Tin-diana Jones & the Abandoned Buddha Cave

Exploring in a town where no one speaks English and everyone stares at you can be a bit intimidating sometimes.  While I wanted to explore when I first got to Dan Chang, I was the only new person & the teachers already here were already over it.  Therefore, I did much less exploring than I should have.  #ragrets

Luckily, my friend Steve (the teacher who was new this semester) gives zero shits about social norms when it comes to talking to strangers.  He went on a date with some Thai girl in town who threw him in her pickup truck and brought him to these random-as-hell in-the-middle-of-nowhere caves about a 25-minute drive from town.

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Perks of Steve Heffner trying to get Thai’d down(lol at myself) – this past week he showed me the caves, which neither of us EVER would have found had Sacajawea not brought him here.

Wat Wang Khan

This is the temple where the caves are located.  After 25 minutes of driving down this long never-ending rural highway and surviving a mild heart-attack over running low on gas, we freaking made it.  I’m legitimately impressed by people who can drive bikes on road trips and such, even 25 minutes was less than comfortable.

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My crappy little scooter also clearly isn’t meant for that kind of athletic activity; when I pulled the gas back full throttle the engine decided to cut out.  And to think I thought I looked like a badass driving a motorbike when I first got to Dan Chang.

Weruwanna go?  Weruwan Cave

We hiked up a bunch of poorly-maintained “stairs,”, past a happy chubby Chinese Buddha, and down a creepy opening.  I’d definitely say the “stairs” were more slide than stairs.

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As I was carefully scaling the “stairs” in the black abyss the cave Esteban yelled up “YOOOOOO there’s snakes down here!” to confirm that we were, in fact, in an Indiana Jones movie.  He didn’t actually see any snakes, he had just been informed by his Thai spirit guide that snakes lived in the cave.  Maybe next time.

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Have you ever been in a cave alone?  I don’t know if it’s the lack of air circulation, the low elevation, or the heebie jeebies emitted in such a place; but every cave I’ve visited has had a blaring stillness to it.  The killing cave I visited in Battambang, Cambodia had the same creepy vibe.  And I thought that was just because of all the people that had died there.  But nope, I mean maybe this cave is haunted too, but it had the same creepy calm to it.

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Buddha Buddha Buddha Buddha Rockin’ Everywhereeeee

The caves were seemingly normal (as far as big, empty, and full of doom goes) until I rounded a corner and was met with a huge Buddha statue sitting underneath a patch of light coming through the cave roof.

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DSC_0036.jpgThen Steve hit the lights on the cave and the other Buddha statues were revealed.  There were a couple buddha heads melded into the rocks, a couple of smaller buddhas surrounding the big buddha, a buddha behind a cage, and a buddha next to a well.

It was actually kind of sick to see a cave in Thailand that wasn’t made for tourists, and was specifically made for the temple and associated purposes.  I don’t know too much about Buddhism, but I wonder if there are other caves like these throughout Thailand?  The caves were clearly still in use for worship, as there were the same little soft drink offerings and what not seen at other shrines throughout Thailand.

So Teen, what’s the point of this less-than exciting story of you intruding on someone’s Buddha shrine?  Where are the snakes?  Where are the goblins?  When do the demons come in and drag you off to the underworld?

My point is that it was cool to see something so exotic in the middle-of-nowhere in Thailand.  Finding something exotic that isn’t touristy can be rare at times in Thailand.  Local vibes.

DSC_0045.jpgAnother point – date locals so they can take you to local spots.  Haaaaa just kidding! Half-kidding.  But a Tinder date is cheaper than paying for a tour.

After leaving through the MUCH more stable side staircase that Steve failed to point out upon entry, we chatted with some of the Thai people building a reservoir (I think?) next to the temple.  They were living out of a trailer and in the process of making dinner on a folding table.  Steve is awesome at not being shy about taking pictures of locals, and I’ve been trying to take a page out of his book.

We talked to them in broken Thai-English and snapped pictures for about 20 minutes.  Enjoy the results.

 

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This pic courtesy of Steve.  

 

How to Get to the Great Buddha of Thailand

(Charlie brown voice) IT’S THE GREAT BUDDHA.  Like the great pumpkin, get it?  Lord I’m getting old, my dad humor gets worse every day.

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While huge Buddha statues look super exotic on Instagram, they’re super commonplace in Thailand.  Even in Dan Chang there are caves that house a huge creepy Buddha statue.  The biggest Buddha in Thailand, or “THE GREAT BUDDHA,” located in Ang Thong, is the third largest Buddha statue in the world, and the largest in Thailand.  While this is a little out of the way for most people, if you’re around Ayutthaya/Bangkok and have time, it’s only about a half-day trip.

Getting there

The Great Buddha is located in Ang Thong, a small town/province actually not too far from my own, Suphan Buri.  I went from Suphan Buri city, but you can also go from Bangkok.  It’s kind of a pain to get to, but then again it’s not really on many peoples’ tourist radar so I’m not surprised.

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Do those dragons look derpy or is it just me? 

From Bangkok

Go to Mochit bus station.  Walk around and say “Ang Thong,” pronounced “Ayngk Tong.”  Thai people are extremely helpful, and will point you to the right bus in no time.  If you want to get fancy you could say “Boh koh soh” which is Thai slang for “bus station.”  “Satanee ta-roht” is the actual word for bus station, but no Thai person understands me when I say it, so I stick with bokoso.

Once you get off the bus at the bus station in Ang Thong(you’ll know, the bus will park there and the driver will probably gesture to you to get off), again walk around & look lost.  Ask people to go to “Wat Muang” (pronounced waht moooahng) and they’ll point you to the right bus.

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Tina for scale.  

The tricky part is getting off the bus – there’s no transit that goes straight to the temple.  So when you see the Buddha on your left about 10 minutes after leaving the bus station, ask the driver to stop (“yooot tee nee”) and hop off on the side of the main highway.  Then you’ll see a long road leading to the temple, and it’s about a 10-minute walk to the temple.  When we went some random Thai guy gave my friend Steve & I a ride to the temple when he saw us walking, not surprising anymore after being here for 7 months.  I wish I was as nice as Thai people.

Then voila!  You’re at Wat Muang.  The entire temple isn’t just the giant Buddha statue, it’s a huge temple complex.  It’s complete with housing for monks, a silver metallic temple, a hideous hell garden, and another temple surrounded by a giant lotus.

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From Ayutthaya

Same process, just go to the bus station in Ayutthaya on the Eastern side of the city.  I use the term “bus station” loosely here, because in Ayutthaya the bus station in question is simply a street where there are a bunch of different vans waiting around.

From Suphanburi

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Use the same process as above, except don’t go all the way to Ang Thong bus station.  After paying 40 baht for the ride from Suphan Buri bus station, hop out of the van on the side of the main road when you see the huge Buddha on your right.  This should happen about 20 minutes after leaving the station.  Otherwise you’ll go to the bus station, pay another 20 baht, and get on a van that drops you off on the other side of the main road.

IMG_3602.jpgThere you have it – how to get to the Great Buddha in Thailand.  It’s worth it for the Instagram if you have a day to kill in Bangkok or you’re already in Ayutthaya, otherwise don’t sweat over missing it.

Reunited with Craft Cocktails – an Evening at Eat Me, Bangkok

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, driving motorbikes in Thailand can be pretty reckless.  Luckily for me, living in a small town with little to no traffic makes driving much less of a hazard.  Tragically, a girl I knew in the same teaching program as me, Izzy, recently passed away in a motorbike accident.  I had only hung out with a couple times, but she really was one of the sweetest and most selfless people I’ve ever met.

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The only picture I have with her(like I said I didn’t know her very long)(a snapchat selfie nonetheless); she wanted me to send this to her because it was “fierce.”

My roommates were best friends with her, so to celebrate Izzy’s 24th birthday, we went to Bangkok and did all of the things that Izzy had planned to do for her birthday weekend.  One of the items on the list was get Negronis at a restaurant in Sala Daeng called Eat Me.  So on Saturday night, we stopped in for a pre-club cocktail.

Personally, I’m not a big Negroni fan.  I studied abroad in Florence, Italy; which is actually the birthplace of the Negroni.  I’ve tried my fair share at aperitivo(Italian happy hour) in Florence.   Coincidentally, I’ve also not enjoyed my fair share of Negronis in Florence.  In defense of the cocktail, Italian bartenders aren’t the best, so maybe I just never had one that was made correctly.  They’re a combination of orange bitters, Campari liquor, and vermouth, way too bitter for me.

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A Negroni I had in Florence circa November 2014 & the accompanying aperitivo snacks it came with.  Not the prettiest plating but it tasted amazing, not the tastiest cocktail but it looked nice.  Also a nice aerial pic of mi amor Firenze from the top of the duomo.

We hopped off the BTS at Sala Daeng and after a short 10 minute walk we landed at Eat Me.  Tucked away down a small soi(side street/alley), it’s a slightyly-hidden gem.   It has sleek minimal décor and warm hardwood details, plus an extensive bar, giving it a comfortable trendy upscale vibe to it.  It reminds me of a restaurant that Audrina and Lauren Conrad would go for sushi and tears in an episode of the Hills.

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Credit: Bangkok.com(there’s no way I could get good pictures with my mortal iPhone 5s at this time of night with the mood lighting they had going on)

The bar was EXTENSIVE.  It housed a complete library of imported booze from around the world, a rare find in Thailand.  Just from where I was sitting I could spot American bourbon like Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey.

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The best picture I could find that really captured the extent of their selection.  This one was taken from EatMeRestaurant.com

Their extensive liquor selection was reflected in their impressive craft cocktail menu.  One of my favorite things to do at home  in Chicago when I was interning was to try craft cocktails at different bars afer work, so it made me miss home a little.  One particular cocktail that stuck out was the “Mootini,” a Ketel One vodka martini infused with bacon, mint, red onion, and Isaac(Northern Thai Influence) spices.  I had already ordered my cocktail, a Fig and Ginger Martini, when I saw it; but I definitely want to go back to give it a whirl.  I’ve had cocktails with balsamic vinegar, jalepenos, and other random kitchen sink type items, but I’ve never seen a martini infused with meat.  Ballsy.

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On the left is a balsamic-vinegar infused Martini I had in Italy, on the right is the only ACTUAL picture I have from my experience at Eat Me, my Fig and Ginger Martini.

My cocktail was a dream in a martini glass.  I’m not huge on vodka and the fig masked it gracefully, allowing the ginger flavor to shine.  A couple of my friends also ordered some bright yellow concussion, complete with gin, passionfruit, absinthe, lemon, and basil;  which was even better.  Each cocktail also had a nice garnish, the scent hitting your nose right as you sipped and complimenting the flavor.  Mine had pine in it, my friends had some other fragrant leaf in it, and the Negroni came with a sliced candied orange.  They set us each back 290 baht each plus tax plus service charge, but they were worth every penny.

Even though we didn’t order food, the staff kept supplying us with endless bread & olive oil.  I haven’t seen a restaurant serve olive oil with bread sans parmasean since I left Italy, so I was foaming as the mouth.

Towards the end of our meal, the waitress offered all 8 of us a free round of shots after we told her that we were headed to Sing Sing club after.  She showed up a few minutes later with the maitre’d, who had a bottled liqeur and explained that it was a house-made liqeur of Mars bars dissolved in Ketel One.  Then they poured us ANOTHER round before we left, all completely gratis.  Maybe they realized we were poor teachers, or maybe they just thought we were fun, but I’ve never experienced such welcoming service as a cheap customer at a high-end restaurant.

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A picture of us out at Sing Sing later that evening, also the best picture I’ve ever seen taken by a club photographer, bravo.

If you’re in Bangkok and feel like balling I’d definitely recommend checking out Eat Me for a classy night out.  The food will probably break your wallet, but the cocktail menu is worth every penny.  I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post, you’ll just have to experience it with your own eyes.

Post update – I just looked on TripAdvisor and Eat Me was rated as #58 out of over 9000 restaurants in Bangkok.  So everyone else thinks it’s worth a try too.

A Taste of Home – Hua Hin Hills Vineyard

Despite the bombings and the chaos of Mother’s Day weekend, my friends and I decided to stick it out in Hua Hin.  And I’m glad we did, after the initial two bombings Hua Hin fell back into being a sleepy little beach city.

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One of the few things I dislike about Thailand is the serious lack of wine.  Not that it’s really anybodies fault, wine just isn’t part of Thai culture.  I guess hot and humid isn’t good for growing grapes, but the only thing you can grab to drink around here that’s local is either beer or rice rum, AKA cheap Hong Tong and Singsom, AKA death and destruction.  Recently I’ve discovered this SUPER Thai rice whiskey that doesn’t have any writing on it in English & smells like rubbing alcohol, but this is about wine not whiskey, I’ll save that for later.  So when one of my friends let it slip that there’s a winery in Hua Hin and that we go, I immediately started foaming at the mouth.  Wine tastings were one of my favorite things about studying abroad in Italy, and are still one of my favorite things to do at home, ex. my going away party winery hopping in Michigan.

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Throwback to enjoying the finer things in life, in Michigan, with the squad.

Seeing as Hua Hin tends to attract a wealthier class of traveler, it makes sense that they have something western and posh like a winery.  I also saw an excessive amount of cheese in Hua Hin compared to other areas in Thailand.  We decided that is probably due to the fact that people can actually profit from selling cheese despite heavy import costs because people who visit here can actually afford to buy it.  And I don’t mean crappy processed American style “cheese” that you can find at 7/11 either – I mean the good stuff; like Brie, Gouda, Gruyere, and everything else your heart could possibly desire.

So we made a reservation, and on Saturday around 4 we hired another van to drive us about 45 minutes to Hua Hin Hills.  The winery was absolutely gorgeous; it had the rolling hills filled with grapes of western wineries coupled with the lush Jurassic-Park-esque hills of Thailand in the background.  I was excited to see that there were in fact grapes, as I have heard rumors that cheap rice wine is consumed in Thailand on occasion.

As a reminder to the fact that were still in Thailand, after sitting at our table we saw elephants in the distance.  Hua Hin Hills offers a tour of the winery on the back of elephants.  Personally I wouldn’t do this because they use a bench contraption that isn’t humane, and they allow multiple people on an elephant at once which is also not fun for the elephant, plus I’m too poor to spring for an elephant ride through a winery, but it was still cool to see elephants walking through a vineyard.  But if you’re into that stuff and you’re not a peasant(like me) seeing a vineyard on the back of an elephant would be pretty cool.

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I was expecting to do a tasting with a sommelier and eat crackers and be told to sniff for the “essence of pear” and all that jazz, but of course, once again my western expectations were not met.  You only really see the winery and do a legitimate tasting if you do the elephant tour.  The “tasting” I decided to buy was just 3 glasses of wine at my table, so it was more like a “with dinner” kind of thing.  Of course, they had to pour one at a time, wait 15 minutes, and come back because alcohol gets warmed up in about 30 seconds without ice here.  Have you ever had ice in your beer?  After coming to Thailand I have.  Every single time we order it at dinner.  But no complaints, I’ve come to accept that when places in Thailand try to masquerade as something Western, the quality isn’t usually the same.  It was enough to make me happy.

 

The wine itself was okay.  In their defense I’m a bit snobby about my wine sometimes, and it’s not really fair to critique a country whose climate can’t really do wine, but just because I’m going to anyways.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as wine that I’ve had at tastings in the US and Europe.  The wine tasted a little bit watered down, and didn’t really have as much flavor as I was expecting.  But it was good enough for what it was.  They poured a white, a red, and a rosé, so it was pretty standared.  I bought the cheapest tasting available, which was 280 baht, coming to about 380 baht after splitting tax/service charges with the other people sitting at my table.

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While I didn’t splurge on it because I’m saving up for Bali and Vietnam right now, some of my friends ordered a cheese plate, and it actually looked pretty legit.  It had olives, brie, gouda, and some other cheese that made the winery feel a little more like home.

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Photo credit Julie Von Forrester.

All in all the winery was absolutely gorgeous, we spent a lot of time taking pictures.  The dining area is on a pretty balcony that overlooks the vineyard as well, so the whole experience was really pretty.  I’d definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the Hua Hin area and feel like a splurge, or just if you’re in Thailand and you miss real wine.  Check out their Facebook page here. 

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An Explosive Weekend in Hua Hin – When Bombs Go Off in the City You’re Visiting

Hua Hin.  Hua what?  Most people outside of Thailand, or at least people in the US, haven’t really heard of picturesque little Hua Hin.  It’s a small beach city about 200 kilometers outside of Bangkok.  It’s perfect for a long weekend, i.e. the Queen’s Birthday, when I just made my first visit with other teacha friends.  Originally we wanted to visit Ko Samet, but given that Ko Samet requires a ferry ride, it would’ve taken a little longer to get to than Hua Hin, and consequently cut down on our beach time.  It was also booked up and very expensive on this particular weekend, as Thai people had time off as well.

Quick culture lesson with Teacha Tina – The Queen’s Birthday is a big deal in Thailand.  Thai people love the royal family, and they love to celebrate anything and everything.  The Queen’s Day is also Mother’s Day, if that’s any indication to how highly the Thai people value their Queen.  Her color is blue, because she was born on a Friday, and leading up to Mother’s Day a lot of the royal family shrines throughout the land were changed to have blue bunting, and feature pictures of the queen.  At my school all the teachers had to wear blue for her birthday, while I know teachers at other schools had to wear blue for the entire week.  We also had a morning assembly at Banhan3 to honor her.

Hua Hin first became a vacation spot when the royal family would spent their summers there about 100 years ago.  I do not believe that they still visit, but due to that prestige, it is a popular vacation spot for both Thai people and some tourists.  It’s really just a beach city, a nice quick getaway for the weekend in central Thialand.

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Due to the royal family patronizing Hua Hin, it has been built up a little.  There is a shopping area made to look like Venice, a hotel made to look like Marrakech, and some other shopping area made to look like Santorini.  It is also home to Cicada market, allegedly the best night market in Thailand, which is quite a title to put on your resume.

All of that sounds fine and dandy and wonderful to see, doesn’t it?  Well unfortunately the only thing I really saw in Hua Hin was a beach and a winery, because (no exaggeration) less than 2 hours after I arrived in the sleepy little beach city bombs started going off.

Yes, you read that correctly, bombs.  I arrived at my hostel a little after midnight, and was very confused when I woke up to a Line groupchat message asking if everyone was okay.  About half a mile from our hostel, a bomb had been set off at the night market where my friends had eaten dinner earlier.  Some poor food vendor was killed, and somehow we slept through the whole thing.  Another bomb had gone off at a resort nearby.

So what does one do in this situation?  Some people I was traveling with started freaking out, wanting to immediately hop on the next bus home.  Personally, the last place I want to be when bombs are going off is on public transporation, and it had taken me a while to get to Hua Hin, so I had 0 interest in that option.  It was difficult to grasp the fact that legitimate bombs had gone off and killed people nearby, so it was kind of hard to have any real emotional reaction.  So after waking up at 7AM, a couple friends and I continued on to go hire a van and see Phra Nakon cave an hour north of the city.

Phraya Nakhon Cave

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We bargained with the van driver and got a round trip van for 1200 baht, or 300 a person.  I love how cheap it is to hire transportation in Thailand.  I was particulary excited to go see this cave because recently on the Bachelorette, Jordan and Jojo had visited Hua Hin and gone to that cave on a date.  I’m basic, sue me.

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When we arrived to the national park(about an hour drive away, we had to pay 200 baht for the national park entry fee.  Most national parks accept our Thai work permits and give us the Thai price to get in, but sadly this one did not.

Then came a 2 kilometer hike up to the cave that was a tad rough for our out-of-shape-backpacking selves.  It was mostly uphill, and full of a ton of rocks and roots.  I was concerned about tripping and smashing my DSLR the whole time.  But of course not concerned enough to put it away.  You can hire a boat to take you a bit closer to the cave so you only have to hike a little bit(there’s a beach at the national park), but we were too cheap and needed exercise.  It was a pretty hike though, so definitely worth it.

Then we arrived at the caves.  The caves were absolutely beautiful.  I pity the cameraman who had to lug his equipment through 2 kilometers over rocks, roots, and up hills to get there, but it was gorgeous.  There was a Buddhist pagoda in the middle of the whole thing that literally glowed with sunlight.

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After basking in the beautiful glory of the cave, or in the steps of Jojo and Jordan in my case, we started our hike back.  As soon as we exited the cave, we found out that another bomb had gone off in Hua Hin.  This time it was at the clock tower where all of us had gotten dropped off at, myself around midnight the night before.  This one was about .3 miles from our hostel.  That’s not a type-o, I meant .3, not 3.  As in less than half a mile.  As in an 7-minute walk according to google maps.

You would think that we would start freaking out.  Again, we were all fine.  The people who had wanted to leave before were dying to dip, but it was recommended to stay indoors and avoid traveling until the situation was over because it was dangerous.  So we had our van driver take us straight back to the hostel.  The only difference in the city that we noticed on the way were a few soldiers and road blocks.  Our driver took us through a back route in Hua Hin to avoid main roads, and we were fine.

We learned on our ride home that bombs are actually somewhat common in the south of Thailand, just usually not as far north as Hua Hin and usually tourists don’t get caught in the crossfire.  Earlier in the week during a staff meeting another American teacher had said she was moving south and was met with a chorus of “Bombs!!! Very dangerous outside of cities!!!” so I wasn’t too surprised upon learning this.  Thai news doesn’t move as quickly as in the US, so people don’t usually hear about these bombings.  Plus with all the coverage going on for the Olympics right now and the election coverage, I’ve heard that even the floodings in New Orleans weren’t deemed worthy by the press.

What was surprising to me was how many US news outlets were getting the story completely wrong.  I read online something about IS, and something about targeting tourists, all of which were completely incorrect.  The week before a referendum to the constitution had been passed, so the bombings were linked to purely Thai business, and had nothing to do with us tourists.  It was just unfortunate that some tourists were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So what does when do when the city they’re staying in is getting blown up?  We went to the beach, against the advice of the people running our hostel.  Personally, if I’m going to get blown up, I want to be on a beach.  Plus it’s safer to be able to run into the water realistically speaking.  Also, 11 more undetonated bombs had been found in the city, one in the railway station about half a mile from our hostel, so I didn’t exactly feel safe and sound there anyways.

We went to the beach, and we made it out alive.  And we enjoyed ourselves and salvaged what was left of the weekend.  Due to the bombings, everything was closed all day on Friday, and it was deemed unsafe to go to bars anyways, so we hung out on the rooftop of the hostel every night.  S/o to Chanchala hostel for being so dope.

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Some people were really shaken by the bombings.  As the booze started flowing, people began making speeches, and toasts, to “getting through such a hard time together” and blah blah blah.  I understand some people were scared, but in reality the bombings had nothing to do with us.  We still ended up having a fabulous weekend, and no one got blown up.

Wat Khao Takiab

The one attraction that we saw in Hua Hin aside from the cave was Wat Khao Takiab.  To be honest it wasn’t an extremely remarkable temple.  It was pretty in that it was all white, but I’ve seen so many temples at this point that they are all starting to run together.  Although it did offer a nice view of the Hua Hin coastline.

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There was also a part of the temple where monkeys ran amok.  They were literally everywhere.  You could buy food to feed them(of course), but to be honest I would be scared to.  We saw one tourist buy food, which we noticed after we saw about a hundred monkeys start scrambling in his direction.  It was like something out of a horror movie, the monkeys started hollering and climbing over each other to get to the food, all the while this pot-bellied tourist was smiling for the camera while they climbed all over him, ignoring the civil war he had caused at his very feet.  It was kind of scary to watch.

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Pic cred for the images above to my pal Julie Von Forrester.  Below is my favorite monkey pic, one that I shot.  Note the facial expression of the little one on the back of the bigger monkey.

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All in all, Hua Hin was still beautiful, and it would be nice to go back on a weekend when all the markets and bars are open.  Although to be honest it didn’t really offer much in terms of culture and sight-seeing, it’s just a nice close beach getaway when you live in central Thailand.

Suphan Buri City

2 weekends ago I decided to explore my own province a little more and meet up with some Americans in Suphan Buri city, the big city in my province.  It’s only about an hour by minibus, and only 80 baht, a little over $2.  It’s a small city, my province isn’t even in the Lonely Planet guidebook, so I guarantee everything you read here is ~off-the-beaten-path.~

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After arriving in Suphan city via mini bus and realizing once again that it’s way too hot here to wander around outdoors aimlessly during the day, I decided to visit the local mall via tuk tuk.  Of course, as Suphan Buri city doesn’t have tourists, none of the tuk tuk drivers spoke English.  After trying and failing to show the tuk tuk driver what I wanted using pictures and google translate, he said “OHHH Tesco Lotus” and I just decided “FINE” and went with it.  So I essentially spent my day at a grocery store because I can’t speak Thai.

Tesco Lotus is one of the only supermarket-like stores in Thailand, so he probably saw that I was a farang and just assumed.  But whatever, I hadn’t been to a Tesco yet and had heard a lot of hype so I just went with it.  I mean I have to shop at an outdoor market even just for produce in my town, so the thought of perusing the fruit section with air conditioning and seeing meat that wasn’t swarming with flies was intriguing.

You know that scene in Toy Story when all the aliens see the claw machine, get all bug eyed, and scream “THE CLAWWWWW” in amazement?  That was like me in Tesco.  I haven’t seen anything so Western since I passed through security at O’Hare 3 weeks ago.  But of course, people still blatantly stared at me like a circus animal.

Half of the store was like a true American supermarket; complete with peanut butter, processed baked goods, and oversized bags of nonsense large enough to feed an overweight family of 12.  They also had a Dairy Queen, a Dunkin’ Donuts, sushi, a few coffee shops, and a movie theater; among other small stores.  Since I had time to kill before meeting up with the other teachers.  I even saw Finding Dory.  It was completely in Thai with 0 subtitles but whatever, the plot was still easy to follow.  Thais have trouble pronouncing r’s so it was more like finding DoLEEE according to whoever dubbed the dialogue.

On Sunday, after spending the evening with other Americans in Suphan city(post upcoming) I went to see big ~attraction,~ in Suphan city, the Dragon Descendants shrine and museum.

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Originally I only went to this to kill time.  I didn’t even bring my DSLR to Suphan City(gasp) as I didn’t think it was necessary.  But the Dragon Descendants shine was surprisingly cool, and I’m never leaving for a weekend without my camera again.

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The museum was surprisingly very Chinese, and was apparently opened in 1996 to commemorate peaceful relations between China and Thailand.  Suphan Buri is the home of a previous prime minister of Thailand, Banhan, coincidentally the same man that opened the school I work at.  He funded many buildings around Suphan Buri, the museum included.

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The museum features a massive dragon that you can go inside, along with small shrines to what I think are different Chinese religious figures.  You can buy flowers and burn incense at the shrines of course, because what’s a tourist monument without someone peddling their religious beliefs.

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There was one section of statues that appeared to be dedicated to different zodiac signs, although to be honest I’m not 100% sure, and another section that featured statues that looked like they could be Chinese gods.

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Other than the statues, shrines, and a few towers you can climb up, that’s about all there is to see.  I didn’t go into the actual museum because I didn’t feel like paying 300 baht to learn about dragon descendants, plus I was on a schedule to go meet other Americans for lunch.  It still was cool to see, and kind of made me consider visiting China.  At the least I’ll pay a visit to Chinatown in Bangkok this weekend.

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Ayutthaya- WAT(hehe) to Do & What Not to Do

In case the pun in the title was lost on you(as it was on my students) Wat is Thai for temple, and this post is about a bunch of Wats.  Seeing as I had so much to say about Ayutthaya, I decided to do a separate post on both a) Temples I would recommend and b) Things that should definitely be AVOIDED.  Like all tourist traps, Ayutthaya was worth it as there was a lot to see, but as a westerner of course I was treated like a walking dollar sign at points.

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I think Ayutthaya actually has more temples than 7-11s, and trust me that is RARE in Thailand, especially in a city.  My travel buddy was uncomfortable with renting motorbikes to get around, so we splurged a little and used tuk-tuks to get to any temples that were far.  Many were within walking distance from each other, however, making life a bit easier.  If you visit Ayutthaya, I would definitely recommend renting a motor bike.  Especially since tuk tuks usually stop running around 7, when it gets dark.

In Ayutthaya you can buy a pass that lets you into 6 of the major temples for 220 baht. It’s really only worth it if you plan on seeing all 6 of the temples, because most run about 20-50 baht each, 50 being on the higher end.  In retrospect I wish I hadn’t bought it, I would’ve saved a minuscule amount of baht.

I’m going to be honest, when you see so many ruins, some of them start to blur together. They all have crumbling bricks, headless buddhas, pointed “chedis,” and tuk tuk drivers trying to cart you around the island at a fixed rate. A “chedi” is a pointed Buddhist tower, that usually houses some kind of remains. I’ll mention a few that really stood out, but here are collectively Wat Maha That, Wat Phra Si Samphet, and Wat Ratchaburana.

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Wat Mahatat

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Wat Mahatat is infamous for a dislodged Buddha head that has gotten stuck in a tree. It has been speculated that this head fell into the tree when the temple was originally sacked, and that the tree just grew around it over time.

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Wat Chaiwatthanaram

This temple is probably the temple that you’ve seen in pictures if you’ve ever looked up “Ayutthaya”online. It is a little outside of the city, and it supposed to be gorgeous at sunset. The ruins here were interesting, and very close to the river. Apparently it’s gorgeous when it floods, because you simply see the remains of the temple peering out of the water.

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Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

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This temple appeared to have been restored to a point, as it had the most intact buddhas, and there was a lack of crumbling brown brick compared to other temples. Coincidentally, it wasn’t included on the pass we bought, but it only cost 20 baht to get in. If you’ve ever looked up “Thailand” on Pinterest, then you’ve probably seen pictures of the many seated buddha, robed in orange, at this temple.

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Sadly, the orange wrappings you see on the buddhas in pictures are a part of the tourist trap. People sell the holy wraps as good luck, so for a small fee you can clothe a buddha. Also, when you climb up the stairs to the temple, the main room simply houses a well to drop coins down, surrounded by a couple metallic buddha statues. So basically you make the climb in order to give the temple even more money, in exchange for “Buddhist good luck.”

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Wat Lokayasutharam

This was called a temple, but was just one huge reclining buddha. It was cool, but there were reclining buddhas elsewhere, like at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. If you visit Thailand and you’re at one of the other temples nearby, then I’d recommend seeing it, but it’s not really worth the tuk tuk fare.

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Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit

This was a temple whose main attraction was a large gold leaf seated buddha. It was a modern temple, meaning it wasn’t laying in ruins, and although it wasn’t included on our pass, it was free to enter. The large buddha was really something, although other than that there wasn’t much to see.  Also ~celeb spotting~ this little guy DEFINITELY is on the cover of my students’ notebooks.

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Ayutthaya: Tourist Traps to Watch Out for

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The tuk-tuks in Ayutthaya are shaped like Darth Vader for a reason.

Ayutthaya has beautiful temples, but a lot of it is really monetized by the locals. For example, when you take a tuk tuk anywhere on the island, it should only be 30-40 baht. However, when the driver sees that you have white skin, they try to charge you 100-150 baht for the same ride.  Which is frustrating when you know that they’re trying to rip you off.  Go ahead & try to take my money, but don’t insult my intelligence.

This is especially irritating at temples that are far from everything else, as it is hard to find alternate transportation, especially in 95 degree heat, nd the drivers know this. Something that really pushed my buttons was Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and the floating market. The tuk tuk drivers have fixed rates listed on the walls to get anywhere, that are at least twice what they should be, and they refuse to bargain with you. Coincidentally these are places that are hard to find alterate transportation from, so you are stuck either accepting the price or perishing in the heat.

Also, the amount of tuk tuk drivers that tried to scam us and charge us an hourly rate to bring us around the whole island is absurd. No, I don’t want to nor do I have time to see 6 temples today for 200 baht an hour, I just want to go to a freaking coffee shop and I’m too lazy/hot to walk 2 kilometers.

But the worst of all was the “floating market.” Thailand is known for its floating markets, and I hear there really are some great ones in other locations like Bangkok. However, the one in Ayutthaya is a straight up tourist scam.

For once, Lonely Planet led me astray. In their guidebook they recommended the market, however when we got there it was horrid. They let Thai people onto the boats for the market free of charge, while they insisted that foreigners pay 200 baht(usually 20 baht for the boat ride) for both a boat ride through the market and an elephant show.  I wish that was an exaggeration.  Lauren and I specifically wanted to avoid the elephant shows as we knew they weren’t exactly known for being humane, plus we were irritated at getting a higher price for being foreign, so we ate the 120 baht tuk tuk ride we took there and bailed, on to the next temple.

The worst part was the Ayodia inter market, located next to the floating market. This was where they offered animal attractions and elephant shows. They had a snake and an alligator in cages, both that were large enough to house only a couple of hefty goldfishes. They also had performing elephants, which you could hear screaming from outside the show walls. Tourism at it’s finest.

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If you go to Ayutthaya, I would definitely rent a motor bike, or at least a bicycle, and just avoid the whole tuk tuk fiasco.  But all in all, it still was nice to see.