11.20.2011 - 11.29.2011
We arrived early in the morning after a ten hour flight and headed straight to our hostel to nurse our jet lag after a sleepless flight. We decided to stay in the Siam Square district which is more centrally located and right off the subway system- plus it was close to all the malls! We spent the first few days hanging around the hostel so that I could get my continuing medical education done by the December deadline. In the evenings, we wondered around the malls and enjoyed lots of Asian cuisine. We’ve gone from kebaps and bread to noodles and rice- I am digging the change I was expecting total madness in Bangkok but it was actually really relaxed. It might have had something to do with our location but it was the first time on our trip where no one gave us a second glance. We were the most uninteresting things people had seen in a long time and no one stared- it was such a change from being a spectacle most places we go - very refreshing! My initial impression of Bangkok was that it is an extremely fashionable and modern place. The locals are unbelievably trendy and it’s like a fashion show walking around the malls. Plus, they have almost every American food chain here - we’ve been to Dairy Queen, Aunt Annies, Pizza Hut, and even Krispy Kreme where we got a hot and fresh donut right off the conveyor belt. It was an exciting moment
The mall in Siam Square
Jeff ordering fruit from a street cart
After breathing a collective sigh of relief when I finished my CME hours, we headed out for some sightseeing. Thailand is 97% Buddhist, so instead of mosques and minarets dotting the skyline, we are seeing temples and chidas. First stop, the Grand Palace, the former royal residence which is now only used for special ceremonies. On the same grounds is Wat Phra Kaew (“wat” in another word for temple), the home of the Emerald Buddha, the most important Buddha image in Thailand. It’s very interesting changing cultures and learning how the do’s and don’ts differ. For example, when you enter a temple you must remove your shoes (no change from mosques), but in temples you must never point your feet in the direction of Buddha. We then stopped by Wat Pho which houses the reclining Buddha and is the oldest temple in Bangkok. The ornate detailing on the inside and outside of temples is generally made with colored glass. For lunch, we caught a river ferry to Chinatown, one of the largest Chinatown’s in the world outside of China. One thing amazing about Thailand is that the food here is so cheap. Street food usually costs less than a dollar and a restaurant meal less than three bucks!
Gateway to the Grand Palace
Inside the Grand Palace
The famous and enormous reclining Buddha
In downtown Chinatown
After a few days enjoying the big city, we headed north to the mountains and more rural Thailand. We caught a morning train to Chiang Mai and were very impressed that they not only served drinks, but two solid meals airline style. The train also provided us an opportunity to see some of the flooding that has been making headlines lately. In downtown Bangkok, there is very little evidence of the flooding, only the occasional pile of sandbags and high-water near the river itself, but once we started north, the flooding became evident and many homes and fields were partially under water.
Multi-tasking at its best- a guy getting his hair cut at the train station
Chiang Mai is a small city in northern Thailand. Since our train arrived late (2:00 am), we slept in a bit and then headed out to see some of the old city. We stopped by multiple wats and even chatted with a Buddhist monk. We had the opportunity to talk with him for half an hour about Buddhism, what it is like to be a monk, and some of the 227 Buddhist tenants that he must follow (like doing away with money, giving away all of your possessions, sleeping on the floor, and never touching women). It was a cool experience and a chance to learn about the Buddhist faith, something I knew very little about. We ended the day with Thai massages, which are not for the faint of heart. The masseuse literally walks on top of you at times, cracks joints, and folds you in half. It is not the most relaxing type of massage, but we left feeling especially limber. Plus, massages here are so cheap. A one-hour Thai massage at a decent place costs just $8. I may have to get another massage tomorrow
Visiting one of the Wats in town- this was during their prayer time
Post chat with the monks
Getting ready for our Thai massage
For our second day in Chiang Mai, we wanted to get out of town and spend some time enjoying nature, so we signed up for a tour of the surrounding area. Our guide, Vick, first walked us around a rural, hill-tribe village where we saw baby piglets (makes me think twice about bacon). Then we took a hike through the jungle to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole. Although the water was cold, we took a dip and were even able to walk up behind the waterfall. After a delicious lunch of yellow curry, we changed into our “Mahout” outfits (they looked like prison uniforms) for a lesson in elephant handling. We first spent time bribing our elephants into liking us by giving them dozens of bananas and then practiced climbing onto their backs. It was a pretty intimidating experience at first because they are so enormous. Jeff’s elephant was 18-months pregnant and had a mind of her own (who wouldn’t be after being pregnant for that long) and mine was a sweet, 55-year old grandmother. After learning a few basic commands, we rode them down to the river and gave them baths. They’re pretty cute when they roll around in the water like kids. Thankfully, we had a true elephant trainer with us at all times because we had very little actual control and were mostly just along for the ride. Spending time up close with animals that huge was a really amazing experience and one that will be hard to forget. Finally, we ended our day with a rafting trip. Thankfully, it was a mild, river rafting experience because our raft was made of bamboo and held together by strips of tire. How our poler did not fall in the river is beyond me. After a long day out and about, we headed back to Chiang Mai and ate our way through the food stands in the Night Market before crashing for the night.
If you want to check out us giving our elephants a bath click HERE
A Rice Paddy outside of the village
The waterfall outside of the village
Trying out the water- it hits hard!
The baby found out we had bananas
Jeff testing out his Manout skills
Taking a stroll in the river
While bathing the elephants- it was fun!
Jeff and his elephant hanging in the river
On our bamboo raft- you basically sat in water
At the night market- hungry??
For our last day in Chiang Mai we decided to take a Thai cooking class. With Nancy, our instructor, as our guide, we first headed out to a local market to see and learn about the different ingredients in Thai cooking. Then we headed back to the school where we all chose seven dishes to cook and eat (the best part of course). It was a fun experience thanks in no small part to Nancy who had a great sense of humor and had us all laughing throughout the day. Among other things, we made Pad Thai, spring rolls, and even curry paste that we ground up with a mortar and pestle. We left the school absolutely stuffed and with just enough knowledge to try Thai cooking at home. Any takers?
If you want to check out Jeff attempting Thai food click on Jeff at our Thai Cooking Class (in his defense there was supposed to be a fire!)
Checking out the goods at the market
At our cooking school with Nancy showing us the way
We are heading east to Laos tomorrow and we will write more from there!