Thanks for reading!

We had an amazing trip in Thailand in August - here are some highlights.
If you have any questions about our trip , please email me ( We'd love to hear about your travels too - or any ideas you have about where we should go next!

Some tips on reading the travel log: "I" is usually Juliana, except for Ty's two entries (which are labeled).

We entered these backwards, so you can read straight down to move through the trip chronologically. No backscrolling!

Ignore the posting dates - go by the dates in the title.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

8/19 Thursday: Ayutthaya, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Sure enough, we woke up much cheerier and more optimistic about Ayutthaya, and ready to start a new kind of adventure: bicycling around town and through the ruins! We rented single-gear cruiser bikes which had only the suggestion of brakes – much noise but no real stopping, and bravely set out on the wrong (er...left) side of the road and into Thai traffic. Mostly we could ride on sidestreets and walking paths (they really don't qualify to be called sidewalks), but did have to negotiate some driving circles, large intersections, and major roads. Fun times!

(Thai "sidewalks")

We had tried to get an early start to beat the heat, humidity and crowds, but didn't get out the door until around 9am. It was still a pretty lovely day overall, so the morning was quite nice. We had the first blue sky day all trip (besides Koh Samui, which doesn't count since its an island!). In fact, it stayed blue and beautiful until recently – now back in our room resting before dinner, its pouring rain and thundering right overhead – but we didn't even notice the clouds accumulate while we were showering the long day away!

We biked to the ruins furthest from our guest house, with the intention of working our way back. These were only about a mile away from our lodging, and turned to be the largest complex. The ruins were breathtaking. Despite the repetition (they are all varations on a pile of brick rubble), we found them fascinating to walk through. Behind this first ruined wat were the foundation walls of the old royal palace. All of these grand and flourishing buildings were destroyed by the invading Burmese army in 1767. Prior to that, Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand for 400+ years, from around the time of 1350 AD. 33 kings had reigned over this capital before the fall. When the Burmese king came to visit a few years ago on a peace-building mission, local Thais were said to have cleaned up ruins so that he would not feel as guilty about the destruction (although we wondered if perhaps they were saving face and minimizing the damage for pride's sake as well?)

I have a serious love of ruins, and this was the first time I got to explore any with Ty. To my delight, he enjoyed them also, and sometimes spent more time than me imagining their former glory or investigating the purposes behind what remains we could see. We initially walked hesitantly around the giant stupas and prangs, minding the signs not to crawl on the ruins. Even simple base structures once held Buddhas, and were therefore sacred. Many beheaded Buddhas remain, and these are also to be treated with the same utmost respect as an intact statue (Buddhists believe the image or statue of Buddha is a direct connection to him and therefore holy). Ty did break from his normal serious respect by jumping up behind one headless buddha so that I could take a picture with his head replacing the missing head. :)

(look for Ty posing as Buddha's head)

Otherwise, we were very careful – until we saw dozens of school children (Ayutthaya has more schools than ruins - we think it is a boarding school center for the country!) racing each other up the steps of the 3 large chedis that are the center of this site. After they had their fill, we decided to climb up as well – it turns out that as long as a Buddha was not involved, and the area is fairly strong still (not crumbling), Thais will let you wander all over their ruins! Rome can't compete in this department.

The palaces and temples must have been amazing. They were huge, and apparently tall, and although we saw mostly the underlying brick, they were once covered with detailed and ornate plaster. Bits and pieces remained at all of the sites we visited. Given the relative quiet in the morning, it was easy to imagine color and finery on top of the crumbling red bricks, to hear the noises and bustle of court life, and then the screams and panic as the Burmese invaded and lit fire to all of this grandeur.

We were passed on the street by the royal elephants – kept nearby for formal events and demonstrations. When not parading for the king, they are available for tourists to ride on, in their full regal gear. We did not ride, as a basket seemed aloof and unkind after our neck-hugging experiences in Chiang Mai, but did marvel at the magesty the animals presented when gilded in red and gold tassles. One elephant was painted pink (apparently pink elephants DO go on parade!) and later we also saw one painted blue. They seemed well cared for but it was sad to watch their giant padding feet scrunch on top of pavement and brick, when we had ridden them through soft mud and grasses.

(pink elephants on parade!)

(and blue ones too!)

We visited several ruins with the more Khmer (Cambodian) style prangs (longer, taller, more ornate chedis), all near by. These complexes are very similar to Angor Wat, which we did not have time to visit, although set mid-city. Ayutthaya is small, at least in this old part of town, but given how moving and surreal these ruins were, it must be amazing to wander amongst the acres and acres of ruins at Angor Wat, which are even more quiet, and in a more jungly area.

(Khmer style ruins and happy ruin-hoppers)

One of the complexes has a beautiful head of a Buddha which was separated from its body, and over time a strangler-fig type plant has grown all around it, cradling the face and making quite the tourist photo spot. The head is fairly close to the ground, and custom holds that you must keep your head lower than Buddha's out of respect. While this is difficult to enforce most of the time, it was enforced for the photos at Wat Mahathat, so we had to crouch very low beneath the strangler-fig's Buddha head.

(keeping our head lower than Buddha's head)

The current custom of cramming as many Buddha statues into a temple as possible seems to go back very far in Thai history. The ruins were filled with statues in various states of disrepair – missing heads, arms, or even only the lotus-style meditating feet or lap remaining. We wondered if the Burmese were Buddhist when they invaded, if they had any qualms about desecrating these holy artifacts (or if they were considered holy to the invaders). We wondered, if the statues were a direct link to Buddha, would modern Thais cringe at the ravaged but still holy remains?

(grateful for my head amidst many headless Buddhas)

We thought we would be done bicycling by 11 or even 1pm, but continued on until 3pm. The lower heat and somewhat lower humidity allowed us to press on. We had a great noodle bowl lunch at a tiny shack behind a monestary – apparently they don't get many tourists down this little soi (lane) as it seemed a big deal and very funny to have us there. We gestured for food and hoped we'd get something we could stomach – it was fantastic and only 50 baht for 2 bowls and a giant cold pepsi – less than US$2! The 14 year old “waiter” was very excited to say “thank you” to us- and said it 5 or 6 times, giggling to his friends every time. The matronly cook didn't seem interested in us but accepted our thanks and smiled genuinely when I rubbed my stomach to say we were full and happy.

(giant pepsi and mystery noodle dish - delish!)

Towards the end of the day, we biked farther west and found the giant reclining Buddha. It was approximately 100 feet long, 20 feet tall, smiling, and exposed to the elements in front of some other ruins. We wondered why he wasn't destroyed by the Burmese – perhaps he was built after the sacking of the city. These sorts of details aren't available – none are really. Sometimes we are lucky to get a sentence or two at each site in English saying the year built and by which king – which means little to us but is better than nothing.

I love the Buddhas that are outdoors- not many are. I find them more inspiring – you can get such a better sense of their size and grandeur when they are not pressing up against a roof.

(I want to visit his pedicurist!)

We continued on to find a few more wats, and took an alley road to check out some infrastructure Ty wanted to investigate. Adjacent to this Thai stormwater pumpstation (very exciting for Ty), was a ricketing bridge over a large canal. Local kids were jumping off the bridge and swimming beneath, and having a great time. Across the bridge was another wat, we investigated that but found the kids more interesting. They had caught some siamese fighting fish in a bucket and would probably take them home to bet on the fights later. We also saw a tourist couple taking a boat ride up the canals for sightseeing – which we had asked about but had been told wasn't possible Mae pen rae, eh?

By now I was really sunburnt (again, but in new places), and the heat and humidity were getting to me – it was after 3pm and the hottest time of the day. We headed home and I realized how tired I was as the bike became harder to negotiate across the busy streets and built-in hurdles. The tricky thing about traveling like this is that you don't recognize your boundaries until you have crossed them. Because you are hot and humid from the start, its easy to not realize how dehydrated you are. Because you are constantly taking in the sights, sounds, smells, obstacles, decisions, risks, and corrections for earlier decisions, you don't realize when you are tired. Ty has taken to laughing when I hit my proverbial wall, because I slam into it full force and am equally surprised and useless after impact. I am just glad he can laugh and doesn't seem to hit his as hard (or perhaps not quite at the same time).

We've just spent a good hour lounging in our luxurious AC and listening to a fantastic storm outside. The rain has let up, so it's time for dinner on the river again. We'd hoped to go out to a wat outside of town which is reportedly the place to be at sunset, but with the storm, the timing might be off. We may also walk back to the closests ruins after dark to see them lit up – or maybe we'll just come back and sleep!

(view from our room during an afternoon storm)

We walked a long ways to dinner on another river (old Ayutthaya is surrounded on 4 sides by 3 rivers), hoping a tuk tuk would stop to take us to the wat outside of town for sunset. Apparently the tuk tuks go home when the big tour buses go home – we didn't see one for the rest of the night. Due to the late storm, the sunset was lackluster anyways – we enjoyed what little of it there was from the deck of our great dinner place – an old house converted to a restaurant right on the River Pasak. The house was all teak, with beautiful tile floors and a big porch. When originally built, the back of the house on the river was the front door, as all traffic came by water. A few guests tonite even arrived by boat – again the taxi/tour boats we had been hunting for. Another wat was across the way, and beautiful clumps of water hyacinth floated by all night. It was nice to enjoy the hyacinth in its natural habitat, since usually I am cursing it for taking over our California water ways and destroying the ecoystems. We ate great food – atlhoguh when Ty ordered a dish called “extra hot red curry chicken”, the kitchen must have toned it down for him – it wasn't spicy at all! This after 5 minutes of debate about wasting food if he couldn't eat it for the spice, or paying the price later on...for nothing! At least he tried. we had tasty desserts too – coconut ice cream (which is all vanilla and very little coconut! But very rich), and “banana samosas” which are pieces of banana wrapped and fried in wonton type wrappers, then dusted with cinnamon – yum!

(Ty's "spicy" dinner at our restaurant on the river)

We walked another really long way to a market (closed) on the way to the lit up ruins (not so lit up). We saw other parts of town, including a large avenue with special lights that dripped like giant blue raindrops. We passed store after store of internet gaming stations, full of young thai men (and a few women and expats) playing video games. We'd hoped to check email and contact people but thought the computers weren't really available for that!

(ruins at night)

We wandered around the ancient wat complexes in the dark, trying not to think about cockroaches and muck and rotting food (the streets were pretty clean but a few branches across the foot in the dark and we were convinced otherwise!). We got pretty tired, but did enjoy the few wats lit up, and actually even the ones that weren't, as there was a pretty decent moon out. We made the long trek home and into the shower before bed. We will try to bike to the sunset wat for sunrise (it is oriented east-west, so good for sunsets...which in theory makes it good for sunrise, I think?) and one other nice wat on the east side of town (we were in the north and west sides today), if we can get ourselves out of bed at the ambitious pre-7am hour we intend to. Then it's packing and off to Bangkok for our last 2 days!

8/20 Friday: Ayutthaya and Bangkok

We did in fact wake up early and get on our bikes at 7am, but sadly it was already hot and humid, despite our best efforts to beat the weather. The first few blocks were fine, very quiet and pretty in the early morning light. Then we hit the main road – and realized we didn't account for rush hour in our plans to bike to the outskirts of town! There is a large overpass over train tracks and the river, which has 4-7 lanes in each direction, which split across 3 bridges and into some on/off ramps at each side of the overpass. We couldn't find a pedestrian walkway or sidewalk, so had to bike in the far left lane with the cars and scooters! Our little one-speed cruisers going uphill in crazy morning Thailand traffic was a wild ride – and really the first time I felt fear on this trip. We had no helmets and no idea what we were doing – but as always, the Thai drivers worked their way around us and we made it across fine. Next up was crossing several sides of a large driving circle, but at least here we had pedestrians to fall in line with.

(our crazy biking-in-traffic experience - biking in Davis does not prepare you for this!)

We then traveled south of the city on a large but not-as-busy road until we reached the old wat. Sunrise was quiet but did exist and we got to see a little of it from the top story of this very tall, very old wat. It was unusual to find so many buddhas with their heads attached! The grounds turned out to be an active monastary, and in my early morning sleepiness I had forgotten to wear or bring long sleeves. The first tourists to arrive were all modestly dressed and I quickly felt out of place. I tried to hide near a tree while Ty went into the main hall, but we left pretty quickly so as not to offend anyone.

(it's early enough for sunrise, I just almost died on a bike, and I am not dressed right for the temple. This is a surprisingly good smile considering!)

We continued biking down the road towards the Japanese and Dutch settlements shown on our tourist map – but they turned out to be very expensive to see and contained very little of interest, so we skipped them. We passed a Buddhist cemetery with above-ground graves (or mausoleums, it was hard to tell). Very different than American cemeteries.

(Buddhist cemetery)

On the way back we stopped at an old shipyard filled with beautiful teak Thai boats in various states of disrepair. They were beautiful and grand – houseboat sized boats with huge full hulls, painted eyes on either side of the bow, and various beautiful styles of roofs, doors, window shutters, and latticework. Some of the boats were being repaired, others seem like they had been dry docked for decades or more. All of this for free! We also saw a beautiful marsh bird – something like an egret, some lovely marsh habitat, a peek of a waterfront community across the river, and a litter of adorable furry stray pups and mom. We passed an elderly gentleman and his pet cat, wandering around the boat yard singing to himself and collecting morning glory for cooking (we had eaten some great morning glory with oyster sauce and recognized what he was harvesting).

(thai houseboats)

We had also come across a series of street vendors near a smaller canal crossing filled with bags of fish, eels, and snails. We asked if they were too eat (a little grossed out as the eels swarming in their Ziplocs of water, and the snails covered in mud). The street vendor explained they were for garden ponds, not for dinner!

The bike ride back was horrific – it was now even busier and we were on the other side of the road, which was somehow harder to navigate. We had to cross the exit lanes and could not find our way onto the main overpass because cars were moving so fast. I also got bopped on the head by one of those inflatable advertising socks while trying to avoid a delivery truck! Ty had seen the middle bridge, which was older and smaller, and thought it might be more pedestrian friendly. In circling around trying to find our way onto it, we ran into another tourist on his bike- in trying to talk about our options cross the river, he indicated he was deaf. I was humbled – so much of our safety depended on hearing the traffic coming up behind or alongside us. Here we were feeling brave and daring, and this man was doing everything we were without the benefit of sounds to guide him! A few minutes later we saw him overhead on the center bridge and we set off to follow his path. We found ourselves on the very narrow shoulder of a busy on ramp, and with one of us on each side of the lane of oncoming traffic! We were both so stressed about how to safely get home (and also, more than safety, we were concerned about breaking laws and creating traffic problems!), that we started shouting at one another. It was really the only fight we had on our trip – and I decided no couple could have made it across without some kind of argument. :) It actually was pretty hilarious, since we had to yell across moving traffic to each other (“You didn't wait for me! Why did you take off by yourself?” “Why didn't you follow me, I had a plan!” “but you didn't tell me the plan so how could I know?”) while trying to bike uphill on opposite sides of this narrow bridge full of oncoming cars. Once we were over the top and safely on the other side (with sidewalks! Real ones, that were wide enough and smooth enough to bike on! What a relief!), we both apologized and quickly started laughing at ourselves. Nothing like a sense of escaping death to mend your harsh words. :)

We still somehow overshot our turn and had to make a large circle to get back to our guest house- arriving an hour late for breakfast. The woman running the place laughed at me for having bike grease all over my upper arm. She asked what happened and I had no idea – she said I was like a little kid getting dirty and not knowing how. She had a pretty good laugh at my expense, which made the whole thing seem worthwhile.

(good-bye Luang Chumni Village guest house!)

We let ourselves be talked out of taking a train or bus to Bangkok, based on how rough the last train ride was, the cost of going second class to get air conditioning, and our crazy morning on the bikes. Our tuk tuk driver, who was going to take us to the station, of course also ran a private taxi and offered to drive us to Bangkok – she would just need to drive the tuk tuk home to get the car. Our guest house manager agreed this was our best, if most expensive option, and we decided US$40 was worth shaving an hour off our drive, getting air conditioning, not having to lug our big bags on another train, and most importantly, not having to figure out how to get from the Bangkok train station to our hotel during Friday traffic. It also ended up pouring rain, so we saved ourselves and all of our stuff some drenching during the several transitions from tuk tuks to trains and back to tuk tuks that we were planning to do.

We piled into the tuk tuk with our luggage, and headed off to the drivers house to get her car for the ride to Bangkok. It turned out someone else in the family was using the taxi car for business that day, so we left the house and met up with the taxi on one of the major streets in Ayutthaya. We swapped cars in the middle of this large street, then drove to the ruins, where the driver's husband was working, as she wanted him to drive us to Bangkok instead of her. About 45 minutes later we finally got on the road – eating up most of the hour we thought we were saving. I started to feel ripped off – it seemed this wouldn't save us time and we might be getting a bad deal. In the end however, I was so glad we took the car – the driver did end up saving us an hour, and as soon as we saw Bangkok spread out in all of it's sprawled, high density, trafficky glory, we were so glad to have someone who knew their way around! Plus, the rain was torrential, and it was amazing to drive into the city (the freeways are elevated so you drive over the city as you come into it) while lightning was flashing, the orangey clouds were swirling, the Chao Praia River was churning, and we were safe in the back of a dry car!

(Rama VIII bridge just before the storm broke over Bangkok)

The driver got us confidently to the main road and even to the little soi (lane) that our next guest house was on. But he was unsure of how to find the guest house and tried to leave us on the corner, in the rain, with all of our luggage. Fortunately Ty saw a sign with the guest house name and pushed the driver to keep trying to find it – i was very proud of his haggling skills! We finally got to the front door, checked in, and used the rain as an excuse to nap for a few hours. It turned out the rain never really stopped but it did let up and the guest house loaned us umbrellas.

(our guest house in Bangkok)

We took our first boat taxi to Wat Arun, which is across the river from the Old Palace and main temple in Bangkok. We climbed the many steep and narrow steps to the midway point up the chedi, and got amazing views over Bangkok and the river. The rain forced us back down- it was really slippery and steep on those stairs! We were there at the end of the day, so we didn't have much time, but the rain and late hour also meant very few other tourists were around. It was a nice way to get a bird's eye feel for the city – at least the small old corner we would be visiting during our short stay.

(old and new Bangkok from Wat Arun)

(Wat Arun has intricately carved details!)

The boat ferries were an interesting experience in and of themselves. First, as you walk down the narrow corridor to the ticket counter, there are 2 counters. The first that you reach is actually the tour group, who blatantly distorts the truth to convince you your only option is their marked up offering. Fortunately, since I had asked the guest house staff what to expect in terms of schedule and costs for the ferries, and the temple's hours, I could smell out the sales pitch and the distortions of truth (if not outright lies) and saw through the scheme. The guest house proprietors were invaluable to us in helping us know what to expect dinner or a tuk tuk to cost, etc, so that we didn't get scammed as easily. What was bothersome is that this sales pitch counter had no signage, no posters and no way to distinguish it from the real government run counter 2 feet away. It was the first counter you had to pass walking through, so it was hard to tell that it was any different than the real counter. And the government-employed, legitimate ferry fare taker was 2 feet from us, listening to the salesperson lie to us, and never made any indication we should be talking to her instead. I realized that the tourism scams in Bangkok were much worse than in other parts of the country – and that this might be why other tourists we talked to seemed so bitter and jaded compared to us. By going directly to Chiang Mai, we missed the prevalence of scams and came to see them as the exception in the big city, instead of a normal part of Thai culture. Of course, we got scammed or potentially scammed in other places as well, but the nature of it was different and it was much less common.

(old city wall and fort near our guest house)

We spent our one night in Bangkok trying to experience the famous backpacking street called Khao San Road. This couple block radius has many cheap hostel-type lodgings and cheap food, and at night the road is (at least theoretically) closed to traffic and turns into a night market and bar scene. We still saw plenty of scooters and a few cars weaving through the pedestrians and street vendors though! When we first started out, being the early birds that we are, there were no people and the vendors were just setting up. We wondered if we had the right place! We finally got hungry enough to just stop and eat, since we couldn't find anything interesting or memorable for our last dinner in Thailand. The Four Brothers lodge and restaurant turned out to have good food on a patio, so we could enjoy the foot traffic with dinner. By the time we left, the streets were more crowded – although since it is low season, I am sure it was a muted scene. It could have been anywhere with a spring break town – Mexico, Miami, etc. There were bars and restaurants all oriented towards the street, with wild lights and music, crusty backpackers and street vendors, young people and even families, all wandering around in the light rain trying to have a storied experience.

(Khao San Road)

We did get some tasty street food – plus a not-so-thai banana-nuttella crepe. We tried to buy more gifts but had the same sad assortment of tourist souvenirs to choose from. The highlight of the night was convincing Ty to get one last foot massage (which really means foot, leg, head and neck massage!) with me before we left. We found a good little place which had some decent ambience (many of them are more like nail salons with fluorescent lights, plastic chairs, and vinyl flooring), and we had a very relaxing hour for about $12 a person!

(note the large clock to keep track of your 1 hour massage- ours went long anyways!)

8/21 Saturday: Bangkok and Heading Home

It was a good thing we planned to get up early and try to see some of Bangkok before we left, since the construction next door to the guest house began at 7:30am, even on Saturday! We had really good Thai breakfast soup (rice, chicken, and broth – very tasty!) for breakfast. The plan was to tour the old city for the morning, then shower, pack up, and head to the airport. I intended to negotiate a late checkout for this to happen. Turns out, another couple was checking into our room for the night, we had to pack before we left for touring around, but we could leave our bags and pay to use the shared shower in another part of the hotel when we got back. This seemed like it would work – but it meant we packed quickly and we later regretted that. We had liquids (including food we intended to share with friends when we got back) in our carry-on, which of course we had to throw away, and good shoes and medicine we wanted on the flight in our checked bags!

(daily life in Bangkok)

We took the boat ferry again, feeling like old pro's on our third trip. The ferries serve as buses – the traffic in Bangkok is so bad that the river is a great and expedient way to get around, at least for parts of town near the water. The boats were very cheap – 14 baht (around 50 cents) per ride, and very crowded with tourists, locals, and monks. As a woman, I can't touch monk without making him unclean – and this was a bit worrisome on the crowded, rolling boat rides! Mostly though everyone gave the monks room out of respect, so they could keep to themselves on all but the busiest rides.

(beautiful boats for tourists, not commuters!)

The city monks are very different than the country monks. In other parts of Thailand, the monks had a very sweet and open, if quiet, demeanor. They made eye contact and even smiled, although they were of course mainly focused on their activity and spiritual disciplines. The younger monks – from 6 to 18, would often be playing and horsing around like normal boys, in 2s and 3s or even larger groups. But here in the city, we saw only adult monks, and they were very aloof. They did not make eye contact, even when we had to go out of our way to pass each other. They did not welcome us to the wats with the subtle but kind head nods we were used too. They seemed to always be in a hurry to get away from the city and back to their temples. Presumably it is harder to live an austere and holy life in a bustling city than in a quiet forest or charming small town. I also read that the Bangkok monks serve more as community liaisons for Buddhism, presiding over rituals and holidays, and managing the busy temple life. Country monks tend to be more of the monastic, contemplative lifestyle.

(monk in the city)

The river was also different here than other cities. This was the grand Chao Phraya, the conglomeration of every other river we had visited, draining all of the north to the Bay of Thailand. It was wide and churning, brown and full of fish and aquatic plants, as well as boats of all types – barges pulled by tug boats (whole long lines of them – one tug pulling 4-10 barges!), long tail outboard motor boats, dinner cruisers, water taxis and other ferries. There is a beautiful modern bridge (Rama VIII bridge) over the river near our guest house, and there are wats and hotels and business buildings, the old palace and other government buildings all up and down the river. It is likened to the Mississippi for its size and commercial use, and to Venice for its banks lined with buildings and its many canals into the city. Diesel from the boat engines pours into the water, as does waste and sewage from the city – yet we saw hundreds of catfish swarming around one pier that was being chummed with bread crusts by locals. It was hard to know that much of the sediment coloring the river was coming down from the beautiful forests around Chiang Mai – no longer held back by tree roots, the deforested areas were being washed into the rivers by heavy rains and running out into the Bay. Likewise the beautiful green plantlife floating along the river is invasive and non-native, sigh!

(The Chao Phraya)

It was hard to say the river was beautiful – but it was impressive. The boats rolled and turn in the waters, but I never got sick. There was no smell to the water (besides the diesel engines of course), and not much trash. It was full of life – both its own currents and the business and tourists that crossed back and forth every minute.

Our attempts to see Bangkok on half a day were mostly a bust – although they made us happy to be heading home. We did love seeing the Reclining Buddha, which was really huge and beautiful. The wat that housed the statue was covered floor to ceiling with tapestry wall paper with scenes of Thailand life in historical style. They ranged from scenes of Buddha's life and religious life for the people, to someone picking his nose, a mother breast-feeding and a peek of a naked couple embracing through an open window. Again, there is so little separation from the divine and the daily life here.

(Reclining Buddha)

(reclining Buddha's mother of pearl feet and temple murals)

The Old Palace was closed to tourists for the morning, for some sort of festival. We were able to make it around the wall of the Palace and into some of the first courtyards, and decided it wouldn't be worth the steep entry fees (350 baht per person, when temple entries were only 50 baht per person!) anyhow. But the area was swarming with tourists, all as surprised as us by the closure, and scamming tour operators trying to make the most of the holiday by sucking us into other pricey trips with them while the Palace was closed. We tried yet again to get gifts at the market, but nothing new emerged and prices had gone up.

Ty was finally successful in sampling “Thai hot” food – a challenge posed by a friend that had eluded us. We had tried several times to get food not watered down for foreigners, and every time the meals came back more bland than the Thai food we ate at home. I guess when you know most tourists can't handle the heat, you learn you'll make more money by lowering the risk of a burnt tongue for your patrons. Sadly, to say one does like spicy is a very subjective thing, so its hard to convince a restaurant to up the heat again. We finally found premade food at a street vendor that was already cooked, and Ty ordered up a spicy plate. It was by far the best food we had eaten there – and I realized why I hadn't liked the Thai food we had been eating like I thought I would.

(note the chili flake on Ty's tongue and the sweat pouring out!)

Thai cuisine is based on balancing several types of flavors in each dish – spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, etc. The spicy is mitigated by the sweet and the pungent, such as basil or cilantro. When the Thais lowered the heat for us tourists, they did not change the amount of sweetness or other flavors in the recipe, they just left the chilies out. Thus, all of the dishes tasted strongly of sugar, or basil, or lemongrass. Once we had a dish with the chilies still in, those flavors became part of a varied palette, instead of the dominant taste. I wish I had realized this earlier in the trip – I would have pushed harder for the chilies! The dish WAS hot – we have a funny photo of Ty's sweating face after he ate it, but if you balanced it with rice it and ate slowly, it wasn't bad. And, we were soaking wet from sweat and humidity anyhow, so what would it matter if we sweat a little more at our meals anyhow?

I was also humbled – I had been rolling my eyes the whole trip at Ty's quest to eat spicy food. I figured the food would be wasted when it was too hot to eat, or I'd have to put up with his upset stomach afterwards! It turns out we were missing out on the best part of Thai cooking, and we wouldn't have realized it if Ty hadn't been obsessed with his goal.

(roof tiles at marble wat)

After lunch we took the ferry upriver from our hotel to try to see a popular marble wat and standing buddha in the neighborhood called Dusit, which is also where the current king and queen reside. We got pretty good and lost coming and going – which would have been fine had we not had a taxi ride to the airport already scheduled a few hours away. We found the current palace during our mysterious trekking, and it was very modern and European. That is to say, it looks a lot like a European palace from around the 1800's. The marble wat was full of people – presumably we had missed the end of the same celebration that closed the Old Palace. It was gaudy and very 1980's kind of marble (not the beautiful marble I had pictured from my trip to Italy!). But as always, we were appeased by unexpected surprises. Inside the wat was a large golden Buddha set with beautiful lights and a lovely blue wall behind it. In the prayer area were many floor fans, encouraging us to rest a bit, and a woman was alone praying with her bags of groceries at piled up. It was a fitting closing visit amongst the many temples we had seen. The buddha was perhaps the most inspiring from an artwork perspective, with the blue relief and fancy backlighting giving a halo to the statue. But the woman praying was the most real-life and humble – stopping in for some real life spiritual needs on her way home from errands. I can't recall seeing anyone praying in American churches with grocery bags in hand!

(groceries, check. prayer, check.)

We got lost again trying to find our standing buddha. We hadn't seen this posture before and weren't quite ready to end our touring – but Ty was feeling light headed and we were loosing time to take a shower before our taxi came, so we got pretty stressed. After wandering down quiet but confusing side streets, we finally circled around to the wat with the standing buddha. He was outside, and 45 meters tall – quite huge! It was hard to believe we couldn't see the statue amongst the buildings as we circled around the neighborhood! We were so tired – both of walking and of seeing buddhas, we decided skip entering the temple and headed back to our hotel for a muggy shower, just in time to catch our cab.

We had read about increased security when we checked in online for our flight, so we got there 3 hours early, only to be whisked through with plenty of time to kill at the airport. Outside of security there are great restaurants which are reasonably priced and cover the spectrum of asian food – thai, sushi, chinese, dim sum. We skipped these on the advice of our check-in counter to get through security first – only to have plenty of time to kill and only a few, far more expensive options at the gates. We did get decent Thai food for dinner, but at exorbitant prices. We laughed at the price of various fruits we had just seen for sale on the streets of Bangkok, marked up 3-6 times in the airport. We had lost some of our souvenir food due to packing liquids in our carry-on (we had bought cans of fruit to bring home packed in liquid), so were very sad and frustrated. We bought some dried fruit instead but it won't be nearly as good.

Our flight to Hong Kong was fine, and our layover there was quiet. HKI is a huge airport and I had horrible blisters – then our gate got changed from one end to another so my blisters got worse! I ended up wearing Ty's extra (read: old and worn out) sneakers with my girly plane outfit, and looked pretty silly. The flight from Hong Kong to SFO was much better than coming out – we had learned the creative positions to sleep in Cathay's horrible plastic chairs. Sadly, I got the traveler bug somewhere in our last hours of travel, and it hit around 8 hours away from SFO. I had a pretty rough flight home and trip to my parents’ house – but fortunately we only had to get as far as Alamo (less than 1 hour from SFO) before we could crash. I am still recovering – but at least it made carrying the Cipro along for 2 weeks worth it!

(heading home - bye Thailand!)

Reflections Back at Home


We had heard stories of reverse culture shock from friends who studied or lived abroad, or who did short term international missions. We weren’t sure two weeks was enough to garner any American culture shock coming home, but sure enough, a few things surprised us:

-seeing blue water, not brown!

-seeing green money

-people talking to themselves (on cell phone headsets)

-not making eye contact with everyone you pass

-flushing our toilet paper!

-how dry and chafed our lips and skin felt in low humidity

-blue skies all day, and no rain in the afternoons

-having to do chores and cook for ourselves again!

The trip was truly amazing. We are still unpacking the memories as we attempt to sort through photos and stories. It’s hard to answer when people ask us for details – only because there are so many! How do you share all of this without going on for an hour? When we first came back, we talked about other places we would like to go next. Generally, we both would rather see something new than return to a place we have been. It’s a big world, and a short life! But the longer I am home, the more I hope I get to return to Thailand. There is so much we didn’t see, and so much I would want to see again!

We also can see a difference in our lives at home because of the trip. We both are trying to move slower, to savor the details about our lives instead of hurrying through it all (although, the busy-ness is winning in that battle currently!). We both want to travel more. But we also learned a lot about depending on each other on this trip. We learned how to communicate and how to put each other’s needs first. It’s a little easier to be selfish back at home, where there are so many conveniences that we forget about taking care of each other. But I think our awareness has broadened and we are enjoying the after-effects of our big adventure!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

4 Cities, 5 Words

While waiting at the airport to fly home, we played a game, which was secretly a deconstructed poem about our trips (shh, don't tell Ty). We each picked 5 words with as little thinking as possible to describe each city/area we had been in, creating something between mad libs, spoken word, and haiku:
a noun,
a verb,
an adjective,
a proper noun (person, place, or thing),
and a free word (any one we wanted).

Chiang Mai - Ty
tuk tuk
Mountain View

Chiang Mai - Juliana
North Gate Jazz CoOp

Koh Samui - Ty

Koh Samui - Juliana

Ayutthaya - Ty

Ayutthaya - Juliana
Rama IV

Bangkok - Ty
Khao San

Bangkok - Juliana
Wat Po

What a way to wrap up an experience! We really liked doing this - try it on your next trip and send us your words! :)