By , June 23, 2013 11:04 am

Wat Saket & Phu Khao Thong (The Golden Mountain)

A Buddhist temple in Bangkok, dating back to the Ayutthaya era.

Phu Khao Thong (also called the Golden Mountain) is built on top of a man-made hill within the Wat Saket grounds.  The hill is the result of a collapsed chedi that King Rama III (1787 – 1851) had constructed.  It collapsed during construction because the soft soil couldn’t support its weight.  It was left there, and over time, formed the shape of a natural hill.

King Rama IV began to build a small chedi on top of that hill, which was finished during the reign of his son, King Rama V.  A Buddhist relic was brought from India and placed inside.  Concrete surrounding walls were added in the 1940s to stop erosion of the hill.  Finally, in the early 20th century, the modern Wat was built of marble.

Climbing to the top of the Golden Mountain offers a nice panorama of surrounding Bangkok.  There is no entrance fee.

Path leading up to the top

So many bells

Lighting incense

Striking the gong

More bells

The Golden Mount

Donations

You can buy small squares of gold foil to cover the Buddha images

View from the Golden Mount

Panorama from the top of the Golden Mountain

Khaosan Road

Khaosan Road is an iconic part of Bangkok tourism.  It’s crowded, noisy, and full of food, clothing, and souvenir vendors.  If you’re going, keep an eye on your wallet (always a good idea in a crowd), practice up on your negotiating skills, and enjoy some cheap eats (the street vendors are some of the cheapest around).

If you are more into restaurant meals than street food, I suggest avoiding the eateries on and near Khaosan. The surrounding restaurants seem to be over-priced and mediocre at best.  Better, walk Khaosan, then dodge off a couple of blocks until you find the authentic food vendors and restaurants. That’s where the Thais will be eating.  The food will be cheaper and much tastier.

Khaosan Road

Khaosan pad thai

Random Sights

There’s so much to see and do in Bangkok.  Here’s a few more of our favourite pictures from our time there:

Hua Lamphong train station

Hua Lamphong train station

Fish in the aquarium in our hotel lobby

Delicious and cheap – an authentic Thai lunch

Sunset walk

Sunset walk

Sunset walk

Sunset Walk

My best Korean tourist impression

By , June 17, 2013 11:34 am

Wat Pho (also spelled Wat Po) is next door to the Grand Palace and complements a palace visit nicely.  It is the largest and oldest wat in Bangkok, and is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (its official name is Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan).  It is also known as the home of the traditional Thai massage.  There is a bodhi tree in the Temple’s gardens that is supposed to be propagated from the original bodhi tree the Buddha sat beneath while awaiting enlightenment.

The image of the reclining Buddha is 15 m (49 ft) high and 43 m (150 ft) long.  It is the largest Buddha image in Thailand and was made to celebrate King Rama III’s restoration (1824 – 51 AD).  The image is decorated with gold leaf, and his eyes and feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

The famous (and enormous!) Reclining Buddha

A few of the 108 bronze bowls lining the walls of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  People drop coins into the bowls for good luck (and to help the monks maintain the wat)

The reclining Buddha is definitely not the only Buddha image to see in Wat Pho.  There are over 1000 Buddha images in the massive grounds.   Mom, Terry and I followed the crowds out, missing nearly half the grounds.  Since our tickets were single-entry, we couldn’t get back in without paying the entrance again.  Mike, who was lagging behind to take photos, wandered through the rest of the grounds while we waited outside.

If you’re planning to visit Wat Pho, please remember to wear respectful clothing.  No exposed shoulders, knees, or cleavage.  Entrance fee:  100 baht (~$3.30 CAD).

And because you can never share enough photos….

By , June 11, 2013 3:35 pm

Bangkok’s China Town is a popular tourist attraction.  It is centered around Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Roads, and contains many streets and alleys full of shops and vendors selling just about anything.  This is one of the oldest areas of Bangkok.

The main roads are lined with gold shop after gold shop by day, and are always packed full of customers.  The streets and alleys are lined with vendors selling fireworks, decorations, and every food item you can imagine.  At night, the gold shops are shut down and the food vendors come out to play.

There’s also a lot of high-end restaurants selling shark fin soup. Having lived on and dived off of an island whose shark population has been devastated by fisherman selling fins to these restaurants, I implore you not to eat the shark fin soup.

China Town streets at night

China Town at night

China Town at night

China Town streets at night

China Town at night

Duck for sale in China Town

China Town market

China Town market

China Town market

It was sad to see shark fins for sale all over China Town (they’re hanging in the background.

Meat for sale

Steam buns at a dim sum restaurant

Delicious jackfruit for sale at the market

China Town

 

By , June 7, 2013 11:02 am

It’s impossible to travel Southeast Asia without at least a few obligatory stops in Bangkok – the transportation hub of Thailand.  We made six separate stops in the city, and spent a total of 14 days.  We saw many of the “must-sees” (like Khaosan Road, the Grand Palace, China Town, and the Reclining Buddha) and a few more off-the-beaten path destinations.

Our Explore Bangkok series will share a few of the photos and stories that came along with our explorations.  First up – the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha).

Statue at the Grand Palace

Just about every Bangkok tourist visits the Grand Palace, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy to get to – there are plenty of people that will try to change your plans along the way.  We were sleeping just off Khaosan Road, which made it an easy walk to the Palace.

If you are staying farther away or just don’t want to walk, I strongly advise you to take a metered taxi.  I haven’t seen a Bangkok tuk tuk yet that isn’t a complete rip-off (they are always priced higher than the taxis, even after negotiations) and if the taxi driver tries to get you to agree to a lump sum fare, it will always be about 3-10 times the price of a metered fare.  We have had to ask as many as ten cabs to turn on their meter before a driver would agree to do it, but the savings were worth the extra time and hassle.

Scam 1

Not far into our walk, a man waved us over to talk.  He introduced himself as a city worker and after asking where we were going, went on to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed for the day.  He had us pull out our map and suggested some alternative sights to see across town.  He was also so kind as to give us advice about how not to get ripped off by the tuk tuks drivers.  The key, according to him was to watch for the tuk tuks with a white front license plate. They were the cheap ones.

He kept us talking long enough for his friend, a tuk tuk driver with a white front license plate, to coincidentally drive by and stop for a quick visit.  Also ever so helpful, the driver suggested a number of sites we could see (except the nearby Grand Palace which was supposedly closed).

We knew a scam when we saw one, said thank you and goodbye, and continued on our way.  As we rounded the corner, we saw throngs of people entering and leaving the Grand Palace gates, despite its apparent closed status.

Scam 2

We also encountered an elderly woman surrounded by pigeons on our walk.  She had bags of bird seed and held them out for us.  Mike and I quickly refused and tried to keep walking, but my Mom and Terry slowed down to talk to her.  As soon as we stopped, she started ripping open the bags, forcing our hands open, and pouring the seed into our palms.  Terry pulled out some money to offer her.  She smiled, refused, and kept handing over more birdseed.  We threw the seed on the ground, the pigeons gobbled it up, and she asked for her bags back.  Then, she demanded something like 150 baht ($5 CAD).  I guess the reason she refused Terry at the start was he wasn’t offering enough money.  Angered at the scam, we all pulled out a few baht and handed it to her so she would let us go – what we offered was no where near what she thought it should be.  I’m pretty sure she was cursing us in Thai as we walked away.

The Grand Palace

After leaving the scams behind us, we finally arrived at the Grand Palace.  As the name implies, it is indeed grand.  The ornamental work is stunning and the closer you look, the more there is to see.  It’s impossible to take everything in at a glance, so plan on giving it more than a cursory walk-through.

Grand Palace

The palace was the official residence of the kings of Siam (and, later, Thailand) from 1782 until 1925.  It was also the location of the administrative seat of the government.  Now, it is used for official events and as a tourist attraction.

Inside the Grand Palace grounds

We didn’t see the king

Today, the king lives at Chitlada Palace, which we spent another whole day visiting (we were walking around looking for street food and thought that it was a park and, thus, a great place for food vendors.  We learned otherwise when the guards turned us away from the gate)…

Outside the king’s residence, Chitlada Palace

Outside the king’s residence, Chitlada Palace

The grounds

The grounds and exteriors of the Grand Palace buildings are impressive, which is good since most of the building themselves are off-limits.  The throne room was closed to the public the day we visited (as I later found, it’s always closed on weekends), but that didn’t stop everyone from pressing up to the windows to see the decadence.

Also located in the Grand Palace grounds is Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  This is one of the most sacred temples in Thailand.  Despite all the fuss about it, the Emerald Buddha is relatively small (about 66 cm or 26 in tall).  All the gold around its case almost overwhelms the statue itself.  It is not actually made of emerald, but rather its carved from a single stone of jade.  Three times a year, the statue’s golden outfit (made of real gold, of course) is changed to mark the change of seasons.

Emerald Buddha

The story behind the statue is that in 1434, lightning struck a Chedi (a.k.a. a Stupa – a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) in the northern Thailand province of Chiangrai.  This lightning strike revealed a stucco Buddha statue inside.  The abbot of the temple notice that the nose was green where the stucco had flaked off.  He removed the stucco to reveal the green jade image inside.  The statue made its rounds over the years – Chiangrai, Chiangmai, Lampang, Prabang (Laos), Vientane (Laos), Thonburi, and finally Bangkok.  The Temple of the Emerald Buddha has been its home since 1784.

There are a few museums within the palace grounds – the Queen Sirikit Textiles Museum, where we learned about the production of silk and everything that the royal family has done to encourage the rural economies of Thailand.  Here, mom and I got to play dress up and try on the national Thai dress.

The dress style was created by Queen Sirikit in the 1960′s to combat the westernization of the Royal dress that had been evolving over the years.  Using photographs and designs from the past, Queen Sirikit and her team of designers created and popularized this throwback to traditional Thai fashions and created a national dress equivalent to India’s sari and Japan’s kimono.

The national Thai silk dress

There is also a number of other museums. To name a few, there is the Pavilion of Regalia displaying a number of royal decorations and coins, a weapons museum, and the Musuem of the Emerald Buddha Temple (where you can see the seasonal dress the Buddha is not currently attired in, as well as various other artifacts). Not really a museum, but interesting none the less, was the scale model of Angkor Wat, which could be found among the fish ponds.

While the Grand Palace is definitely dazzling, not all that glitters is golden.  The crowds are immense, the heat is oppressive (especially with all the people about), the majority of the grounds & buildings are closed to the public, and the price tag is hefty – 400 baht (~ $13 CAD).

Crowd at the Grand Palace

The palace is open 8:30 – 3:30 every day, unless there’s a royal ceremony or other official function taking place (like I mentioned before, this is rarely the case so check it out for yourselves).  The audience halls and throne rooms are open on weekdays, but closed on weekends – keep this in mind when planning your visit.  And don’t forget to wear suitable attire – no bare feet (wear shoes),no knees, no shoulders nor cleavage allowed (you can rent a pair of pants on the grounds if you like, but don’t lose your rental slip unless you were in the market for some over-priced, ugly, ill-fitting trousers anyway).

Sign at Grand Palace, indicating unacceptable dress

More photos for you…

Changing of the guards

Check out that detail!

Beautiful door

These guys…

… are in love!

Love the woman that snuck her way into this shot!

 

By , May 22, 2013 7:50 pm

It turns out there’s more to Koh Tao than diving and more to Koh Phangan than parties. Of course, that’s what they are famous for – Koh Tao for being one of the cheapest places in the world to scuba dive, and Koh Phangan for being home to the wild full moon, half moon, jungle, pool, and any other excuse they can think of parties.  While we didn’t spend much time on either island, we had the chance to glimpse a little bit of their beauty.

Koh Tao Viewpoint

Koh Tao viewpoint

Hiking with a headache (word to the wise, skip the flip flops and lace up some hiking shoes)

Palm trees

The hiking trail

Koh Phangan

Gorgeous tree

Beach by our hotel

A floatin dock

Ahh!!! Relaxation!

View from the end of the  dock (Wasn’t Mike brave to carry his SLR camera all the way out here?)

Walk in the hills

Beach panorama

By , May 7, 2013 6:07 pm

I was lucky enough to meet up with my mom abroad not once, but twice during our RTW journey.

First, she and her partner, Terry, joined us in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  They had originally told us they would meet us wherever in the world we happened to be in February and we had left home thinking it would be somewhere in South America.  We didn’t make it that far, of course, but we had a great time together and appreciated their flexibility.

With Mom & Terry in Leon, Nicaragua

When they told us they wanted to meet up again this February (making it perfectly clear they wanted it to be in Southeast Asia this time) we decided to be the flexible ones and changed our itinerary to work with theirs.

Seeing my mom after a year apart was fabulous.  We had had our challenges travelling together in Central America (mostly due to very different travel styles and budgets), so this time we opened up our budget and let them choose our hotels.  We ended up paying about double our typical rate, but it was worth it to be close to them without the hassle of searching for  accommodation that everyone could be happy with in each new place.

We met up with them at a less than favourable hotel in Bangkok (the thing with booking hotels online from home is you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get) and explored some of the city sights with them – the Royal Palace, the Reclining Buddha, China Town and Khaosan Road.

Khaosan Road at night

Duck, shark fins (awww…) and more in China Town

China Town

Mom, blessing Mike with some Buddhist “hocus-pocus” (at least that’s what they called it at the Buddhist monastery we later stayed at)

Asian tourists crack me up!

Me, Terry, and Mom…. all taking pictures at the Royal Palace

Mom and I, dressed in the traditional Thai dress

The reclining Buddha

Then, we all caught a bus with them to Hua Hin.  The beach here was ok, but there was way too much development and too much city encroaching on it for my tastes. When I picture a Thai beach, there definitely aren’t any skyscrapers to be seen.  Large swathes of the beach were littered with “pay-for-the-privilege-to-sit” beach umbrellas – they took up so much space that at high tide there was actually no beach left to sit on.

City encroaching on beach

A whole lot of beach umbrellas

We all beach-bummed around, explored the malls and night markets, and just enjoyed being together again.

Mom & Terry at night market

Rice pudding balls at the night market

Walking the beach… a daily ritual

Reflections in the sand

Hua Hin restaurant

It’s always windy in Hua Hin… perfect for kitesurfing!

Way too soon, our time together was up.  Mom and Terry caught a train back to Bangkok to catch a flight to Bali and Mike and I took a fabulous (yes, this is sarcasm) night bus/ferry combo to Koh Tao for some diving.

Saying goodbye to Mom at the train station

By , April 30, 2013 6:42 pm

We had a post about Meeting up with My Mom in Thailand already to publish. But then, I woke up to this…

Snow in April

… on April 30!

So in an effort to cope with the winter that just won’t end, I’m putting myself back on the beach with these Railay Beach pics.  It’s one of those picture perfect beaches. The kind you find on the cover of travel magazines and top 100 travel destinations books. This is definitely one of my all-time favourite beaches!

Arriving at Railay East

Railay East

Walking the path to Railay West

Beautiful beach

Our first Thai monkey sighting

One of these guys stole our bananas…

Monkey fight!

Monkey with a coconut

Railay West

Lunch boats