Sunday, July 06, 2014

Thailand Day 1-3: Bangkok, Oriental City...

This begin the biggest adventure trip of my life! Aaron and I still can't believe that we actually got to go and see and do all that we did! The journey to Thailand was long and arduous, but once we were there a new cultural experience and memory was waiting literally around every corner!

Leading up to the departure for our trip, we were a little unsure if we would actually be able to go. Just around a month before we left, there was a military coup in Thailand, where the entire royal family and government officials where stripped of power and the Thai military took over. There were riots and protests all over Thailand, some dangerous and some pretty peaceful. Then there was a curfew input for the Thai citizens in order to squelch any gatherings for political purposes and then just a couple weeks before we left, the US put out a travel warning to Thailand urging tourists to cancel their trip. All the while we had friends who lived in Thailand, who were telling us things were not as bad as they seemed, so we were determined to still go! Then just a week before we left the curfew was lifted, the protest areas were cleared and all seemed really peaceful... whew. So we were off!

Our first day of travel began bright and early! This is one thing Aaron does not enjoy about my travel style... I push us to get up and be at the airport too early. I love travel, but flying and navigating the airport process fills me with unimaginable stress, so I always error on the side of caution... like too much caution. So we arrived the airport and sat for almost 2 hours for our plane at the gate.

When I say that the journey to Thailand was long, it is not just a figure of speech. The flights were in fact LONG... 3 hours from Phoenix to Minneapolis... 11 hours to Tokyo... 7 hours to Bangkok. Once you would get off a long flight, you would get right back onto another one! Since neither of us sleep on planes, we were beyond exhausted. But we arrived in Bangkok and suddenly I had a second wind (or 3rd or 4th or 8th wind).
Those are the faces of exhaustion, but excitement!
We went immediately to bed after being up for almost 24 hours, but did that help us beat the jet lag? no... we were still up at 5a.

Day 1:
We decided to be lazy as much as possible the first day and didn't even really plan on leaving the hotel, but after a lazy breakfast and shower and flipping through Bangkok TV (which had only one english station and it was the news), we were ready to get out and see the city!
Our hotel - The Feung Nakorn Hotel - was amazing and super close to all the temples and sites we were wanting to see. It might not look like much from the street (it is the building behind the red sign in the picture below), but is really is awesome. It has a charming courtyard, which all the rooms face out to, so you don't get a lot of street noise at all.
Feung Nakorn Hotel - right in the heart of historical Bangkok
The coy fish pond next to our breakfast table

our lovely courtyard

Plus they had the most amazing breakfasts! Aaron and I got super use to high protein breakfasts with eggs, veggies, rice and even soup if we wanted it.
They also would have a fun fruit every so often that was popular in Thailand, but not necessarily easy to come by in America. So we got to try rambutan and dragon fruit (which I have had in vitamin water, but never as an actual fruit.
Rambutan - similar to lychee and look like eye balls
Breakfast with dragon fruit
Our first stop in Bangkok was to go see some temples. One thing you should be aware of in Bangkok is that locals are always very helpful in giving direction... however their version of being "helpful" is giving you good directions, but telling you that temples are closed when they aren't and that you should really consider going on a canal tour, which takes you to this "amazing snake farm" that actually sounded horrifying to you. And even tuk-tuk drivers will happily drive you wherever you want to go, but will conveniently mishear you when you take the canal ferry dock, and will instead take you to the docks where the boats will take you on the snake farm tour. So, watch out.

We didn't want to overdo it the first day, so we only went to the Wat Pho to see the Reclining Buddha. It is one of those things that I have really wanted to see because you always hear it in songs or in books and pictures of Bangkok. It is definitely one of the most notable things to see, but I must admit I wasn't expecting much... but, upon walking into the temple where it is held, I was overwhelmed! It is really huge and way bigger than I expected. So much gold!

15m high 
43m long

At the feet of the reclining buddha
The feet of the Reclining Buddha are inlaid with mother-of-pearl and glass mosaics. The detailing is really beautiful.

The rest of the Wat Pho was really beautiful. The depth of detail and ornate decorations is something to behold indeed.

just some of the nearly 400 Buddhas on the grounds
Walking the rows and rows of golden Buddha statues

The spires around the temple are called Chedis

The Wat Pho boasts 91 Chedis around the grounds.
Aaron and the lotus flowers
You may have notices in some of the pictures already that we are drenched in sweat and looking quite tired and ragged... this was a combination of the jet lag setting in around lunch time and the EXTREME heat. It was up near the 90s, which as Phoenix natives we are use to but the amount of humidity in Thailand is literally palpable. The air is so thick! After the first day I learned the valuable lesson to always have tissues in my purse to dab my face and neck with to keep the sweat from running into my eyes. We couldn't drink enough water and stay hydrated.

We left the Wat Pho and made our way through the Saranrom Park to get some shade. It is really a lovely park, but I was not prepared for some of the wildlife... as we strolled along the sidewalks, we came upon this "little" fellow just free to roam as we were!
This guy may look like a komodo dragon, but he is actually just a monitor lizard, which are not dangerous to people.
The lizard was about the size of a small dog, which is just too big for a reptile in my opinion
We sat and relaxed in the park to take breaks from walking in the heat and just enjoyed the scenery.

Temples are definitely around every corner in Bangkok, the more famous ones cost to get in, but some are free and open for anyone to come in and wander around. The temple right next door to our hotel is the Wat Ratchabophit.

So much detail

contemplating the architecture

As we wandered around the temple, a storm began to roll in, which made for an awesome backdrop to all the gold
 We left the temple and made it back to our hotel room just as the thunderstorm set in! It was perfect timing and since we were so exhausted, we welcomed the beautiful rain! However it was also around this time that the culture shock and exhaustion set in and I had a bit of a breakdown. I also also very hungry, so that was probably more the issue.
Our hotel had a great open air restaurant right in the lobby, so most of our meals were there. Fun fact about Bangkok streets... they smell a lot like human excrement. Seriously. Bangkok also offers a lot of street food, but none of it really looked appetizing. Seeing meat hanging from a street cart, surrounded by flies and smelling the pungent aroma around you, I had decided I would probably just go vegetarian for the whole trip. I was not keen on trying any meat, even from a restaurant. So for our first dinner in Thailand, I stuck with Stir Fry Veggies in Oyster Sauce. It was actually an excellent choice because it was so delicious!

Surprisingly enough, Aaron was not culture shocked at all and was handling the language barrier, food, and everything in stride! I think he had over prepared himself for the new experiences, and I think I was a little to confident in my travel experience, that I had not prepared myself enough. Aaron also loves Thai food and always had and so he took to everything like a fish to water.

Our first day was definitely already full of experiences, but we were ready for bed and sleep and to start afresh the next day!

Day 2:
We woke up refreshed and ready for day 2! On our itinerary was the Grand Palace, the Wat Arun, and Kao San Road!

First stop was the Grand Palace and this was definitely our favorite thing we saw in Bangkok! The palace was so vast and beautiful. It is also home to the Emerald Buddha

The Emerald Buddha is housed in this building, unfortunately no pictures allowed inside

Love the combination of European Colonial and Thai architecture

more Buddha statues

these statues made me a little uneasy but they are also kind of entertaining
From the Grand Palace we hopped on our first... and last Tuk Tuk ride. As I said previously he did not take us where we wanted to go (which was the ferry to the Wat Arun), but instead the the boat docks for the snake farm. But the actual ride was really fun!

Some of the canals around Bangkok
Our last temple of Bangkok was the Wat Arun, which stands along the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Wat Arun from across the Chao Phraya River

Riding the Ferry across the River

Posing with the stone guards

view from the first level of the Wat Arun
You cannot actually go into the Wat Arun, it is mainly for wandering around the grounds and climbing up the outside of the temple for some great city views. However, the stairs are steepest I have every climbed and as someone who is afraid of falling and standing on the edge of a steep cliff, this was a stress of my courage. I made it up to the first level and was quite content to take in the city views. You can see the Wat Pho and the Grand Palace just right across the river. Aaron was daring enough to climb to the top level, which had stairs that literally had to climb almost like a ladder.

Climbing to the steep steps to the top level.

Hello, Aaron!

 We climbed back down the stairs and looked around and the other golden Buddha statues, lotus flower shrines, and some touristy trinkets for sale and then we were ready for a rest at our hotel!

beautiful painted stone. I can imagine what it looked like when it was first built and the paint was still vibrant

Back at the hotel, I had finally worked up the courage to try some meat. So I went the safe Thailand food route and had Pad Thai! Totally beginners Thai cuisine, but so delicious! Eating thai food in Thailand is just a million times better!

Delicious Pad Thai!

We also got ice cold soda in glass bottles with our meal! Thai Sprite and Thai Coca Cola

I admit that we totally fell asleep in our hotel room after dinner for a couple of hours starting at around 5p. Not a wise choice for the jet lag, so when we woke up, we pushed ourselves to walk down to Kao San Road! This is the backpackers Mecca for Thailand. Filled to the brim with young college students and gap year kids who are wanting the cheapest Thai beer and the cheapest Thai Souvenirs! Oh look they even have a KFC... you're welcome Thailand, this is apparently the best american restaurant we could franchise for you.

I totally found some cool cheap clothes along the street and we totally enjoyed seeing the sites, the many street food vendors and Thai foot massage places. We were also thankful that were staying far away from the big tourist areas.

Day 3:
This was definitely my highlight of our time in Bangkok, which is ironic because we left the city this day and took in a day tour to Ayuthaya, which is the ancient capitol of Siam north of Bangkok. It was a full day tour with stops at the summer palace of the Thai Royal Family (Bang-Pa-In), the Ayutthaya ruins, and then a cruise home with dinner along the Chao Phraya River through downtown Bangkok.

Our first stop was the summer palace, which was really beautiful! A lot of the architecture for this estate was a fun combination of Thai and western colonial. The gardens were gorgeous and the lakes and ponds were perfect! It was also much better weather being outside the main city.
The summer palace has a strict dress code and sadly I forgot to grab my shawl before we left, so I had to borrow a "lovely" Hawaiian style shirt like a true ignorant tourist! Hence the little pictures of me at the palace.

I have never looked more like a tourist
The little building below is where the royal family will take their mid morning tea. They hop in a little boat to take them out to the man-made island and enjoy their tiny private tea house. How charming!

garden hedges... not really sure what they are supposed to be exactly

inside the carriage room
On the grounds there is also a Chinese style building. I can't quite remember why it is there, but the inside is quite impressive and ornate. They even have a tile floor where each 3"x3" tile is hand painted so no two are the exact same.

intricate interior 
hand painted tile floor

After we left Bang-Pa-In, we stopped for some smoothies and treats (we picked a mangosteen smoothie, with a fresh mangosteen to go along with it) and then continues on the the Ruins of Ayuthaya.
enjoying our mangosteen smoothie on the bus!
Next stop was Ayuthaya! I am such a sucker for ruined cities and crumbled brick, so Ayuthaya was absolutely gorgeous!

The most famous site in Ayuthaya is the Buddha in the Banyan tree root. The head of the Buddha apparently fell off its statue and landed at the foot of the Banyan tree, where the tree just grew around it. It is really a fun photo op.

After seeing the Buddha head, we just wandered around the city and took in all the many ruined temples, buildings and shrines.

After doing a loop around the site, we got on the bus and headed over to the outdoor reclining Buddha and had a chance to wander some of the tourist souvenir stands. Aaron was thirsty and got a fresh coconut to snack on.

surprisingly enough, I liked this reclining Buddha was than the big gold one at the Wat Pho
 After this short stop, we took a brief break at a temple nearby and got some history of the temple along with a chance to be blessed by a Buddhist monk and receive a white threat bracelet of peace.

Next came an awesome float down the Chao Phraya river back to Bangkok while enjoying an awesome dinner! Seriously the food was awesome and it was so lovely to relax on a boat taking in the scenery along the river. It was about a 3 hours trip home,  but between eating and sitting out on the deck relaxing, it didn't seem that long at all. We also got a chance to chat with some girls from England who were traveling through Thailand on their gap year. Then Aaron and I retired to the deck and sat on the edge enjoying the sites.

our seats on the deck

my hot husband!

If you have seen The Hangover 2, you might recognize the Sky Bar

Wat Arun from the cruise

the Grand Palace from the cruise
From where the boat docked we took a cab back to our hotel through China Town in downtown Bangkok.

We made it safely back to our hotel and had already had a full day, but it was too early to completely turn in, so we headed over to the flower market that we had heard about. It was actually so fun! We got some food from a street kart and woman who couldn't understand English. We were able to point to the things we wanted her to add to our stir fry. It was so delicious and fresh, but it was the most spice thing I have ever eaten. Aaron got his even spicier, so needless to say we were both out of our element with the food. It was so yummy though.

The best thing about the flower market is that they have so many amazingly beautiful flowers and they are all insanely inexpensive. Seriously 3 dozen roses would have only cost $1 USD. The worst thing about the market is that I had no reason to buy such beautiful flowers and wanted to so bad!

The flower market was also insanely crowded, but so fun to experience. It was a great way to end out time in Bangkok and needless to say, we were ready to move on to a new city! Next up: Chiang Mai!

No comments: