Ayutthaya lies 52 miles (85 kilometres) north of Bangkok and was one of the ancient capitals of Thailand until it was destroyed by the invading Burmese Army in 1767. For over 400 years it prospered and was covered in temples and after its destruction was replaced by Bangkok built on newly exposed land in the Gulf of Siam.
On the way we visited the Royal Palace at Bang Pa-in most of which was built between 1872-1889 and is still used occasionally by the King and Queen of Thailand for hosting state receptions and banquets. The grounds are very ornate and are built in a european style. in the centre of the gardens is the Aisawan-dhipaya-asana Pavilion surrounded by a pond in which we could feed bread to some very energetic turtles and fish! The Royal Palace itself is a two storey manaion built in the Chinese style containing an impressive throne room on the ground floor.
The view up the lake as you enter the grounds of the Bang Pa-in Palace
Turtles swiming in the pond surrounding the Aisawan-dhipaya-asana Pavilion
Ho withun Thasuna
The Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Wehart Chamrun from the Ho withun Thasuna
Me in front of the throne room at the Royal Residence
About an hour's drive later we reached Ayutthaya which is a UNESECO World Heritage Site. In 1700 Ayutthaya ideally situated for trade between India, China and Malaya was the largest city in the world with a population of about 1 million people. The Wat Maha That Temple seemed the most impressive part of the site with its pagoda towering above the ruins and the evocative sandstone buddha mostly buried and overgrown by a tree.
The ruins of Wat Maha That
The pagoda at Wat Maha That
The head of the Sandstone Buddha
Buddha amongst the ruins at Wat Maha That
We then moved on to Wat Na Phra Mane, the only part of Ayutthaya not destroyed by the invading Burmese Army in 1767 as it was used as their headquarters. The Buddha is unusual in that it is dressed in Royal Attire, as with all Buddhist Temples we hasd to remove our shoes before entering.
The monastery at Wat Na Phra Mane
Me by the Buddha in the Temple at Wat Na Phra Mane
Our final stop at Ayutthaya before a boat trip back to Bangkok was to the temple at Wat Lokayasutharam which holds one of the largest Reclining Buddha Images (although not as large as the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho that I saw the previous day).
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam
Me by the Reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam
Wat Wora Chet the Ram near Wat Lokayasutharam
Passing rice paddy fields on the way, we then met up with a cruise boat and had a very tasty Thai Buffet Lunch as we floated down the river back to Bangkok. Amongst the temples and houses on stilts the peppered along the shore we also passed landing craft given to the Thai military by the USA following the Vietnam War and the shed containing the Royal Barges now used only for ceremonial occasions.
Paddy Fields on the way to meet up with the cruise boat back to Bangkok
Surplus Landing Craft given to the Thai Military after the Vietnam War
The Royal Barge Sheds by the Phraya River
A large portrait of the King of Thailand beside th River Phraya
Just over an hour's drive south of Denver is Colorado Springs, Colorado's second largest city and the gateway to The Pikes Peak Region. On the way we passed Castle Rock, a prominent castle tower shaped butte above the I25 Freeway. Colorado Springs itself is a pretty bland city with nothing much worth seeing, it's the home of the United States Air Force Academy and the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) but the former only had the daily noon parade by its cadets to offer as a spectacle and the nuke proof headquarters deep within Cheyenne Mountain of the later understandably doesn't welcome visitors.
Castle Rock Butte beside the I25 Freeway to Colorado Springs
Freeway and railway both heading south towards Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak
Mesas beside the I25 Freeway north of Colorado Springs
Our first stop was at the Broadmoor Hotel, a gigantic Italian-Renaissance style complex of 30 buildings built around its own purpose built lake. Originally completed in 1918, the Broadmoor Hotel prides itself on being the longest-running consecutive winner of the AAA Five-Diamond rating (there's only about 100 of them) and is probably the poshest hotel I have ever visited.
The main building at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs
A view across the lake at the Broadmoor Hotel
The view of mountains above the Broadmoor Hotel
In addition to the central lake the hotel also has a Georgian ballroom, frescoed ceilings, 3 golf courses, 6 tennis courts and a stables. With the US Air Force Academy and NORAD Headquarters close by the Broadmoor Hotel appears a popular venue for military conferences and there were a lot of people in uniform around the day we had lunch there on the lakeside veranda.
Lounge area inside the Broadmoor Hotel
A view across one of the golf courses at the Broadmoor Hotel
The bridge across the lake back to the main building at the Broadmoor Hotel
Our next stop was the Manitou Cliff Dwellings just north of Manitou Springs. These were originally built more than 700 years ago by the Anasazi Indians in the south west corner of Colorado near the famous cliff dwellings in the Mesa Verde National Park. These particular dwellings were carefully moved 230 miles (370 kilometres) here brick by brick from Cortez in 1907 to protect them from being destroyed by treasure hunters while campaigners tried to put the National Park in place.
The Manitou Cliff Dwellings
One of the houses at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The view of the mountains from inside the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Stone tower at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The cliff dwellings are preserved underneath a protective red sandstone overhang and you are able to walk through them exploring the different houses and climbing the ladders. One of the more interesting buildings was the Kiva, which was a circular pit used by tribal men as a ceremonial chamber. In its day it would have had a roof made of cribbed timber covered in cedar strips and clay with a square entrance to climb down a ladder through the sacred smoke. It had a small hole called a Sipapu behind the firepit which was a symbolic passageway through which people's spirits were said to enter and exit at birth and death.
Inside the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
A 'Kiva' (ceremonial chamber) complete with 'Sipapu' hole behind the firepit inside the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Another view of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Just below the cliff dwellings there is a three-story pueblo-style building that has been built in the style of descendants of the Anasazi Indians. The Pueblo Indians would have built their buildings with adobe which is mud mixed with straw as a binding agent and would have needed re-plastering annually. The pueblo style building at the Cliff Dwellings is primarily used as a museum explaining the life of the Anasazi and didn't have the excitement of the cliff dwellings themselves but did have the best souvenir gift shop I had seen during my stay in Colorado.
The Pueblo Indian style museum built below the Cliff Dwellings
Indian cradleboard in the Anasazi Museum at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Me sitting cross-legged in the entrance of an Indian tepee
Having been inside an Indian tepee we now moved on to the Ghost Town Wild West Museum on the west side of Colorado Springs. Colorado is known to have over 1,500 ghost towns; they were abandoned when mines closed, or when new railways made stage coach stops redundant or just simply through rural depopulation. The whole area is in the shadow of Pikes Peak which at 14,110 feet (4,300 metres) is not the tallest of Colorado's mountains but is probably the most famous as it became immortalised by the slogan "Pike's Peak or Bust!" during the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush.
'Pikes Peak or Bust' covered wagon outside the Ghost Town Museum in Colorado Springs
The street inside the Ghost Town Museum in Colorado Springs
Me by the Stage Coaches inside the Ghost Town Museum in Colorado Springs
The concept might be corny but we had fun looking around the Ghost Town Wild West Museum and I proved to have quite a decent aim with a rifle in the shooting gallery! Founded in 1954, the museum primarily consists of a street of re-created wild west shops inside the disused workshops of the Colorado Midland Railroad. Included amongst the shops along the street was a general store, blacksmiths, newspaper printers, stage coach office, jail and sheriff's office; each filled with artefacts and small cameos of everyday life in the Wild West.
Blacksmith's Shop and General Store in the Ghost Town Museum in Colorado Springs
Wanted posters at the offices of the Pikes Peak Bugle
The local Wells Fargo Office seems unsure whether their next stage coach will arrive safely
The Sheriff asleep in his office in the Ghost Town Museum
Our final stop of the day however was the most magical. The Garden of the Gods is a strata of red sandstone raised vertically by the lifting up of nearby mountains and then eroded over millions of years into the most amazing rock formations. From the Visitors Centre there is a terrific view of the North and South Gateway Rocks with the snow capped Pikes Peak in the background.
The Garden of the Gods 'Gateway' Rocks from the Visitors Center
The Garden of the Gods 'Gateway' Rocks with snow capped Pikes Peak in the distance
As we made our way around the park it was like driving through an alien moonscape with all the strange rock shapes each christened over the years with names such the Kissing Camels, the Siamese Twins and the Three Graces. One of the stranger rock formations for me was the Cathedral Spires with its narrow fins of rock pointing like church spires into the sky. As we got closer it was possible to spot rock climbers who had made their way to the top.
The Central Garden at the Garden of the Gods
More amazing rock formations at the Garden of the Gods
On the left it is just about possible to see climbers on top of the 'Cathedral Spires' at the Garden of the Gods
Close up of the climbers on top of the 'Cathedral Spires' Rock Formation
The 'Gray (Cathedral) Rock' at the Garden of the Gods
Stone marking the Indian Trail to Ute Pass just north of Pikes Peak
The most famous rock formation in the Garden of the Gods is the Balanced Rock, admittedly one of many so named in the Western USA but very photogenic as it appears to balance almost impossibly on a narrow stem. It did remind me of the Balanced Rock I saw on the Cars Land Ride at Disneyland California Adventure but the inspiration for this I understand was more likely to have been the Balanced Rocks in Arizona and Utah and not this one in Colorado.
The famous 'Balanced Rock' at the Garden of the Gods
Me stood by the 'Balanced Rock' at the Garden of the Gods