Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

IMG_0722On Tuesday after Thai class we all went to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a Hmong mountain town with a waterfall garden, then took a quick jaunt through the Bpuping Palace grounds. It was a busy day!

Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!
Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is interesting in that unlike a lot of the other Wats it is actually far up in the mountains. Tourists have a choice of either paying 50 baht a piece and taking the tram or walking all 306 steps to get to the top. We decided to take the tram. It’s short and there is not much of a view, so actually I might consider walking up next time.

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The temple itself is beautiful and while somewhat crowded with other tourists from Thailand it felt like it belonged on top of the mountain.

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This fruit was actually what started my exotic fruit kick. It is called a physalis and is related to the tomato. While the winter season isn’t the best time to find ripe fruit we have managed to try a rose apple, jack fruit, some weird almost rum tasting fruit that I forget the name of, and my favorite so far dragon fruit. I’m really curious about this fruit called the sugar apple. I hope that we can have a taste of it before leaving Chiang Mai.

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After the temple we drove around for a while looking for the Bhuping Palace and found this Hmong village. There was a long winding road filled with market stalls to the top of a hill where we found this beautiful terraced garden and waterfall.

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No idea what this does.

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After backtracking we realized that we had driven past the entrance to the Bhuping Palace without even noticing! Luckily we got there 30 minutes before closing and were able to see the grounds. Very beautiful gardens although you are not allowed in any of the buildings.

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The Golden Mount and Central World

The Golden Mount is a monument that we seem to have missed due to it’s close proximity. Even though it’s only a five minute walk we just haven’t thought to check it out.

Well today is our last day in Bangkok so we decided it was time. After some breakfast of course.

This is our first Saturday in Bangkok and we were surprised to see that two of our favorite breakfast places seemed to be closed. It was quite a bit later than we’ve had breakfast for the past few days so we weren’t sure what was going on. I think that they must only be open during the week.

Instead we went to a little outdoor market that’s on the way to the breakfast soup place. The guys got some spicy soup for breakfast while I got fried rice with a fried egg on top. It was really good! I really should have taken a picture of it but it was down the hatch before I had the thought. It actually was about three times bigger than anything else I’ve ordered in Thailand so far and I had trouble finishing it.

With renewed energy we were off to the Golden Mount. It was really only about a five, maybe ten at the most minute walk. It’s actually at the top of a tower with steps that wind their way around the exterior.

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The steps themselves are very low and are really uncomfortable. It’s actually the same feeling that I had when I was walking around the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Thankfully there were several landing between us and the top so our legs didn’t get too sore from the awkward climb.

These bells were actually on our way  down, but they look almost identical to  the ones on the way up.
These bells were actually on our way down, but they look almost identical to the ones on the way up.

On a few of the landing there were several bells all in succession. I think the purpose is to ring each bell in order as you walk up the mount. There was also a big gong on the way up, that my boyfriend rang. The sound was so deep the microphone on my phone couldn’t even pick it up! Oh well, I tried.

Finally we got to the top! With all the wind ringing the chimes and the flapping of the flags it really is mesmerizing. I didn’t notice this but the boyfriend’s brother said that people were walking around the top in a clockwise path. I just so happened to walk in the right direction while taking a video, please make sure that your speakers are turned on and take a moment to watch. I think that you will enjoy it.

The walk down was similar to the walk up, with several bells in long lines on the landings.

Next we took a water taxi to downtown and walked to Central World, a big mall in the center of Bangkok.

We found out that there is more security to get into a mall than back home. For example there was one guard to look through your bags, while a guard at another check point scans your person and takes a second look at your belongings.

Once inside you would think that you were transported into huge mall somewhere in the United States. Most of the signs are in English and there are even many of the familiar stores that we see back home. There was a North Face, H&M, Auntie Ann’s, and even a Starbucks!

The reason that we decided to go to the mall today was to see The Martian. There is a big theater on the seventh floor of the mall that just so happened to be showing it that day, so we headed there first to get our tickets.

Along the way we made a short pitstop in order to try some sugary drinks. The guys got some Hokkaido Choco drinks while I was still too stuffed to get anything. They were very expensive for Thailand but comparable to something you’d find back home.

The next showing of the Martian was at 1:10 PM, but we wanted to make sure that we could find the theater so we headed over there a bit early.  The movie was about a matinee price back home, which is pretty expensive for Thailand but we decided to go for it. We had no trouble ordering a ticket, the sales person spoke fluent English and even showed us a map with a seating chart. We realized then that in Thailand when you buy a ticket to a movie you get an assigned seat! We decided to get one of the seats in the back. They were slightly cheaper and I thought it would be fun to do some people watching.

We still had a lot of time until the movie so we went back out looking for a good place to eat lunch afterward. There was a pizza place that looked interesting, along with a Indian restaurant. The boyfriend and I split a Japanese style strawberry cake that was both cute and delicious! After that we went back to the theater.

Movie theater seats in Thailand are awesome! They have excellent lumbar support and recline to the perfect viewing angle. The theater is also air conditioned which was a little too cold for me but if you’ve been walking around all day in the heat is probably heavenly.

The Martian was awesome, I recommend seeing it if you get the chance! Finally a science movie that doesn’t have any weird mystical elements like 5th dimensional super being or psychic stuff. Just man and whatever he can come up with in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

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We were starving after the movies and stumbled on the most amazing Shabu-Shi. Imagine a hotpot place had a secret love child with a sushi boat restaurant. I snapped this pic about halfway through our meal, I was too distracted in the beginning of it. Not actually the best hot pot that I’ve ever had, but it was probably the most entertaining!

Next we did some shopping at H&M. It’s crazy how you can go shopping at an H&M in Thailand and get the exact same experience as shopping at one in any country.

After that we went back to the hostel. Originally we planned to go out again and check out the Halloween festivities on Khao San Road, however it started raining really hard right before we planned to go. Because Khao San Road is mostly an outdoor scene we decided to skip it this year. It was disappointing, but probably for the best. The next morning we had an early morning flight to Chiang Mai.

Next time, Chiang Mai!

Taking the train to Ayutthaya from Bangkok

Yesterday we made up our minds to take a day trip to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is a town approximately two hours outside of Bangkok with several old ruins from the Siamese empire.

This morning for a change we went to a Western style breakfast. We’ve been eating a lot of Thai food lately and were a little curious what Western style food would taste like in Bangkok, so we decided to go back to the cafe that we visited on Wednesday. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures but it was two sunny side up eggs with spicy ground pork, some slices of sausage and bacon on top. It was accompanied by a baguette with some sausage slices. I also got a big Thai iced tea. It was good. The baguette was more like a dinner roll but the eggs were very tasty.

After breakfast we took a tuk tuk to the train station. The train station itself was like a smaller train station that you would find anywhere. As we were standing in line for the ticket counter someone tried to get us to buy second or first class tickets instead of the third class ones that we planned on originally. To Ayutthaya third class is something like 20 baht, while second class is 345! Big difference. We ended the conversation with her and were able to buy the third class tickets with no issues at the counter. I’m not sure if the first person we talked to was even working for the train station. If you’re ever in the Bangkok train station be forewarned that someone might try to talk you out of buying the third class ticket but if you’re insistent you can get them.

The train ride was hot and slow. One of the funny things that you would never see in the states is that quite a few vendors would get on the train and ride a few stops trying to push their wares. I’m sure after several stations they got off that train and rode the next one in the opposite direction. Because the train is free to Thai people this is probably a great way for them to sell their food.

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The train arrived on time in Ayutthaya and we took off on foot to see Wat Radburana. Right next to the train station there are a ton of tuk tuk drivers offering to take you around all the temples for the day. They charge about 200 baht per hour, which we decided not to do but in hindsight probably should have. More on that later. You also have the choice of renting either bicycles or scooters to see the temples, which are also good options.

Wat Radburana was actually in the middle of town across the street from a bunch of cafes! I was surprised. There is a deal that lets you buy a ticket for six of the ruins in Ayutthaya for 220 baht that we decided to take. We were only in town for the day but I think that it would have been better to spend a weekend there and to see all of the temples over the course of at least two days. These tickets are good for thirty days so you could even stay longer if you wished to. You can also get a ticket for each ruin for fifty baht. Unless you see at least five sites you should probably just pay for each place individually.

In many ways this was the coolest Wat that we saw all day. You are able to climb the stairs of the principal structure and actually go inside the building! Inside there are some stairs descending lower into the building and a few plaques with information about the reasons why Wat Radburana was constructed. It is a little scary, it’s dark and full of bats that you can hear chirping. The make up for that there is a cool breeze that goes through the building that I took advantage of. My boyfriend also told me that if you go down the stairs below you can see very old graffiti on the walls. They weren’t sure if it was fake at the time, but when they looked it up after they got back they found out it was real! Neat.

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Walking around Thailand you will probably encounter a ton of Buddha statues that have been smashed to bits. It’s not just the effect of old age, many of these temples were ransacked and destroyed in past conflict with the Burmese people. It reminded me a lot of the conflict between different religions in the Western world.

Actually for the next ruin all we had to do was cross the street and walk to the entrance! Wat Phra Mahathat was much more popular than Wat Radburana. In fact on the way in someone took all of our pictures which I thought was sort of weird. There was even a small market around the temple.

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As we exited the temple we were greeted by a hawker with some commemorative plates with pictures of our faces on them! So that’s what those photos were for!

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We got a little lost looking for Wat Phra Si Sanphet and came along the border of Wat Phra Ram. We couldn’t find the entrance so I just took a photo of it. We did eventually find Wat Phra Si Sanphet and go inside.

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I saw some people taking elephant rides while we were walking to the temple. I know that most of the elephants are mistreated in these operations so I wouldn’t support taking a ride myself, but I still thought it was quite an experience seeing an elephant walking down the streets!

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Wat Phra Si Sanphet is much better preserved than the other temples that we saw. Most of the plaster was still on the buildings. It was also much bigger than the other two places we saw earlier.

Lol, at this point we were pretty beat from walking around all day so we found a restaurant to cool off in. I don’t remember the name of it. The food was okay, but honestly not the best since we’ve been in Thailand. I didn’t even remember to take a picture of it.

Refreshed and with clear heads we decided to stop there and just hang out until the next train came. In retrospect I think that we should have hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to all of the temples. If we had saved our energy for just walking through the grounds I think that we would have made it to all six of the sites but by walking to each site we really only explored three. Oh well.

We actually ended up making our way to riverfront guesthouse called the Old Place after lunch. It looked like a nice place to stay and the receptionist we spoke to was really courteous. We bought a couple of beers and just hung out near the water watching the ferry take people across. A perfect way to wrap up the day.

We took the second class train on the return trip. It was over fifteen minutes late but pulled into the station eventually. It had assigned seats and AC in each car. The seats were also a lot more like ones you would find in an airplane. They reclined, there was a footrest, and even a little mesh pouch on the back of the seat in front of you to stow your belongings. The train was a little more bumpy on the return trip which surprised me, however we managed to make it back in one piece.

Once we got to the station we found the craziest tuk tuk driver in all of Bangkok. He was driving on the wrong side of the road, weaving between cars and frankly playing chicken with any pedestrians that happened to cross his path. He even had hooked up a siren to his tuk tuk to confuse other motorists into getting out of his way. Oddly, he also made very gentle turns and I never felt like I was going to be thrown from the vehicle despite the wild ride. I really wish that I had taken a video of it. For only eighty baht he got us back to the hostel and gave us a story to tell.

For dinner we ate some of the best Pad Thai in Thailand at Thip Samai, which is conveniently across the street from our hostel. I should have taken a picture but it didn’t occur to me until I’d eaten about two thirds of it. Get the one wrapped in egg it’s the best!

That just about wraps up the day. Next time, the Golden Mount and Central World!

I’m in Thailand! First two days, part 1

I already wrote that we had a tough time getting to Thailand, it was a long trip and the layover in Wuhan was weird and scary.

Wuhan was not like I expected whatsoever. We first disembarked from the plane directly to a bus and then went to the main airport terminal. The first thing that we had to do was go through Chinese immigration. That was scary! I was really sweaty and nervous despite knowing that we were a straight forward 72 hour transit visa exemption. My passport was moist! They looked at our papers for a while then waved us through. I do have a Chinese stamp on my passport now, kind of cool.

We went down a medium sized hallway to a waiting area with some benches. It was tiny! In fact there were only two small shops, a bathroom, and an information desk. The attendant at the information desk spoke some English but we think that there was a communication error because she told us to wait until half an hour before boarding. That seems like it would cut it way to close so we decided not to do that. There was a screen with the information for our flight and it had a time under STA or something like that. We waited until that time, maybe 45 minutes, then tried to check in. I’m glad that we did! There was no problem checking in and in fact the check in counter apparently closed 45 minutes before takeoff! If we had waited half an hour we would have been stuck in Wuhan for who knows how long. That would have been a nightmare.

The SO and I passed through the security checkpoint really easily but his brother was randomly selected for a major search. They went through everything in his bag and examined his doubled edged safety razor, which didn’t have a razor blade so it was okay to bring as a carry on.

It was much more relaxing to wait a the gate after checking in. It honestly went by pretty fast for me.

We had to take another bus to the airplane. As we neared the plane I noticed that there were three guys looking at the port side engine. They didn’t seem to be fixing anything but were checking things out, pointing and talking a lot. It made me kind of nervous going in, but it wasn’t enough to stop me.

The flight to Bangkok was uneventful. We were feed another meal that I was way too stuffed to eat. They seriously feed you on China Southern. Maybe it’s a hospitality thing? I tried to sleep but I couldn’t get into a comfortable position. The guys both nodded off at some point and slept most of the way there.

I think that the pilot missed the landing on the first attempt. As we were descending the plane started to go up unexpectedly. We drifted around the city for a while then finally made a hard landing well after the ten minutes they said it would take. Oh well, we were safe which is the important part!

After getting into the airport we all withdrew some baht from an ATM and were able to get sim cards for all of our cellphones. I was a little worried that mine was carrier locked to Verizon, but I’ve had no issues whatsoever. It’s only $30 USD to get a plan with 12gb data for the month so we all decided on that. I wish I had gotten a little more money but it seems like there are ATMs everywhere, at least in Bangkok.

Then we went outside and got a ticket for a taxi. We had been dreading dealing with drivers that refuse to use the meter but we had no problem. The ticket from the machine gave us a number which corresponded with a taxi that was waiting in that numbered space. My boyfriend’s brother asked him to use the meter and it wasn’t an issue at all.

Off we went to the hostel! That poor driver, we all had the stink of sitting in your clothes on an uncomfortable plane for hours. It was maybe a thirty minute drive.

In Bangkok traffic is on the left side of the road, which is quite disorienting! Especially when you are so tired. I had to tell myself that the fast lane was on the right and the exits were all on the left. Still, it was so weird to watch it happen.

Not long after we checked into our hotel and picked up some water bottles from 7-11. The bed was a bit hard so it took a while to get into a comfortable position. I had read that Thai beds are quite a bit harder than we are used to in the US, but reading about it and experiencing it are different things.

The next morning I was raring to go! Even though I hadn’t slept on the plane I felt energized and was able to get up early after a little sleep.

Eating Thai food in Thailand is amazing! It’s really cheap to get breakfast especially and there is food everywhere. It was only 35 baht for each of us, which is just over a dollar. We also got some sodas which were a measly ten baht. I honestly have no idea what the name of the restaurant we first ate at but they served a spicy curry soup with a whole bunch of toppings that you could add. One of them was this mysterious shredded vegetable which we found out later was a banana flower. It was really good in the shredded form, kind of crunchy and watery like a beansprout. When we were served a big piece of it my SO’s brother said it kind of dries out your mouth. I wonder what they do to make it crunchy/watery and not mouth drying?

After our amazing breakfast we decided to go to the Grand Palace and the shrine of the Emerald Buddha. It was kind of expensive for Thailand but it was an awesome place to see. It’s very interesting to see these temples decked out in shiny copper and tons of color, completely different from the austerity that religion is (supposed) to display in Western culture. We had bad timing so we missed the guided English tour by a half hour and it was over an hour until the next one so we just checked out the place at our own pace. It was nice to be able to linger over what was interesting and make our way through the complex.

I keep meaning to read up more on the wikipedia page about it but there’s been so much to do! My SO’s brother told me the the Emerald Buddha was found covered in plaster at some point, so they didn’t know that it was made out of Jade until they took it off!

There were also these cool murals everywhere depicting these ancient stories. As a westerner I had no idea what the stories were but it was really interesting art style and it was nice to take a break from the sun. The murals were around the edges of the complex along the wall, which thankfully had a roof to provide some shade.

Thailand is hot and sunny but not as bad as I expected. This is the cool season mind, so it can definitely be worse! I’m glad we decided to come when we did.

After the Grand Palace we decided to get some lunch. I’m not sure of the name of the restaurant but it was a nice air conditioned place along the main road through town, which I think is Sao Ching Cho. My boyfriend and I split the Tom Yum Kung with prawns soup and got a fried Chilean Sea bass. It was so delicious. My boyfriend’s brother got the Panang curry. It was really flavorful, but a little too sweet for me. With the bass there was even this funky fish broth dipping sauce/salad that made it really good. I was dipping the fish in it, but my boyfriend and his brother thought it was some kind of salad. I still think that it was some sort of sauce but we didn’t ask anyone so who knows?

Then we were pretty beat from walking all day so we took a nap back at the hostel. I think we went to the 7-11 for some beers and got some Pad Thai from across the street. Sadly the restaurant we were hoping to go to, which has excellent Pad Thai, was closed because it was a Monday. There was another restaurant nearby that also served Pad Thai which we went to instead. It took forever but it was all part of the experience. I also found a fly in mine back at the hostel, which was gross but I figured was going to happen eventually with street food. I felt fine the next day, so I think that I’m alright.

That was all on Monday!

Yesterday, which was Tuesday, we decided to take it pretty easy. My boyfriend got badly sunburned on his feet and all cut up by his sandals, while I had a lot of blisters from walking around in my sandals.

For breakfast we went to this place along the same road as our other breakfast place. It’s directly east from the hostel, down the road until you hit the big government building there, turn right then walk two blocks. We all ended up getting different things, I got the spicy duck curry, while my boyfriend got the fish curry, and his brother got this pork sausage curry. We also got this tasty herbal drink. I wish I remembered the name of it but I’ve already forgotten. It had this really interesting aftertaste, not a bad one but flavorful. It was green and they brewed it hot then poured it over ice.

After breakfast we walked through Khao San Road. It was totally dead but there were still a lot of hawkers trying to get us to the Grand Palace. My SO and his brother ended up getting these really thin pants that we’ve seen all over Thailand. They are apparently super comfortable. They have pictures of elephants on them a lot of the time.

At the edge of Khao San Road we went into a pharmacy and I got some motion sickness medicine. We planned to hire a longboat and take a tour of the canals next and I did not want to get sick on the boat!

Then it was a short walk to the river for that start of our leisurely boat ride. There were a lot of hawkers trying to sell boat rides but I think we managed to get the one that was mentioned in my SO’s brother’s guidebook. They had the same stops and prices, and we even managed to get a discount of 300 baht. Score!

Riding in the boat was so cool, we got to see people’s houses who were both rich and poor along the river. There were some awesome mansions and some ramshackle buildings halfway collapsed. I know in the US a lot of the structures that people were living in would have been completely condemned. There were also a lot of temples and and even what looked like little children that were buddhist monks. People were really friendly along the banks and would often stop to wave at us. It was really like a roadway, and we even noticed mailboxes along the water.

We also noticed that many of the houses had a little shrine outside. They are actually beautifully decorated though I did not know their function at the time. Now that I have had the chance to google it I know that they are Spirit Houses. Spirit Houses honor the Spirit that lives in a place and keep the spirits from causing trouble to human beings.

After twenty-thirty minutes we stopped at Wat Pho. That is the temple of the reclining Buddha. When you enter the building that it is housed in, you first walk along the front side of the Buddha. It was huge! We were maybe the size of one of it’s fingers. It takes up most of the building. We took some pictures there near the head but they didn’t come out all that well. More towards the feet there is a better vantage point and I was able to get a decent one of my bf and his brother. The boyfriend looks a little angry! He didn’t really feel that way but said that it was because he didn’t want his picture taken.

Unfortunately the Buddha’s feet, which are inlaid with intricate designs in mother-of-pearl, were being worked on and out of view. Bummer.

All along the front we were wondering about this noise that seemed to be coming from the other side. I sounded like the dropping of coins. Luckily we were allowed to go along the other side of the Buddha and found out what the noise was. On that side you could buy a bowl of 100 coins and put one each in a long row of bowls. It’s supposed to be good luck. We didn’t end up doing it but now I wonder if I should have.

I was honestly feeling a little sick at that point so we ended up leaving a bit early. I think it was putting too much spice in my food. In actuality the Thai food we’ve been getting hasn’t been terribly spicy! I think it’s just a Western thing to think that Thai food is unbearably hot.

After that we decided to get some lunch. We came across a Chinese food place and got some flavorful chicken dish, shumai, and fried rice. Thai Chinese food! The shumai were called something strange in English on the menu, like pork and shrimp with flour. I guess flour means dumplings? They were really good, I think they had a ton of garlic in them. Especially with the spicy soy sauce they served it with. The fried rice was interesting too, they used vegetables I’m not used to seeing and minced them pretty small. It was tasty and interesting. The chicken was kind of disappointing but I liked the Chinese broccoli that it was served with.

After lunch we hung out in my boyfriend and I’s room and planned out what to do over the next few days. Then we all took big naps.

That night we went out the Khao San Road again. Funny story, it just so happens to be Wan Ok Phansa. It’s sort of the end of the Buddhist version of lent. There are quite a few rules but one of the main ones is that you are not allowed to sell or buy alcohol during Wan Ok Phansa. My SO’s brother found that out talking to one of the other backpacker’s in the dorm. Later on I even saw that the people at the 7-11 wouldn’t sell alcohol to some tourists. I love being in the know!

Eventually we made our way to Khao San Road. We weren’t sure what we were going to find because of the alcohol restriction but decided to check it out. Right at the corner of Khao San Road there is a Burger King and we just so happened to have to go to the bathroom, so we all went to a Burger King in Thailand! It’s amazing, it looks just like in the US! I have no interest in eating American fast food in Thailand though, so we soon out of there and towards backpacker central.

I think that I will stop part 1 there. I started writing about our night in Khao San but I want to give it more detail. I guess I got a little tired when I was writing this last night and left out a lot. I’m going to start working on it now and hopefully get it out by tonight. I’m planning to catch up to the current time asap so I don’t start leaving things out or forgetting little details.