Day 7 – Bangkok and on.

Today we will leave the old capital city and go by train back to Bangkok. I will accidentally leave my water bottle on the train.  We will take the subway and then walk several miles through Bangkok with the wheels of our suitcases clickity-clacking on the road. It will be hot.  We will have some terrible food in a restaurant. And there will be a French Bulldog in a back alley.  He will be standing on a plank that has been put down over a waterway.  As I cross the makeshift bridge, he and I will exchange a very long look, both asking the question. What are you doing here?

And yet the moment of today that will stick with me the very most is, while walking down some back alley, I will look up and see a faded poster of Super Junior taped to the inside of a window.  Reminding me that in less that 24 hours I will be in Korea.

Excited, scared and already a little lonely.

Day 6 (Part 2) – Sterling and the elephant

 After the toy museum we hopped on our bike to go to the “Elephant Kraal”.   ( What is a Kraal you ask? Back when Ayutthaya was the capital city. They would capture wild elephants and bring them to the kraal and the king would select the ones he wanted) 

We got to the Kraal and there was a couple of statues of elephants and a really big white wall  (at least 9 feet high).  This can’t be it… can it?  So I convinced my family to just ride around to the other side.  So we did.  We rounded the corner and rode down a dirt path to which we saw… ELEPHANTS! real live Elephants.   I have seen elephants and even pet elephants at the zoo, but this was different.  This was unexpected.  To our left there were elephant walking around a very large enclosure, in front of us was an elephant washing station and to our right was the nursery (elephant moms and their elephant babies.)  There was a a little building in the center of it all. While we stood there a man came up to the bathing station with an elephant.  The interaction between the two was amazing.  He never raised his voice or acted aggressively toward the elephant.   The man then asked the elephant to lean down so that he could scrub his back and the elephant would kneel.  The man gave the elephant the hose so that he could drink some water and splash around with it for a bit.  I was memorized, I was unable to turn away until the man took the elephant away.
We waited for a few minutes for someone else to arrive, but no one did.  We investigated the building and there was no one really around.  There was however a table, on the table was a large donation box, several baskets of cucumbers and a sign that read something like 150 baht for a basket of cucumbers and the right to take photos.  My Aunt and I dropped money in the box and my cousin took photos. 

I don’t know if my words can convey how much I enjoyed feeding the elephants.  The elephants would trumpet for us to come near and give them cucumbers. Their long trunks would do their best to grab at the baskets.  All of the Elephants were behind gates, except for one baby and his mama.  This baby was so curious. She would use her trunk to rifle through my bag, sniff me, go through my pockets, pant legs and investigate me.  After a minute or two she wrapped her trunk around my leg and  tried to pull me toward her mother.  I of course told her mother, what ever mother likes to hear, what a beautiful and sweet baby she had.  I handed over the last of my cucumbers and spent a few more minutes with the moms and babies.

I have every intention of returning and seeing if my friend remembers me. Her name is WangChang Thai.

(The place we stumbled upon was Elephant Stay.)

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Day 5 – Ayutthaya

Today we take the train to Ayutthaya, the old capital city.   I really love riding the train.

The ride to Ayutthaya  cost 50 cents. It should have taken about 45 minutes, but we sat stopped at the “Bang Sue” train station for at least a half an hour.  So I practiced my Thai, intimating the announcer calling over the loud speaker “BANg SUUUU”.   (The Thai language is fascinating, a lot of tones- up inflections and down.  I don’t think I will ever learn it, although I find it oh so interesting)

Notes from the ride: I find it interesting that I am sharing the seat with someone, she is taking up about 36″ of the bench and I am sitting on about 6″.  She is not any larger than I am, yet somehow she is muscling me out of the bench.   I put my bag in between us and reclaim my rightful 21 inches.  We ride nicely together the rest of the way.

There is no glass in the windows, brown wooden shutters, but other than that open to the outside world.

There is a little girl, about 3, riding with her parents. She also reminds me a lot of my son; Wallowing in the seat, trying to get her parents to play with her, looking out the window (leaning a little too far out at times), looking to her mother for approval and burying her face in her mothers lap when shyness hits and of course unable to sit still. My Auntie pulls out the iPad and like my son, the little girl loves to push the buttons.

There is someone who walks up and down the aisle selling snacks.  I bought bag of green floss/grass looking stuff. and it came with crepes (also green).  The flavoring is “Pandan”.  I cannot compare Pandan to anything else, I cannot think of anything it is similar to it.  I know that it’s a type of leaf and pretty popular in Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.  (If you go to an true Asian bakery they should have it.)   *While looking up Pandan, because I couldn’t remember what it was called, I found a recipe for Pandan Chiffon Cake. I’ll be making this soon – http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2011/06/pandan-chiffon-cake-recipe.html

I may have lost my way with this post.. .

After are train ride we make our way to the hotel (which is more of a B&B).  The proprietor has bikes for us to ride and we ride over to the old town center and to a reclining Buddha.  The sun is setting while we are at the Buddha and some people come and wrap him in cloth.  I am wondering if we happen to be there on a special evening or if they do this every night.  (I feel a little sad, because I don’t see rituals like this in the states.)

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Day 4 back to bangkok

We went back to Bangkok on a cheaper, less exciting ride, but once again our driver dropped us off no where near our location. These seems to happen quite a bit.  The point of going back was to go see MuayThai, however we did not end up doing it.  (probably my fault.)

SO Here are some random images of Food.  Which if I hadn’t already mentioned was delicious!

By the way there is an image below that says “Happy Lemon”.  My cousin got the #1, green tea with rock salted cheese. (sounds nasty.) The attendant handed it to him and said “you have five minutes to drink this before it goes bad.”  (ick.)  I took a sip, it was AMAZING.  Sweet then a little bit of salty. There is a reason why it’s the #1.
I had the #2 “Milk tea with pearl sago and puff cream.  This was delicious, it had about 3 different textures in it, filled with caffeine and pudding and deliciousness   These two drinks I will think about for the rest of my life.  They will be worth going back to Thailand just to have them again. 

Day 3 – Waterfalls, Monkeys, Hellfirepass, No Monkeys and Buddha in a Cave.

It’s another hot day in Thailand. I really have a difficult time with heat. It is not that I’m sensitive to it, quite the opposite, once it’s over 90 degrees, I can not longer tell how hot it is.  If it goes to 95 or a 100 degrees, It’s still hot.   I put on sunscreen like it’s my job and go on. There is no point in complaining, it’s hot.
(This also applies to humidity.  I cannot tell  if there more or less here than any other place. If you say it is humid, I will just have to take your word for it.)

Today we  go to Erawan National Park. It is a national park in Thailand that has 7 waterfalls. As we start at the bottom the water is clear and there are little fish living in the ponds. Each subsequent pond is clearer than the last.   What I find surprising about this place is there are so many butterflies. Butterflies everywhere! It’s almost like a fairyland there are so many butterflies. Also, butterflies move really quickly so I wasn’t able to get any on film.  When we get to the 7th waterfall, there are monkeys living in the trees.  Silly to say, but WOW! real live monkeys!

I am now going to gloss over our event for the rest of the day. Why You ask? This was a big day with lots and lots of walking.  I remember being so tired when we got back that I was asleep by 8:30.  Early even by my standards. Even to think of this day I start to feel exhausted. soooo here is the remainder of the day. We went to Hellfire pass (This is a site associated with the atrocities that occurred in World War II related to construction of the Bridge at Kwai.)  This is a very sobering place… possibly another reason I don’t want to type about it.
Then to a site where there were supposed to be monkeys hanging out.. . .  but there were no monkeys. Only 2 ladies with a folding table. Which that’s fine, because I saw monkeys today.  (and monkeys make me a little nervous.  You never know when they might want to bite you or take your purse.)

Then off to a cave where a Buddha was hiding.  This was pretty amazing actually. We walked along a railroad track, which ran along the side of a mountain and then there  an opening to a cave where he was sitting.

Day 2 – Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai

Day 2. .  My Auntie was finally able to join us this morning and there are now 3 in our party. (My Cousin, My Auntie and Me)

We pack up and are head out to Kanchanaburi.  It is approx. 2 hrs from Bangkok. Although I really don’t know in which direction, because I still haven’t looked at a map. ( I did not plan the trip I’m just a passenger.)   We meet up with a man who will be taking us to Kanchanaburi.  Its a large van, technically able to hold 16 individuals (including driver) but our driver finds a way to cram 20 of us  (and our luggage) in there. oh so snuggly.  The seat belts work great and I strap in.
Initially there aren’t 20 of us in the van. It started out as only 8 (including the driver and his girlfriend).   We are sitting in  the van and waiting for other passengers.  The air conditioning is off and the driver is standing in front of the 7-11.  Well it is hotter than the hinges of hell and I’m starting to feel a little deprived of oxygen.  We open the door, because really there is no point in sitting in the van all sealed up in 90 degree weather.  Our driver doesn’t much care for that so he comes back and drives us to pick up a few more folks. However, my suitcase was on the curb. . . with my computer and all my clothing. vroom vroom. Away we go.  It was a lot like trying to put a cat in a bathtub as I hissed and screamed and scratched at the windows, trying to do everything in my power to show the driver how displeased I was with the situation.   He just sighed a big sigh and said “It’s fine.” My heart is beating out of my chest. It is totally not fine and I’m trying not to cry.    We pick up a couple more passengers on the other side of the building and then do a big loop and come back to our original spot. (it probably took about 10 minutes to do the loop, but it felt like an eternity.)   I am reunited with my bag and I vow that I will never part company with it again.  We do this strange loop a few more times until there are 20 of us in the van.   Onwards.

Kanchanaburi, This is the home of The Bridge Over the River Kwai. ( Kwai means water buffalo. ) When we get here a tuk tuk driver offers to take us to the hotel for 150 baht. I’m  skeptical of anyone offering me a ride that I no longer know if this is a good deal.   We agree and hop on the tuk tuk.  This tuk tuk is different from the one in Bangkok as it is a motorcycle with a side car…. sorta.  It’s on the side of the motorcycle, but bench seating.  (wish I’d taken a photo).    It was really nice, zooming down the road in a funny metal box, with our new friend, who doesn’t say one word and takes us directly to our hotel (which was really far away).  This was a great deal. Transportation in Thailand is looking up for me.

Our Hotel overlooks the River Kwai.The water here is clean, far cleaner than the canal we were staying above in Bangkok.  It is also quiet and very beautiful.
Tonight we walk across the bridge and look around. It’s quite sobering to be here. I knew nothing of the history behind the bridge until I started walking across it. Tomorrow we will explore the area more.

Bangkok Day 1 part 2

  (sorry for the delay in the second half, got a little busy)

Thailand can be very intense on the senses. . .As we are walking away from the palace  I get a strong smell of jasmine.  A strong breeze comes by and petals start raining down.  I can’t help but catch a few in my hand. At the same time there is the sounds of traffic, vendors, and lots of talking.   I’m looking up and down the streets and where there had been just pedestrians, there is an entire shopping alley.  Tarps (and other old plastic refuse) are strung up between the stalls and the buildings, creating tunnels all the way down the sidewalks. When we first entered the palace none of this was present and what is more amazing, every night it is taken down. The goods and the stalls that hold them will all be packed up and every morning they will return again. ( I wonder how it is decided where you get to set up shop and if there are any rules).

All of the blocks appear to broken up in to sections, the first street away from the palace was all Buddhist charms, amulets, statues and pictures. The next section is all clothing then fruit stands and on and on.

We decide to get some food and  find a lady who has 5 large pots of food and big container of rice.  When I ask her what is what, she points and says “ spicy, spicy, spicy, not spicy, not spicy”.   I pick spicy pot number one, chicken I believe.  She scoops me out a big mound of rice and then scoops in a few ladle fulls of “Chicken Spicy Pot” she also goes to the extra effort to scoop me out a large half-moon looking liver. Thank you.   I love Thai food, and when I get the plate in front of me I can smell the strong sent of Lemongrass. I take a couple of bites, and it is so very tasty. I can hardly believe such delicious food is available on a street corner.  However, as I’m eating, I start to feel a little queasy and I cannot eat anymore.  I look at my plate and notice a large chicken foot in the middle of my plate.  I push him up to the top of the plate next to the large hunk of liver, but it’s not these two things that are make me lose my appetite.  It is actually the woman sitting on a stool next to me with a large box of partial dentures for sale.   The more I think about denture sales, where she got them from and people trying them on to make sure they fit, I couldn’t eat any more.  Curses!  

We hail a tuk tuk for a ride back to the hotel. (He drives us all over the place, tells us to get out and our hotel is right there… but he’s wrong, our hotel is still 5 or 6 blocks away and it will take us another 30 minutes to figure that out.) Here are some photos from that ride.

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Thailand Day 1 -part 1

Today we got up and went to go look at the Grand Palace.  We walked out of our door and again I am hit with the aroma of our location.  We are right next to a canal that is quite polluted and smells like it.  We walk a little away from our door down the alley and the smells from street food overpower the smell of the canal.  On both sides of the alley are people selling food in little carts.  Around each cart is at least one little table with 4 little chairs.  Each stall has at least one person eating food or preparing food.   . There is enough space in the alley for us to walk side by side but with the people coming the other direction and the occasional motorcycle that comes motoring down, it is in our best interest to walk single file.  I look over each cart trying to see what they are making; fish covered in some sort of paste, Papayas in hand being chopped with a large knife until they are a fine shred, Pig legs, all type of chicken parts being seasoned.  At the very end our alley is a young man with a grill cart with rows and rows of meat on a stick.  For 20 Baht (less than a dollar) I get two chicken satay.  I walk down the street and eat my chicken and it is so delicious.

Traffic is zooming, there are crosswalks, but not lights for pedestrians or drivers.  It’s a little bit like playing a live version of Frogger.  We dodge traffic and walk in the general direction of the palace.  Honestly I’ve become really dependent on the map program on my phone.  I really have no idea where I am.  I don’t know which direction is what. My phone is essentially off, still look at it every hour or so for no particular reason.  What a strange and annoying habit.Regardless, we make our way to the palace.  It is big and can be easily seen from the road.

One of the scams that they warn you about on the internet is there will be people trying to prevent you from going into the Grand Palace by saying it is closed and you should go see this other Buddha instead and they have a friend who will drive you.  The goal is to get you to pay for a tuk tuk ride or take you to shop that a friend of the scammer knows.  Well hot damn if someone didn’t come up alongside us and try to tell us that Palace was closed, but not to worry he knew of a Buddha that was open and he had a friend who could take us. We politely declined and crossed the street to palace. (It’s open!)

We pay our entrance fee and make our way through the crowds of people some tourists and some worshipers, walk through the archway and there is the palace. It is truly spectacular.  Every surface is covered with gold (or maybe bronze), a tiny mirror or something shiny.  From the ground to the tippy top.   No spaces no gaps.  It must have taken years to adhere all these tiny pieces to everything. Everything about this place is what I think of when I hear “Thailand”.  Gold pointed roofs, filigree on the tops of buildings, elephant statutes and Yakshas.  We walk around and take it all in and so are the rest of the tourists.  I cannot imagine how many vacation photos I must be in.  (I have left the photos uncropped/unedited.)

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*I’ll be honest, when I got back to the hotel and was reviewing these photos, only to find I had 50+ photos of other people taking photos I was a little dissappointed. However after reviewing them many times, I’m finding it more amusing than anything and this may be my new hobby.

Landed in Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok, hustled through customs and pulled out a little cash at the ATM.  I wasn’t quite sure the Baht to Dollar ratio, so I pulled out 1000 Baht.  (Turns out the ratio is 30 Baht to a Dollar, so I had about 30$)   I made my way outside to get a taxi, at 11 pm the taxi line was about 30 people deep.  A man came up beside me and asked if I was looking for a taxi, I said yes.  He said, here follow me I have a taxi and you won’t have to wait in line. I handed him my paper with my hotel name and address on it. I asked how much, he said “I know where that is, 800 Baht”.   From previous internet searches I knew the taxi ride should be about 500, but I wouldn’t have to wait in line and that was a bonus.  We began to walk together. We walked past the big parking lot and into a further away parking lot.  This was seeming like more and more of a bad idea. We walked further.  He led me to his taxi where his girlfriend was sleeping in the front seat.  The spooky music got a little louder in my head.  I got in the car anyway.  He introduced me to his girlfriend and started the car.  We drove for a bit and he said that he needed to get gas.  We stopped at a large filling station, with lots of taxi cabs filling up.   He turned to me and said he would need the money now. “I’ll take 800 baht now and then you give me 500 when we get there.”  I really did not have that much Baht on me. “No, I only have 800.”  I felt pretty confident that if he kicked me out here I would have no trouble finding another taxi cab. He replied with “ok ok” and took the 800 and left to fill up the car. (Which by the way they fill the car up by lifting the hood and filling through the engine.) His girlfriend and I sat in silence, her English was not so good and my Thai was worse.  My cabbie returned after 5 minutes or he had treats for his girlfriend and away we went.  He assured me he knew exactly where we were going.  We turned out onto the main road and he stepped on the gas.  I noticed a couple of things, first, if the car in front of him put on his brakes, he did not apply the brake. He continued to drive at his pace and just swerved moments before hitting the car in front of him.  Second he drove straddling two lanes almost the entire time. Both of these actions made me look for my seat belt.  When I found the belt there was no receptacle to click it into.  It was at that moment that all traffic slowed, there had been an accident, two cabs and a Honda.  My Cabbie just giggled “heeehehee two taxis” and sped off. If I had thought he had been driving recklessly before, I hadn’t seen anything yet.  After we passed the accident he turned up the radio, munched on one of his snacks, chatted with his girlfriend, mashed the gas, swerved with traffic and smoked a cigarette. I gripped the edge of my seat a little tighter.   He asked me for the sheet of paper with my hotel on it.  He pulled out his cellphone (while still doing all those other things) and called my hotel. He talked back and forth for a minute with them, hung up and said “okay I know where we are going”.    The drive continued as it had for the past 15 minutes, swerving, munching, mashing buttons and accelerating.  I felt slightly better that he might not murder me, but still was concerned that I would not arrive in one piece.  When we got off the highway I noticed that there were very few traffic lights and a lot of intersection similar to roundabouts, except not a roundabout and no traffic light. I do not understand how he knew it was okay to pull out into traffic.  After a few more jukes and jives we pull up to an alley and he says “here we are”.  Skeptically I looked out the window and down the alley, it is dark.  With some squinting I could see the banner of the hotel at the very end.  I got out of the Taxi and was instantly hit with a strong smell that I could only guess was sewage. He hands me my bags, we say our goodbyes and I roll my things toward the banner of my hotel.

Let the adventure begin.