General Travels

Another Day, Another Bus, Another Buddhist – Thailand Part 6

We got up this morning, had breakfast, and caught a motorbike taxi to the bus station. We were actually walking there ourselves when we came across an older man who offered us a ride as we walked past his house. He was a funny little man with a great big friendly smile so we couldn’t help but accept his offer.

As we walked up, we saw his back was covered in a large tattoo written In the Thai alphabet, so while it was illegible to me, it was very detailed and very beautiful. Christine informed me that she’d seen the same design before and that it was a spell of protection that the monks do. Sadly, I did not get a picture, but the idea is fascinating to me.

Thailand is one of the most populous Buddhist countries in the world, and it has greatly changed a lot of my outlook on Buddhist culture. I suspect and hope that I may be misinterpreting things, but at first glance, there seems to be a lot of materialism and superstition around it here, which was not at all what I had understood from the beliefs previously. I also, in general, know very little about Thai Buddhism and how it varies from other forms. This is something I plan to research further when I return to having a regular Internet connection.

I have noticed that meat is very popular over here, but beef is almost nonexistent. This fascinates me because my perception was that spiritual Buddhists are often vegetarian. As such, I would have suspected to see a lot less meat as a whole. But the no beef thing, one would guess to be influenced by Hindu beliefs? One thing I’ve seen for sure is a friendly, laid-back culture of lovingkindness here. I definitely need to read more before I go on talking about this. Otherwise, I’m sure to make myself sound ignorant.

We are headed now to Ayutthaya, which used to be the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. We’ll be meeting up with some of Christine’s friends from her job over here (note: I forget if I mentioned this but Christine is over here teaching English as a foreign language). She tells me it’s among her favorite places here. I’m excited all around.

General Photography Travels

Elephants, Dragons, and Bats (oh my!) – Thailand Part 5

What a day.

This morning, we woke up and had breakfast on the river before catching a ride to the elephant ranch. We sat in the back of a truck for the half-hour ride through the countryside. The weather was beautiful, and it was really nice to have the wind in our faces and enjoy the ride. When we got to the ranch, we bought a bag of bananas, were helped onto an elephant, and rode through the hills. The wrangler handed Christine an absurdly pink umbrella to block out the sun as we rode. He lead us down a path to the river where we dismounted, and Christine begrudgingly returned the umbrella. We each got another elephant to ride in the river. The wrangler provided us with some dish soap and a scrub brush to bathe the elephants. They are such amazing creatures. I sat around the back of an elephant’s neck as it pushed its ears back against its body to hold onto my legs as it dunked itself sideways underwater. An incredible life-affirming experience that exemplifies the intelligence of the animal on almost an emotional level.

That whole adventure cost around $25, which was money well spent. From there, we headed back to the hostel, showered, and rested up. While relaxing, we just happened to catch a glimpse of a giant monitor lizard swimming through the river right in front of our place. As I write this, Christine will not stop going on about it and demanded I fit into this entry. To be fair, it was pretty cool (Editor’s Note: that monitor lizard – aka dragon – is the embodiment of awesome!) (Writer’s Note: Christine is never going to be asked to edit my entries again.)

After that, we rented a motorbike and took off on the open road, eventually finding our way to the “Death Railway” and “The Bridge over the River Kwai.” I bought a much-needed pair of sunglasses, and we proceeded to get lost until we found a passage over the river we could take on the bike (the “bridge over the River Kwai” is train or foot only, no vehicles allowed.)

We spent some time getting lost, asking directions, and having a good laugh before we stumbled onto a bridge and eventually made our way to the Khao Pun Caves and the Buddhist temple built in and around them. It was quite possibly the most peaceful experience I’ve had here, which is saying a lot. The caverns went deep underground, and we stumbled onto a massive amount of bats lurking up above us and proceeded very carefully as not to disturb them. Despite our efforts, one or two still took flight here and there, giving us a mild spook.

The place was filled with an astonishing amount of Buddha statues stashed throughout the caverns, and many of the passages got absurdly tight and short, causing my lanky self to have to duck often. We were both very thankful for not being much larger in size. It reminded me of the scenes from “In Bruges” where Colin Farrell’s character is heckling the fat American family, telling them they won’t be able to climb to the top of the bell-tower. Fortunately, we’re not that large.

The caverns were beautiful beyond what I can describe, and it was nice to find some naturally cool air here (it has been in the 90’s this week). As we were leaving, a monk set himself up in front of a massive Buddha statue and started to pray. It was an extremely moving thing for me to witness, but I made a conscious effort not to disturb him. After that, we biked back into town for some dinner at the “Tofu Bar Vegetarian Food” restaurant, which thankfully had free WiFi for customers. We watched the sun go down over a few beers, listened to some John Lennon, and caught up on the news. I’ve enjoyed being detached from just about everything aside from Twitter, but it’s good to know what’s going on as well.

Tomorrow we’re heading out to Ayutthaya, Thailand’s old capital, and Nakhon Sawan, a small city where Christine is teaching. As much as I’ve enjoyed the tourist stuff, I’m excited at the possibility of getting into a less touristy area and seeing things a bit more like a local.

As for tonight, back to the bar, we found last night to share a pint with a couple of Belgian girls while listening to our new Thai friend Juan (definitely spelled wrong) play music.

Until tomorrow friends, cheers!


State of No Big Deal – Thailand Part 4

I received some emails of concern, so I thought I’d address this head-on:

Yesterday a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok due to the ongoing Red Shirt nonviolent political protests. The group is looking to dissolve the parliament and install their leader, who had previously been deposed by the Yellow Shirts a few years back. That is pretty much all I know. While we were there, Bangkok was hustling and bustling with people. Among them were many of the “Red Shirts” who had set up tents with signs and loud blaring speakers. For the most part, they kept to themselves. At the most, they blocked up traffic on their motorbikes.

Either way, we got out of there yesterday. Not because of this situation at all but because we wanted to do other things. I’ll be back in Bangkok on Tuesday briefly to fly out to Tokyo, and neither Christine nor I are concerned. The Red Shirts primarily do this stuff on the weekend to disrupt tourism, hurt the economy, and put pressure on the Thai government. This is not to comment on their messages or the importance of either side’s missions; it is just to say that we are safe, and we don’t expect it to impact Monday as well.

Anyway, we’re having breakfast and then off to see some elephants. More later!

Photography Travels

Taking it Easy – Thailand Part 3

We planned to get up at 8:30 today but wound up sleeping in till around 11. It was actually pretty nice in our hostel. Though it was not much more than a small white room with a bathroom/shower, it was actually pretty comfortable. I spent the extra 50 baht so we could have a window and, although it wasn’t much of a view, I really enjoyed listening to the noise outside. I woke up around 9 and just laid there, taking in the sun and listening to the assorted city sounds that Bangkok has to offer. It was a really soothing way to relax for me.

I wandered around the street markets for a bit and bought an awesome loaf of brown bread and a strawberry shake. Last night I had a chicken curry dish that was pretty good as well, so far the local food has my approval.

We booked a van and headed to Kanchanaburi. We have a place on the River Kwai very close to Burma’s border, where we’ll be spending the next two nights. The river is surprisingly clean and strikingly beautiful.

The food in Kanchanaburi is also excellent. I had some Burmese curried pork that, while amazing, cleared my sinuses and made my mouth feel like it was on fire. Christine had a good laugh at me, though, as I struggled to eat it, all the while chugging apple juice and water.

We watched the sunset over the river and napped a bit before heading into town for a drink and some socializing.

We’ve done very little today, but it has been amazingly relaxing. I’ve been taking pictures and video like a fiend, but there is little I can do to post them without a proper computer. I’m planning on cranking many of them out on the 14th when I return, depending on my exhaustion level.

Tomorrow we are planning to see some elephants as well as some of the historical WWII locations. The second half of our day is wide open, however, and we’re open to suggestions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter with any advice.

More soon!


Arrival/Night 1 – Thailand Part 2

I managed to get a WiFi connection in Hong Kong briefly, which is how I was able to post the first entry. So far, I haven’t been able to get any service on a Thai network with data using my iPhone. (Edit: It turns out if I turn off 3G, it works fine.)

Anyway, enough of the Internet woes. I landed around 10:30 am and wandered around the airport for a while before finding Christine. We then caught a bus and went to Khao San in Bangkok to find a hostel for the day.

I am thrilled not to be on a plane right now. The travel here was a combined over 20 hours and 5 different airplane meals. I never want to eat something with a tinfoil lid ever again.

I made pretty good use of the time though: I did a lot of reading, a lot of writing, and rewatched most of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ season 1. It’s crazy, but I have very quickly fallen head over heels in love with my iPad. The battery life is incredible.

Christine suggested we check out the market, but apparently it’s only open on the weekends. So we took a Tuk-tuk to the Skytrain in an attempt to check out a photo gallery. After a good hour of wandering, we discovered that the gallery was also closed, so we decided to settle down at a bar outside and throw back a couple of beers. I made a point to try all three of the major national beers; Singha, Chang, and Leo. All three are pretty basic lagers, nothing especially great about any of them. I prefer Chang, Christine prefers Singha.

Our Tuk-tuk driver made us stop off at a tailor; he apparently gets a commission, so we agreed to humor him and spend a few minutes in there. Well, it turned out I got talked into buying some custom-fitted shirts. The fact of the matter is though, it was really a steal. I basically paid $200 for three fitted shirts of my own custom styling and fitting and a superb pair of slacks. I really do need good dress clothes, and the price and quality were beyond reasonable. They had them cut, fitted, and delivered to our hostel in just a few hours. That’s pretty unbeatable service.

We are now hanging out in Khao San in a bar with an excellent cover band made up of Thai nationals that do frighteningly good versions of American and British pop songs. The place is swarming with Britons who go crazy at every Oasis song, but I can’t really blame them either; I totally nerded out for the Nirvana covers myself, so who am I to judge?