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.

DSC_0022.jpg

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.

IMG_4037.jpg

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.

DSC_0050.jpg

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.

DSC_0035.jpg

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.

DSC_0034.jpg

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.

DSC_0023.jpg

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.

 

DSC_0057.jpg

DSC_0054.jpg

DSC_0053.jpg

16810660_1209189775868331_666309705_o.jpg
This pic courtesy of Steve.  

 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_3586.jpg

IMG_3537.jpg

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.

GreatBuddhaStitch1.jpg
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.

IMG_3543.jpg
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.

IMG_3592.jpg

IMG_3594.jpg

IMG_3589.jpg

IMG_3588.jpg

GreatBuddhaStitch2.jpg

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

IMG_3743.jpg

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.

IMG_0578.jpg

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.

IMG_4417.jpg

NegroniStitch1.jpg

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.

eat-me-restaurant-bangkok.jpg

 

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.

ImageSliderDownstairsBar.jpg

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.

EatMeStitch.jpg

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.

14188484_10209163320094830_2905625617972797285_o.jpg

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.

DSC_0744.jpg

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.

DSC_0065.jpg

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.

DSC_0851.jpg

DSC_0852.jpg

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.

HuaHinHillsStitch2.jpg

 

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.

13895550_10210284101203425_9194096770364256531_n.jpg

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. 

13880185_10154484695548413_9148345652568193364_n.jpg

HuaHinHillsStitch.jpg

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.

HuaHinStitch2.jpg

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

DSC_0782.jpg

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.

HuaHinStitch1.jpg

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.

DSC_0805.jpg

HuaHinStitch6.jpg

HuaHinStitch3.jpg

HuaHinStitch5.jpg

HuaHinStitch4.jpg

DSC_0778.jpg

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.

13895024_10210284103043471_1758632892178486332_n.jpg

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.

HuaHinStitch10.jpg

DSC_0824.jpg

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.

HuaHinStitch7.jpg

HuaHinStitch9.jpg

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.

DSC_0848.jpg

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.~

IMG_0498.jpg

IMG_0494.JPG

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.

IMG_0491.jpg

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.

IMG_0495 (1)

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.

SuphanStitch.jpg

IMG_0499.jpg

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.

IMG_0492 (2).jpg

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.

SuphanStitch2.jpg

SuphanStitch4

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.

SuphanStitch3.jpg

IMG_0507.jpg

IMG_0508 (1).jpg

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.

Temple Run

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.

DSC_0357.jpg

DSC_0402.jpg

WatWaipelaiStitch.jpg

DSC_0471.jpg

Wat Mahatat

DSC_0334 (1)

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.

WatWaichattaStitch3

WatMahatatStitch

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.

IMG_0419

WatWatichattaStich2

WatWaichattanaramStitch

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

DSC_0489 (1).jpg

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.

WatStitch

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.”

DSC_0493 (1).jpg

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.

WatLukStitch

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.

DSC_0410

DSC_0406.jpg

Ayutthaya: Tourist Traps to Watch Out for

DSC_0498 (1)

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.

DSC_0472

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.

 

Ayutthaya

To continue on my weekend of firsts, the weekend of June 17 also marked my first weekend trip.  We can’t go too far on the weekends having only 2 days, especially with the speed at which Thai transportation moves, so Lauren(another teacher from my province who I met at orientation) and I decided to visit Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam.

Planes, trains, &…vans?

The transportation itself was quite the experience.  I experienced my first Thai bus ride.  By bus I mean van, and by van I mean oversized shag wagon circa 1980.

IMG_0482.jpg

In case you thought that description was sarcastic.

The 69 bus to Bangkok picked me up literally at the side of the road on the main road down the street from my house.  No, there wasn’t a bench.  No, there wasn’t a sign stating that it was a stop, in English or Thai.  No, there wasn’t even a nice patch of cement to stand on, or an “x’ to mark the spot.  I actually stood with my bags at the side of the road and flagged the van down, and that’s actually what you’re supposed to do.  After paying 80 baht I hopped off the bus at Suphan Buri city, before boarding another bus for 90 baht and waiting to leave for Ayutthaya.

You would think that when a bus that leave every half hour is full, it would leave.  But nope, not in Thailand.  In Thailand you turn what’s safely a 15 person bus into a 25 person bus by squeezing people into every square inch possible.  There is no such thing as personal space, and I’m pretty sure seat belts are a myth.  The drivers also don’t announce stops, you just start fidgeting towards the door when you want to get out and the driver pulls over based on context clues.  Nothing is marked, no rhyme or reason, my only theory as to how this system functions is telepathy.

Then something else shocking happened – the doors to the crowded van slid open and not one, but TWO white guys got on.  The first white people(aside from the 2 teachers I live with) that I’ve seen since leaving Bangkok.  Potentially the only other 2 white people in the province.  I chatted with them briefly towards the end of the ride and it turned out that they were Mormon missionaries from Utah who lived in Ayutthaya for their missionary work.  Based on the amount of buddha images I saw in Ayutthaya, I’d say they’ve got their work cut out for them.  PS when everyone shamelessly stares at you on a daily basis for being white and you find one of your kind it’s a big deal.  Two is unprecedented.

TG for Thai People

Thai people are arguably the most friendly people on earth.  Even though I barely can say “hello” in Thai, when I got off the bus looking lost(meaning my white skin was showing) a man working at the station immediately came over to me and pointed me in the direction of my bus.  Then, after getting off in Ayutthaya, the van driver got out of the van and started gesturing to me and speaking Thai.  White guy #1 who apparently spoke Thai translated to me that the van driver was very concerned as to where I was going, and was asking if I needed a ride somewhere.  Such nice people, not a clue how I’d be getting around in this country without them.

Speaking of which, rewind back to how I said the bus system is super confusing.  Lauren wasn’t as lucky as I was, and somehow missed her stop and ended up on the outskirts of Bangkok.  Luckily, Ayutthaya isn’t too far from Bangkok, so she was able to cab on over and meet me at our hostel.  Like I said, they really do not announce stops.

IMG_0419.jpg

Playing Indiana Jones

Ayutthaya is mostly ruins, as it’s the old capital of Siam before it was moved to Bangkok.  And by mostly I mean I think ruins outnumber modern buildings.  There’s a enough temples to make an entire Indiana Jones series and crumbling bricks out the wazoo.  On the first night, after 4 hours of travel(for what should’ve been 2) we planned out which temples we wanted to go to, Lonely Planet guidebook in hand.  We opted to buy a temple pass.  For 220 baht you can buy a pass that lets you into 6 of the major temples, including

  • Wat Phra Mahathat and
  • Wat Ratchaburana
  • The Royal Palace (Wang Luang) and temple
  • Wat Chai Watthanaram
  • Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
  • Wat Phanan Choeng

DSC_0346.jpg

We ended up seeing some of the above and a couple others, depending on which ones we stumbled onto/how far they were by tuk tuk.  See my upcoming “Ayutthaya – WAT to Do and What to Avoid” post for details.

DSC_0398.jpg

Muslim Influence

Due to Ayutthaya previously being a trading port, there is a good amount of Muslim influence in both religion and food.  I even saw a few Thai people walking around in traditional Muslim garb, definitely a first in a country that is 95% Buddhist.  You can spot Muslim food by looking for the green flag with the crescent on it at food stalls.  Roti is popular and can be spotted throughout the city.  Roti is a brightly-colored cotton-candy like substance that you wrap in a colored crepe.  Good, but nothing to write home about.  Then again, I don’t share the same extreme sweet tooth that Thais have.  It also kind of resembles human hair, which can be a bit unappetizing.   Shout out to my hostel owner for explaining that the cotton candy goes INSIDE the crepe, after watching me look confused at the “hair” the vendor had sold me.

DSC_0412.jpg

AyutthayaStreetFood.jpg

On the right are samosas, stuffed with chicken and chickpeas.

Bang Lan Night Market

One of my favorite things about Thailand are all the markets, including especially night markets.  For dinner on Saturday we decided to hit up a night market.  Hearing that Ayutthaya has good Islamic food, as there are many Muslims there, I was on a hunt.  Upon recommendation from our hostel owner, we went to Bang Lan Night Market, which he said was larger and less touristy that the other night markets in town.

IMG_0423

 

He really nailed it with the less touristy part.  For being one of the top tourist destinations in Thailand, I was surprised to only see 2 other white people total at the market.  They didn’t have Muslim food, but we still got really good Thai food, which I’m never going to complain about.  I would definitely recommend going here for a cheap dinner out.

Creature Comforts – Stumbling onto Places that Reminded Us of Home

Busaba Coffee Shop

Lauren is a vegetarian, which when coupled with the language barrier makes eating at the food stalls a struggle sometimes.  So on Sunday morning, we set out in search of a nice coffee shop.  The one Lauren found on trip advisor was closed(classic), but next door we found an adorable little cafe, complete with wifi AND air-conditioning!  Plus, after being in the boonies, anything where you could eat indoors seemed exciting.  Really starting to dig Thai coffee culture.

The cafe kind of went for like a Vera-Bradley-meets-Starbucks vibe.  They had a section where you could buy stationary and little makeup bags, but they also had western-style coffee drinks.  Complete with Carnation, of course, because Thais put that stuff in everything.

CoffeStitch.jpg

Lauren opted for waffles, and despite thousand year-old temples it may have been the most beautiful thing I saw in Ayutthaya.

IMG_0427.jpg

Chang____(The name was written in Thai)

On Saturday night we finally managed to find something that felt like home.  I don’t exactly know the name of it because the name was written in Thai, but it had “Chang” written on it in English, in script that made it look like it was associated with Chang beer.  I wish I knew the actual name so I could recommend it, it was at an intersection on Khlong Makharm Riam road and Pa Thon road, if that helps.

The AIR-CONDITIONED bar, that was actually INSIDE, with doors and windows for once, actually felt like the US.  I finally saw Thai 20-somethings,the crowd consisting of trendy young Thai people drinking Chang, Leo, and beer Singha.  There was a live band, singing in Thai, of course.  There was also some kind of a British-theme going on, with low mood lighting and pillows emblazoned with the British flag at every table?  After finding a US throw pillow in a Thai co-workers car the other day, I’ve learned not to question decor.  I ordered a MOJITO which I was stoked about because I haven’t had a cocktail in weeks, nor have I seen cocktails that weren’t tourist bait since I arrived here.

After 2 days of temple ruins and ruining my skin with sunburn, Lauren and I(with the assistance of Thai people once again) hopped on another bus to get back home.  You know how I always say that people stare at us in our province for being white, due to the lack of diversity?  While we were stopped at a gas station somewhere in Suphan Buri, a gas station attendant popped his head into our van, seized us up for a moment, blurted “farang” (foreigner) and popped out.  I’m going to try that in the US sometime and see what happens.

All in all, Ayutthaya was a good start to Thai travel.

Hot Dang, Dan Chang

Dan Chang: The Elephant Path

I’ve finally left Bangkok and gone to my new home for the next 10 months, Dan Chang. It’s pronounced Dohnnn Chohnng in Thai, and it means “elephant path,” “chang” meaning elephant and “dan” meaning path.  My school coordinator, P’nga(pronounced Pinga) told me that it was named that way because elephants used to walk through here on their way to go play in the river.  Unfortunately there aren’t elephants here anymore, I’m guessing it’s either because the river has been dammed up or because of the sadly decreasing elephant population.

DanChangStitch

DSC_0268

Dan Chang is in the Suphan Buri Province, about 2 hours northwest of Bangkok.  It’s 40 minutes outside of the main city, Suphan Buri, and has a population of 15,ooo.  It’s rural, being primarily a sugarcane farming community, but not considered to be very rural by Thailand standards at all.  Although there are a ton of pretty sugarcane fields that I pass on my motorbike when I go to town.

DSC_0263

Sugarcane for days.

Dan Chang’s claim to fame is having the largest non-concrete reservoir in Thailand.  Everyone goes to the reservoir in the evening to work out and socialize, when it’s a little cooler, but still very buggy.  I’ve started going with the other 2 American teachers that I live with to run every evening, it’s very postcard-esque at night, although there are definitely a lot of stares.

DanChangStitch3

The reservoir at sunset, and the spirit house located halfway across the reservoir.  On the bottom right is one of the shops not too far from my apartment, a lot of the buildings look like this, with a lot of outdoor space.

The town center has an open market.  On Monday nights there is the Monday market, which is like the open market but way bigger.  The market sells everything; maggots(yum), various parts of raw fish, exotic vegetables like dragonfruit and mangosteen, clothes, gummies shaped like sushi, shoes, allegedly even one time puppies, anything.

Whenever I walk through town I get stared at, because it’s obvious that I’m not from here.  In fact, the first farang in Dan Chang didn’t come until the school began to employ foreign teachers, 15 years ago.  P’nga told me that everyone in the entire town came to see her on her first day, as many of them had never seen a farang.  It’s also a small town, so whenever I go out in public I usually run into my students, whether it’s at 7-11 or the reservoir.

There are not one, not two, but THREE 7-11s in town, a ton of random little restaurants all over the place, a pizza place owned by a Swedish guy, numerous coffee shops, 3 Thai massage parlors, an agricultural college, amongst other things that I have yet to discover.  There’s also Wat Dan Chang, or the temple of Dan Chang, where the locals go to worship.

Untitled.jpg

Top: Image taken on the main road.  Note the family of 3 on the motorbike on the left.
Bottom: The agricultural college, image of the King in tow.

WatDanChangStitch

Top: Wat Dan Change, sorry for the quality it was getting dark.
Bottom: Spirit houses at Wat Dan Chang, the monks’ housing is in the background.

DSC_0272.jpg

A Buddhist shrine I think?  I found it down the street from my apartment, the signs are all in Thai so I don’t know(recurring theme).

The restaurants here are so cool.  In my half-asleep full-exhausted state that I was in on the Friday that my coordinator picked me up from Bangkok and brought me to my new hometown, we stopped for dinner.  I don’t know if it’s because I was delirious, but it literally looked like something out of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.  After going to a few more restaurants, I realized that they are all like that.  The restaurants are all outdoors, with little wooden tables and plastic dollar-store chairs.  There are stray dogs that wander through, no white people, and the kitchens are open, so you can see everything that goes into your food.  Everything, blood, guts, and all.

And the food- when I was in Bangkok eating mostly food that was catered by our hotel, I had to second guess myself as to how much I actually liked Thai food.  Some of it was weirdly seasoned, drowning in fish sauce, or just downright lacking flavor.  Ex. some kind of a “fish mousse” that was brown-ish and consisted of fish and egg.  But after getting to Dan Chang and trying the real stuff, I’ve found a new religion: Thai food.

IMG_0254.jpg

DSC_0261.jpg

One of the restaurants down the street from where I live.  All of the restaurants look similar, being mostly outdoors with plastic seating.  Also don’t even ask me what the above food is, the other American teachers who have been here longer helped me order it.  It’s some kind of chicken with banana peppers and a fried egg on top, sooooo good.

It’s completely different and a million times better than the American stuff, not surprisingly.  There is no such thing as drunken noodles, but Pad Thai and Tom Yum are very real, and significantly better than their American counterparts, shockingly.  They eat everything either with rice noodles or over rice, and I think I’ve consumed more rice within the past week than throughout my entire life.  My recent obsession has been Gai Pad Mem Wong, or cashew chicken.  Unfortunately most restaurants/stalls don’t even have menus, or if they do they’re written in Thai, so I’m limited to ordering what I can say in Thai or what the other American teachers I hang out with can say.  That means a lot of Gai, Thai for chicken.

And everything is so cheap.  Sooooo cheap.  A standard meal out is 35-45 baht, a little over a dollar.  It costs me 60 baht to fill up the tank on my motorbike, which is less than 2 dollars.  A one-hour massage costs 250 baht, or about $7.

Thanks for reading!  I have to stay in the country for 90 days until my work permit is processed so that my visa gets extended, so I’ll begin traveling around Thailand, new posts coming soon!

 

First Week – Orientation in Bangkok

So, after a very long waiting period of 5 weeks since I finally made my decision, I FINALLY MADE IT TO THAILAND!!!!

This past week I’ve been in Bangkok for orientation with the companies I’m teaching through, CIEE teach abroad and OEG teach in Thailand.

Fun fact – the full name of “Bangkok” is actually the longest word to ever exist.  Recently it’s been shortened to be “Krung Thep Mahaanakhon,” “Krung Thep” meaning “City of Angels.”

Bangkok is one of the most indescribable cities I have ever known to exist.  On a Tuesday night you can find everything from wild night markets open until 4AM, hordes of prostitutes beckoning to old western male tourists(vomit), and British vacationers slamming Chang beer on Koh San Road.  On a random Tuesday in June.  It’s the most crowded city I have ever seen, including streets, public parks, and motor bikes carrying a family of 4.

Koh San Road

DSC_0156.jpg

Koh San Road is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Bangkok, specifically made for backpackers.  On my first night, my roommate Lauren and I(who happens to be teaching in near me TGOD) hopped in a taxi and decided to give it a whirl.  At first we wanted to go to Chinatown, and our taxi driver told us that he knew another outdoor market we could go too, because “Chinatown have no Thai food.”  Being new, we agreed.  He then proceeded to bring us to a restaurant called “Seafood Market.”  We had fallen into a typical tourist trap, where taxi drivers take you to places that pay them to bring tourists.  After an awkward argument with our driver, we hopped in a different tuk tuk and went to Koh San Road.

KohSan

Check out the backpackers I caught feeding each other in the top pic, hehehehehe.

The second we hopped out of our tuk tuk, it was like sensory overload.  The road was packed and bumping on a Tuesday night, with hammered backpackers and Thais trying to sell you tickets to Ping-Pong shows(hint: they don’t actually play Ping-Pong, use your imagination), sell you 2-for-1 buckets of rum and coke, and inviting you into their bars to try laughing gas.  There were vendors selling elephant pants, people getting 1-hour foot massages sitting in chairs outside in public, and DJs blasting American EDM.  It was literally modern day Gomorrah.  Being jet-lagged and culture shocked, I bought Pad Thai from a street vendor for 30 baht(less than $1 US) and Lauren and I parked at a bar and tried our first Chang beers.  We then people-watched for about an hour before calling it a night.

EditedFirstWeekBKK

Paid thai Kung(pronounced “Pat Tie Kuuuung), or Shrimp Pad Thai, the first of many Pad Thai meals in Thailand!

DSC_0160.jpg

Our chariot for the evening, in this case a watermelon-colored tuk tuk(pronounced tooohk toooohk)

Patpong Night Market

The next day after teacher orientation Lauren and I went with a few other teachers to get Thai massages.  If you want the details on that read my post on Thai massages v. Hammam bath houses.  After running into a few rats and another mishap with transportation, this time with a tuk tuk driver deciding to bring us to a custom suit shop, we made it to the first night market we could find on Google, Patpong night market.

DSC_0178.jpg

Patpong starts opening up around 8PM and goes until 4 in the morning(this was a Wednesday night mind you, Bangkok doesn’t sleep).  Also kindly ignore what that sign says because it’s 110% wrong, kind of like most signs in Bangkok, at least the ones written in English.  There were a lot more Thais and less foreigners than Koh San Road, along with a lot more shopping options.  They had everything; food, counterfeit Naked palattes, counterfeit bags, Buddha statues, shoes, clothes, belts, jewelry, anything your heart desires.

PaPongStitch.jpg

After circling the market once, we turned down a street that looked like it had more shops.  Suddenly, the number of white western men increased, along with the number of Thai women.  At first I was like “Wow, a lot of Thai girls go out on Wednesdays” after seeing throngs of girls in mini-dresses and high heels.  Then we started to notice the number of neon signs advertising “Ping-Pong shows” and “Sexy girls” and we realized that we had stumbled into the red light district, and the girls were out for business, not (their own) pleasure.

I have never seen such a high concentration of prostitutes in one area in my entire life.  They were literally sitting in groups of 20 on the sides of the street on little plastic chairs, casually chatting with each other like it was just another Wednesday.  Most were wearing skimpy dresses and skirts, but some were dressed in flight attendant outfits, which was a tad confusing?  I was tempted to take pictures with my DSLR, but didn’t want to risk putting my camera in a risky situation.  The best part about the whole thing is that there were multiple cops standing around within spitting distance from the prostitutes, not doing a thing about it.

It was kind of funny how the street was set up, but also sad because it clearly reflected the number of western men that come to Bangkok for sex tourism.  On the corner there was an Irish pub, across the street from a store selling Underarmour polos and golf balls.  The  street really catered to its target demographic.

Chao Praya River Cruise

On our last night of orientation, our coordinators set up a dinner cruise for us on the Chao Praya river, the longest river in Thailand.  This was by far one of the funniest tourist traps I have ever experienced in my entire life.  It was kind of cool to see some of the city from the river, but the whole thing was absurdly corny, to the point that it was entertainingly bad.  It was very insightful to how huge the tourist industry is in Thailand, and insightful into how easily some people fall into tourist traps.  In their defense I think a lot of people really enjoyed themselves.

DSC_0208

View from the bow of the ship, where a “shrine to Buddha” had been placed to prevent idiot farang(foreigners) like myself from standing on it to take pictures.

Before getting on the ship, we had Thai girls dressed in traditional Thai clothes coming up to us, pinning orchids on our shirts, and taking pictures with us, which they tried to sell us later during dinner.  Why I would pay 200 Baht for a picture in which I am dripping sweat in 95 degree heat with a stranger in a Disney Princess costume is beyond me.  This was before the poor wait staff had to do some sort of choreographed dance where they put their hands in praying position in front of themselves and rocked their hips.  There was a gross buffet consisting of less than mediocre Thai food and sad attempts at other international food, including french fries, pasta, and the scariest part of all, sushi.

DSC_0209

Another floating Disneyland viewable from our floating Disneyland.

DSC_0212

A Wat that was visible from our ship, the picture doesn’t really do it justice.  I think it’s the grand temple but who actually knows.

There was a Thai woman in a skimpy purple dress that looked like it had been purchased at Charlotte Russe circa 2002 who was emceeing the whole thing.  She hilariously sang songs throughout dinner like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “L-O-V-E” by Frank Sinatra.   The worst part of the whole thing was when she would advance toward our tables and be all “AHHMERICAHHH!!! COME DANCE” and try to get us on the dance floor.  The amount of times I’ve been treated like a performing monkey this week just because I’m American is starting to get out of hand.  Abso-freaking-loutely not woman.

Wat Phra Kaew – The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

DSC_0217

For the last morning of orientation, we went to Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the adjacent Grand Palace, the old home of the royal family.  “Wat” means “temple” in Thai, so whenever you see something with “Wat” in it, it’s a temple.  The temple was absolutely stunning, with spires literally plated in 24 karat gold.  Nothing too exciting, it was just really gorgeous with a ton of gems and gold.  The “emerald buddha” is a buddha made out of jade.  He actually has different gold outfits that are put on him for every season.

Untitled

Those really ugly looking things are demons in the Buddhist religion.

DSC_0230

All the little details on this spire are made of broken tea sets.  Detail on a similar section of the temple below.

grandpalace2.jpg