Ayutthaya, Thailand, December 2015

  
The historic previous capital of Thailand, close to Bangkok, and ruins galore! An excellent combination for yours truly, and it had been on my list for weeks. We went on the train for about $0.60 each- yes sixty cents! It was slower than the minivans, so the 80 kms took about 2 hours, but I love trains. The windows were open to the air and the wheels clicked and rattled. 

    
   Oh, and Fiercely dyed her hair blue, if you were wondering! She just got a wild hair, no pun intended, and went with it. About time, I kept thinking, that one of us did something crazy in Bangkok LOL.

So, when we arrived at the train station, we declined the imploring tuk tuk drives and headed for the ferry. Five baht each ($0.15) to go across the river.    

 There, we got a tuk tuk to “a cheap hotel” as we requested. No, we didn’t know where we were staying; no one can accuse us of overplanning! We stayed at the first hotel we were taken to, it was fine, and went to walk around in the late afternoon.  

    
    
 We walked around the night market on the way back to the hotel. We found this adorable candy… 

   
…and these perhaps less adorable grubs we decided to try: 

    
   
They really weren’t bad. We didn’t go for the insects with all those legs and wings, just these slightly chewy guys who were salted and sprayed with lime. Really unremarkable if you could get over the ick factor, as I’m not sure we did! The night market was vibrant, and our walk was nice. 

    
 The next day we went to really see the ruins. Many had been closed the previous day since we got there after 5, but today they were open in all their splendor. We went to two areas (Wat Maha That and Wat Ratchaburana) near our hotel, and there are many more within walking, bicycling, or tuk tuk access. Here’s Maha That, built as a monastery around 1380.

      
     They say this Buddha head was left there by looters (most Buddha heads are missing due to looters) and the roots grew around it. Beautiful!!

    Wat Ratchaburana was built in 1424 by King Boromracha II to honor his two brothers who were killed dueling each other atop elephants. What?! Well, that is what we were told. 

The Wat is known for the crypt inside the tower. It was amazing to see! You go up these steps and enter the door, and here are some views from there:

    
 Inside are steep, narrow, cement steps: 

   And the intact wall paintings: 

    
   

There were other beautiful things there, too, of course.

    
  At this point, we split up and just Cleverly and I stayed in town. We walked to Wat Choeng Tha, said to be the most intact of the historic wats. It was a bit ambitious of a walk on some busy streets and perhaps a mile from the main area, but there were only two of us and we had plenty of time. We had plans to take the ‘sunset boat tour’ but we had a few hours before that. Here is Wat Choeng Tha. There is an active temple onsite and, for some reason, many rooster sculptures. 

    
    
  I’m not sure it was more intact, but I am glad we saw it. It was partly in use with obvious recent additions. It’s date and purpose of construction are unclear, but it had an important location with canal access and close to the royal palace in the peak of Ayutthaya’s activity. It is stunning to imagine it being in use for all those centuries and into today.

We walked back and felt we deserved a treat from all that walking.  We found a cute cafe and some decadent desserts!

    
 The boat tour was just lovely. I am so glad we did this. It is more of a shuttle than a tour- you are taken to 3 temples by the river for about 20 minutes at each site. It was a colorful long tail boat like we had ridden in Bangkok.  

 First was Wat Phanan Choeng, built in 1324, which predates Ayutthaya itself by over 25 years. It has a Chinese influence and a 19-meter tall Buddha. The Wat may have been built by Thai King Phra Chao Sai Namphung who mourned his Chinese wife-to-be who killed herself from sadness when the king was absent on her arrival from China. This was a legend written in “the Northern Chronicles”, according to Ayutthaya History.com.

    
  

  

Also according to that site, the 19-meter Buddha below shed tears when Ayutthaya was attacked by the Burmese in 1767. I kind of want to shed tears thinking about it, too- Ayutthaya clearly was a magnificent, beautiful place.

  
   
The next stop was Wat Putthai Sawsn, (according to the map we got in Ayutthaya but called Wat Putthaisawan on the Internet- spelling is kind of fluid here) with its reclining Buddha, gorgeous rounded tower or ‘prang’ and lovely courtyard. It was built in 1353 by the founder of Ayutthaya, King U-Thong. 

    
The sun was going down and the fading light gave an even more mystical glow about the place. And the prang- awesome.

    
    
    
       

Too many photos! To be continued… 

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. 

    
   


Chachoengsao

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!

Koh Larn, Thailand, November 2015

  

 We were in Pattaya, land of ladyboys and a ferocious red light district, and we did go through the ‘walking street’. When we were there it was a sunny Tuesday morning and not much scandal was to be seen, and I was ok with that as I held my nine-year-old daughter’s hand and navigated the giant neon bar signs with images of scantily clad women. We were there for the ferry to Koh Larn, an island off the Pattaya coast.  We had first spent a night in Bang Saray. We were at the beach there for a few hours in the late afternoon and the kids made an excellent fort. We watched a lovely sunset there.

   
    
But back to the ferry. It runs from pattaya to Koh Larn several times a day and was easy to use. It was made of brightly painted wood, and there were similar style fishing boats at the pier.

    
   
We took the pleasant 40-minute ride and looked around at the crowds on Tawaen Beach, where the ferry dropped us off. We decided to catch a tuk tuk to a smaller beach, Samae Beach. It was a good decision. We drove up a hill with beautiful views of the ocean and then down to Samae.  Below: the pier, kids onboard ferry, view of island, kids onshore, ride to Samae

   

    
  As I looked at the white sand and turquoise water, I realized I had wanted to experience this kind of beach on this trip. I hadn’t considered it before but it was our first time at a beach with white sand. It was powdery, like flour, and the clear blue water was mesmerizing. There were the usual beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. We had lunch and decided to get goggles and snorkel gear because the water was so clear and there were fish about.  

   

That’s my foot on the clear water (above)   
  

 We spent a few hours there, but eventually had to go back to the pier to find a place to stay. Samae had a resort, but it was out of our budget. We took a tuk tuk back to the pier and had a look around. There were many options. Mr. Fantastic found a nice place we could afford and we settled in. He also found a local restaurant where we could get our usual rice/veggies/egg dish for a reasonable price.  

  

 Later as the shadows lengthened, the kids and I headed to the pier to find the beach, but it turned out we were at a different pier called Naban. There was no beach, rather buildings on piers in the water. It was lovely, but not so good for swimming.  

  

  

 We took another tuk tuk to the closest beach back at Tawaen Beach. Only now the shops were closed, chairs stacked and umbrellas folded. Though there are many hotels in the island, a large number of tourists leave by 6, the last ferry, so the beaches become much quieter. Locals played volleyball and searched for valuables with metal detectors.  We saw an almost full moon rise over the hills.

  

  

 We stayed until the sun set and walked back over the hill about 1 km back to our hotel. The view of the ocean was nice in the dark, with boat lights visible on the water. We enjoyed seeing the life of the locals as we walked- cozily lit buildings, some with little shops, families having dinner, children playing. Away from the piers, there were fewer hotels and restaurants, more open space, and a different feel to the island. Here are the little streets I liked:

   
The next day we decided to get motorbikes so that we could get around the island more easily. For the six of us, it was also more cost-effective than paying for tuk tuks. We got two, so just Mr. Fantastic and myself drove. Fiercely declined, though she did try it out.  

  

  

  

 The motor scooters are easy to operate, though I admit I got stressed out when there were too many other drivers around or on steep curves. I had two kids riding with me also, which could make balancing difficult. I’m just more comfortable on my bicycle, I have to say. But for getting around, it was wonderful!  

 With our freedom and wider range, we found a cheaper hotel, saw more tranquil roads, went to several beaches, and got up at sunrise the next day to scooter to a beach and snorkel before the ferries arrived with more day trippers. We went to Naul Beach, known for monkeys, and another beach at the tip of the island- not sure of name-we snorkeled at both, and the monkeys did make an appearance at Naul.  

    
   
That night was Loy Krathong, a lovely Thai holiday in which people float lanterns in bodies of water to honor the water goddess and to get blessings for the coming year. The kids had made floating baskets (krathongs) at a library activity and we had been carrying them around. We saw plenty of similar ones for sale, and a different type made of bread dyed in bright colors.  They have incense sticks and candles on them. Here are the bread ones for sale at a supermarket:

 Ours were a little worse for wear as the banana tree base began to get mushy. But we were able to launch them that night off the pier, and we were pleased. Though some towns have large events with krathongs taller than me, parades, fireworks and beauty pageants, the scene at the pier was more subdued. Five or six families sent their little offerings afloat with prayers and plenty of giggling since the wind made it hard to light the candles. It was nice thinking about the celebrations all over Thailand that night.  Here are my pictures of krathongs on the water that night- hard to see but the upper one shows a pink krathong and the lower one shows five lit ones heading off into the night.  The next day, we would see many krathongs in various states of wear, on the water.

  

We called it a night and the next morning was our sunrise snorkeling adventure with the twins- the older kids opted to sleep late so they missed a quiet beach and lovely sky. 

   

We headed back on a morning ferry and then back to Bangkok on a day that turned out to be Thanksgiving! We had a wonderful surprise of a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast at the beautiful home of a homeschool family. The company was excellent as was the food- pumpkin pie and all! What a great end to a great trip!

Eating in BangkokĀ 

   

 Eating has been so much more challenging here than I’d imagined! Everyone raves about Thai food and I love the Thai food I’ve had in the USA. So what gives? Everyone is a Buddhist here but vegetarians seem few and far between. To complicate matters are the language barrier and the many strange forms of meat to which we are not accustomed. Even though I do eat meat on occasion, it is not usually entrails or chicken feet or fish heads or pig snouts. 

 Then there is the fact that everything comes sheathed in multiple plastic bags. You can see some above, and here are more: 
 So even we could find something without meat, we were dismayed about the amount of single-use plastic that came with it. We decided early on to buy a set of stackable metal bowls, actually two sets:

 So now we try to bring them to the market to avoid the plastic bags. Unfortunately, there is still the problem of communication. The easiest word to indicate vegetarianism sounds like “jay”, but it is a stricter form than we prefer. It is vegan, so no eggs, which have been our primary form of protein, and also excluds garlic and certain pungent herbs. Garlic! Sera mak- so sad. Here is the “jay” flag displayed at “jay” food vendors:  

Speaking of which, apparently we just missed the “vegetarian festival”, which takes place in October and ended right around the day we arrived in Bangkok! Darn it! So we are left with our nearby street market and a large grocery store when we can find one. I’m a little disappointed that we bought boxed macaroni and cheese, bread, peanut butter ($5 a jar!! They grow peanuts here but mostly use them as a garnish), and apples. But the kids weren’t really eating the local food, and they were getting tired of rice and eggs, which is what we were often getting at the market. As for me, I am a little more adventurous and prefer to eat on the street. Here’s a dish I had one day with no meat, but likely fish sauce and pork in the broth.

 Every food stall offers garnishes with the dishes. There are usually four in small bowls with spoons kept under a birdcage thing-sugar, dried ground hot pepper, sliced hot pepper in vinegar, and lime juice-and also fish sauce, soy sauce, and other sauces in bottles. These correspond to the big four flavors, which Thai cooks and diners try to balance: sour, salty, sweet, and hot. 

   

I love wandering the market and trying things, but with the six of us that doesn’t always work. Happily, I made the acquaintance of a professional foodie! 

 With great good luck, and thanks to our wonderful landlady Nim, we met the food blogger and all-around excellent lady traveler, The Messy Vegetarian Cook herself- Kip! Cleverly and I spent a wonderful few hours with Kip at a “jay” food court and the enormous Chatuchak market nearby. Here are some amazing vegan dishes we had there, and a look at the food court. You buy coupons to purchase the food, and you can change them back to baht if you don’t spend all the coupons, so no stress. We got all this for about $4!

    
 Here is the market. I bought a frying pan here, and you could buy about anything you can imagine! Especially nice were the fabrics. 

   
There were indoor and outdoor sections. Cleverly and I got this coconut ice cream in a coconut shell. The seller made it with many toppings (rice that was green for some reason, peanuts, meat from the coconut), and we got some coconut water to drink with it as well. 

   

Back to day-to-day life. We know how to order khao pak khai (rice vegetable egg-not an actual dish but just 3 words for what we can eat) and that is what we usually do. Street vendors are everywhere and sometimes we try their dishes. We cook a little, and our street market has a couple of stands where we can get a few things (very fried) we believe are vegetarian- egg rolls, a fried seitan nugget, fried tofu, fried dumplings with some kind of greens inside.

The good news is that even more important than food is water, and we get easy drinking water! It’s great, we use these dispensers and it only costs 1 baht ($0.03)to fill a liter bottle. I was boiling our drinking water (tedious!) until we found one of these. They are all over the city, and other Thai cities we’ve been to as well.

 

So that is our experience so far with Thai food. 

Addendum-Can’t help adding this photo to show how much fried food there is around here: