Temples, boats, bikes, trains and busy streets!
03.13.2015 - 03.17.2015
At some point, I will finish our blog from our Central and South America trip (from 2009!), but for now, want to make sure I get some of the details down from our most recent adventures in SE Asia. Tara and I were lucky enough (and worked hard enough) to have enough PTO for 21 days on the ground and away from home, which we spent in Bangkok, Siem Reap and Vietnam. I can't believe how much we did in 3 short weeks, nor can I believe how much I learned!
We arrived after a 20-hour trip (in the middle of which, I thought Tara was going to lose it - we landed in Tokyo after a 10-hour flight, just to get onto another plan for 8 hours), and luckily landed late at night, so were able to go straight to bed. We booked an AirBnB in a more residential neighborhood of Bangkok, which we loved - close to a boat taxi pier and a skytrain station, and with access to a pool at the condo next door. If you're ever in Bangkok and need a place to stay, check it out: Sujira's AirBnB.
Our first day started with a little bit of wandering and sight seeing to get acquainted with some of the busy city. Fist mission: Thai iced tea (which was easily found at a 7-eleven, and was cheap!). We then jumped on a boat taxi to ride up the Chao Phraya River to the area where most of the temples are, as well as the backpackers area.
We had our first breakfast (curry!) and made our way to Velo Thailand, a bike tour company a clerk from New Seasons in Portland had recommended to book a night bike ride through BKK. You know, we like to start a vacation off right! We booked our tour, then headed back to the temples. We totally overdid it, and walked too long in too much heat without enough food, but it was all still quite beautiful (if not swamped with other tourists). The travel books are right - go at lunch time when the big groups are off eating lunch with their tour groups. Here are some pictures from the Grand Temple. Oh, and as a side note, Tara is in a skirt because it's required - no shoulders or knees allowed!
After resting and re-fueling, we jumped on bikes for our 4-hour night bike tour. We rode through (mostly) quiet city streets to make our way over a bridge, past free/public aerobics under the bridge, less-visited temples, through communities built in the Klongs of Thonburi (canals), stopping at Wat Arun and Wat Pho, and to a night flower market! The ride through Thonburi was a highlight - the paths are quite narrow, don't always have barriers between you and the canals, and there were a lot of locals hanging out in the narrow alleys visiting with families or neighbors across the path from them. We got a lot of high fives from young boys as we rode past on our bikes! Riding through Bangkok city traffic at night on a bike was also exciting, and only one of the people in our small group got in a (minor) mishap when she clipped a car's sideview mirror. I also loved the night flower market - it took up a full block and was full of amazing sights and smells. 2-3 dozen roses cost less than $2 and I've never seen so many orchids in my life. Needless to say, we were exhausted, my ass was quite sore, and we had an amazing time!
And that was just Day #1...
The next day started off with a long tail boat tour of the Klongs from the water, and to a floating market. We loved seeing the homes we had rode past by bike the prior evening from the water. The canal system used to be the only way in and out of the Klongs for the locals, and everyone used to travel in and out by boat, following "street" signs that marked address on the canals, but a lot of the canals have been blocked, so it's mostly used for tourism, and the community is able to reach their homes by bike or motor bike on narrow paths.
The Taling Chan Floating Market was crammed with locals and tourists alike, and Tara found some of her favorite dishes, including snake and baby turtles...
It's more of a land market, with some boats tied up to it that acts as free floating restaurants, but it was still fun to walk around and see all the meals, snacks and trinkets on sale, and it was fun getting out there on a long tail boat. There is a huge cat fish population in the canals, and lots of kids and tourists feed them at the market to see them swarm.
And our boat drive was quite awesome!
After that, we went back to Wat Pho to see the ginormous reclining Buddha. Reclining Buddhas can be found in a lot of temples, but this one is huge, measuring at 43 meters long. My favorite part were the carved foot/toe prints.
There were also prayer bowls you drop small coins into all along one wall, and the sound inside the temple was amazing. When you were done, you had to return your wrap (used to stay decent in the temple) into a bin, and there was an itty bitty helping her family collect the baskets of returned garb. The outside of Wat Pho was just as beautiful during the day, and Tara particularly liked the dude with the smirk guarding one of the temples.
We did some reclining of our own after that at a riverside restaurant and had a spicy fruit and prawn salad, more curry, and Tom Kai Ga. Yum!
We spent most of our 3rd full, and last, day visiting the Ayutthaya ruins, about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok. We found our way to the minibus stop via Skytrain, thanks to excellent directions found online. This is the stop at Victory Monument (where most of the political, and often violent, protests happen in Bangkok), which is a like a small city in and of itself.. Once we found the minibus stop, Tara was sternly told where to sit to wait for the ride - she complied.
We hired a Tuk Tuk to drive us to the ruins, which were all so different and breath taking. Our Tuk Tuk driver was also awesome. He wasn't really a guide, but made sure to make sure we knew which ruins we had to pay to see, to keep ourselves and our stuff safe, and where to go. He was one of our favorites! The Buddha enveloped in the tree roots at Wat Mahathat, an icon of Thailand, was very cool. We also really like this monastery, Wat Phukhao Thong or the “Monastery of the Golden Mount.” We didn't realize it, but when we got up to the main level (up all of those stairs!), there was actually a temple buried in the middle of the monastery with a shrine, but you had to go down a dark, tiny tunnel to get to it. The moment Tara and I discussed whether or not we should go in (there were no signs, no other people at the Wat) was quintessential of how Tara and I approach life. Me: "I'm just afraid there is a monk in there that we will offend by going in without proper clothing." Tara: "I'm afraid there are robbers in there." No monks, no robbers, just a shrine! I particularly like the Buddhas that were draped in gold material - the old carvings contrasted with the glimmering material was beautiful. The rest of the ruins were as equally amazing, as well as tall with lots of steps, but the resident dog didn't have any trouble running up and around on the ledges! And one last picture of me peeking out from the Bougainvillea, just for my mom.
That hot, sweaty day ended with late lunch and early dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the shopping and gay district in Bangkok, right under the Skytrain. We were ready for something that was like Western food, and while it wasn't California Mexican cuisine, it was still quite good! We got back to our AirBnB that night, and although intended to go out again, never made it past packing to leave for Cambodia, and a nap on the couch.
All in all, Bangkok was fantastic, and we'd love to go back to see more of Thailand some day! Just not enough time this visit! On to Cambodia!