31 January 2011

Thailand trip, 2011

We went to Thailand for ~two weeks from Sunday 9 January through Saturday 22 January with Friendly Planet's Taste of Thailand package. Our friends Liz and Matt took the same trip a year or so ago and it sold out before we could join the fun so when Liz reminded us that they were offering it again, we pounced.

Sun 9 Jan

Dinner at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica at Locanda del Lago. The area was recommended by a coworker who used to live in LA. It's blocked off to traffic with lots of shops and restaurants and an area where people were salsa dancing. Very nice! But the taxi rides there and back--just 10 minutes from the hotel--were extortive.

Mon 10 Jan

LA to Taipei (14h) to Bangkok (4h). Kindle was mandatory, but China Air (different than Air China) provides many movies on demand and much food. Movies were: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Easy A, and Resident Evil: Afterlife. Also did some development on my new Asus 1015PEM. During our trip, I noticed Kindles, netbooks, and quite a few digital SLR cameras everywhere in our tour group and with other travelers. The number of netbooks kinda surprised me compared with the only one (or two?) iPads. Kindles were by far the most common gadget.

Wed 12 Jan

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We arrived the night before and hit the sack around 2 or 3 AM. Our Fearless Leader, Matthew, said that some groups arrive in the morning and have to start the first day's tour right away. Holy Hell. This is probably what saved us from jet lag. Started with a walk down the street, busy and colorful, to get us familiar with the surroundings. Tours started with a boat down the Chao Phraya River. A hundred or so years ago, Bangkok was all buildings on rivers with boats as transportation. No further houses can be built over the river, and the existing ones cannot be repaired when they fall apart. They were a patchy mix of wood and plants and pieced together roofs and, as everywhere in the slums, TV dishes.

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Stop at the Royal Barge Museum on the river and then Wat Arun. This is the first of several temples (wats) we'll visit during the tour. After that, a break at the hotel to get ready for a show of traditional Thai dancing at Silom Village. The story of the dance was revealed days later at Wat Phra Kaew to be the story of Rama and his monkey friend Hanuman. Afterwards, we parted ways with the group and went to the Patong Night Bazaar to find me a knock-off watch (no luck) and browse the sex shows (also, no luck). Finish up across the street at the Happy Beer Garden to people watch.

Thu 13 Jan

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Wats for today: Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit), Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). The Golden Buddha was once covered in plaster to hide its value and then forgotten about until a monk rediscovered the solid gold statue underneath. The Grand Palace had the 178 murals depicting the story of Ramakien, performed the previous night at Silom Village. I *must* find a book with the story+murals! How to tell demons from monkeys: demons wear shoes, monkey do not. In between wats, we walked through the flower and vegetable market.

After the Grand Palace, Matthew helped me buy some street food on a stick. I'd pestered him a bit about wanting to purchase food from vendors and he cautioned me to be wary of the quality of the cooking process ("make sure it's well done!"). Outside one of the wats, he spotted a vendor and we both purchased a couple of sticks of some sort of sausage. Delicious when paired with cans of Chang beer on the bus! Evening was sans group, so I relaxed at the pool, did some reading, and scanned the internet while Lisa acquired a traditional Thai massage, which she later declared to be "interesting." Evening we taxied to dinner at a hip joint called Bua with many other Westerners.

Fri 14 Jan

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Bus trip out of town to the floating market. On the way there, we picked up some silly coconut wine glasses at a coconut farm. At the floating market, I haggled for some redwood chop sticks and joined a few others in the group to eat delicious noodle soup from a boat vendor. Back to the hotel for more pool time and wine time, then join up with Jack for boxing at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. We saw: a knock out and a dislocated shoulder. Early bouts involved very young guys (early teens?) boxing cautiously with the later bouts pairing older, more confident boxers. We sat near the ring while the stands were packed with the betting locals. Jack parted after the fights and Lisa & I went on a multi-taxi quest for another hip restaurant called Pandanus for dinner. Awesome joint. Lisa revealed to me the next day that the nice girl who was our waitress was, in fact, our waiter. Of a sort. If you know what I mean.

Sat 15 Jan

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Bus ride from Bangkok to Ayuthaya (ah-YOO-tee-uh) where we saw many more temples including the King's Summer Palace, Wat Chaiwatthanaram where colonial looters stole the heads from most of the Buddhas, a smaller reclining Buddha, a life-size monk cast in wax, a large gong that you could hit for enlightenment, a giant bronze Buddha, and a very smelly market that had what looked like--among other things--dried fish that was all skin and bone and head without any meat. Did I mention the smells? At the wats, many steep stairs were scaled, much incense was burned and, as always, you had to take your shoes off when you went into a temple.

At another stop, he took a contingent of us to watch cotton candy get made on the side of the road. Later, we stopped at the house of some palm leaf fish weavers. Evening at the Ayutthaya hotel roof pool and hot tub. Dinner entrees at the hotel restaurant were delicious and only around $6. Bottles of wine were less inexpensive--around $30--but the Thai Syrah we took a chance on was very nice.

Sun 16 Jan

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Bus ride from Ayutthaya to Kanchanaburi (kan-chan-AH-buh-ree) where we walked the River Kwai (kweh) bridge, visited the market, and had lunch at a restaurant next to the bridge on the river. Later, a raft ride followed by an elephant ride (where we *embarrassingly* undertipped the elephant driver). The hotel, different than the tall numbers we had been staying at, was spread out like a jungle compound with paths and fish-filled waterways and elaborate pools connecting the buildings. There was no real place to go in the city for dinner, so we ate at the hotel restaurant and had the spiciest meal of the trip. Delicious. Yet hot. Drinks at the bar later then wander through courtyard pathways. Back at the room, watched some entertaining Asian music videos on Channel V.

Mon 17 Jan

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Busy day with the Hellfire Pass museum and a hike down the Hellfire Pass railway. Set lunch at an open air restaurant. A restful train ride, a visit to a monks' cave with a Buddah, then many monkeys. Back at the compound, we walked over River Kwai bridge at night to get back to the city square to acquire money from the money machine (5000 baht). Very unnerving walking across in darkness. Dinner at the hotel restaurant patio, drinks at the bar (their Manhattans are about 1/3 size), listening to the bar's singing duo (Simon and Garfunkel, Abba, Lady Gaga), talking to Mitch and his mom about Mitch going to Berkeley.

Tue 18 Jan

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Bus ride, plane trip, van ride, then check in at the Phuket hotel. Happy hour with Yellow Bird coctails, live music, Lou Rawls songs. Dinner down the street at the Tiger Inn Bar and Restaurant which flaunted giant elephant, tiger, and naked lady wood sculptures hovering over the tables, live music including On the Bayou.

Wed 19 Jan

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Begin with the beach where we were entertained by a conversation behind us that included an Irish couple and a British ex-con (who spent time in a Russian jail). The Irish lady's opinion of European men marrying Thai women was, simply, "pardon me, but that's fucked." Later, walk to shops to purchase jogging wear, pause for drinks and appetizers at No.9 Cafe whose menu was in Thai, German, and English. After a rest, I go for a satisfying jog down the beach and meet Lisa afterwards to cool off at the hotel pool. Dinner that night was around 30 minutes away at the lovely-yet-unfortunately-named Ratri Jazztaurant. You almost needed 4WD to get up to the restaurant, and the view was stunning. Sadly no live jazz on Wednesdays, but they played an awesome CD of smooth jazz covers of Michael Jackson songs. To be purchased. Evening ends at 1 AM but restarts at around 3 AM with Lisa refunding her food due to possible food poisoning. She's out of commission for most of the next day.

Thu 20 Jan

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Lisa's dietary mishaps force me to go to our pre-booked 1/2-day snorkeling trip alone. The tour group upgrades me to the full day and asks that I keep it a secret from the others. Boat guide is Mo, who is quite fluent in both English and German. Visited: Bamboo Island (Ko Phai), beach and sun, some snorkeling with a few small schools of fish; Phi Phi Don Island, good snorkeling off of the boat, fish swarming for pieces of banana; Monkey Island, short stop for pics of monkeys; Phi Phi Ley and Viking cave, cruising between tall rock formations, swallows nests hanging from the cave roof like stalactite; the Beach (Ko Phi Phi Leh), swimming, beautiful cove, everyone taking sexy photos of their partners :-(. Long ride to lunch at Long Island, where we finished with dining at a large covered patio. Our last night we were both a little intestinally uncertain, so we spent the evening at the bar happy hour with the Aussies leading a Bee Gees sing along. More Yellow Bird cocktails.

Fri 21 Jan

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Phuket to Bangkok to Taipei to LA. In the Bangkok airport, I finally found the lovable cartoon cat that had haunted me the whole trip: Doraemon! Of all the airports on the trip BKK was, by far, the shit. It was all glass and steel and cables and felt like you were at a spaceport of the future. Movies on the flight were: Bayside Shakedown 3: Set the Guys Loose and The Social Network. Cautiously, we had little food during the flight, so after arriving in LA we walked from the hotel to pick up some delicious In & Out burgers (reliving the end of our 2006 PCH trip) and watch Salt on pay-per-view. Exhaustion. Home at around 7 PM Saturday night.

[ posted by sstrader on 31 January 2011 at 11:50:20 PM in Where was I? | tagged thailand, travel ]
Comments

Sounds awesome! Can't wait to see you and compare notes. I really wish we could have added the beaches to our trip.

Posted by: Matt G. at February 1, 2011 3:17 PM

Great post and photos! I didn't know you were a Doraemon fan. I used to watch the cartoons with my sisters and cousin when we visited over there.

I think I have a magnet and a Doraemon piggy bank somewhere. Oh and maybe a pin!

Posted by: ladycrumpet at February 15, 2011 10:24 AM

I'd never seen Doraemon until Thailand where he seemed to be on every taxi, bus, and convenience store sign. After a few days, Lisa and I were looking for his next appearance. It wasn't until I got back and did a search that I learned who he was (and that he's known as the "gadget cat from the future"!). I tried to describe him to our last guide, but she had no idea what I was talking about. "Crazy blue cat" could be anything, I guess?

Posted by: sstrader at February 17, 2011 12:11 PM
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