Monday, February 20, 2012

because pictures are fun

It seems to take me forever to keep up on writing about everything on this trip.  Uploading pictures is not a process that goes much faster, but here are a few for the last couple of days.

Close encounter in Khao Yai National Park

Not my favorite thing to find, but still cool.

Exploring the Temple ruins in Ayutthaya...

The most photographed Buddha in Ayuthaya

Hiking through the jungle on our way to a Karen Village in Northern Thailand...

Home in the jungle for the night

I think I'll shower when we get back to Chiang Mai

Camping out on floor mats, this place isn't to bad.
Then we found this guy and tried to chase him
out of our sleeping space.
While doing that, we came across this guy! Ahhhh!

Back in Chiang Mai for the Sunday market
rover crew.... this one is for you!

good breakfast spot

Mallard ducks at the zoo in Chaing Mai!

Friday, February 17, 2012

We Leave in ten minutes

This Morning we said goodbye to NapPark Hostel, Khao San Road and Bangkok and headed NorthEast toward Khao Yai National Park. Destination town, Pak Chong.  We thought we would be taking a train, but once again the girl at the desk suggested otherwise and sent us out the door with directions to take a meter-taxi to the bus station and take a bus to Pak Chong, it should be about 4 hours.

We found a taxi quickly, piled our giant bags in to the trunk, and got in. As we began to drive we asked the driver to turn on the meter. He said “No, 400 baht” we said, “No. Meter, please.” When he refused, we said, “stop the car.” We got out, took our things and got in the next meter-taxi. This driver hesitated with his meter, but then turned it on.

Finding our bus was easy. We walked up to the giant sign that said “INFORMATION” in capital letters and in English, got the information we needed and proceeded to purchase our tickets and get on our bus. The four hour bus ride turned out to be three, leaving us in Pak Chang shortly after 2pm.  It was a rather ordinary bus stop, with no obvious tourist services nearby.  The e-mail Michelle received this morning said someone from our hostel would pick us up, so we paced back and forth for a bit, wondering what do with ourselves and within 15mins, or so, a woman came up to us on a motor bike and asked if we were going to “Greenleaf House.”  We smiled and said “yes.” She replied with, “I am Greenleaf house… wait here. Do not pay for taxi, free transport to Greenleaf. Wait here transport,” and she drove away and fast as she showed up! So, we sat down in the hot sun and waited for our ride.   Sure enough, after short wait, there was someone with a pickup truck looking for us. Excellent!
The view while waiting at the random bus station

The drive to Greenleaf was short and we got there shortly before 3pm.  We got out of our truck and immediately someone walked up to us and asked who we were and if we wanted to go on the half day tour. We said yes, of course.  Then we were told, “Okay, we leave in ten minutes. Bring swim suit, insect repellent and flashlight.” We were showed to our room, scrambled to gather our things and headed right back for our half day tour!

The tour started with a visit to natural spring where we went swimming. It was great.  Thailand is soooo hot and humid, and we were sweaty as ever, so jumping in for a swim in the spring was perfect.  While hanging out near the spring our guide, Joe, showed us several giant spiders too.

After the spring we visited a cave used by monks for meditation and other Buddhist practices. Inside this cave we saw several Buddha statues, hundreds of bats and some of the largest creepy crawling bugs I’ve ever seen in my life.

Finally we went to an open field, at the bottom of a steep hill and waited for the bats to emerge from a cave near the top of the hill.  So we waited at dust set in, and sure enough just as the disappeared below the horizon the bats began flying out of the cave.  It was crazy, Joe said there was nearly 2million of them, the just kept coming and coming and coming from the cave.  Joe also had a telescope set up pointing at the sky. We could see Jupiter and three of its moons!

We arrived back to Greenleaf covered in dust, from the long ride back on dry dirt road. Showers. Dinner. Beer. Cards and few more new friends.  Goodnight!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Say Wat??

Day two in Bangkok was spent as tourists.  We visited the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and Wat Trimit.  Along the way we learned to navigate a few dodgy alleys, find our way on to a commuter ferry and also learned, quickly, that the safest way to cross the street is to walk quickly and at a steady pace!

Day one in Bangkok went a little later than we originally anticipated so day two started a bit later than expected, but we still managed to fit in a whole lot of stuff and it turned out to be a fantastic day. 

After and omelet and iced coffee at Nap Park we ventured out to see the sights. First stop, the Grand Palace. The grand Palace was established in 1782 when the King Rama I decided the former capital of Thonburi was not suitable and he chose to move it to the other side of the river, where the palace was built. It houses not only Royal Residences but also several government offices and most importantly, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew.  Today, however, the palace is only used for certain ceremonial occasions.
First  sight  upon  Entering  the  Palace

The Emerald Buddha is a little guy, but also happens to be one of Thailand’s most famous buddha’s. Originally discovered in 1434, this little Buddha endured an long journey from northern Thailand, where it was hidden in stucco while traveling to  it's current home. On it’s way there it was seized by Lao forces only to be recovered by Thai’s some time later. The Emerald Buddha is actually made of Jade, but once thought to be emerald because of the way in which the magnificent green color was revealed as the stucco was removed over time, thus giving it the name the Emerald Buddha.

After viewing the Emerald Buddha we wandered around the palace for a couple hours, listening to the guided audio tour.  I wish we had found someone to take a picture of us together. We were a sight to see in our barrowed “appropriate” clothing, sweating buckets with camera and audio tours hanging form our necks! Fortunately, we were not the only pair who looked this way.

On our way out of the palace we really wanted icecream but settled for something called Roselle Juice. Not exactly sure what that is, but it was cold and passed as a close second.  It was pasteurized too, I’m not honestly sure what it was.

After leaving the Grand Palace, we followed the directions of “left, and then left again” in search of the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.  Wat Pho is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, no surprise it’s the largest, it’s home to a reclining Buddha, who is 46meters long and 15 meters high.  It’s toe is size of a human head.

After the reclining Buddha we had one more “need-to-see,” The Golden Buddha.  This guy is cool because it too was hidden in plaster and stucco until the mid-1900’s when the plaster fell off after having been dropped while being re-located only to reveal a magnificent  3meter tall, 5 and a half ton solid gold Buddha!

Unfortunately we got a little distracted on our way to finding the Golden Buddha. When we thought we were boarding a ferry to take us down the river we actually found ourselves on a ferry that simply took us across the river, whoops! But that’s okay, because we just found ourselves in a very lovely spot and steps away from Wat Arun.  This wasn’t on the agenda at the beginning of the day, but I’m happy we found ourselves here. That’s the part of traveling with only “sort of” a plan I like.  Wat Arun is named after the indian god of dawn, Aruna.  The entire thing is 82m high and covered in porcelain.  The public was allowed to climb the stairs about two thirds of the way to top, so of course we did that!

After Wat Arun we made our way back across the river to catch a ferry that would indeed take us down the river to within walking distance of Wat Traimit where could find the Golden Buddha. Upon arriving we saw a sign noting the temple was only open to the public from 8am to 5pm, it was 5:15. But, lucky for us, we must look like good people, because a security guard approached us and asked what we were looking for. After  we explained we were searching for the Golden Buddha, he showed us the way.  It was rather nice to see this glorious Golden Buddha without the company of other tourists.

After the golden Buddha we found our way back to the ferry dock to further make our way back to Nap Park hostel.  Coincidently, we landed ourselves on an express ferry that took us directly to the stop we wanted to go to. From there, had just a little more walking to do.  Unfortuanely we found ourselved on the wrong side of several busy roads.  This was where we learned that you just have to be brave and quick if you ever want to get across the street.  Just look for a small gap in the stream of motor vehicles coming at you and GO! The ones you couldn’t see when you stepped in to the street will just correct their route according to you.  So you’re actually best not to stop when they come out of nowhere or they probably will hit you!

Finally as darkness set in on the day we found ourselves back on Khosan Rd. We were finally hungry again and had not had the street pad thai yet.  So what do you think we had for dinner? One dish of pad thai and a spring roll please, thank
you! It was the best meal I’ve had yet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

One night in Bangkok

This blog is off to bit of a slow start. But here a description of day one in Bangkok...

Well, Bangkok was definitely a success!  We arrived here shortly after midnight Saturday night, early Sunday morning, if you want to get precise. As promised, we were met at the airport by a representative from our airport hotel, the BS Residence Suvarnabhumi.  From there, we took a quick shuttle ride to an air-conditioned room, showered and slept easily for several hours.
Mid-morning Sunday we took the airport shuttle back to the airport were could find rail transportation in to the city. This was relatively simple.  Unfortunately, getting our bearings once off the train was not. We cracked and took a taxi the rest of the way to our hostel.  Nap Park Hostel, just off Khaosan road was home for two nights.
We arrived shortly before check-in time so we left our bags and headed out to find some lunch.  We found a friendly spot nearby with small dishes and Chang beer.  It was perfect.  After checking in to the Hostel we asked for directions to the Grand Palace. The girl at the desk informed us we would not be visiting the Palace today, we would be going to the Chatuchak Market and could go to the palace tomorrow. Okay!  We opted to take the tuk tuk to the market.  It’s a bit of a scary ride, but something everyone should do at last once when visiting Bangkok.   Chatuchak Market was unbelievable,  a maze of vendors selling everything from food to furniture, pencils to house pets.  I bought a bracelet, coconut milk and an ice cream cone.  We walked around for several hours mostly people watching and “window shopping” and think we saw only a fraction of the whole place.
After the market we took a tuk tuk back to Nap Park because it had been so much fun the first time! After returning we thought we would go hang out in the common area and try to make some new friends.  It did not take long.  We met three guys, two from Canada, and one from Northern Ireland. One solo Canadian traveler, G.P. and pair of friends studying in Australia who were on holiday in Southeast Asia for a while, Conrad and Glen.  For those three it was their last night in Bangkok, for us it was our first, so the five us decided to enjoy the evening together.  Several plates of pad thai and several Chang’s later, day one in Bangkok and of the entire trip had become a success.  I think this is going to be a good trip.