Get ready for Bangkok

1 04 2010

Buckle your seat belts and hold on tight (to your wallet that is) when you get into Bangkok! And I mean both of those phrases quite literally (lol). Bangkok is a city full of skyscrapers and malls yet the city is adorned with ancient temples and simple street stalls. I would have to say that Bangkok is probably one of my favourite cities in the world…read below and you’ll find out why.

view from our boat

On our first day in Bangkok we were excited to venture out into the streets and begin exploring! Our day started off trying to find our way to Wat Pho which is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok dating from the 16th century. However we began running into a problem — we couldn’t actually find the temple! Before we left our hostel, we asked the front desk staff how far away Wat Pho was and they told us it was only a 15-20 minute walk so we started walking. As we were walking down the street, we stopped to ask someone for directions and they told us “Wat Pho,  Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew closed — no go today — only go after 1 pm.” Immediately we got confused and began wondering why the front desk staff at our hostel didn’t notify us that it was closed until 1pm. Then I remembered reading something about this in my Lonely Planet guidebook. The guidebook actually said that if you ever ask someone for directions in Bangkok, they will likely tell you that the attraction you are trying to visit is closed and they will recommend that you go visit something else (i.e. go to a shop or something because the person will  get a commission out of it). Even though I had read about this scam, I was still a little bit skeptical as I had heard it was a Buddhist holiday not too long ago and I was unsure how long Buddhist holidays lasted. So being the gullible farangs (Thai word for tourists) that we were, we fell into this trap and we decided to follow the man’s recommendation to go to the floating market in Bangkok. So we walked and walked and finally found a harbor where we took a boat tour around Bangkok. When we got off the boat, some man tried telling us that there was a “landing fee” for when you got off the boat, since we knew this was a scam we ignored him and walked away while he threatened to call the police on us.

Buddhas at Wat Pho

When we got off the boat, we started walking and actually ended up near the area that Wat Pho was located so we decided to follow our intuition and the map and just go straight there without asking anyone for directions. When we got to Wat Pho we were stunned by the beauty and detail of this temple. Every single part of the temple was adorned with carvings or golden buddhas. Wat Pho actually houses the country’s largest reclining buddha that is 46m long and 15m high. The reclining buddha is suppose to illustrate the passing of the buddha into final nirvana.

Reclining Buddha

Wat Phra Kaew

The next day we made it out to the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Since you must cover up your arms and legs, we borrowed traditional Thai clothing from the temple (hence my funny looking outfit). Wat Phra Kaew is known to be The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (you aren’t allowed to take photos of it so I don’t actually have a photo of it). According to Lonely Planet, the Emerald Buddha is actually made of jasper and it was transported all the way from northern Thailand where it was hidden inside a layer of stucco. We also saw a small model of Angkor Wat in this temple which was kind of cool especially considering the years of animosity between the Thai and Cambodians.

Next we saw the Grand Palace which use to be the residence of the royal family. Today the Grand Palace is used by the king only for certain ceremonial occasions such as Coronation Day. Interestingly enough, the Grand Palace has a mix of European and Thai architecture which gives it a unique architectural design.

Grand Palace

That same evening we went to Khao San Road night market which is a backpacker hot spot and the night market sells everything (literally everything) from fake Ray Bans to useless little trinkets to $5.50 CAD Thai massages (180 THB to be exact). I would have to say that the Thai food and the Thai massages were among my top favourite things to do in Thailand. On our first day we ate a delicious green curry at a restaurant just across from Wat Pho!

On our third day in Bangkok we visited the ancient city of Ayuthaya which use to be the former capital of Thailand. From 1350-1767 Ayuthaya was the cultural centre and trading hub of Thailand however it was a city that was constantly under battle. Much of the architecture and religious treasures were looted by the Burmese and hence, the capital of Thailand moved to Bangkok. Now what is actually left of Ayuthaya is basically ancient ruins from a very long time ago. We visited so many temples that I can’t recall them all by name but I do remember one of the most interesting things we saw was the head of a sandstone buddha in a tree. Apparently the body of the buddha has disappeared but all that remains is the head which is surrounded by roots of a tree. (see below)

Sandstone buddha

Now these are only some of the major recounts of my time in Bangkok. If I sat here and shared all the things I did in Bangkok, I think this would easily turn into a novel. The food was incredible and the shopping was among the most fun I have ever had (including the bargaining!) Among my favourite stories from Thailand was when me and my 6 friends decided that we didn’t want to pay for 2 cabs but instead it would be cheaper if we found 1 cab that would take 7 people. At the cost of only 100 or 150 THB (can’t recall the exact amount) we each paid the rough equivalent of 33 cents for our cab back home haha lol. But we suffered an extremely tight and uncomfortable situation with 5 people in the backseat and 2 people in the front seat.

However I can tell you that Bangkok is one crazy city! It is full of tuk tuk’s that try to scam you, taxi drivers that try to scam you, tailors that try to scam you and even ping pong shows that try to scam you — basically everyone is trying to scam you. To the Thai, tourists are like walking ATM’s but all you can do is exercise extreme caution and hope for the best. There just ain’t no city like Bangkok 😉

Other buildings around Grand Palace

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Krabi, Thailand

30 03 2010

As I parted ways with the ever so beautiful Phi Phi Island, I was excited and keen to see Krabi. It was about a 4-6 hour ferry ride to Krabi and when we finally arrived the scene seemed plain, boring and there was nothing that even came close to Phi Phi. However I remembered that my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook saying that the town of Krabi is a great jumping-off point for all the epically beautiful islands so I knew to hold any judgement until we actually got into town. We stayed near Ao Nang which is suppose to be the furthest west beach. Ao Nang is full of tourist shops and the town actually reminds you of beach towns back home than a tropical beach paradise. When we arrived at our guesthouse we were in awe at the fact that we had air-conditioning, a proper shower and an incredibly nice and clean room! Our accommodations back at Phi Phi was pretty much a….rut (to be frank!). Since Phi Phi is very touristy, the price of a good guesthouse or hotel is incredibly expensive but since Krabi isn’t as touristy, you can get a really nice guesthouse at a very affordable price.

Ao Nang

On our first day we headed over to the beach where we took a boat taxi to Railay Beach and we rented kayaks and went kayaking for much of the evening. Kayaking was a lot of fun especially since we encountered so many waves that would push us back and soak us. On our second day in Krabi we decided to go on a “jungle trekking” tour where we would go elephant trekking, visit natural hot springs, go to the Emerald Pool and see the Tiger Temple Cave.

Me riding Pooey, my elephant

Elephant trekking was by far, one of my favourite experiences. My friend Bonita and I shared a female elephant named Pooey. She was slow and old but so cute and lovable! We got a chance to feed the elephants bananas as well as they grabbed them with their trunks. When I got a chance to sit on the elephant, its skin was really rough and prickly which felt so weird on your skin! After elephant trekking, we went to go see natural mineral water hot springs. The springs were actually a temperature of almost 38 degrees and they were really nice and relaxing to step into.

Natural hot springs

By this time, it was noon and we were being served lunch at a small outdoor restaurant near the hot springs. We had some amazing food here such as coconut curry which was delicious! After lunch we headed over to the Emerald Pool (it’s called the Emerald Pool because it is a natural pool with emerald colour water). Our last adventure of the day was the Tiger Cave Temple. Now at this temple is a mountain that has 1,237 that will take you to the top. My friend and I began venturing to the top and we noticed that the stairs started to get more and more narrow which was pretty frightening but we continued trekking it up. But then something really scary happened…my friend was attacked by a monkey! My friend had been carrying a plastic bag containing some lozenges for her sore throat, her camera case and a water bottle. The monkey just went up to her and leashed on to the plastic bag which was around her wrist. My friend immediately let the bag go and monkey ripped into the bag and tore open any and everything he could find in hopes of food. It was here that me and my friend got extremely startled and scared and we noticed that the monkeys were following us up! When we got to about the 300th step, we decided enough was enough with these crazy monkeys and we headed back down. As we waited for our friends at the bottom of the mountain, we noticed that the monkeys attacked any human with food! So the lesson for the day…try to feed monkeys regularly otherwise they will attack you!

1237 steps to the top of the mountain

While my friend and I were waiting for the others we noticed an elderly man running up the stairs to the top of the mountain. Our tour guide explained to us that this elderly Caucasian man actually lives in Thailand and he runs up to the top of the mountain twice a day and he has even learnt to speak Thai! We finally arrived back at our guesthouse at approximately 6PM and we ended our time in Krabi by venturing out in to the night market.

View from the top of the mountain (borrowed from Zami's camera)





Phi Phi…you are beautiful

29 03 2010

After one night in Patong Beach (which was more than enough!) we headed over to Phi Phi Island (pronounced Pee-Pee). Now Phi Phi Island is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (actually I think they are the most beautiful beaches). When we first arrived, it was like walking into an image from a postcard. Words cannot describe how incredibly picture perfect the island(s) are. Perfect limestone, the whitest sand and the clearest water…take a look.

Phi Phi Island

The first day, everyone was caught up with excitement! The weather must have been easily 39 degrees and the sand was almost burning hot! We explored the island, I did some shopping for a full sleeves cotton shirt and a hat to wear (and I never wear hats). We took a small 3 hour boat tour to the surrounding islands around Phi Phi Don. We visited  Pi Leh Bay where I went snorkelling in ocean water for the first time in my life!! It was such an incredible experience! This had to have been the most beautiful coral I have ever seen! The fish were all different shapes and sizes as well. In short…it basically looked like a scene from National Geographic 🙂 On the same boat tour we saw Viking Cave and a number of other smaller beaches.

Snorkelling

On our second day in Phi Phi, we decided to do a full day tour around all the small islands and beaches surrounding Phi Phi. We visited Monkey Beach (where there are usually funny stories about monkeys attacking tourists but unfortunately we saw no monkeys 😦 ), Viking Cave, Loh Dalum Bay, Bamboo Island, Monkey Bay and the most famous island of all…Maya Bay! If you are unable to recall where you heard of Maya Bay, well remember the old Leonardo DiCaprio film from 2000 called The Beach? Well they actually shot the movie on this very island! And yes, it is just as beautiful as they say it is. The beach is basically surrounded by limestone in a u-shape making for a picture perfect image. On our way back to the main island we were fortunate enough to witness dolphins swimming in the ocean (in their natural habitat!)

Dolphins Swimming

The last thing I wanted to share about my trip to Phi Phi was the food. I think I had some of the best meals I have ever ate in my life while I was in Thailand. Of course, you can’t go to Thailand without eating some Pad Thai but my favourite dishes were the green curry, the red curry and the coconut curry! The food was just so delicious (but very expensive on Phi Phi in terms of Asian standards). Phi Phi is also known to have a great life with lots of crazy beach parties and fire dance shows as well. My friends and I actually watched an entire dance show and some of the people performing were little kids, probably not older than 11 or 12 who did a  great job putting on rings of fire dance shows.

To sum up, if you are ever in Thailand, a must-see is Phi Phi island. If you’ve ever wondered what paradise looks like…now you know 😉

Maya Bay





Patong Beach, Thailand — one crazy town!

28 03 2010

Here we go…documenting my journey from my 10 day trip in Thailand was one of the primary reasons why I wanted to start up a blog again. The trip started off arriving in Phuket, Thailand where the minute you get off the plane you are bombarded with people trying to sell you their cab or tuk tuk services. After thoroughly reading my lonely planet guidebook, I was well aware of the scams that the taxi drivers and tuk tuk’s try to pull on you. We got into a van cab which we shared with 2 other couples who were travelling to Phuket/Phi Phi Island. Approximately 15 minutes in to the cab ride, the driver pulls into a little shop outside of Patong Beach. A common scam in Thailand is for taxi drivers to take you to shops where tourists are forced into buying something from the shop because taxi drivers will receive a commission from the shop owners. We immediately recognized this scam as me and my friend got out the cab to be lured into talking to one of the sales women. She was trying to sell us a package to go to Phi Phi Island on one of their “luxury” ships. We remained unpersuaded and when we asked her if we could get a business card in order to call her later to see if we actually wanted to book, she said “no business card, no phone, you book now!” So merrily off we went.

Our guesthouse in Phuket was surprisingly extremely nice and very clean! My good friend, Devin Persaud who had been on exchange last year had recommended the place and said it was pretty decent. Being on a limited budget, it was a little more expensive than we expected but well worth the cost!  Now here was the tough part — we hadn’t arranged our travel plans to go to Phi Phi yet but we knew we wanted to go to Phi Phi Island and the town of Krabi for a few days. Luckily our guesthouse recommended a travel company where a British man organized our entire trip for 4 days from Phi Phi Island to Krabi and back to Phuket! I will forever be so thankful to that sales man because it is such a hassle trying to get reasonable prices anywhere in Thailand (and not being ripped off!)

When we finally arranged all of our travel plans, we headed into streets of Patong Beach. Now this is a town that never sleeps. The minute you walk in, you are surrounded by people trying to sell you “ping-pong” shows (for PG reasons I will not explain what a ping-pong show is but if you are curious, urban dictionary it), tuk tuks and random useless things that you will never use in your life but end up buying anyways (like straw hats and stupid wooden frogs).

The whole town of Patong Beach is pretty much just nightclubs, bars, female strip clubs and most interestingly…lady boy strip clubs. I have never seen so many lady boys in my life and they are definitely an interesting sight! They are just so damn good at looking like women!

However the most disappointing thing to see in Phuket is the amount of tourists…specifically older men…walking around with young (almost teenage-looking) Thai girls. After an interesting talk with one of my best friends, Laxmi Parthasarathy, she told me the sex industry is so huge in Thailand that sometimes families make the decision to sell their daughters of in order to buy materialistic things like TV’s.

Despite things like prostitution being formally, illegal, the government still tolerates and just puts a blind eye to the whole sex industry. I found an interesting quote from a human rights activist in Thailand who was interviewed by UC Berekely.

Kritaya Archavanitkul, a Thai human rights activist, interviewed by UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies, said,

“This is sad to say, that the Thai social structure tends to accept this sort of abuse, and not only to accept – we have laws, we have bills that vitally support the existence of these sex establishments. That’s one thing. And also, we have a Mafia that is also involved in the political parties, so this keeps the abuse going. The second reason is a cultural factor. I don’t know about other countries, but in Thailand the sexual behavior of Thai men accepts prostitution. Every class of Thai men accept it, although not all Thai men practice it. So they don’t see it as a problem. So when it comes to the policymakers, who are mostly men, of course, they don’t see this as a problem. They know there are many women who are brought into prostitution in Thailand. They know that some are treated with brutal violence. But they don’t think it’s a terrible picture. They think it’s just the unlucky cases. And, because of the profit, I think there are many people with an interest involved, so they try to turn a blind eye to this problem.”
Source: http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations/Kritaya/krit-con3.html