Monday, December 14, 2009

Bangkok - Outside the City

For Day 3, we elected to take a tour out to the floating market about 2 hours west of Bangkok. We (really me) are not normally tour people, but we did this a few times on this trip. First, we couldn't rent a car (you need an international drivers permit, which I don't have) and you learn more about the people, the area, etc. since we had a guide. I think we could manage the navigation (we figured out Ireland after all) but getting in/out of Bangkok would have been a nightmare with the traffic and all of the maniacs on the road. This was much more enjoyable.

So we hopped in a van and headed west. Specifically, we went to Damnoen Saduak. Once out there, we jump in another long tail boat for a trip through the canals. Once at the market itself, we switch over to a small paddle boat to maneuver through the market. There are really two different parts of the market - the people floating in small boats (usually fruit or food or souvenirs) and the stalls on the sides of the canal. If you want something, your boat either moves over to what you want or they pass it across the boats (kind of like buying a hotdog at a baseball game back home).

I say that because a good portion of the time is spent wedged into a traffic jam of long tail boats (with engines going and props being raised and lowered in the water) and paddle boats trying to push through. Like many things, it would have been a lot better with 50% of the people, but you get through it. We tried a couple of things - some spice Thai pancake things, a pomelo (kind of like a grapefruit) and I had some sweet sticky rice with the best mango ever - all right off the boats. Walking through the market later, we were stopped by a fruit lady ended up trying all sorts of crazy Thai fruits like rambutan, lychee, jackfruit, and longan among some other stuff. But no durian as it was not in season. We ended up buying a kilogram of it just because she was so nice. I hope the people in the hotel enjoyed when we left it there (as we went to Cambodia the next day).

After the time at the market, we spent some time walking around the market and buying more stuff we didn't need (a recurring theme of the trip). After the market, we stopped at another temple (or "wat"). It was big and famous and frankly I don't remember the name - wat fatigue had already set in - there are thousands of temples in Thailand and they are all big and beautifully decorated. Despite that, they all start to look the same after a while.

The next day, we headed off to Cambodia and Angkor Wat.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bangkok - Where does Pier 1 get their stuff?

Frankly, there is not a whole lot to report from Day 2 in Bangkok. We spent most of the day at the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's kind of difficult to describe and we didn't take a lot of pics. Wikipedia says it has over 5,000 stalls and receives 200,000-300,000 each day it is open. Based on what we saw, that's probably about right.

They really have all sorts of stuff there - furniture, clothes, paintings, ceramics, housewares, pets (probably the quintessential definition of puppy mills), jewelry, antiques, etc, etc, etc. It's pretty much a certainty that anything you have ever seen in a Pier 1 is sold there at about 10% of the cost. But it's a very cool place to spend a day walking around and we bought a bunch of stuff that we didn't need.

We finished off Day 2 with a trip to the Sky Bar - not your normal roof top bar and probably one of the most incredible places I have ever been. It is an open air bar located at the top of a 65 story building. The only thing separating you from the express trip to the bottom of the building is a 3.5 foot railing - if you hop over that rail that you see in the pics you are off the side of the building. I don't normally have a height thing, but when you come out of the building onto the terrace it is really hard to believe how "open" it is. There is no way you could build something like this in the US. Anyway, we spent some time there and had a few expensive cocktails (felt like we were back in Tokyo) and met some interesting guys from Germany (who had a much different Bangkok experience than we did) and enjoyed the view.

Bangkok - Do Not Trust Wily Strangers

First, we feel like we owe everybody an apology for not updating this in a while... it's been a busy couple of weeks since we got back from Thailand, mainly Thanksgiving make-up (something else we probably need to address) and a series of visitors (shout-out to Todd & Tammy and Sandy and Katherine). Jenn is down in Hiroshima/Kyoto with them this weekend so I thought I would spend a little time on the blog and get some pics loaded. I'm breaking the trip up into parts to make it easier to read (and easier for met get through).

The trip kicked off with a 7 hour flight to Bangkok (reinforcing the fact that Tokyo really isn't close to anything) on Thursday night and got going on Friday morning with a long-tail water taxi ride on the Chao Phraya River (which cuts through Bangkok) to the Grand Palace. The long tail boats are interesting - long boats made out of teak wood with car motors mounted on the back with a long shaft running to the water. The motors are mounted on a pivot for steering and to control the pitch of the prop in the water (i.e., trim). The first one we were in seemed like it was going to shatter each time we hit wake, but the rest were in pretty good shape.

"Do not trust wily strangers" is from the sign on the wall of the Palace (in the pics below). There were really only two times we felt like people were trying to take advantage of us on this whole trip and the first was here. Basically anytime a cab or tuk-tuk driver (little motorcyle taxis) saw you looking at a map, they would offer to "help." The "help" usually consisted of telling you that wherever you wanted to go was closed for some unplanned reason, but they knew somewhere better that you should go see and they could take you there. It was really pretty irritating, but fortunately we were warned by several people about this. I'll save the second story for later in the trip.

The Grand Palace is contains various temples that have been built by kings over the centuries, many containing Buddha relics (which are apparently spread all over Asia since there are Buddha relics at some of the places we have been in Japan). The place is really incredible - very opulent with colored tile and gold leaf everywhere. It's also known for its murals (one of the longest in the world) and Wat Phra Keo or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It's really Jade, but at 31 inches tall it is pretty amazing. The covering on the statue in the pic is a kind of robe - there is different clothing for each of the four seasons. This winter outfit went on just before we got there. This temple is used exclusively by the king.

After that, we headed for Wat Po (The Temple of the Reclining Buddha) after being told on the way it was closed. This is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok and it has to be large because the Buddha is enormous (hopefully the pics give you some sense of the scale).

After that, across the river on a water taxi to Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn). This temple was impressive for a few reasons... it's right on the river and had great views of the city. Second all of the color you see in the pics is from ceramics - either whole or broken pieces of pottery (re-used bowls, plates, etc.). The central prang (or tower) is 282 feet tall.

Finally, we capped the day off with a long-tail boat ride through the canals west of the city. These canals apparently used to be all over the city, but they are slowly being filled in as the city continues to sprawl. It was interesting to see such a different way of living.

We found us a good place for dinner that night (the food was cheap and fantastic the entire trip) and called it a day. Here are some more pics from the day...