Saturday, March 25, 2017

Observations in Thailand

We are currently in the Chiang Mai airport waiting for our flight to Surat Thani.

We found out more about the late King. At his death on October 13, 2016 he was the longest reigning monarch in the world (70 years). Queen Elizabeth is second at 65 years.

He worked nonstop to make life better for the Thai people and created many programs including one that changed opium growing fields into more healthy and beneficial agricultural areas. People here truly loved him.

Other things in and around Thailand. The poles carrying the phones lines can be crazy, filled to capacity with string after string of wires. Sometimes there are so many they almost reach the ground forming a fence. When a pole is at the centre of four intersecting strings of lines it creates an impenetrable mass of wires.

I've been putting pictures directly onto Facebook because sometimes due to slow internet, I can't get them to load onto the blog....don't ask me why. I will have to update the blog pics later.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 6- Chiang Mai- Dawn with the Priests and Night with the Lady Boys

We rose at 4:30am. Our hostess had given us our breakfast the night before so all we had to do was heat it in the lobby's microwave.

We were picked up at 5:00am by Sipohn from www.untouchedthailand.com and drove for about 40 minutes up a mountain.

As we drove we could see the lights of Chiang Mai far below us. All was still dark when we arrived. We then walked up over 300 steps to Wat Doi Suthep.

My stomach was a bit upset so Sipohn pointed me towards the washrooms. Without closely looking at the sign,  I ran in to one, startling a number of young monks. They were kind enough to direct me to the women's washroom next door. I was glad I carried toilet paper in my purse. Often toilet paper in public washrooms is left outside the individual stalls which can be a problem if you don't realize this until after doing your business in the stall.

We were so delighted to have this tour with Sipohn. John and I were the only ones on the tour and we learned so much from Sipohn who used to be a meditating monk...he also knew all of the other monks. He explained the meanings of many statues, architectural elements, Buddhist concepts and what the day to day life of a monk consists of.

The oldest monk at this temple was 86 and the youngest one 10. We went into a building where older monks chanted and the novice child monks were supposed to be meditating or following in their books. True to nature, most of the young boys were fidgeting and two were poking at each other. 

We watched the dawn from a terrace at the top of the Wat. It was wonderful.

We ran into Lisa and Holly from yesterday's elephant tour. They rented a motor scooter to get up the mountains narrow, windy road. Sipohn cautioned them that it was more dangerous d down the mountain and to be very careful on the way down. 

We next went to some seats where we waited until the monks came. They were in a single file line each holding a bowl for alms. John and I put one food alm in each of their bowls as they passed.

The monks next stood in front of us and chanted a blessing. During the chant, two of the dogs who lived at the temple came between  the monks and started growling at each other. Their anger increased and the growls at became increasingly threatening. Fortunately the blessing ended and the monks forced them apart.

We signed our names on a sash that would later go on one of the big Buddas and also signed our names on a bell which I hung in the temple.

Following the monks out of the Wat, down the long staircase with the serpent railing, we took some pictures with them and two costumed young girls from a nearby village.

Halfway down the mountain we stopped at an ancient temple called Wat Pha Lad. We drove through the gates and past a monk who was cleaning leaves with his leaf blower. This used to be Sipohn's temple when he was a monk. Besides the monks, we were the only people there. It was so peaceful.

I was still feeling weak with my tummy issues but was determined not to miss anything, so we continued on to Wat Umong which had an ancient tunnel. We fed the the catfish and admired the chickens, roosters and chicks.

Our last temple stop was Wat Sri Suphan, which is known for having the only silver sanctuary. We watched monks and workers mold and design silver pieces.

We rested for awhile after being dropped off at our hotel because I was still feeling a bit off.

The late morning and early afternoon was spent wandering around the streets and checking out some of the 300 temples of Old Chiang Mai. We stopped for drinks (non-alcoholic) often, including at a cafe in a beautiful park. On our way back to our hotel we bumped into Luca from Italy who we met on our tour in Bangkok. Small world.

After a rest and a shower it was off to a restaurant on the Mai Ping River for drinks while watching the sunset. Some type of eel kept bobbing his head up near at the edge of the river.

Once it was dark we ended the day by visiting the Night Market located outside the wall to the to east of Old Town. John stopped for Pad Thai and I feasted on plain rice cause (you guessed it) my stomach was still not right. We explored the market stalls that had all kinds of merchandise and clothing. We saw many Ladyboys advertising their burlesque show. They were stunningly gorgeous and I would have never guessed they were men.

Exhausted, we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed back to the hotel for the the night.

I probably won't be blogging for the next few days because we are going into the Lake District and jungle and I'm not sure if there will be Internet or not.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 5- Encounters at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

I finally slept like a log and woke to a chorus of melodic birdsong...and John brushing his teeth.

Our breakfast was beautifully presented with John's rice sculpted into a dolphin shape and mine a flower.

A truck showed up at 8am and we got into the back. After picking up a few others, our party consisted of a couple from Paris, three other people from Toronto, one from Montreal and two from Germany. After awhile in the truck we discovered that two of the women, Celine and Lisa, knew John from work. What are the chances of that?

The last of the road was uphill and windy. Marie from France was feeling very nauseated. I felt a bit queasy as well. Luckily we arrived before anyone lost their stomach.

I researched the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary before we booked. This place is very humane and only allows interactions with the elephants that are natural behavior such as eating and bathing. Their goal is to protect and take care of these animals. Many so called sanctuaries in Thailand force the elephants into doing unnatural behaviors,  such as painting pictures and giving rides, by cutting them with hook knives. Believe it or not, unlike horses, elephants backs are easily damaged by people riding on them. Therefore it's important to support the good sanctuaries.

This whole day was an awesome experience. These elephants are not fenced in and seem very happy. They love to be petted.

Our first interaction was to feed them bananas and sugar cane. They would even try to go into our pockets to get more. It was amazing to be petting these gentle giants while looking into their eye...it was a little difficult to look into both eyes at once.

There was a baby in the herd who was quite mischievous and a little clumsy. A real hoot to watch. He accidentally kicked John a bit in the ankle but it didn't hurt him too much because John was in the process of moving his foot away when it happened.

It was hilarious to see all the elephants amble after one of the handlers that was dragging out a huge bundle of corn stocks. It was just like goldfish gathering to a spot where food has been dropped in.

After a delicious Thai buffet lunch we changed into our bathing suits and fed the elephants the leftover pineapple and watermelon rinds. As with the African elephants, the Asian elephants spend over 18 hours a day eating vegetation. Let's just say, they eat a lot.

Then came bath time. They walked the elephants into a big pond and we joined them. We put mud on them and rubbed their skin. There was a fair bit of throwing mud at each other. At one point one of the handlers pointed one of the elephants trunks at us as she blew out water. Both elephants and humans were covered in water.

The elephants were next brought to a stream where they laid down and we poured bowls of water on them (and each other). We also rinsed ourselves off in the stream or the outside shower.

After a rest, we helped the handlers mash up natural medicine with a huge pestil in a big mortar. The natural medicine consisted of tamarind fruit, banana and rice noodles to help constipated elephants because a constipated elephant is not a happy elephant. I totally understand.

Too soon it was time to head back. We stopped at a roadside bathroom and store. I went into the ladies washroom and it was a crouch one. Not being a flexible person, I decided to hold on until I got back.

After showering the rest of the elephant muck off our bodies we went to a massage  place next door to our B&B for a one hour oil massage. Can you believe it was only $12 Canadian each. It was awesome and now both John and I smell like jasmine oil.

Relaxed from our massage, we headed over to the huge area of blocks of street food vendors. During the day there is no one there but at night it suddenly blooms into blocks and blocks of tables and street food vendors. Both local Thai and tourists were eating there. We had a plates of crispy pork and fried kale, another plate of grilled squid, a plate of pad thai  and two beers (each the size of a wine bottle) all incredibly delicious (maybe even better than the restaurants we were at) and it all cost under $20 Canadian.

We bumped into Celine from John's work again. What can I say? It's a popular place.

With elephants, amazing food, cheap beer, gorgeous temples  and regular massages what's not to love about Thailand? I definitely want to come back.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 4- Bangkok to Chiang Mai- What's Cooking?

We rose early and had breakfast at our favourite breakfast place. Our hostess took our picture again. She says that that is how her boss keeps track of how many and what kind of customers they have.

We took a cab to the airport at 7:00am, which gave us plenty of time to catch our 10:30am plane to Chiang Mai while travelling during rush hour.

Flights within Thailand are very cheap. We paid $40 Canadian to fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (flight time one hour and ten minutes). 

John and I were not seated together on the flight and I dozed off. I guess I was still partially dreaming when the flight attendant was trying to get someone's attention near by, I thought it was the man sleeping beside me so with my eyes still closed I forcefully poked the stranger next to me....he seemed a bit startled. How embarrassing. Thank goodness I will probably never see him again...(he was probably thinking the same thing).

We grabbed a cab and headed to our small hotel on the edge of The Old Town.

Our hotel, Amaka Cafe Bed and Breakfast was spotless. There were three flights of stairs to bring our luggage up but our room is delightful with crisp white sheets, a very new bathroom and all kinds of other conveniences. There was a huge selection of menu items to choose from for the next day's breakfast.

I saw some brochures for cooking classes and begged John to do one with me in the evening. He happily agreed and we booked it for 5 pm.

After a quick clean up and change of clothes we headed out to explore the Old Town which is a maze of small streets. We had a map but most of the time couldn't find any street names. After attempting the map, I finally asked directions.

We then found the statue of the Three Kings...not the ones that visited baby Jesus but three famous other Kings from the Thailand.

We went on to visit a small but beautiful black and gold temple. I cannot begin to tell you how many temples (called Wats)  are here....practically one for every block or two and they each have their own characteristics. 

We next visited Wat Phan Tao and then very large Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Great Stupa).One of the temples in the Wat Chedi Luang complex had a "men only" sign. Women could go into the rest of the temples.

There were many monks at Wat Chedi Luang and an area where you could go talk to  monks and ask them questions. Some monks were sitting there patient and serene as some North American guy was trying to convert them to Christianity.

There was an ancient stupa (like a large brick mountain) adorned with elephant figures and housing Buddas in the top. Beautiful.

We grabbed some juices that we have never hear of from a street vendor and walked to Wat Pra Sing ( Temple of the Lion Buddha), which contained many lovely temples. Monks were meditating in a few of the temples. They were so still that John thought they were statues.

We grabbed a tuk tuk to our evening cooking class at  Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School. We were put together with nine other people, together our group came from Canada, USA, Germany, Israel and Equador. Under the guidance of our adorable and funny tutor, Juno, our group really melded.

First he had us all put on the triangular Asian hats and took us to their herb garden where we had a lesson on the herbs we would be cooking with. Next we followed him to the market and he showed us all the ingredients we would be cooking with.

Returning to the school, he walked us through all the steps as we each cooked up five Thai culinary creations. We all made spring rolls as well as a curry from scratch, a curry dish, a soup and a stir fry dish. I made Pad Thai, coconut milk soup, parang curry paste and a panang curry while  John made Cashew nut with  chicken, Tom Sab soup, Khaw Soi CurryPaste for Khaw Soi.

The group had a lot of laughs while we learned about Thai Cooking and my husband really enjoyed himself as well. We each even got to take home a customized cook book of all the recipes the group learned about and were even driven back to our hotels. This was an awesome evening.

I am finding the Internet a little slow so I will add pictures to this post when I can find some quicker Internet.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 3- Bangkok and Ayutthaya- Rough Night


At 6:30am John and I were sitting outside our hotel waiting for our tour bus.

We didn't sleep last night because we were still jet lagged and at about 3:00am some very drunk locals gathered just below our window and were laughing, screaming and some woman was braying like a horse. Note to self: next hotel I'll request a room far away from the street.

Our hotel otherwise is great. We booked the Dewan Hotel because we wanted something central to a lot of the main sites in the old town. The rooms are clean, spacious and have lots of supplies such as toothbrushes and tooth paste, which came in handy when our luggage was lost.

We still haven't used the rooftop pool.

At check in, They gave us a note with names and descriptions of the five guest services staff. The descriptions were cute but may have changed during translation...for example: New- the smiley face young lady.   Ta-The pony tailed with sweet mouth chic lady. Pu-pae -The smart and man-looking sweet lady  and Tle- The gentle guy with his positive thoughts and mind. Hmmmm.

Needless to say we had no problem getting up at 5:30am this morning because we never got to sleep. We went to our favourite breakfast place which serves an amazing Thai omelette. For some reason, every morning the owner takes a picture of her customers, each time we have been there she takes our picture. She is very friendly. 

People watching is lots of fun at 6:30am. We saw about 25 or 30 barefoot monks holding bowls of food walking single file to some unknown destination down the street. Shortly after we saw one monk riding in the back of a tuk tuk...possibly late to the party.

Part of John's scalp has blistered, scanned and turned yellow. He got a sun burn on the first day (his hat was in the lost luggage). He says it's my fault that I let the sun burn a hole in his head because I didn't tell him to buy a hat - me bad wife.

Lots of people ride motorcycles here. It's not unusual to see both parents and kids on one bike. Many women ride side saddle.

We were told by a taxi driver that the mini flower leis hanging off their rear view mirrors brings them good luck and has something to do with good spirits. I didn't quite totally understand what our driver was saying. I can understand however why they would want good luck because Bangkok traffic is a little chaotic ( but not as bad as Egypt's traffic).

Popular North American top 40 music is often heard but the taxi drivers usually play Thai music which is melodious with a slight middle eastern feel to it. Our tour bus played country music. There is a lot of western influence here, brand names such as Nike, Reebok, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein are prevalent. Stores and chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, 7 Eleven, and Boots to name a few are also highly visible.

Our bright pink tour bus had stuffed animals hanging off its outside mirrors. We travelled about an hour and a half to Ayutthaya, which was Thailand's former capital 470 years ago.

Even at that early hour, the street food vendors were hard at work. There was a woman doing a brisk business supplying fried chicken to early risers.

As we left the city, we noticed that the early morning traffic going into Bangkok was bumper to bumper. Some things are the same all over.

The areas outside of Bangkok seemed to be mostly agricultural communities, many on rivers. Lots of rice fields which I'm told are harvested twice a year. We passed some of the brightest hot pink water lilies that I had ever seen. Many of the houses are painted bright colours and you often see small shrines incorporated into the houses. Here the old seems to mix in with the modern. Factories and rice fields, simple houses, sometimes on stilts and modern ones. Every now and then we passed random garbage heaps but we also passed a lot of lush green areas. Even away from the capital we still saw memorials and bunting; signs of mourning for a beloved King.

The Bang Pa Summer Palace was lovely. A mix of Thai, Chinese and European influence. All the ladies of the court had their own Western style homes in the inner palace area, ( not a bad idea). The grounds and gardens were beautiful, filled with magenta bougainvillia and shrubs manicured into animal shapes. Small canals ran throughout the palace grounds with picturesque bridges connecting the walkways.

Our next stop was to the ruins of Wat Maha That. In 1767 it was destroyed in a Burmese attack. The ruins had a haunting beauty and reminiscent of the ancient ruins of Mystra in Greece. Most of the Buddas were decapitated and tree roots had grown around one of the Budda heads. Beautiful.

The bus then took us to the Royal Temple of Wat Naphrameru-rajikaram. This temple was completed in 1499. It was the place where the King of Siam and the King of Burma discussed peace after they were defeated by Burma in the mid- 1500's

A large group of monks were visiting at the same time as us. It seemed a bit out of place to see them taking selfies and pictures with their cell phones and cameras and then perusing the religious souvenirs.

A very large Gold principal Budda was in the temple. Very serene.

Nearby, we stopped at the humongous reclining Budda at Wat Lokaya Sutha. 

I assume that the Thai people are extremely devoted to their religion because there are so many temples here. 

We then took a cruise back to Bangkok down the Chao Phraya River where we were treated to a lovely Thai lunch buffet. We passed run down houses together with higher end homes and luxury apartments and of course many many temples.

Back at the hotel our custom made clothes arrived and they fit perfectly.

We packed up tonight and went out to supper nearby at a Thai restaurant, picked up some medication for John's head at the pharmacy and made our way back to our hotel. We catch a flight in the morning to Chang Mai. Hopefully I get some sleep tonight.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bangkok Day 2- Golden Mount, Flying Monkeys and Feasting on Locusts










We've been taking a lot of cabs and Tuk Tuks here because it is so reasonable and also so hot (33 degrees today).

Our first stop was the Wat Arun. Another awesome temple complex with lots of steep steps and porcelain detailing. I love all the mythical beasts that are scattered throughout the complexes...especially the Griffins and flying monkey demons.

There continues to be more memorials to the Late King...each one seemingly larger than the last.

We checked out the little market outside the temple area. I got some genie pants and was very tempted by a large golden Thai headress, alas, how to bring it back.

We took a ferry across the river. There were many Decorated Thai passenger boats on the water, similar in shape to Venice's gondolas.
We grabbed a tuk tuk to the giant swing, which was rather underwealming.

We walked up to the golden Mount temple,stopping for iced drinks and passing many wood working shops along the way.

There are over 350 steps to the top of the temple, embellished with statues and plants along the route. The view from the top was wonderful; ancient temples and a modern skyline of skyscrapers.

We grabbed a tuktuk and went to Khao San Road which is home to many restaurants, hostels, hotels, shops and massage places.

I love the signs you see up in the washrooms. In South Africa there was a sign saying not to flush your g-string down the toilet. Here the big concern seems to be on standing and crouching on the toilet seat when you go to the bathroom.

I am loving the food here a bit too much. After lunch we headed back to our hotel to beat the heat you napping in our air conditioned room.

Refreshed, we grabbed a tuktuk to have the final fittings for our new clothes and then we tuk tuked our way back to Khaosan Road which is a really happening place at night.

We went for massages first. Massages here are plentiful and cheap...$6 for a half hour Thai massage and $10 for the herbal massage. We went up stairs and through corridors where they washed our feet and we both had very relaxing massages in the same room. Nothing weird about it.

Relaxed and content we then decided to walk around the Khaosan area and try street food and look in the shops. We had chicken donairs, fresh pomegranate juice, fresh fruit and then we spotted a cart selling fried bugs. There were scorpions, grasshoppers, worms and I don't know what all else. There were some girls from the states also interested in tasting some so we split the cost of a bag of locusts....they were surprisingly delicious....crispy. John refused to try one.

Khaosan Road at night is Bangkok's answer to New Orlean's Bourbon Street night life. As I said before, it's a happening place.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bangkok Day 1- Has Anyone Seen Our Luggage





We woke up to a beautiful, sunny and incredibly hot day. Did I mention that it was hot?

After having a delicious breakfast at the restaurant next to our hotel whose motto is " we cook like you make at home.", we walked to the Royal Palace. I was roasting hot at that point.

Many people dressed completely in black lined up in front of the Royal palace area as well as inside the grounds. The lineup snaked its way through the temples and the exterior of the grounds, ending up at the royal palace. There was well over a thousand people baking in the heat in order to pay respects to the remains of the King who passed away on October 13. There are large memorials for him everywhere you look in Bangkok. There are even shops that sell huge framed portraits of him....I'm not talking 8x10, I'm talking life size portraits. Black and white mourning bunting drapes the fences around government and Royal buildings. The mourning period lasts a year and this King appears to have been well loved by his people.

People must have their knees and shoulders covered to get into the Royal Palace and temple areas. Because we didn't have our luggage, and my only tshirt was washed and still wet, I had to wear John's tshirt ( that dried quicker than mine) over my tank top.....it wasn't a good look. We also didn't have hats....yep, they were also in our suitcases.

The grounds of the Royal palace have many temples and intricately carved and decorated buildings, their gold and jewel tone encrusted surfaces gleamed in the sun. So much splendor.

I loved the demon and monkey carvings. The way to tell the  monkeys from the demons is that the monkeys have bare feet.

Soon into the visit, the heat started to get to me and I was feeling off so I sat down near one of the fans that were placed at regular intervals in the line-up of black clad mourners.

We had tickets that came with the palace grounds entry fee to the Royal Regalia exhibit. John asked me if I was really interested in a museum of coins and stuff. I said " I am if it's air conditioned". Every time we asked where it was,  we were pointed in a different direction. Finally, I was leaning against a wall feeling very dizzy and a security guard brought me a bottle of ice cold water and a cold towelette, then he told me the exhibit was closed today.

We left the palace area and went to an air conditioned restaurant for real fruit slushies. I felt much better after my watermelon slushy so we continued to walk to the famous Wat Pho (temple).

Part way there a friendly man flashed a tourist police badge at us and said to make sure to carry our bags in front of us because of pick pockets. He said that Wat Pho was closed until 4:30 because of some function to do with mourning the king. ( in hindsight I'm not sure if that was true). He suggested that we go see the giant standing Budda, then go to the silk shop and then visit the Wat. Before we knew it, he had negotiated a deal with a tuktuk taxi to take us to all those places and we were on our way.

A tuktuk is like a tricycle car with one wheel in the front and two in the back. I always wanted to ride one. It was so neat bopping around in this thing.

People drive on the opposite side of the road here. And the normal taxis are usually yellow and green, vibrant orange, bright blue or a startling hot pink. Often the owners of the regular cabs or tuktuk cabs personalize their vehicles by attaching stuffed animals, decorations, etc.

I haven't figured out why yet , but often drivers have small floral lei like things hanging from their inside rear view mirrors....kind of like how some people in North America hang stuffed dice. People on the streets at stop lights will walk up to the cars and sell the drivers these floral creations.

Following the rules of the road seems to be a little lax here and John says to be careful when crossing the road because there is a high incidence of pedestrian casualties.

Getting back to flying through the streets on the tuk tuk. It was a gas, I loved it. Our first stop was the giant standing Budda. It took me a while to realize that the walls of this temple were filled with tiny windowed shelves of cremated ashes. It was like a graveyard.

You could buy incense and other things for offering to Budda. There was also someone selling a lot of tiny cages that contained two live birds so that you could let them free ( and return the cage). I felt sorry for these little birds and was tempted to save a couple but John said that it would only encourage them to capture more birds to sell in the same way.

Our next stop was to the silk store. John said he wasn't interested but the driver said he had to take us there even if we only stayed five minutes and didn't buy anything, so we went in. The materials were gorgeous and they had books that you could choose to create custom made to measure clothing. John was quick to buy himself a suit and custom made shirt and I designed the dress I envisioned for Lara's wedding and chose a gorgeous, shiny cobalt blue silk. We have our fittings tomorrow and they deliver the clothes to our hotel that night.

Back into the tuktuk, we made our way to Wat Pho. It was late afternoon and the heat was easier to bear. There were many temples on the grounds, each competing to be more ornate then the next...all of them glittering like treasures in the late afternoon sun.

The famous reclining golden Budda was huge. Impressive.

Tired and feeling sweaty from all our touring, we negotiated with another tuk tuk driver to take us back to our hotel....ok, I also wanted another ride in a tuk tuk. We passed many temples, royal palaces, China town and markets before John realized that we were going in the wrong direction. The friendly driver stopped, looked at our map, apologized for his confusion, turned around and dropped us off at our hotel.

We were distressed to find that our luggage still hadn't arrived. John called and called the numbers for lost luggage before finally getting someone who said we would have our bags before midnight.

I washed our smelly tops and attempted to dry them with the blow dryer...we wore them damp to dinner but at least we smelled fine.

We walked to a street filled with restaurants and street food vendors. We found a lovely restaurant where we got a table by a gold fish pond and little waterfall. I was surprised when John answered spicy when the waitress asked him how he wanted his dish. One forkful of John's selection and my mouth was on fire....I've never seen John's eyes water and face and head turn so red....it later turned out that part of the redness was from a sun burn....yep, no hat today.

Jet lag finally caught up with me and my eyes began to close after dinner.

Upon returning to the hotel, we were told that our luggage was on its way to us and sure enough it arrived at 10:30pm. Hallelujah!