Tag Archives: Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand to Penang, Malaysia

7/18 – We took the sky train and the underground metro across town to get us to Bangkok’s main train station at Hua Lumphong in time to board our mid-afternoon train.

 

The reminder posted in the station’s restroom, which tickles me every time I see it!  We’ve encountered similar reminders throughout Asia.

 Jim had booked our tickets a week in advance to assure we would get an air conditioned car and lower berths on the 22 hour sleeper ride. 

   

We will miss Thailand!

On board, we met an American expat named Tom, who’s lived here for eight years.  He said he moved to Thailand because Miami was too cold!  

After a tasty dinner in the dining car and a peaceful night’s sleep on the rocking train, we arrived at the Malaysian border by mid-morning, and we all got off for our exit and entry stamps.  We don’t need a visa for Malaysia, and can stay for up to 90 days.

The train ride ended on the mainland in Butterworth, where we caught a ferry across the Straits of Malacca to the island of Penang. 

   

Georgetown is the big city here, full of shiny buildings and big shopping malls.  We are not staying in Georgetown, however, so as soon as we got off the ferry we boarded the 101 bus, which we rode for an hour and a half to the little town of Teluk Bahang, home of Penang National Park.  

  

We are staying at the Amal Inn for the next week, very convenient for exploring the jungles of Malaysia’s top nature park.   

 
Malaysia has Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures living in harmony, with three different styles of food and religion.  Today we heard the Muslim call to prayer for the first time since we left Turkey.  The town is small, but the park is huge!  The western alphabet is used here, and many of the signs are repeated in English, so we should be able to navigate easily here.  We’ve been told that Malay food is great!  Tomorrow we will explore. 

    
 

Bangkok, Thailand – Wat Pho and the Temple of the Dawn

7/17 – Today we took a ferry across the canal to visit the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, a tourist destination that just can’t be missed.  As with other wats, I found myself more attracted to the guardians outside the temples than to the Buddhas within. 

    
    
    
   

We waited on a long line for the opportunity to see the Reclining Buddha, a statue made of brick and plaster, covered in gold leaf, with foot soles inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  He sure is big! 

His feet:

  The back of his head:
His serene face:  
 
The long view:  

The wat also contained a school: 

   
And a sacred bodhi tree, started from the one Buddha sat under to attain enlightenment: 

 
Heads of state who have visited Wat Pho are showcased in a gallery.  Barack and Hillary were here! 

 

We rode the ferry back over the canal to the Temple of the Dawn. 

   
Here we saw some lovely gardens:

    
   
And some lovely temples. 

   
At lunch, we met Olivia, a pre-med student from North Carolina, and her Canadian friend, who are studying in Singapore for a semester.  So nice to spend time with someone who lives so close to home.  A beautiful day!

  

Back in Bangkok, Thailand 

7/15 – After a month at the beach, we are back in busy Bangkok.  While we are here, we need to purchase some things we couldn’t get on Koh Chang – Jim’s medicine, dental floss, rechargeable batteries for my camera and a new battery for my watch.  We found a pharmacy right down the street, then asked our hotel lady where batteries could be purchased.  Her answer, of course – the mall!  A taxi ride got us over to the modern part of town.  We walked among familiar shops, including a Dunkin Donuts and a KFC.   Did I take pictures?  No – you know what a mall looks like!

The lower level had a fresh food court, and there we saw a lady selling durians.  Now, you will remember that durian is either the king of fruits, or the smelliest fruit ever, depending on who you ask.  A notice on our hotel wall reminded me that I promised to try some. 

 

Now, we have been keeping our eyes open for a chance to score some durian, but unlike other fruits, which the street vendors are happy to cut up and sell, we’ve only seen durians for sale whole and unopened.  We don’t want to bring a whole one home and take a chance of stinking up our room.  All I want is a little bite!  So here at the mall, imagine my surprise to see durians opened and sold by the piece!  What’s more, the lady has a plate of durian pieces, and is offering samples.  This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!

 

I bent down and sniffed the durian skin – nothing.  I took a sample and sniffed it in my hand – nothing.  I placed it in my mouth and… yum!  It tastes very faintly like a pineapple, only creamy instead of fiberous.  Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t know what the “stink” is all about.  Maybe it gets smelly if you leave it out?  Let it get overripe?  If anybody knows, please share.  As far as I can tell, durian = nice fruit.

We walked all around the mall, surrounded by “stuff”, but after getting our batteries, couldn’t think of a single thing we wanted to buy, so hopped in a taxi and went back to the non-tourist side of town.

We walked down the street outside our hotel, looking for things to buy for supper.  So much variety! 

    
    
    
 

I’m partial to the Chinese steamed dumplings. 

 
We bought a bunch of stuff and had a smorgasbord feast, until I found a whole chicken foot in my ginger chicken and rice.  Gave Jim the foot – there are some things I just don’t need to try!
7/16 – The other thing we decided to do in Bangkok was to get Jim a new set of hearing aids.  We understand that we will save several thousand dollars here, rather than waiting til we get home.  I located an audiologist who was recommended and spoke English, and made an appointment.  The office is more than a taxi ride away, so we got directions for the Sky Train to take us there.

The Bangkok Sky Train is an elevated railway, fast and modern.  Like other metros we’ve seen in Asia, there are plexiglass walls that prevent the crush of people from pushing folks over the edge onto the tracks.  Like others we have ridden, the process was easy, from purchasing tickets, to changing trains, and getting off at the right stop.  Stops were announced in both Thai and English.  Easy peasy.  Happy to say that people queue up politely here, like in Japan, and don’t push and shove, like in China.

 
Jim got a thorough hearing test, and an extensive tutorial on how to use his new state-of-the-art hearing aids.  A productive morning!  

 

Koh Chang to Bangkok, Thailand

7/13 – As we wind down our last days on Koh Chang, here are some more pics of our adventures:

On one of our walks, we stumbled on a posh resort with a helipad and other things for the very rich.  We opted not to pay the entrance fee to tour the resort (see rich tourists in their natural habitat!), but did take some pics of the elephant statues just inside the gate.  

 
We stopped to have lunch at a roadside stand on the road to the resort- barbecued chicken wings, sticky rice and spicy shredded papaya salad.  The road doesn’t get any traffic except from the workers on their way to and from the resort. The proprietor had no English, but we let her know the food was delicious! 

 

This is called “hairy fruit”, or rambutan.  You slice open the hairy skin and discard it to find the sweet, grape-like fruit inside.  The fruit is just a thin layer over a very large pit, so bite down carefully!

   

7/14 – We woke early to get on the minibus to go back to Bangkok.  One ferry ride and nine hours later, we walked, exhausted, into our hotel.  Bangkok is one huge traffic jam, and the ride that was supposed to take four hours took more than double.  Our driver asked us to direct him to the hotel (!), then could not follow the directions on our GPS.  After the third try, we got out and walked.  Only a few days here, then we catch the train for the 24 hour ride to Malaysia.  Back on the road again!

Ishiyama, Japan to Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia

5/22 – Our stay in Japan was too short. Today we took the train back to Osaka, where we met Jim’s friend Carl for breakfast. Then it was on to the Kansai Osaka Airport where we arrived at noon. What to do until our flight at midnight? We went back to the posh airport hotel. They have a huge lobby with couches, easy chairs, strong wifi, and a piano that plays by itself 24/7. We settled in for a long afternoon and evening. I got a whole book read!

Midnight flight back to Bangkok, Thailand, then a layover from 4am until our Siem Riep flight at 10am. We got to see the sun rise from the Bangkok observation deck.image

It was nice to fly during daylight. Pretty clouds and blue sky.image

Getting off the plane in Siem Reap, the heat and humidity smacked us right in the face. Couldn’t wait to get back into shorts and sandals. The airport is very Asian.image

We got our visas at the airport, where the $30.00 payment was requested in U.S. dollars. As we only had Thai baht, we paid the equivalent of $35.00 each. Bring dollars if you travel here – the Cambodians use their own money as change only. 1000 riel is worth 25 cents. All prices are given in dollars, and the ATMs dispense dollars too. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Andrew Jackson on a $20!

We got a tuk-tuk ride into town, and passed several luxurious resort hotels, which look out of place next to the little shops and shacks on the dusty street. Due to its proximity to the Angkor Wat temples, Siem Reap hosts over two million tourists a year, and accommodates all comfort levels.image

Now we are settled in at the Banyan Leaf Hotel, with its lovely pool and sumptuous breakfast buffet, all for $20.00 a night. We had a lovely supper for $1.50, and a beer for 50 cents. You could live here forever!image

Bangkok, Thailand to Osaka, Japan to Kyoto, Japan

5/9 – Time to boogie out of Bangkok. Bangkok is an airport hub, with less-expensive flights than can be had out of northern Thailand, which is why we traveled here. Today we fly to Osaka, Japan, for our long-awaited Kumano Kodo pilgrimage hike. We had originally planned this hike for earlier in the spring, but delayed it as we waited for my broken arm to heal. Happy to say, after two weeks of daily swim therapy in Pai, my shoulder is almost good as new, and I’m ready to hike. Japan had a cold, wet spring, so it is just as well that we waited to travel.

After our wonderful experience with Bangkok Air, I had an expectation that we would be given a meal on our 5 hour Air Asia flight – no such luck. We had to purchase our entree (the size of a cell phone) and water, accepting what was left when the meals we wanted were sold out. No movie, no nothing. image Chicken with one carrot and one potato.

We arrived at Osaka at 10:30pm, and queued to have our fingerprints and photos taken, then again for baggage inspection. The two guys in front of us had their baggage opened and spread out for all to see, but they let us walk on through (guess we don’t fit the drug smuggler profile). There were lots of nervous, agitated people in line, as the last bus and metro train leave at 11:30pm, and then all mass transportation shuts down until morning. We cleared the last queue just at 11:30, and congratulated ourselves for booking a room at the airport hotel, although the cost for one night is what we usually spend for a week’s lodging…

All the airport restaurants were closed, but we found a 24 hour Burger King, so we chowed down on our first Whoppers in over a year. It was served at table, with complimentary water and much bowing. After we finished every bite, we weren’t hungry anymore.

Our room was tiny, but the bed was soft, and we slept like the dead. We didn’t wake up until after 9am – very unusual for us. The shower was strong and hot. What do I love about Japan? You can drink the tap water, and plug your chargers right into the wall without an adapter! I usually have to rotate charging my iPad, phone and camera batteries, but here I can charge them all at the same time!

We found a restaurant full of folks eating breakfast, so figured this would be a good place to eat. The woman behind the counter motioned us over to a machine in the corner, where we could select what we wanted to eat by pressing a button, pay, then receive a ticket to present for our food. We couldn’t figure out how the machine worked, but a man came in, and we watched him navigate it, then followed suit.  (Put in money first, and available selections will light up.)image

Not sure what I ordered, but I ate it all – after using spoon and fork in Thailand, we are back to using chopsticks here.

After checking out at noon, we walked to the train station for our ride to Kyoto. Once again, there was a machine with only Japanese characters that had to be navigated to give us our tickets. Luckily, the nice man in front of us helped us, and showed us which track was ours. 90 minutes later, we were in Kyoto!image

We settled in at a nice apartment with a kitchen and a washing machine, so we are getting all our clothes clean while we are here. Know what else I love about Japan? Not only does the toilet seat heat up for your comfort, and make the sound of a babbling brook for those with shy bladders, and a refreshing warm rinse available when your business is complete (separate buttons aimed for ladies #1, or #2), along with a discreet fan feature, but after flushing, the clean water filling the tank is presented so you do not waste water turning on the sink to wash your hands! I’m definitely getting one of these babies when I get home!image

We met Jim’s friend and fellow college professor Carl for supper, for lovely food and to catch up on old times. A long and wonderful day!image

Bangkok, Thailand – the Grand Palace and the Amulet Market

5/8 – We are only in Bangkok for a few days, and can’t hope to see all that the city has to offer. Jim has been here many times during his army years, and his years teaching in Asia.  This is what I would call a gritty city – full of smells and packed with people. The image above was spray painted on a roll-up aluminum door. image

The sidewalks are lined with food and trinket vendors so that you can only walk single file, and have to watch not to get burned on a steaming wok or flaming hibachi.  Great food, though, any time of the day or night!image

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Jim recommended that we see the Grand Palace, which contains the Emerald Buddha. We have already been to several places in Laos and northern Thailand where the Emerald Buddha used to reside Before King Rama I moved it to Bangkok in the 1700s, so it will be nice to finally see it and determine what all the fuss is about. The Palace was within walking distance, across a busy highway adorned with pictures of the Queen(?) and lots of elephants. Did I mention, it was HOT? image image image

The Palace was jam packed with tourists.  After covering arms and knees (bring a shawl or rent one), we went with the foreigners…image

The Grand Palace is a series of ornate buildings, most of which can only be viewed from the outside.

The exception was the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, where we removed our shoes and joined the throng paying homage. The statue is actually made of jade, but the first monk who discovered it, covered with plaster in the 1400s, saw a glimmer of green under a chip on its nose, and mistakenly thought it was made of emerald. The statue wears a different outfit for each of the three seasons, and it is dressed by a royal official for the Hot, the Wet and the Dry. This is the Hot. There were no pix allowed inside, so here is one courtesy of Google images:
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My favorite images are of all the guardians of the temple:image

We visited the Amulet Market, where Buddhists come to purchase tokens containing images of the Buddha, famous monks, or bodhisattvas. Some are as small as a dime, and some are full size statues, carved, cast, painted or photographed. Vendors line several streets offering their wares, and men with magnifying glasses pore over bins full of small amulets, looking for one that may be an antique, rare, or worth lots of money. I guess this is the Thai equivalent of stamp collecting.

Not knowing which to select, we followed some monks and bought the same kind they were buying. Monks should know, right?image

On our walk home, we saw Mother Earth squeezing her hair to give water to the world. Now you know!image

Bangkok, Thailand – Farang Scam!

In Bangkok at 12 o’clock they foam at the mouth and run
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
– Noel Coward

5/7 – After a month in northern Thailand where it’s pretty darn hot, we’re now in southern Thailand where it’s REALLY hot. Bangkok is a big city, known for its canals, (the Venice of the East), Buddhist temples and for scamming Farang (Westerners). Although we’ve been traveling for a while and consider ourselves fairly savvy, we got scammed here on our first day! Here’s our cautionary tale.

As we walked toward the Amulet Market early in the morning (trying to beat the heat, but it was already 85 and climbing) a distinguished looking and well-spoken gentlemen stepped up to advise us that today was a holiday and the markets were closed. Another man in a security uniform confirmed this.  The nice gentleman, who said he was a college professor, went on to tell us that if we needed something to do instead, he would suggest a wonderful boat ride through the canals of Bangkok that could be had for a special price during the holiday (the King’s birthday!) He warned us not to use a tuk-tuk with red or blue numbers, which would overcharge us, but only ones with a white and yellow sign. As he said this, a tuk-tuk with a white and yellow sign pulled up to the curb, and the gentleman told the driver to take us to the dock for 20 baht (60 cents). As you are reading this, you must smell a fish, but he was so smooth and it happened so quickly, we just went along. He wanted no money, didn’t seem to be selling anything, and who could argue with the price of the taxi?

At the dock, the driver got out (another red flag we missed – when does a cab driver ever leave his cab?) and introduced us to another gentleman who walked us down to the water’s edge just as a gondola (just like in Venice!) pulled up. Quick as you can say Bob’s your uncle, we were motoring away on a private gondola, our wallet lighter by 2000 baht (about $60.00). There was no coercion, and we could have refused to get in the boat. We did get a very nice hour-long tour of the canals, but found out when we disembarked that a) it was not the King’s birthday, b) all the markets were indeed open, and c) we paid double what we should have for the boat ride. Poor dumb Farang! Here are our expensive canal pix:image Our gondola

imageimageimageLots of flowers

imagePassing through the lockimage

imageLots of temples

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imageThe Royal Palace in the distance

Walking back to our hotel, an English couple stopped us and asked if the Royal Palace was closed for the holiday. They had been persuaded by the same gentleman, but had sense enough to walk away. As we passed the spot where we had encountered him earlier, he was speaking earnestly with a French couple. When we approached and told the couple not to listen to him, the security guards ran up and tried to shoo us off – everyone gets a cut of this deal!

Of course when we returned to our room and googled Bangkok Scams, the first one that came up was “the __________ is closed for the holiday.”  Variations are used to sell fake gems, overpriced taxi rides, extract extra money for visas, and who knows what else.  Shame on us for not doing our research before setting out.  A smooth operation –  at least we got to see the canals!

Pai to Chiang Mai to Bangkok, Thailand

5/4 – Our do-nothing vacation in Pai comes to an end tomorrow. As we enjoy one more swim in the pool and one more climb to see the sunset, here are a few things we opted not to do in Pai:

Seeing the Long Neck Karen tribe: as tempting as this was for a short-necked Karen like me, we read too much about the exploitation of these Burmese refugees, who are paid to disfigure their women with neck rings to be ogled by tourists. I remember reading about them in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as a child (a long, LONG time ago!). Really didn’t want to view humans the way we view zoo animals, and the tribe does not benefit from the admission prices charged by the tour promoters. Here are pix off the advertising poster in town:

Riding an Elephant: there are lots of places in Thailand offering to let you ride/bathe/train elephants. Most of these places use bull hooks to jab the elephants, torturing them repeatedly to make them docile enough for tourists. We decided not to be part of that exploitation. The exception is the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, where abused elephants are rehabilitated and never ridden. We tried to book a trip there when we were in Chiang Mai, but the waiting list was several weeks long, and we were not able to go. If you really want to see elephants, book early and support ElephantNaturePark.org. image

I’ve been keeping my sister AJ in mind as we tour Thailand, as she and her husband would like to travel here some day. They are vegetarians. Don’t know how they would feel about the vegetarian restaurants here, which all seem to serve meat, like the House of Pork Vegetarian Cafe:image

Same problem at the grocery store, offering vegetarian shredded meat:image

Don’t worry AJ and Bob – you can always eat rice!

5/5 – Back to the bus station this morning for our 3 hour mini- bus ride back to Chiang Mai. Met John while we waited, a Vietnam vet. He and Jim traded old war stories – Bangkok was the place Vietnam vets went for R&R, and its proximity brought back lots of memories for them both. Arrived at Chiang Mai with three hours before our train to Bangkok, so we has a leisurely lunch and chatted with two young Aussies from Melbourne. Turns out they were taking the same train.image

 

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We were not able to book air conditioned berths on the overnight sleeper to Bangkok, so we are anticipating a steamy night. The windows on the train are all wide open – hope there is a breeze! image

This is the first long distance train we’ve been on that does not have compartments. The seats convert to upper and lower berths on both sides of the car, with curtains in front, like in old movies (Some Like It Hot comes to mind!) Here’s the sunset out the open train window. image

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5/6 – After a long, sticky night, we approached Bangkok, as the scenery changed from rural to urban.image

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Pai, we miss you!