Visiting The Ancient City is like being in a little country, never mind a city. Walking among sculptures and water features set in tranquil gardens teeming with bird-life, and through immaculately restored mansions, palaces, temples, traditionally-styled houses, ethnological displays and market places is like travelling through a land unscarred by the ravages of modernisation. It is like entering a story book - no, a three-dimensional history book.
The sprawling immensity of the place, at almost 1,300 square kilometres, merits three ways of getting around. Welcomed by beaming staff who evidently love doing what they do, we are presented with the options. Bicycles are free, a little cabby with a rooftop providing some shade costs 300 baht for two hours, and the tram option is 75 baht per person, not including a guide. Well-informed and friendly guides are available in English, Thai, Japanese and Chinese. I opt for the bicycle to get some exercise, but later regret not choosing the lazy way (cabby), as it is especially hot on this day.
History and Imagination
The park is shaped like a scaled-down Thailand with its treasures stationed appropriately. Through the City Wall and Gates I am led into the artistic and imaginative preserves of Thai heritage. The paradox is that it is a masquerade. The attempt to freeze 'heritage' in a simultaneous gesture of restoring dignity while affecting the ramshackle look of antiquity is tricky.
There is the feeling that culture belongs to a distant history and the reconstruction a lament for times gone by. These monuments are faithful representations of creations emerged from the highest minds of Thailand throughout history, and walking among them seems surreal.
Parallel to the history park, is the land of the imagination, where mythical figures and concepts from Thai literature and mythology are given form. Birds perch on sculptures, deer coyly nibble flowers and even buffalo idly sway their tails in the shade adding a live element into the mix.
After having traversed the entirety of Ancient City and having visited most of the sites, I take lunch at one of the restaurants in the floating market area. An open, breezy place overlooking the waterways, it is perfect for taking a rest and refueling before setting out to Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm.
The Biggest Crocodile Farm in the World
If the morning was contemplative, this is where you get jolted right out of that frame. These crocodiles are huge, rude and smelly. You can walk along the breeding ponds and see living specimens of the widest range of crocodiles under a single roof. There are over 60,000 of the reptiles and the world's largest captive crocodile, over six metres long, is housed here.
The atmosphere is very circus-like, with a lot of excited children, and all the commercial paraphernalia that goes with this kind of entertainment. One of the highlights (or horrors) is hand-feeding by throwing chicken carcasses off the deck to hungry crocodiles below. It is quite a grisly scene to behold the snapping of jaws and violent scramble as the heaving reptiles claw and thrash one another to get to the meat.
Alive and Kicking
There are also elephant shows, where you can see dancing elephants and elephants skateboarding and performing numerous heart-warming tricks. Afterwards, the crocodile wrestling matches are quite harrowing. Performers taunt the creatures and beat them with a stick to frustrate them. The audience goes crazy when the men tempt fate by sticking their heads into the huge and open maws of the crocodiles and the arena is showered with coins.
Other attractions include a dinosaur museum, a snake park with coiled pythons, ostriches, peacocks, tigers, gibbons and more.