Travels to Asia: First and last up, Bangkok!

Life in Boulder is in full-swing, but I do want to back up to the end of 2015 – last year!  It almost seems as though it really were a year ago that Michael and I embarked on our first trip to Asia, but it’s barely been four weeks.  Either way, I should crank this out before I forget all of the details about our trip!

First of all, why Asia?  Obviously there is an infinite number of reasons to go, but for us, we had the luxury of time, especially at this time of year which, while December/January is the high season, the weather also cooperates a bit more (meaning = not as hot as at other times).  We both had finished up a contract position, so, being footless and fancy-free (cough cough, unemployed), we decided that there was no better time to head on a big trip.  While my tone may seem a bit flippant, we really aren’t sure when we’ll have this opportunity again, and we wanted to take advantage of it.  As for Asia – we thought about Michael coming over to Europe after my Swiss adventure ended, but there were so many issues with that plan.  First of all, I would have over-stayed my welcome, and I wasn’t comfortable with lying or talking my way out of Europe or paying a fine.  The other two issues that concerned us were money, as Europe can be quite expensive, and also the weather.  We just weren’t pulled to the idea of traveling through Europe in December.  I think that I’d love to visit certain places in Europe in wintertime on another occasion, but neither one of us felt that it was a compelling place for us at this time.

The idea of Asia, on the other hand, appealed to us for so many reasons – the weather, yes, the beauty, of course, but we really liked the idea of visiting a place and experience a culture that was totally unknown to us (to me, in particular, since Michael actually studied quite a bit of Asian art while he was in college), in a way that’s different from European or Latin American countries, places that are different yet somewhat familiar.  We knew plenty of people who had visited Thailand, and for a while, that had been on our list of places we wanted to visit, but as we were talking about the trip and how much time we would spend where, we decided to add Cambodia to the mix.  It still gave us 2 weeks in Thailand, plenty of time to explore a few areas, and then we would also experience another country.  We planned most of the trip over the summer, and then I went off to Switzerland, and we both crossed our fingers that we had confirmed most of the plans and that we hadn’t fucked up anything too much.

So, I returned from Zermatt on December 9, and just shy of a week later, we were on board EVA Air to Taipei and then on to Bangkok, leaving late on the 15th and arriving the 17th.  We had about a day-and-a-half in Bangkok at the beginning and the end of the trip, which was convenient for travel purposes and for seeing the major sites.  With such a short amount of time there, I hate to make negative judgements on a place, but, whoa, Bangkok is…  Well, it’s complex – super modern in some ways, with crazy high-rise apartments and hotels, but then a bit of a mess when you are on the streets and dealing with day-to-day ‘stuff’, I suppose.  We stayed at the Shanghai Mansion in Chinatown, which was somewhat convenient to a few of the major sites, but Chinatown was a bit chaotic!

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Definitely a ‘fun’ room! Nice flash in the background too.

In addition to the location (which was plus/minus, really), we did appreciate the fact that it wasn’t a huge hotel. For whatever reason, I’d rather stay at a place with less amenities but more “personality” – this might have had too much personality at times, though.  On the front side of our trip, the best part of the hotel was the breakfast buffet.  In general, the breakfast buffets in Thailand and Cambodia were no joke, and may have been my favorite part of the trip.  Okay, slight exaggeration, but they were awesome – amazing fruit (I don’t even like papaya, but I loved it in Thailand and Cambodia, not to mention the dragon fruit and other exotic options), usually fried rice and a curry or pad thai, and plenty of other options.  Sadly, when we returned to Bangkok at the end of the trip, for whatever reason, they decided to nix the breakfast buffet.  I was a bit heartbroken.

Out and about in Bangkok: For our first full day in Thailand, we were up at an ungodly hour, so it was fairly easy to head out to see some of the wats, or temples.  We walked to the Grand Palace, within which is Wat Phra Kaew (also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha).  We stopped at a few wats just in the city on Thursday and along the way, but they didn’t compare much with the Grand Palace.

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On the way to the Grand Palace – It’s a Che Guevara tuk-tuk!
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The Grand Palace from afar

What struck me about visiting Wat Pha Kraew was that, yes, it was a tourist site but it was very much a religious experience for some people, and perhaps that was a common thread at all of the wats we visited.

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Inside the Grand Palace complex
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Wat Pha Kraew – the architecture was so amazing; so were the crowds! 

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No photos inside Wat Pha Kraew – it is forbidden to take any of the Jade Buddha, but we did see the Buddha, amidst a throng of people.

After exploring the Grand Palace complex, we grabbed lunch (the food was SO GOOD everywhere!), and then went to Wat Pho which was nearby.  I expected Wat Pho to also be crowded, but it was relatively empty, so we enjoyed exploring it a bit more.  Wat Pho houses the largest reclining Buddha – and it was an impressive sight!

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Stupas everywhere!

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On a tuk tuk back to Chinatown – Definitely quicker than walking

On our return to Bangkok, again, we had about a day-and-a-half.  The first day, to be honest, was terrible because we had just heard about Gus, so we wandered around the city, wishing to be as far away as we could and mourning in, what seemed to us, an improper way.  There certainly is more to see and do in Bangkok, and we finished out our time there with a visit to the Jim Thompson House, which is a museum and is well worth the visit.  On our last morning, before departing that afternoon, we rallied a bit and enjoyed breakfast with a view:

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Breakfast at SALA Rattanakosin 

After breakfast, we took a water taxi across to explore Wat Arun, also known as Temple of Dawn.  Apparently, despite its name, sunset is really the time to see it, but we enjoyed our view at breakfast just fine.

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Wat Arun

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While we don’t feel that we left no stone unturned in Bangkok – there is still so much more to see, and we, obviously, barely scratched the surface, we also left with a sense of the city and some of the places.  We walked to different places, took a water taxi, stopped into plenty of wats, not just the ones mentioned here, walked through one market after another, and enjoyed plenty of good food.

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Enjoying our last fresh coconut – one of many!
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One of the many street food markets in Bangkok – this one was right around the corner from our hotel.
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Relaxing a bit
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Bangkok at sunset

I don’t think that we’ll return to Bangkok for a while, although who knows where life will take us.  It was an interesting ‘jumping off’ point, and we also enjoyed exploring the city.  It certainly offers something for everyone and is an interesting place, and, for me, it was so new and different.  Perhaps for that reason, I often felt overwhelmed and oversaturated at times, as though I just couldn’t see anything else.  What I did see, however, I appreciated and tried to take in as much as I could – the people, the colors, the spice that seemed to be in every part of the experience.  This thread would be true of other places we visited too, that sense of the different and how to process it and fully appreciate it.  Maybe I didn’t?  Maybe I need to return to better understand what I’m seeing and experiencing.  Well, I can always hope!

Next up, Cambodia…

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2 thoughts on “Travels to Asia: First and last up, Bangkok!

    1. Kim – Bangkok is ALL of those! I’m ready to return to a lot of places we visited, but I can wait for a while on Bangkok.
      Yes, it was so tough to not be there for Gus. That made everything so much harder – we really wish that we could have been there.

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