Sunday, January 27, 2008

Baan Thai Cooking School

Our last day in Chiang Mai, Ruth and I went to a cooking school. We went with one of the recommended spots out of our guidebook that also caters to vegetarians. There were 5 other people in our class besides Ruth and I. Our teacher was a cute Thai girl, probably 28 named Yam, but she told us to call her Yummy. After very brief introductions, we all went to the local market to get the food we needed for the day.. Yam pointed out all the different types of food at the available. It's hard going to a new country with all this new food and not knowing what any of it is just by looking at it.
After about an hour at the market, we went back to our school. Yam brought us out a Thai "welcome snack" to wait on while she prepared stuff. This includes many different ingredients - coconut, dried shrimp (or without for the vegetarian), ginger,lime, shallots, chili peppers, and roasted peanuts. You take a type of green leaf and you fold it so it kind of is in the shape of an ice cream cone. Then, you put all those above ingredients into it - soooooooo good.

After that, the first thing we made was papaya salad. This dish includes papaya, garlic, chillies, tomato, green beans, peanuts and some sauces. You are given a mortar to use to pound it all together. You can choose how many chilies you want to put in it for spiciness.
1 = somewhat spicy
2 =spicy
5 or more = Thai spicy
I went with 2 chilies. So, you put the bulk of the ingredients into the mortar and mash away with a heavy pounding stick. That's it! Put on a dish and it's done! We also made spring rolls to eat with this dish as well. It was good, shocking that I can actually cook in fact. After that, we made mango sticky rice - which is just soaking sticky rice in coconut milk for an hour and then putting mangos on top. We did that now to make sure the rice was soaking while cooking more.
While the mango sticky rice was sitting, we moved on to make curry paste. This involved mashing just a bunch of red chillies, shallots, garlic, Thai ginger, lemongrass (which actually smells like lemon!), lime, coriander and tumeric root in the mortar. We took turns passing the mortar around and mushing the stuff together because your arm gets really tired after a while. She said there's a rumor in Thailand that a good Thai wife makes a lot of noise as the pestle (stick that you mash with in the mortar) - hits the mortar. A bad wife is quiet about the process. Once the ingredients have become smooth and fine, it's finished! We used the curry paste to make the next dish, my favorite Thai dish called Khao Soy. It's popular in this region of the country...not sure if you can find it in the Southern bits of Thailand.

You put the freshly made curry sauce, oil, and indian curry powder together in a wok. After a while, you add coconut milk, tofu (or chicken), and keep stirring. Then you put it over cooked egg noodles. It becomes likes a soup. Then, you put hard noodles over it when ready to serve. It was soooooo delicious.
Afterwards, we ate our mango sticky rice. Yum! The school was a lot of fun and it was nice mingling with the other students. There was a guy from Corning, NY who currently resides in Hong Kong. A French couple currently residing in Jakarta and a Malaysian couple (that actually live in their country). It was nice to talk to others who are "ex-pats" living in Asian countries and hearing their challenges and experiences. I enjoyed comparing it to my own experience here in Japan. We all got along well. In the evening, we went shopping in the markets with Tamo and said goodbye.

The next morning Ruth and I headed up to Chiang Rai but with a few complications. We had intended on taking an 11:30 bus up North. We were unfortunately barred from this when all buses were full until about 3:30. So, we sat in this coffee shop for 4 hours because unfortunate for us, the bus station isn't central at all so we had nowhere else to go. Here's a photo of what it was like there - we did a lot of reading, writing and listening to our ipods before finally getting on the bus.
The bus ride went smoothly aside from a weird stop we had. The bus pulled over, a police man came on and shouted something in Thai. We couldn't understand him but saw lots of people pulling out their ID's. Well, if you know anything about traveling in 3rd world countries, it's not very uncommon for foreigners to be bribed to pay a lot of money. I thought that is what was going to happen. I was really nervous searching for my passport. Luckily though, that didn't happen - instead one man was removed from the bus and we were back on our way. Here's a photo of Ruth and I on the bus - happy we're on the bus and I was happy we weren't bribed.
This was December 30th. The next day was December 31st, New Year's Eve. We had wanted to be hiking on this day but since we got into Chiang Rai a lot later than expected, we couldn't get the reservations made in time. So, we had to settle for booking it for January 1st. After making our booking, we just had some dinner out on town and went to bed. I'll write about New Year's Eve next blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Doi Suthep,Handicrafts and Muay Thai Boxing

During monk chat - our monk had informed us of the "best temple to see while in Chiang Mai." We took his advice and hired a tour guide one of our days to get to this far-away temple. I was a bit of a fool and had got too drunk for my good the night before. On the way to the temple, I had to ask the tour guide to pull over so I could get sick on the side of the road. Sometimes, I am still very much not a responsible adult.

Doi Suthep - this infamous temple is about a 30 minute ride out of Chiang Mai up on top of a large hill. This temple is the holiest temple in the Northern part of Thailand. It has a "miraculous legend" to it's founding that goes a bit like this. Long, long time ago, there was a king that wanted to enshrine holy artifacts, so this king put a mini shrine on the back of a white elephant. He wanted to see where this sacred animal would go to. After a lot of time, it climbed this hill, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. The king took this as an indication that this was the spot.

In order to get up to the golden temple, you need to climb up 300 stairs. On the top of the hill, is a beautiful temple complex. The temple's Golden point (called a Chedi) was glittering bright in the sun. It's claimed that this part of the complex is one of the most harmonious pieces of temple architecture in all of Thailand.

From the back of the temple complex you could see a beautiful view of Chiang Mai since we were up high on a hill. It was a bit hazy for us but we could still see a bit through the haze. The tour guide provided us with a lot of helpful information about temples in general. Things that were useful to us, not only at this temple but just in general. For example, when viewing a temple, you should always walk around it with it to your right hand side. It should never be to the left of your body. And surprisingly, he informed us that Buddha did not originate in Thailand, nor even Asia. It's shocking since most Asian countries practice Buddhism. I can't remember exactly where he said it originates but I am pretty positive he said that it was Crete.

After Doi Suthep, our tour guide brought us to have lunch at a local restaurant. He introduced to us my new favorite Thai dish called Khao Soy - which is a very spicy dish. I'll talk about that in my next blog. From there, we went to a handicraft part of the city. The first stop was a place that made homemade umbrellas. They make it right from scratch. The paper they use is made from a certain tree OR from elephant poop. Elephant poop, isn't that funny?! They take their handmade paper with their handmade umbrella skeleton (made from bamboo) and glue it together or tie it together. Then someone hand paints it. This was my favorite handicraft spot we went to.
After the umbrella stop, we went to a silversmith. It was interesting watching how they make the form of the jewelry but this particular spot seemed more interested in trying to get us to purchase something as opposed to showing us the factory for a long time. Then we went to a silkloom spot. This one was really cool, too. I learned about where silk comes from. Now, I've always been aware that silk comes from silk worms; but I guess I never really understood what that meant. In the picture below, you can how the silk comes. Those white and yellow bulbs in that hot water pot are silk worm cocoons. This woman take a cocoon out, takes a bit of the string and then runs is through that circle like thing and that keeps the silk straight and prevents it from breaking. She keeps rolling it through that circle-like thing until it runs out of thread. When that happens, a dead silkworm falls out and back into the water. That part grossed me out. If you look to her left hand, you can see all the thread she has been getting from the cocoons.
Then, there were actual women also working on the looms there. They use all 4 limbs to work these huge machines. Their legs are pushing on petals and their arms are moving things around above their head or in front of them. It truly appears as if they are doing a dance with the looms. I walked around quite a bit and just watched them intently doing this. These women are so skilled, I don't think there is any way I could figure out how to run one of these looms. It's so impressive!

We went back and had "The Last Supper" with 3 of our friends, Kyla, Andres and Emily who separated ways from us this evening. They headed down South to an island resort while Ruth and I remained in the North. That night we met up again with Tamo for some Muay Thai boxing! We got front ringside seats for this event.

Muay Thai has fans in Thailand to likes of how we have fans in America for American Football teams. Every province has a stadium and when it's shown on TV, it's like Superbowl Sunday at a sports bar every time. There's a strong spiritual and ritualistic way to Muay Thai adding more grace to an otherwise violent sport.
You soon get used to the ritual of the ring and boxers. Each boxer enters into the ring to the wailing music of a three piece orchestra called the phipat. The boxer first bows to the direction of where he was born and then to each 4 corners of the ring - which is actually North, South, East and West. He also has to honor his teachers and the spirit of the ring. Next, he performs a slow dance.

In Muay Thai, and part of the body aside from the head can be used as an offensive weapon. All parts but the groin are allowed to be fair targets. Kicks to the head is the strategy that causes the most knock outs.

The first two boxers were young boys which I thought would bother me but it wasn't bad. The later into the night it got, the stronger the boxers became. It was such an eye treat staring at these men's incredible ripped bodies. We had an older Thai man sitting next to us so we started chatting with him a bit allowing for some fun interaction with the locals. To the right of us was a whole crowd of locals sticking their hands in the air placing bets to a bookie. Everytime a good hit was made, the crowd all screamed "oy!" as loud as they could. The atmosphere here was phenomenal. Everyone is so excited. The last 3-4 fights were soo good. The boxers were a lot stronger and vicious than the first few we had been seeing. I was really getting into it. The last round of the night was a joke. In comes two men. One - a Thai guy with a fat belly. The other a tall, lanky white guy with "White trash" tattooed down his chest. They fought for 3 rounds before they ended it. We're not really sure why he was up there, but we figured that he woke up the next day with a killer headache trying to remember what he did the night before because he was so drunk. Then, it came back to him. And now he will have a story to tell his friends in the future...."This one time, in Thailand..I got really drunk and ended up in a Thai boxing ring." It was really good fun and ended at 1am. Ruth and I went back to our hotel and Tamo back to hers. Muay Thai was by far one of my favorite things I had done in Thailand. That's a thing to do if you ever come to Thailand

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Waterfalls, bamboo rafting, whitewater rafting and elephant riding...

Our second major day in Chiang Mai we did a really awesome tour that got me back out into nature again.

The waterfall in the picture below was our first destination on our tour (besides the small pit stop to an Orchid prior to this that needs no more mention than this). The waterfall was cool, but nothing overly impressive. Even though December is Winter in Thailand, it feels as hot as our summer. There is a lack of water at this time of the year...thus, this waterfall wasn't much to see. There was a natural rock slide one could go down but I didn't know about it until our tour guide was gathering us to go. I was a bit disappointed because I totally would have gone down it had I known. When I saw the few men doing it, it made me very nostalgic for the Adirondack's again. My last summer in the area before moving to Japan, I had done all sorts of cliff jumping and waterfall seeking with Jon. It's such a rush and seeing those men do it made me itch to join them.
After the waterfall, we all went Whitewater rafting. It was so much fun! I haven't gone white water rafting in over three years now. The safety procedures in Thailand are nearly non-existent which made me a bit nervous. My life jacket - about 3 sizes too big would most likely not save me in an emergency situation. Our guide, this guy - probably the same height as me but pure muscle didn't speak English. He could say the commands in English and that was about it. Then, there was a guide whose boat we pretty much followed and went down the rive with. This guide was an absolutely nut. He was constantly screaming and whacking us with water via his paddle. The rafting wasn't anything that difficult or scary but the guides made it so much fun. Halfway down the line, we just picked up random Thai guys that were fishing on the shore but needed a life back down river, so into our raft they go - with no helmets and no life jackets. We floated down the river lazily for some of it allowing the current to take us.

When we finished the rafting bit, we then went onto bamboo rafts. These were about 15 feet in length and 5 feet wide. We fit about 10 people per raft and there was one guy steering us in the front with a long stick. Our lower bodies were submerged in the water. It was relaxing.

Then to go do what nearly every tourist in Thailand does - ride an elephant. We took an hour ride through the jungle and down a river on the back of an elephant. There's an elephant steerer-guide man that sits in front of you and gives commands to the elephant to make sure it keeps going and prevents it from stopping and eating for the next hour while you're on it's back. They just climb up the side of the elephant as if it's a brick wall that just needs to be hopped onto. I shared an elephant with Ruth and Kyla. Our friends Emily and Andres were on the elephant in front of us. They were the leading elephant but by the end of the tour, their elephant was last. It was a bad elephant, that right in front of our eyes ripped down a tree in half! It was intense! So powerful! It apparently was really hungry.
The last thing we did was go to a Hill Tribe. This was a Karen Long Neck Hill tribe. The women here all wear gold rings around their necks. The men believe that the more rings around the neck, the sexier the woman is. Girls start wearing them around the age of 6. I had a hard time grasping that I was going to go see these women. I felt like - I was just going to see a zoo exhibit or something. But, they're human beings . Maybe I have such a hard time with it because I can't stand when people stare at me in Japan only because I am foreign. It's the same idea here - going to see people just because they are different. One of my co-travelmates really really really wanted to see them so we did it. It was pretty cool to see the long necks in person but it was really depressing as well. I've since learned alot about their culture and what brings them into this situation that I will elaborate on another day. This picture below wasn't taken by me - it was taken off the internet - but just for a better visual for you to understand long neck women. I couldn't bring myself to take pictures of them. Basically, these women have no choice but to do this zoo exhibit of themselves. Most of them came from Burma/Myanmar to escape war or death. Therefore, they aren't Thai citizens but they can't go back to their own country. So, they are forced pretty much to go into these touristy villages where loads of tour guides bring people like me to gawk at them. These women all own shops and try to sell you all sorts of unneeded crap. Most people buy stuff just because they feel bad for them. The stuff is not authentic. In fact, some of the stuff had "Made in China" stickers on the bag. The picture below is an example of the huts they live in.
That night we met up with Tamo, another girl in my area that happened to be in Thailand and the city we were in for a few coinciding days. I ran to meet up with her at McDonald's after our tour. We all had dinner together and then 4 of us went out for drinks that evening. It was the most I drank in a while....

For pictures of this day click here (same link as last post)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chiang Mai, the beginning

When people ask me, "Where in Thailand did you like best?" - my answer is Chiang Mai. Again, our first day was spent taking care of tours and things of that nature. Our afternoon - we went out to do some more temple viewing recommended by our guest house owner.

The first temple we visited was called Chiang Mun that was built in 1296-1297 AD. The temple held several important artifacts for Thailand. One of these was a white quart Buddha image and then also a stone cut Buddha. Behind the temple was a 700 year old stupa that was surrounded by elephant carvings. The temples were sparkling gold as usual.

The second temple we went to was called Wat Chediluang Varaviharn. This was supposed to be one of the best 3 temples to see in Chiang Mai, but it was under construction. However, in the back it held yet another old Khmer -like structure that is 60 meters high. It used to be 90 meters - which you can tell by looking at the top of it, but was destroyed in an earthquake nearly 500 years ago.
These Buddhas below - represent every day of the week. From left to right shows Sunday through Saturday. If you know which day you were born on - you should pray to that particular Buddha. They also have Morning and Night Buddhas - so if you don't know what day you were born on but you know what time of day you were born on - you can pray to that Buddha instead.
This temple was supposed to be the 2nd of 3 temples we intended on seeing this day. The plans changed as we were leaving the temple grounds. There was a program here called "Monk Chat". There was a sign that said, "we don't mind if you come to look at our temple, but we are sad if you just leave and don't speak to us." We thought it would be super cool to talk to monks so we decided to join in monk chat. Ruth and I went together to talk to one monk, Andres went by himself and then Kyla and Emily went to speak to another monk together. Now, when people ask me, what are the best things you've done in Thailand? I will always respond this monk chat at this temple. We spoke for two hours to our monks. It was so great to speak to someone. He was only a year younger than I - 23 years old. He became a monk when he was 14. At the moment, he is attending Buddhist University - which is who puts on this monk chat program. In the future he would like to become a teacher. He talked about all sorts of things from Buddhist beliefs, his university to his favorite sports. He really made me think a lot about the purpose of life and just about how I live my life. It's just so intriguing to me that I can speak to someone my own age and how different we are. How different our thought process is, how different our past 10 years have we can think so differently yet be at the same age. He seemed so in-tune with life, with who he is, so sure of these things - that it was attractive to me. A lot of times, I feel so lost in life. I think I want one thing but then am not sure. Especially since living in Japan, I question life all the time. It was very comforting to have someone that seemed so confident in life to talk to.

After we literally closed down monk chat, we went for dinner and a few drinks. Then, we played under the lit up lanterns. I haven't mentioned it yet - but I think it's very Thai to speak about. The king. Everyone and I mean every Thai person loves their king. You see pictures of him everywhere you go. Everyone wears yellow shirts because it is the king's favorite color. You know those "livestrong" bracelets that were so popular like 3 years ago? Well, they all wear them, too, except they don't say "livestrong" but they say "Long live the king". I doubt there's another country in this world that loves their king as much as Thai people love their king. So, here's a photo of us, with one of the millions huge posters of the king hung around Thailand.

Click here for pictures of this day and for a sneak preview of what future postings will be

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Day

My Christmas Eve slumber was like that of when I was a kid. I didn't sleep well. Unfortunately, it wasn't because of the excitement of what Santa has brought, but because there was a dog that was barking for easily 4 hours throughout the night. It was terrible. Since I used to have really bad insomnia at college, I've pretty much adapted to functioning with a poor night's sleep the next day.

Christmas day. It was spent on a train all day. Our train arrived an hour late, which seemed to be the norm in Thailand. If it's 30 minutes late, it's still on time. If it's an hour late, it's properly late. We rode 1st class - which gave us seat cushions, air conditioning and some food. I couldn't eat the food because it was all meat but even if I had eaten meat, it didn't look that appetizing. We called Ruth's food, "prawn head curry" because we weren't exactly sure what it was - but the head of a prawn was the biggest thing in there.

(above: Ruth and I making the time pass acting like fools)

(above: Kyla and Andres making the time pass, too)

(Above: and of course Emily, too!)

I taught Ruth the American childhood game of MASH. We had a good time doing that for about 30 minutes. We played "guess where the foreigners are from" making up code names for countries. The scenery was nice but it was very similar to Japan. The sun had set leaving us with about 2-3 hours of nothing to look at outside the window. Kyla taught us a game called GHOST which got a bit heated up right before the train ride ended.

I think we arrived to Chiang Mai at about 9:00ish. Our guest house was really nice. The most spacious rooms we had in the whole of our travels there. The staff was friendly and it was clean. We wanted to have a Christmas dinner but by the time we got situated most places weren't serving food anymore. 711. 711 is everywhere. Seriously, every turn in Thailand offers a new 711. That's where Christmas dinner came from. It was by far the most disgusting Christmas dinner I've ever had. I had muesli, which was good. Then, we tried making sandwiches out of cheese, jam and wheat bread. Nasty. Andres had bought "pickled mango" thinking they were something else. Pickled mango is nasty, I don't ever recommend it. The best part of Christmas dinner was the beer. I called my family on this night and then headed to bed. It's just another day, now isn't it?

Andres: These pickled mangos are going to make me puke!
Ruth: They're going to make you pube? what? what is that American English word?
Andres: You thought I said I was going to pube?
and that is his face that followed that conversation

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ayutthaya , the full day effect

Cock-a-doodle doo. Cock-a-doodle doo. That's all I heard from 7am on Christmas Eve morning; possibly even worse than waking up to an alarm clock. Our plans for this day were to see as many of the lost ruins as we could fit into the day. We took an opposite turn out of the guest house this morning and discovered where the "restaurant and bar" part of town was and stored it in our mind for later.

The temples were all a pretty far walk from our guest house. The first temple we arrived at was called Wat Thummikarat. There wasn't much left of this temple. You could get a good idea of what it would have been like prior to being ransacked, but it had really been destroyed.

Then we walked to Wat Naphramera, the only wat in Ayutthaya that wasn't destroyed when Burma invaded. According to my guidebook, the story goes when the Burmese were on the brink of capturing Ayutthaya in 1760, a siege gun positioned here burst, mortally wounding their king and prompting their retreat; out of superstition, they left the temple standing when they came back to devastate the city in 1767. It was a white building with the traditionally Thai gold trim around it that was built in 1503. Inside is a 6 meter high Buddha.

Then we ended up at Ayutthaya Golden Palace which housed several ruined buildings as well. The bits that were most in tact were pagodas that were all over the compound.

It was a hot day, so we enjoyed the fruit of Thailand, sipping coconut juice through a straw.

Inside the wat in this area housed a very large Buddha, resembling those I have seen in Japan. This buddha was called Phra Mongkhon BoPhit. The lap of the buddha is 9.55 meters wide. The image is 12.45 meters high and the base stands at 4.50 meters. The total height is 16.95 meters high. This Buddha was restored in 1957.

We all had quick showers and then went out for a night tour we had signed up for. First, it took us to distant temples that we couldn't get to by ourselves without a car. The first one was called Wat Yai ChaiMongKhon and was probably my favorite temple in Ayutthaya. It was built in 1357 as a meditation site for monks returning from study in Sri Lanka. It had a reclining buddha draped in gold silk.

The actual temple was surrounded by sitting Buddha's also draped in gold silk.

Behind the temple was a main buddha and then a bunch of little statues worshiping it. It was placed in front of a gorgeous garden as well.

Also included in this tour was a stop at an elephant camp. It depressed me a little bit seeing the animals chained but it was neat to be so close to them. I fed one as snot from it's trunk went all over my hand.

We watched the sunset from Wat Phu Khao Thong. This temple was really tall and white. You could call it "the leaning temple of Wat Phu KHao Thong" if you wished as it wasn't exactly perfectly upright which was kind of funny. The sunset from the top was terrific - it set over the rice paddy's of Thailand. While watching it, I really fell back in love with Asia again. I truly think that the best sunsets I have ever seen have been in Japan. The sun appears so much brighter and bigger here than back at home. Moreover, while setting over the rice fields - it really makes the earth look sooo much greener, so much healthier, so beautiful. I used to almost get in car accidents last year while driving during the sunset because I can't stop looking at such beauty. This year, as I'm in the city, I don't really get any mesmerizing sunsets. I know though, that when I think back to Asia, one thing I will always tell people is how gorgeous and stunning the sunsets are here. Just as the sun finished setting, nearby monks began chanting reminding me that we're in Thailand, not Japan.

The main selling point of this tour was to see the temples and ruins under illumination at night. We saw about 3 different ones this evening. I tried my best to capture it but it is definitely something you can't capture and just have to see. At the finish of the tour, we went back to that bar and restaurant street we had discovered earlier.

Tonight was Christmas Eve and so we definitely wanted to celebrate a bit. We chose dinner at an outdoor seating restaurant and decided to drink there. It was a really fun night with my friends. I had really wanted to stay out until it turned Christmas day but we had a curfew at our guest house so we had to go back.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ayutthaya, the land of lost ruins

Ayutthaya, at it's peak was the capital city of the Thai kingdom. According to my guidebook, Ayutthaya was so well endowed with temples that sunlight reflecting off their gilt decoration was said to dazzle from 3 miles away. Ayutthaya was founded in 1851 by a man who became a king. In it's heyday, it was an amphibious city with it's 1 million population using canals as transportation. These people were also living in houseboats. To gauge it's success, at this time it had double the population of London. It even had 40 different nationalities living here at one point. Unfortunately, as every good city has to fall, so did this one. In 1767 after 400 years of stability and prosperity, neighboring country, Burma attacked and destroyed the city. All the citizens had to retreat into the jungles as Burma was taking tens of thousands of prisoners back. It's now a popular spot today to go visit because you can see the remains of all the temples that had been destroyed. The architecture of the remains are from the Khmer era, resembling many of the temples I had seen at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Ayutthaya is located 80km north of Bangkok; our trip there was very adventurous. In Thailand, you can take either 1st, 2nd or 3rd class trains. 1st is the best - you get a cushioned seat and air conditioning. 2nd class gives you a cushion and sometimes air conditioning, sometimes a fan. 3rd class has wooden seats and no air conditioning, but just open windows and sometimes a fan attached to the ceiling. We took 3rd class. It cost us less than 50 cents a piece. It actually wasn't so bad and I enjoyed the wind blowing on me while we made our way North. I wouldn't want to do a 10 hour trip like this, no way; but for the 3 hours or so it took - it was fun.

Our guesthouse was a cute home set back in a garden. It's meant to give you the "real Thai experience." It certainly did - the roosters that live in the garden woke me up both mornings. Moreover, the barking dogs kept me up all through the night. Roosters are the norm in Thailand - they are everywhere. I think from now on, whenever I hear a rooster, I will be brought back to Thailand. Street dogs are everywhere as well. They run the place. Some cities have homeless people, but Thai cities have an abundance of homeless dogs. We just nicknamed them all "scurvy dogs".

After checking into our guesthouse, we went for a walk about town. We were trying to find the tourism office, but stumbled upon the ruins. Change of plans - time to check out some cool World Heritage Sites!

The first one we went to was called Wat (wat means temple) Ratburana. It was built in 1424 by the King at that time.

At this temple, you could walk up a flight of stairs and then go down inside following a bunch of really steep stairs to enter a crypt. At one point, there were several hundred Buddha images, but robbers have come to steal them away.

The second one we went to was called Wat Phra Mahathat. This temple was made to enshrine the remains of Buddha himself. The king between the years of 1388-95 claims that he was looking out his window one morning when ashes of the Buddha materialized out of thin air here. A gold casket containing these ashes also was placed here.

This temple is also famous for this Buddha head that has been overgrown by the roots of a tree.

In the evening, we found a great restaurant that had live music and dancing. We had a pleasant dinner with some Thai musical guests in the front. Since today was actual election day, we ran into the problem of not being able to drink again. Luckily for us, our guest house owner was unaware of this or didn't care - she sold us beer. We played cards over several beers - finally enjoying my first beer in Thailand.

Click here for pictures of this day

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bangkok, Thailand

I am back from Thailand after two weeks straight of traveling. I'll be updating my blog about my travels there from here on out. My first day there - was just simply flying into the Bangkok airport and meeting up with two of my friends who had taken a different flight. Ruth, Emily and I after a bit of confusion found our guest house and immediately crashed. It was already 2:30am and we had been traveling for well over 12 hours.

The next day we just walked about Bangkok and situated tickets for transportation for later in our trip. The only real thing we managed on this day was to go see the Grand Palace which I had seen my first time in Bangkok. The Grand Palace officially opened in 1785 marking the founding of the new capital and the rebirth of the Thai nation after the Burmese attack. At this palace, there are 61 acres of gold and glittery goodness to feast your eyes on. Moreover, the mural paintings on the wall could take ages to look at there are so many of them.

This day was also the day before elections in Thailand. As a result, nowhere in the whole country was allowed to sell or serve alcohol. We were a bit disappointed that in our first day on vacation, we couldn't even enjoy a beer with dinner. We went to Khao san road, one of Bangkok's most famous. Khao san road is considered a traveler's haven. You walk down the street and you could forget you were in Thailand. Not only that, but you could forget that there are countries. This street has people from everywhere, different fashion, hairstyles, languages, beliefs, everything. I believe that if the world were just one big country, it would probably be a bit like this. The sides of this road are covered with neon signs, restaurants, bars, shops, people's good for sale on the side of the roads, cluttered. There are services to make you fake ID's, braid your hair, sign you up for tours. It's an abyss of craziness. Cars that try to drive down it, only a mere 100 meters would take ages to get through the floods of people walking slowly looking at everything. You have people shouting to you to use their tuk-tuk, take their taxi, buy their water, buy their fruit; constantly needing to say "no, thank you" - even though they never take no for an answer even after the first 5 times you tell them. I imagine men are also receiving offers of prostitutes at this point, although I can't confirm that for truth or not.

On Khao san road, we were given a flyer and actually took it. It was for a nearby vegetarian restaurant. We followed the map on the little piece of paper and found what I consider heaven. Atleast, a vegetarian heaven. The whole road was lined with vegetarian and vegan restaurants. If only my city in Japan had one of these. We enjoyed delicious Thai vegetarian food minus our desired alcoholic beverages. The steaming heat of the day made us feel overly tired. We were in bed before midnight.

Our other two friends, Kyla and Andres arrived in Thailand sometime in the middle of the night. They joined us the next day. I only really stayed in Bangkok this one day. The last time I was there - I didn't like it. I thought maybe because it was the last day of my trip, the weather was 10times hotter and we were all sick that were the reasons for that. However, this time, being my first destination with decent weather; I still am not a fan of Bangkok. It just seems that everyone there is trying to rip you off as much as possible, it's polluted, it's hard to get from point A to B because of all the traffic and people were generally rude. Once Kyla and Andres arrived, we left Bangkok to go North to a city called Ayutthaya.

Click here for all the photos of the Grand Palace