Our last few weeks in Bangkok, January 2016

  Bangkok, you’ve been good to us! Homeschool community, easy transport to beaches and Cambodia, some income, a nice apartment, excellent field trips. I’m not sure what comes next, but it will be hard to beat the past few months. Anyway, here are our last few Bangkok weeks.

We spent a nice afternoon at the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center, right off the Siam BTS station. The building is so sleek, all white and modern, and there is so much natural light. You can walk up a spiraling ramp to the top floor! 


The admission was free for all of us, and we saw the two large exhibits in the galleries (photography by the popular Thai HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Thai abstract artist Ithipol Thangcholok) well as a hallway exhibit of adorable Czech children’s book art. The kids spent most of their time coloring beautiful coloring pages in a nice area set up for just that. 


We ended up at the Museum of Siam kind of by mistake. A tuk tuk driver brought us there despite our  request to “turn RIGHT!” in two languages several streets before. It was so hot and the museum had been on our radar anyway, so we went with it. It is an interactive museum about Thai history and identity. Only 200 baht each for us parents, the kids were free.  

   It is housed in a beautiful 19th century building that used to be the Ministry of Commerce. The exhibits seemed very modern and possibly even recently installed. There is an introductory video with several silly, engaging characters that reappear in monitors as one tours the museum. I think we learned a lot!  I especially liked this exhibit on the diversity of ships and people that shaped Ayutthaya, the ex-Thai capital whose ruins we visited last month.

 The kids liked the 19th century dress up clothes mixing European and traditional Thai styles. 


We went back to the vegan food court, took DH this time, and spent some time at the boisterous Chatuchak weekend market again, with its 15,000 vendors. It was very hot and crowded but we knew we didn’t have many more chances to go. Afterwards, I could persuade only Cleverly to continue adventuring with me, and we went to the Thailand Tourism Festival at Lumpini Park.  

 I am so glad we went! It is a 5-day festival in which they make the park into a mini Thailand, with 5 areas representing different regions of the country. There are even little roads to direct you among the regions.

 We saw traditional dancers that brought to mind the apsara dancers carved on Angkor temple walls. They moved slowly and posed with precise hand and foot movements to recorded traditional music.


We also saw a performance of all men dancers accompanied by live music including a choir! They had elaborate costumes and performed in front of a traditional style house erected for the festival.

 It was wonderful to watch, and the music was haunting. It was all in Thai so we didn’t understand the story. At one point, there was a king riding a golden elephant. 

 Aside from the performances, there was so much else to see. We saw a ‘floating market’ on land with traditional boats housing the vendors. 


There were also modern rock’n’roll musicians, regional crafts like fabric art, and a lot more things we didn’t see.

A few weeks ago was Children’s Day! We had heard about one in Japan years ago and the kids felt ripped off. “Why don’t we have that here???”. The standard adult response of ‘every day of children’s day’ is not very satisfying. Anyway, in Thailand it meant kids riding free on the BTS, free entry and special activities at some government buildings, and Ponies at the mall:

 And we also went to the teak mansion Vimanmek Palace on Children’s Day. It was built in 1900 by King Rama V, used for such diverse purposes as royal residents and storage until 1982, then renovated that year by the current Thai Queen Sirikit. These are not my photos; we had to check our bags and photos are not permitted on many places so I don’t have any of my own. It was a gorgeous building.


I had a day by myself and I went to the National Museum. I’m glad I didn’t bring the kids so I could geek out on all the artifacts at my own pace. It’s not interactive or very modern, in fact it’s almost shabby in places and had a dusty forgotten feel at times, which only made me love it more. I did not take a ton of pictures but I couldn’t resist taking some of the funeral chariots. There have been used in very elaborate processions going back centuries and even current times, see photos and video from a 2012 funeral here

The place had maybe 15 buildings, some under renovation during my visit. The artifacts go back to prehistory and through different manifestations of Buddhist culture such as Lopburi, Sukhothai, Bagan, and the Khmer of Angkor Wat fame. I became interested in Buddha footprints, which we had seen at shrines here.

 New to me was the Wheel of Law, which often had a sitting deer statue nearby.  The deer represents the location of the Buddhas first sermon at a deer park.

 They had a nice stone Ganesh, flanked by two smaller ones. 

And there were smaller statues of various other  dieties, like the 12th century Kali goddess below. A statue I saw of a kneeling Buddha statue looked so lifelike, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure it hadn’t moved. 


This post is getting long, more to come in part 2!

Buddhas and bikes, Bangkok, December 2015

  Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

I had been wanting to visit this place since we arrived in Bangkok over six weeks ago, and finally we were there! I was standing next to the 46-meter long golden reclining Buddha, amazed by its size and enchanted by its calm expression. Many important government structures and the above temple are in the same area in Bangkok near the Chao Phraya River.  The streets were decorated in yellow for the king’s birthday.


 The kids were uninterested so this was just DH and me. 


Bike tour

Another thing the kids did not want to do: bike around Bangkok. So again we parents went and we had a great time! 


This is the old customs house:
We went with the amazing Go Bangkok rental and tour company. I don’t like to mention businesses but this place was great. They have tour guides but you can also opt to use a tablet with GPS and one of three wonderful tour options. Raymond the owner was so welcoming and helpful. We took the 17km two hour day tour. We went slowly and took about twice that amount of time. It sent us on a labrynth of old Bangkok, including Chinatown, a mosque, many temples, and twice crossing the Chao Praya River by ferry boat. Mr. Fantastic described the experience like looking at a pop-up book; every turn showed a new, colorful, unexpected tableau of this vibrant city and its hidden corners.

Apparently, the tower below is called a chedi, this particular one was restored recently, and it received a UNESCO award for the restoration!  

 Here we are attempting a selfie on the ferry:


We went back and did the same tour with another family. Since their kids went, ours were excited to go this time! 


We went back to the same giant Buddha, also through the market, and I tried to take different pictures this time around.

We went up and around and inside the giant white stupa this time around. There was a museumthere and you can go out to the balcony and also see up inside!

 Like most wats, it also has an active shrine. People can buy little squares of gold leaf and put them on statues and walls. The gold flutters and sparkles from the walls.

   We biked on some dedicated bike lanes, like this one next to the river.   And we biked through so many wats and little alleys. I did not get most of the names.

 We passed this game of hacky sack- meets-tennis-meets-basketball. There was a commentator with a microphone and everything! 

At the end of the tour, we could see our route on the GPS tablet thingie: 

And it was a great day! 


Bangkok and day trips, December 2015

Artist house 

The Artist House is a beautiful workshop and performance space housed in a centuries-old wooden house on a canal in Bangkok. ‘The Venice of Thailand’, by the way, has an extensive canal network with bus-like public transport boats. At the Artist House, hey perform puppet shows in the traditional style almost as if they are ceremonies. There is a 400 year old stupa, religious stone tower, behind the stage. 


We got there early so we could see the art gallery and explore a little. 

There are statues by the canal, and also a place to feed the hungry fish and birds. 

 Each puppet had three puppeteers who wore all black with masks and moved together. It was like a graceful prayer dance.  It could get silly, too, as the puppets came into the audience at one point. 



This was a short day trip that was disappointing in that we didn’t see any dolphins, but it was still interesting and close enough that we had time afterwards to go to the street fair (see below). This is not a popular tourist attraction, so it was a bit tricky to figure out. Several dolphin species, notably the strange-looking irawiddy, enter the Bang Pakong River from the Gulf of Thailand in November to February each year. We went to the town of Chachoengsao to look for them ourselves. We thought they came upriver to that town, but it was recommended to us by a local to go further south to where the river meets the gulf. We took a minivan for the 20-minute trip, then found a dolphin-themed pier with a few fishermen sitting there but no boats. We eventually found a bodega owner who called a friend with a boat, then drove us to the pier. We took a two-hour ride in a colorful wooden boat around the river and gulf and saw some neat silver fish jumping in the water, but no dolphins.  


Bangkok street fair 

This event took place in Lumpini Park and went on for several days. We went twice! Lumpini Park is a beautiful quiet green space in this boisterous bustling city. I walked through it once on my own. Oh, and there are alligator-looking ‘monitor lizards’ there!

So the Bangkok street show takes place here. There are street performers from all over the world.  

We saw some amazing performers, and I loved the fact that many were different from what I have seen in the past. Many were Asian, no surprise there, but they were so humble and almost prayer-like about their acts. Like the puppet show at the Artist House, performers often faced away from the audience and kneeled for a quiet moment before the show. It wasn’t done as part of the act, or done ostentatiously at all, it seemed quite genuine to me. Despite the zaniness of the shows themselves, performers bowed to the audience at the start and finish of their show and when I could understand them, they thanked the audience and said they felt honored to perform. There was a lack of sarcasm and attitude that I really appreciated.  Here’s Truly onstage with the Twin Dragons – twin brothers with a comical martial arts act, and Cleverly with one of her favorite performers:

Also the monitor lizards and free cotton candy were big hits! 


 Many people were wearing yellow to commemorate the birthday of the King of Thailand. Thais really love their King, who was crowned over 60 years ago and brought honor to the monarchy, which had had hard times, and a level of stability to the country. His birthday is also National Day and Thai Father’s Day, so you can see December 5th is a day of celebration here. They call him ‘Dad’ and we saw numerous signs in English proclaiming ‘we love our Dad’. There was also a bike ride called ‘Bike for Dad’ that took place a week later with tens of thousands of participants throughout the country, and in fact in other countries as well! So you may notice a lot of yellow shirts in the street show pictures. Similar to our experience in China during their mid-autumn festival, the crowds were happy and peaceful.

Jim Thompson farm 

 This trip was organized by the Bangkok homeschoolers group we have been lucky enough to get to know. We had visited the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok and learned of his revitalization of Thai silk work in the 1950s-60s, and now we were to see the farm and silk works he had established before his mysterious disappearance in 1967.  


  The farm is about 3-4 hours from Bangkok and is only open for about a month once a year. There are fields and fields of flowers, a ‘village’ with traditional houses, and buildings with people working on looms. It is large-scale agrotainment, with all the tourist shops and accoutrements you would imagine, but with interesting Thai and silk components. We moved among the areas in brightly painted busses, some that looked like watermelons and silk worms. 


There were rice harvest and threshing implements: 

 And the teak buildings on stilts, similar to the ones Jim Thompson had moved to Bangkok for his home. 

 The silk looms and raw silk were lovely to look at and so soft to the touch!


Just some more random photos from a photogenic place: 


That’s the update for now!

Bangkok and Cha Am, November 2015

 Bangkok is getting more familiar. The sky train is simple to navigate, we found a wonderful homeschool group, we are relatively settled in our apartment, we’ve been to a beach, we mostly figured out how to eat (vegetarian is a challenge!), and we know how to order the delicious cold orange-colored Thai tea.  Im not sure what makes it orange but they add condensed milk- yuuuuummmmm.

  Bangkok sunset and a view near our station, both seen from sky train platform:


  A rare vegetarian dish, not sure where we got this but I took the photo to help communicate that we eat eggs but no meat:

 We went to the science center for education a little run-down but very affordable and we liked the ‘zero gravity’ slide experience. 




 The kids also liked the arts area where they painted ceramic piggy banks and cartoon horses on silk frames. 


 Another day we took public transportation in the form of a canal boat, kind of like a bus on the water. There are stations and tickets and a bold driver with a roaring motor. You have to move quickly to get on and off, and it got very crowded later on the way back. We could see the backs of houses on the canal. 





 Ridiculously, we went ice skating in Thailand before ever setting foot on a beach! There is a weekly homeschool meet up at one of the several (?!) ice rinks around the city. It was great to meet homeschoolers and to be somewhere cold! 


 We also joined an English-language library in town, the Neilson Hays Library. It is a beautiful space with wooden cabinets full of books for kids and adults. They also have art activities in Saturdays.  



 The kids made beautiful floating flower baskets with candles for Loy Krathong, a festival to honor the goddess of water.  This was a library activity and we hope to release the baskets on a body of water on the festival day later. I was happy the craft used cross sections of banana trees for the base of the basket, rather than styrofoam as we hear is sometimes used.



  The day after ice skating, we went to a beach recommended by a coworker of Mr. F. It is not too far from Bangkok, tends to be frequented by Thais rather than foreigners, and is not crowded during weekdays. We took a minibus to Cha Am and stayed overnight.   

Cha Am beach was about half covered by umbrellas with beach chairs and tables underneath. You rent a chair and vendors come by selling all types of food, souvenirs, foot massages, you name it. Weekends they say can be quite crowded, but the weekdays we spent there were quiet. 


Back in Bangkok, we visited the Jim Thompson House. This is an interesting historic building comprised of six traditional Thai houses of teak which Mr. Thompson bought, had disassembled, and had reassembled on his Bangkok property.  




 Jim Thompson is an American known for reviving the Thai craft of silk fabric and for collecting Thai artifacts, some over 1,000 years old, over his 25 years living in Thailand. He is also known for his mysterious disappearance in Cambodia at the age of 61. His house is now a museum where visitors can see his collections and the house itself. It is  a beautiful oasis in bustling Bangkok.

These are traditional dancers that performed, and some silk-making displays: 

The big kids were at a movie, and though the place was not designed for kids the twins did alright during the 40-minute tour. Afterwards, the tour guides seemed to enjoy making tiny origami sculptures with them! 

That is some of what we are up to in Bangkok, more to come!

Bangkok, November 2015


 “There’s a dead squirrel in the car, mama” said Cleverly.  We were traveling from Vang Vieng to the Capitol of Laos, Vietienne, in a minibus, passing rice fields in various states of harvest, rivers, towns. We were listening to a Lao version of Taylor Swift which the driver played from his cellphone attached to- covering, actually- the rear view mirror. This might have been alarming but I reasoned that he didn’t need to look back since the road was so twisted he couldn’t see far behind him anyway. Better to see in front of him- the potholes, cows, sudden drops, slow cars, and other obstacles as we went about 30 mph on a road that alternates dusty and paved. The driver had just stopped so he could buy a dead squirrel from a roadside stand. We made several stops like that, dropping off or picking up riders, getting a snack at a stand, picking up a package. 

“There are now three dead squirrels in the car, mama.”

We must not have taken the express. 

Lovely desserts in Vietienne:   

 We eventually reached Vietienne and made our way to the backpacker area and the English language bookstore where we would meet Mr. Fantastic. It was a kind of miracle that my texting app worked up until the moment I told him of our location, and hasn’t worked since! He found us at a fancy coffee shop where there was wifi and cheesecake. And it was a lively reunion!

We decided to go to Bangkok right away since he had an apartment for us. We took a bus, crossed into Thailand, then took the overnight train from the border. The train staff had a military-style inspection before we could board the train. It wasn’t overly militant, more like orderly. The participants weren’t averse to anyone taking pictures, and there were smiles and bowing passed between the guy in tan and the line of train workers.    Inside the train was our most comfortable sleeping arrangement on trains/busses yet. Large beds compared to the others we’d had, little green curtains, soft pillows. The upper beds folded down from the ceiling of the train, while the lower ones were made from seats and tables. One complaint was that they left the lights on all night! Other than that, it was a nice way to get to Bangkok.

We got in at around 7am. We got on the “sky train” to the Sukhamvit part of town, down some side streets and to a little one-room apartment we’d found on Airbnb. It was a unique place, full of antique hardwood and with a back porch kitchen. There were banana trees in a small backyard. 



 It was too small for us, and though we hated to leave the cozy place with its sweet kitchen, a few days later we moved two blocks away to another apartment owned by the same landlady. This one had three bedrooms, a less exciting kitchen, and a lower monthly rent- about $480/month including utilities. It will be home for a couple of months.  Below is outside and inside our apartment. We have a yellow gate and we’re the lower floor of a two-story house.




 Our landlady is quite a character! Nim is a Thai language teacher as well as a landlady and speaks fluent English. She collects antiques and has an affinity for worn teak shutters and panels from old country houses. It is a nice break from the modern high rises all over the city. She loves our kids and had us over right away to swim in the pool at her apartment building where she lives. Below: selfie out Nim’s balcony, the pool, Nim pouring us a sweet iced herbal tea

 One of our first days in Bangkok, I took the twins on a kids excursion by a local company. It was about Thai monks, and we went to several related places around Bangkok. We started on a long tail boat on the Chao Phraya River to a flower market. 

The flower market is open 24 hours a day and supplies people with flowers and garlands for shrines, car rear-view mirrors, temple offerings, etc. 

The organizers bought some flowers and the kids made garlands. 

We got into a tuk tuk and went to Wat Suthat, an historic temple famous for its giant swing that was used in ceremonies until the 1930’s.


 A monk met us at the temple and told us about his daily life. He answered questions about his schedule (up at 4am, meditation, alms collecting, studying, two meals a day, bed at 10pm), hair (buzz cut once a month for efficiency in grooming and for humility), and why he became a monk (his parents wanted him to become one). He led the kids through lighting candles and incense, offering these and garlands, bowing, and meditating. 

 The wat was so beautiful with golden Buddhas and intricate wall paintings. 


 We had lunch, then went to an amulet market- what an interesting place! 

By the way, the wat had this to say about images of the Buddha, which I found interesting: 

 That was our first few days in Bangkok.