enlightenment. Travellers marvel at the structure while climbing a staircase which has its own striking dragon designs that cannot be missed. Apart from Buddhist devotees who visit daily to make offerings, there are shops where tourists can buy religious artifacts, clothing and souvenirs.

The cultural tryst does not end in Koh Samui, but continues in Bangkok where Wat Arun is a landmark. This Buddhist temple which is on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya river, has been in existence since the seventeenth century. The temple's distinctive prang (spires) were built in the nineteenth century during the reign of King Rama II.

No visit to Bangkok would be complete without visiting another famous structure, The Grand Palace. Established in 1782 after King Rama I ascended the throne, the Grand Palace complex not only consists of the royal residence and throne halls, but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of Emerald Buddha. It covers an area of 218,000 square metres in length. North of the royal residence and linked by a connecting gateway lies the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where people convene to pay respect to Lord Buddha and his teachings.

An interesting anecdote of how the Emerald Buddha got its name was that when the Buddha statue was first discovered in 1434 in a stupa in Chiang Rai, it was covered with plaster. Later, the abbot who had found the statue noticed that the plaster on the nose had flaked off, revealing the green stone underneath. The abbot initially thought that the stone was emerald and thus the legend of the Emerald Buddha began.

Indulgences

Chao Phraya, which is the major river in Thailand flows through Bangkok and then into the Gulf of Thailand, also serves as a major transportation route for a vast network of water taxis, cross-rover ferries, river buses.Visiting a floating market is an experience of its own, especially the one in Taling Chan district. Apart from interesting local products, the community provides many other services and activities such as low price Thai massage, free Thai classical music show, free karaoke, etc.

Shopping till you drop and indulging in entertainment are two things which are quintessentials of a trip to Bangkok. Giving travellers an option to indulge in both activities is Siam Paragon, which is one of the biggest shopping centres in Asia. The complex also houses Siam Ocean World, the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia which features marine animals, and a tour inside the aquarium gives a chance to get a quick learning tour of the various marine species. Visitors can also have a brush with some renowned personalities from all walks of life at Madame Tussauds. Seeing and being pictured with lifelike wax statues of international leaders, sportspersons and actors like George Clooney, Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts, Micheal Jackson, Madonna and many more is worth a visit.

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