Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Land of Smiles: Part 1



Central Thailand, Bangkok





I’ve got a lot to say about Thailand, so it will be posted in three parts: Central Thailand, Northern Thailand & Southern Thailand.

For those of you who keep up with the blog or know me personally, you know Tom Cannon is my very best bud.  He bravely left behind everything he knew to move to Thailand and explore a new life.  He’s been there almost 3 years. He’s lived in 5 places- ha, that I know of; beaches, mountains, large cities and now a small 100,000 people remote town north of Bangkok.  In 2009 I decided I needed to visit. After many emails, facebook messages and expensive phone calls that broke up half the time, I purchased my flight for $1,200.00. Which in my mind, yes, is a lot of money, but not if you think about how far you are going. Go ahead, look on a map. Thailand is, indeed, on the other side of the world.




After hounding all my babysitting families to go out more than normal so I could babysit and fill my piggy bank’s very empty and hungry belly, 3 months before I left, I booked my flight. Before we move on, yes, I have a piggy bank. I believe in the old fashion saving money way. From much experience I know that if I have money in the bank, it will disappear like a magic trick with nothing to show but the curiosity of where it all went. I’m a firm believer of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. After booking my flight in August, hounding of the babysitting families began again. Now that I was booked, I needed money to spend while there. Several very supportive, loving and gracious adults I know (Thank you Mom, Al, Mr. & Mrs. Cannon, “E” & Anderson Marlowe, Jill & Stewart Marlowe… and even one of Jill and Stewart’s friends) threw some “have a good dinner on me, buy a new camera and capture the memories, embrace the night life and just have fun” money my way. I went with $1,300.00. When it was gone, it was gone. Tom or my Uncle Buddy would have to pick up tab. OR worst case scenario… I’d have to make that dreaded ‘I didn’t plan and budget well’ cracking phone call to my mother. Luckily, neither of those bridges had to be crossed b/c I never got to them.

Tom, told me to do a few very important things.

  1. Fly Korean or Thai Air. There was to be no ifs ands or buts about this one. So glad I did. The flight was smooth and the flight attendants were some of the most polite, helpful and attentive I’ve ever met. Even the coach seats almost felt like first class. The seat it self was larger and more comfortable than any domestic airline I had been on. Everyone had their own screen with free movies, music, tv shows. Alcoholic drinks were free. Meals were free, and before and after each meal you were greeted with a smile and a basket full of hot washcloths to clean your hands. 
  2. Bring a washcloth. They don’t have them. Leave it behind.
  3. Bring a pillow. The ones there are horrid. Hard and flat.
  4. Bring a roll of toilet paper. Most places don’t have it, or if they do, you have to pay to use it!

I packed everything I needed, including a pillow (brought a down one, so it was smushy) in a large North Face backpack. I forget the liters; but it’s the “large” one, not the extra large. I was there 14 days and had plenty of room and stuff. Actually I packed too much stuff. Some things I brought I did not even wear. I brought a few cotton dresses, long & short- not light colors, so if they got dirty it would not matter, two scarf’s, 2 pairs of shorts, undergarments, socks,  tanks, sarong, bathing suits, toiletries, rainbows and my “hiking” shoes, which I tied on the outside of my pack. And it was PLENTY! You think you will wear a lot of stuff, but you won’t.



The Best time to visit Thailand is November to May. The cool season is November - February. The hot season is March – May. The rainy season is May – October. I went in November, for the simple fact I could go for longer and take less time off work, since it was over Thanksgiving I already had a few days off.

I think no matter where you are going or who you are going with, you should do some research either via online and take notes or pick up a travel book. I like Fooders best for travel books. It’s simple and to the point and give you local spots to check out. Also- you know me, I like to wander and see what I find.

-Do take a notebook- small, med, large; whatever makes you happy. And actually write it in. I’ve got a shelf full on all types and size notebooks/ journals from my travels. Thank goodness or this blog may not exist. You think you will remember each and everything you did & saw, people you met, etc. But trust me, you will not.
-Do not take travelers checks, no one takes them.
-Do call your bank, credit cards/ check cards to tell them you are leaving the country, or they will not work.




I know this probably goes without saying. But don’t put all your monies in one spot (my mama taught me that). Make 3 copies of your passport, NCDL and SSC. Keep one in your bag- I keep mine in the bottom so it is much harder for stealer man to get to, give one set to someone in the USA and keep the third set on you at all times, as well as your original passport. Don’t let it leave you!

I’ve traveled all over this world since I was a freshman in high school. I first left the country while when I was 15. But I had never been this far, alone. To make my mother feel better (I was totally fine with it) my Uncle Buddy said he would come along. He’d always wanted to go back to Thailand and agreed to go again, even though he’d just returned about 7 months prior to us booking the trip. He lives in DC so I flew from RDU to IAD and from IAD, Uncle Buddy and I were off. We booked separately, so we did not sit together, but that was ok, we met fun people along the way! The plan was to arrive in Bangkok together, travel to Chiang Mai together and then go separate ways when we headed South to the beach. Tom and I really wanted a local feel and wanted to do a lot of natural exploring, where Uncle Buddy was content with the more tourist side of things, for that area. We flew from DC to the very modern Seoul, South Korean airport. We have a couple hour lay over, then we took a 5 hour flight to Bangkok.

Bangkok- Big City

We flew into Bangkok got in late afternoon and took a taxi to the Suk 11 Hostel, where Tom met us. It was unexpectedly a lot easier to get there than we both anticipated. We stayed the night and spent all day the following day in Bangkok. That night we went to a couple bars and had a nice meal. Uncle Buddy then went off and explored our neighborhood by foot, while Tom and I hopped on a Tuk Tuk and headed off to a more “lively” night life. Since we only had one night in Bangkok, Tom told me to forget about my jet lag (I saw the sun rise 3 times on the travel over) because we were going to “DO BANGKOK”. Boy oh Boy did we! We danced with locals at discotheques with glow sticks and very loud music. We walked the streets and took it all in. We mingled with everyone we encountered and we literally had to drag our selves back to the hostel at 4:00 am. 9 in the morner approached rather quickly, but we did what we had to do. We got up and showered in our, I must point out, private hot shower and then headed downstairs to have breakfast with Uncle Buddy. Our hostel was about $25.00 a night, because Tom requested two beds, a private bath and hot water. It was a very smart choice on Mr. Cannon’s end. Things like private baths & hot water are not included, they are additions.



Lobby at Suk 11
Our room at the  hostel
Water taxi:
From breakfast we walk to the sky train and got dropped off at a water taxi stop. There was a little hunt and a floating dock. The water taxi would take you just about any and every where you wanted to go. Taking a water taxi is a must do. We took one that took us down the main river Chao Phraya, and then dropped us off where we could walk to the Temples. This one was great b/c of the view from the River. I was really able to get a considerably different view of Bangkok. There were beautiful skyscrapers with shacks, which people actually lived in, snuggled between them.  Once we got off the water taxi there was a market right outside and a local water front cafe where we ate lunch before venturing out. The market was small but offered a lot. There was a juice man, dried fish, some sort of bugs, veggies, local crafts and a woman carving fruit. Our lunch spot- I don’t think it had a name, was attached to the floating dock where the water taxi was docked. It held about 15 people and there were no doors or windows. The kitchen was a tiny “open” style. The smells were so refreshing after walking around the market. I had rice and veggies with a beer to wash it down. While we sat at lunch, we opened our map and pin pointed what to do next. Since we only had one full day here we wanted to pack in as much as possible. That evening we were to take a train to the mountains.

After lunch, we ventured out. We had temples to see, local water taxi to cruise on, parks to explore and a lot of walking to do.

View from water taxi of housing along the river









Juice man at the Market outside the water taxi drop off
Making deals
Water taxi dock
Water taxi money collector

Lunch of  the river
This nice lady cooked our lunch on the river!


Wats (Temples): There are 40, 717 Buddhist temples in Thailand. 33,902 are still operating. Wat Pho, Wat Saket and Wat Traimit where the ones we visited while there. It is really amazing to sit and just take it all in that such ornate, large and beautiful monuments were built as early as the 1400s. They are each so different…and special. The colors, details, layout, doors, sounds- basically the structure it self humbles you, or it did me. People, hard working people, thought, planned and build these astonishing and stunning temples with one main purpose; prayer & meditation. What an incredible concept. Even more so that almost all of them are welcoming to outsiders.



Wat Pho is oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok. It’s also home to largest reclining Buddha. Laying 46 meters (or almost 151 feet) long with feet decorated in Mother of Pearl and the rest made of gold leaf. Two restorations have taken place in this Budda’s life time. The first restoration took place in 1788 lasting 7 years, 5 months and 28 days. The second lasted 16 years and 7 months.



Wat Saket, is also known as “Golden Mount”. You can literally see all of Bankok from the chedi perch, on a clear day. In order to see the views you must, however, walk the 318 steps. But don’t worry, about half way up you can take rest and follow tradition by ringing the bells. There are 20 bells around the perimeter of the circle and its good luck to ring them each before approaching the top of the temple. I’m not going to fib; we only rang about 5 of them. Afterward I saw something that made me smile and for some reason, warmed my heart. After a photo opt with Tom and the bells I looked up and saw a group of Thai women, walking down the steps. They were laughing, smiling, using news paper to shield them from the sun and heat and they were just happy. They were all dressed the same and all about the same age. I have no idea what they were doing at the top perch but if they were that happy coming down, I could not wait to get up there. We walked the rest of the steps. Before entering certain portion of the temple you had to remove your shoes. Walking out I snapped a picture of all the shoes, thrown astray, with no worries of being taken.






Wat Traimit is the resting place for the world’s largest solid gold Buddha. In the 1950s worker men dropped the five ton Buddha. What they found when the plaster cracked was that Mr. Buddha was just not a 13th century Buddha but a solid gold one!

If you have time, Wat Phra Kaew is one not to miss. It’s one of the most revered Buddha statues in Thailand and craved from one solid block of Jade. Once Bangkok was build and became the capital, the King ordered it sit on the Palace grounds- which is where it remains today.

After our temple tour, we took a water taxi from where we were, toward Lumpini Park. But first Tom had to pick up his teaching certificate which was along the way. The water taxi we took to get there was much, very much, different from the first one. The boat was smaller and more crowded. The driver also drove a lot faster. He was whipping through troughs, canals, neighborhoods like it was no big deal. To get to his water taxi floating dock, we walked through yet another market. But this one was gigantic. There were thousands of people and they were selling everything from lumber to clothes to food to furniture. It was like nothing I had ever seen. 

The water taxi arrived pretty shortly after we made our way to the floating dock. This boat was more like a large canoe with a motor. Slats of wood stretched across the width of the boat providing eating and rails along the side help up the roof. Everything happened really fast. Within just a couple minutes people- mostly locals this time were boarded and we were off. We had tickets but no one had taken them yet. Then as we approached the first stop, a young Thai man walked around the rim of the boat, while yelling at the other water taxi- clearly, no clue what was being said- and collected our tickets. Along these canals were bars, restaurants, homes, and more markets.

When we get off at our stop, it’s like we’ve left and entered a new city. Around the temples it was more open, less crazy and more touristy. Here there were again, THOUSANDS of people walking, biking, motor biking, yelling, talking, waving rides down, etc. We were in Bangkok. Local Bangkok. The first sign of America I saw was in this area. Ronald McDonald was standing colorful and tall outside a massive mall- the largest one in the country. This is where Tom had to pick up his teaching certificate at an office inside. We gladly went with him, anything to get out of the heat.




It was then late afternoon and we’ve got a few hours to kill. Tom took us to Lumpini Park. The park was built in the 1920’s and has been called, rightful so, “ an inner city haven of tranquility” The sun was beginning to sneak behind the skyline of Bangkok, which provided us with a breathtaking view of the City. There was a yoga class of about 100 people in the center of the park. It’s amazing how quiet it got. It’s like the park was sound proof. It was a true escape of city life- 3rd world or not- A large city is a large city. Here we were greeted with ducks, lush grass, shady trees and fresh air, all on a huge lake. We entered through the South entrance where there is a huge statue of King Rama VI. I am not sure why but there were hundreds of bouquets of flowers surrounding his statue. I wish I knew why. Tom was in desperate need of nap by this point- I have no idea how I was still functioning. While Tom napped on top our luggage Uncle Buddy and I paddle boated around the part until it was time to head to the train station.

Bars/ Clubs:
-Vertigo and Moon Bar:  http://www.banyantree.com/en/bangkok/experience_the_resort/dining/vertigo_and_moon_bar amazing roof top bar and unreal food and drinks. 
-Bed Supper Club- http://www.bedsupperclub.com/bangkok/en/ Cool bar and food turns into club at night

Patpong District: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patpong  While the Patpong District is what is it- the red light district and somewhat disturbing - it is a huge part of the Bangkok culture.  The ping pong shows are something I never thought I would see and I'm fine never seeing again. As disturbing as it was, you almost can’t turn your head, because you can’t believe what you are seeing! For the many reasons, but mostly b/c my mother and Tom’s mother read this blog, I will let your imagination run wild. If you need further details, please resort to ol’ faithful, Google.







Hostels:
-Suk 11 http://www.suk11.com/2008/index.html (think it was $20.00 a night b/c we got a room with hot water and private bath)
-Nap Park Hostel: http://www.nappark.com/

You must visit a street market while in Bangkok!



Galleries:

Eats:
- STREET FOOD

Sunset in the big city


Duck paddle boats

Tom keeping our stuff safe while napping

Written By: Emily Ballard

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