The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

Back to Thailand

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Gone to the Dogs

After ferociously posting, catching up on all my travels, once again the silence (i.e. lack of posting) has begun… I figured I should tell you all why exactly.  See, I’ve literally gone to the dogs!

I’m in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand near the border with Burma (Myanmar) volunteering at the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary.  I may have mentioned before that my ultimate goal in life is to start an animal sanctuary of my own, and well, in order to get there I first have to actually see what its really like…

Most days are good, just the basics: feed, water, play, change blankets/mats, laundry, give meds, play more, walk the dogs with paralyzed back legs in the doggie “wheel chair”, more play, night feed, rest.  There are approximately 40 plus dogs and puppies, most are regular dogs, several are 3-legged and 3 other precious dogs are only able to use their front legs.  Well, Gizmo technically CAN use his back legs, he just chooses not to:)

Dogs rule the streets here (which I adore) but on occasion or rather more than ever necessary that means hit and runs.  While many people love their animals and actually take care of their dogs and other pets, far many more don’t.  Animals are purposely poisoned, cuts and gashes are ignored leading to very serious maggot infestations (we had to put one down because it was literally infested with THOUSANDS of maggots from his mouth to his tail, which was acutally missing, nothing more than a hole filled with squirming maggots) while others are simply abandoned or starved.  Vet care is free (donations are welcome) yet some people simply prefer to choose a grisly life for them instead of seeking help.

But, while there is that heartbreaking side to volunteering here, there are so many joys to it too.  They bring such an unconditional and pure love to my heart that is hard to match.  Unfortunately, the nature of caring for any life (human or animal) includes having to deal with every aspect of it, the good and the bad.  We help where we can, do what we can, but of course not all can be saved. Just the nature of the beast.

So you see, it’s not just for any random reason I’ve been M.I.A. on my blog, I’ve just been busy loving and caring for dogs:)  I do of course plan to catch up on about 5 other posts I have in mind, but the other excuse I have for not posting is I’ve been dealing with a super crazy virus on my tablet that kept rerouting me to a website called adfoc.us (do NOT click that!!) and some other thing called mobo market kept trying to download on my computer.  But after 4 factory resets, I think it’s finally gone:)

On to The Death Railway

Back to Thailand

 

Animal Exploitations?

I will fully admit that one of the big things that put Thailand on my map of places to visit was because of the Tiger Temple.  When I first heard about it and saw pictures from a customer at my workplace I was in absolute awe!  You mean you can walk beside, pet and sit with REAL tigers????  I was sold!!  I wanted to be a part of that!!  I had heard things like; there is a Temple in Thailand where monks live and care for the tigers; the tigers are fed cooked meat so they don’t look at humans (raw meat) as being a food source; the tigers are docile and are pretty much exactly like house cats, except much larger.  A Tiger Temple was even featured as one of the locations where they went in The Amazing Race during the first season.  I was highly intrigued!!

tiger temple_1
tiger temple_1

Then I started doing research…  There isn’t just ONE tiger Temple in Thailand.  They are a dime a dozen (here in Kanchanaburi you can barely walk 10 feet without seeing a sign for a tiger tour).  Tour groups are taken daily to the various Temples so that each tourist can have a “genuine” experience with the tigers… I should have figured.  After really looking into it, I can’t help but wonder whether these “Temples” aren’t so much about the benefit of the animals as they are simply another way to bring in the tourist, essentially exploiting the tigers along the way.  I’m not saying the tigers are mistreated.  I doubt they would be since it is such a popular tourist attraction.  What I am saying is tigers are by nature wild.  As much as I love the fantasy of being able to chill along side a tiger, I would much rather have a genuine encounter (much to the fear of my family I’m sure) in the wild (where tigers really belong) with one than to stand in line, wait my turn and get my picture taken with a “tame” tiger.

tiger temple_2
tiger temple_2

I’m not sure how these Temples began.  Perhaps the first did originally start as a place where tigers that would otherwise die in the wild were taken in and cared for.  Then perhaps from there it evolved into the circus it is today?   I’m not sure.  But I now know I don’t want to be a part of that.

For all the animal encounters I wish I was able to have, I certainly won’t if it’s at the potential exploitation of the animal.  That is why I didn’t take an elephant ride in Ayutthaya.  I’m always very wary of how the animals are treated before paying to be a part of an activity with them, though I did buy a basket of food to feed to them (since the food was going directly to them).  There were several elephants off giving rides to tourists down the street and back and three remained at the main location without any harnesses on, but tied by their foot with a chain to the hitching post beside them.

tiger temple_3
tiger temple_3

It was hard to see chains around their legs, but here I will play a bit of the devil’s advocate.  As a horse back rider, we tie horses up with halters and a lead lines to keep them in one place.  We don’t tie a leg of course nor do we use chains in tying a horse, but I had to wonder if since elephants are soooo much larger, if chains are just the equivalent to a cotton or nylon tether to a horse?  Elephants are highly intelligent however so I also wondered why they would need ties at all to stay within an area?  And again, since I’m not educated enough on the proper treatment of elephants and whether these ones were properly cared for, I didn’t agree to a ride, just a direct feeding to them.

 

Elephants
Elephants waiting for food

In Ayutthaya they also have a place called the Elephant Kraal and the Ayutthaya Elephant Village, right next to the floating market.  I did think to go check them out, but thankfully read up on some reviews first… This review was also confirmed by a couple staying in the hostel who had personally gone to see it.  First the floating market is nothing but a tourist trap.  Second, they said that the elephants look stressed and unhappy, that they made the baby elephants do tricks that were unnatural for an elephant to do and third they also had TIGERS that they kept in small cement cages with their legs tied to the edge of the cage.  The couple said the tether was so tight that it was cutting into their skin.  Absolutely unacceptable!!!

Soapbox time…  Though it may not make any difference (because most people are too much into their own needs to care) I urge people NOT to support any cruelty to animals and subsequently do NOT support places or people who treat their animals in foul ways.  The best way to get them to stop is simply to not support them.  Unfortunately many of these kinds of places open up because tourism drives them.  Since they have animals native to their lands that many other places in the world consider exotic, many places make a buisiness out of exploiting the animals so tourists can get up close and personal with them so they can show off to friends and family back home on what they got to do with a wild animal.  If we don’t support these businesses, they can’t survive.  The drive will die off and those who exploit animals for profit will no longer make money.

As I write the above rant, the only concern that comes to mind of course is: What will happen to the animals themselves?  I don’t have all the answers.  If I could wave a magic wand I would have a place of my own (or enough money to support a place) that would provide safe and natural habitats to abused, mistreated and exploited animals.  Somewhere where they could simply be.  Sounds like a zoo, I know, but what I envision would be just large expanses of land where only the injured/unable to live in the wild would be in enclosures so they could be properly cared for.  The rest would roam free.  Until then, all I know is step 1 is to not support places like the above mentioned or any other.  And if anyone out there has better suggestions, I’m open to hearing them 🙂

I do hope there are genuinely good places here that really care for their animals, as I am interested in volunteering.  Whether that means shoveling shit, or any other nitty gritty “gross” job necessary to benefit the animals.  So far I haven’t found any yet but hold hope that they are here somewhere…

On To Gone to the Dogs

Back to Thailand

p.s… all tiger images in this post were taken from Google Images, keyword “tiger temple images”

What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand

Gecko Hallucinations

I thought of calling this post “Tales of Two Tails” but came up with ‘Gecko Hallucinations’ first, so I thought I’d go with that.  Just to clarify, I wasn’t on ANY kind of drug at the time, only about 900 mls of beer WITH food, so it wasn’t even like I was THAT drunk!

As I was sitting at my table enjoying some dinner the first night at the hostel, I noticed a gecko making his way across the table toward me.  He was quite the brave little guy as he just kept coming closer and closer and closer, wiggling his little body back and forth with each cautious yet determined step.

Short Tail
Short Tail

Seeing how close he was getting, and not wanting to scare him away I stopped all my movements just to watch and see how close he’d actually come.  A few minutes later he made his way to my beer bottle… Hmmm… Maybe he was after the water condensing off the bottle?  At the beer bottle he lifted his head as if to look the entire length of the bottle up and down, trying to decide what his move would be.  He then moved his head to the table where some water had pooled and, well didn’t really drink, but looked like he was sniffing it, lol!!  I know this sounds nuts!!  I was quite humored by this however!!

I made a movement with my hand to get an itch on my nose and he recoiled back about half way down the table.  I know you should never feed wildlife, but I couldn’t help it!  I threw over an itty bitty piece of egg from my plate and he immediately attacked it as if it were a bug that just landed.  I ended up throwing a few more bits of egg his way when suddenly another gecko was on the table.  This gecko only had half of his tail however, so needless to say they were named “short tail” and “long tail”, lol!!

After My Beer??
After My Beer??

Long tail noticed short tail’s arrival and immediately started twitching his tail back and forth all while giving off short little chirps.  Everything seemed friendly enough but all of a sudden long tail scurried over and started biting (or something) short tail on his side!  Short tail didn’t seem in any sort of pain however since he wasn’t going anywhere, but long tail kept on for about 20 seconds.  Then he ran off as short tail remained.

The tables somehow seemed to have turned because though long tail seemed to be the dominant one (since he was the one attacking) it was him that was running off and short tail that remained.

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

Short tail started to come toward me this time so I threw him a few bits of egg.  A few minutes later long tail came back on the table and started coming toward short tail again.  At this point short tail started twitching HIS tail and chirping, but instead of another spat, long tail simply ran off again, lol!!  And that was the last I saw of long tail that night…

Believe it or not the second night was the same!  Long tail showed up first, then a little while later short tail came by.  Long tail tried to show dominance by even raising up on the pads of his feet, arching his body in the air to make himself look bigger (or something!) but still it was always short tail who won out without any real effort being put forward by him, lol!!

Brave Gecko
Brave Gecko

The pictures taken are only of the short tailed gecko as on the third night I never did see long tail… Hmmm…

On to What IS That?!!?

Back to Thailand

Temples and Monks

I’m not sure why, but whenever I step into a Temple or see a monk passing by, something about it brings me chills and tears to my eyes.  There’s something so powerful about a place and people who dedicate their entire lives to a single belief.  A belief in peace.  A belief in harmony.  A belief in loving your fellow-man, animals and Mother Earth.  There is a powerful tranquility being in that space.

I will say it is funny to see monks riding on the back of motorcycles, smoking, talking on cell phones (not all at once of course) and that some have tattoos, lol!

So many other religions are full of corruption and are misguided in my opinion, that the true teachings of them are clouded by power and personal need or gain.  Of course, just like in all religions, not every person who believes in one religion or another are perfect.  But that’s not the point.  The point is to live being the best YOU that you can be.  If we were all the best versions of ourselves, for the betterment of the world and those who live in it with us (not for ourselves) then we would finally have a home to live in without fear, injustice and hate.

Just my two cents.

On to Gecko Hallucinations

Back to Thailand

Bangkok ‘Gangster’ Scams

 

I don’t really know how close I was to the Palace because again there was no way to judge true distances on my map and to make things more interesting, maps posted along the street didn’t coincide at all with the map I had so I was kinda just going blindly most of the time…

At one point I came across a hilarious little squirrel.  People (I’ve noticed this elsewhere now too) hang little bags or full coconuts on the trees for the squirrels!  I didn’t know they had squirrels in Thailand before this!  He was adorable to watch as he dipped his head in the bag for a mouthful of shaved coconut, too cute!!

As I continued down the random street I was approached by a guy who asked where I was going.  The Palace, I said.  To which he replied that it was closed because the King was going to be there for his birthday.  What’s funny here is a friend of mine who’s been to Thailand said that these scammers always say the Palace is closed because it’s the Kings birthday… In this case, it actually was true, I just thought it was funny they always use that excuse!  Anyway, he insisted that the entire area was blockaded by police and there was no way to even get close to it.  BUT… he recommended several lovely temples each featuring Buddha (Golden Buddha, a temple with 8 different positions of Buddha, etc).  He said for 40 baht one of the 3-wheel taxis called “tuk-tuks” could take me around to 4 of them and bring me back!  That sounded like a good deal really… 4 Temples for 40 baht AND he would bring me back to where we started??  Sign #1 to not go- too good to be true.  But no, I thought “I could go on a little detour, rest my feet during the ride, see some Temples then walk to the Palace once we were back to start”.  Just as I got into the tuk-tuk, the guy asked where I was from.  I said the States, to which he replied “I love Obama”… I should have taken that as sign #2 to NOT trust this situation, lol!!

The first Temple was of the 8 Buddhas in different positions.  Unfortunately no picture-taking was allowed.  There was a gentlemen inside praying to one statue however that I found moving.  It wasn’t a Buddha statue but rather of a man depicted with sticks at his feet.  God of health is what the man said.  Pray to him for good health.  It was quite moving to wander around the Temple.  I’ve got more to say on that in a later post, but moving on…

I returned to the taxi after my walk around the Temple and he then told me that next stop was a Thailand factory where they make very good clothes.  Ok, I don’t need any clothes, but maybe it’s interesting somehow.  He insisted that these shops were good for the Thai people.  Ok… So we went.  The shop was, well, just a shop filled with tons of different fabrics and Giorgio Armani magazines with a variety of his clothing all ready to be tailor-made JUST for you!  As I wandered in, the sales vultures attacked asking me this and that and what would I like/need yada yada… I did one lap at a quick pace and headed out the door.  I did notice before leaving another gringo couple there signing papers… And as I headed out the door another tuk-tuk was pulling up with more gringos… Something fishy is going on…  Sign #3…

I got back in my taxi, the guy drove all of 10 feet then pulled over and stopped the cab:

Tuk-tuk man: You spend more time in there
Me: Um… I don’t need clothes.  They are very nice, but I don’t need anything.
Tuk-tuk man: Don’t matter if you buy, just looking, just LOOKING.  Must stay longer at next one for gas card.
Me: I don’t want to go to another one, I thought we were going to see Temples
Tuk-tuk Man: Yes, yes, Temples but factory first.  Must get gas card.  300 baht gas card for going to factory
Me:  No, I didn’t sign up for this, no.
Tuk-tuk Man: please, please, you do it for me so I get gas card.  10 minute, 10 minute just LOOKING

Sign #4… But he pulled the guilt trip… So ok, fine.  I can spare one more shop for 10 minutes so he can get a gas card.  So off we go… I wandered in and played my part listening to the sales pitch, flipping through the magazines “oh this is nice” wondering the entire time how/why any of these people think I have the kind of money to spend on those kinds of clothes with me looking like such crap after walking the streets of Bangkok all morning??  Anyway, I figured 10 minutes were up, so I left and got back into the cab.  The driver then turned to me and showed me on the map where we currently were (somewhere off of Nkhon Chaisi Rd WAY northeast of where we started) and proceeded to say “next factory is right here, then we go to Temples”.

Ok, I officially reached my limit.  “No” I very firmly said.  He tried his pitch to me once again begging and pleading but I had had enough!!  I told him to take me back immediately to where he picked me up.  He finally figured out I meant business, took on a sulky attitude, turned around and started to head back.  Thankfully I was paying enough attention to see that he was actually taking me in the right direction, but at a certain point we got stuck in traffic along Ratcha Damnoen Nok Rd and I just got out.  I payed him his 40 baht figuring the one Temple was worth that, walked across the street away from him and wandered the streets again.

As it turned out there was a ton of very interesting stuff along that road!  I’m not sure if it also was because of the King’s birthday or just coincidental, but according to some signs it said December 5th was also World SOIL day… They had tents upon tents displaying farm scenes, gardens, green growing, hydroponic setups, etc!  Very interesting stuff!  Also one of the tents was all about a gift festival. Not sure what that was exactly, but lots of fun stuff to look at and buy.

So really, had it not been for the scam I never would have been in that area to begin with to see all the random festivities.  But perhaps the part I thought was the funniest was when I was walking along Ratcha Damnoen Klang Rd where the Democracy Monument is located.  Yes, I was STILL trying to make it to the dang Palace, lol!!  I stopped at one of the street maps (which again didn’t look a thing like my map!) and another man came up asking me where I wanted to go… Repeat???  Thankfully not!  He was a professor at the University for Political Science and was legit!  He pointed the way to the Palace then asked what I had seen so far.  I told him “not much” just a Temple and random other parts.  I pointed on a map where I had been taken (by the scammer cabbie) and the first word out of his mouth: “Gangsters”!!

What???  Did I hear right??  “Gangsters” he repeated, then said “how many factory they take you to?”… Oh dear, lol!!!  I’d been scammed alright!  I laughed and said 2.  He shook his head knowingly and said that the police everyday get calls about that scenario or tourists walking into the police stations to file complaints about this scam.  I don’t know if the shops are part of the scam also, but I can’t say for sure.  He then went on to give me another couple good tips: Never get into a taxi (actual taxis are regular cars in a variety of colors; pink, green, blue with a “metered taxi” sign on top) if the driver does not turn on the meter.  If they try to negotiate a price with you before you get in, RUN!  Lol!!  His exact words folks!  The second tip was for the shopping areas: look at 10 stores before you buy!  Again, to avoid being overcharged or scammed on a price:)  Lovely guy and great information, I was truly grateful!!

I thanked the professor then headed on toward the Palace first running into the Royal Grounds where the side walk of the grounds were lined with police.  I asked what was going on and one guy said that in a half hour the King would arrive!  Seriously??  So I hung out in the gardens, which had a view of the Palace in the background (finally!!!) until the action began.  It wasn’t the King who arrived, but rather it was a very respected woman.  I’ve tried to look up in the papers something about what the event was all about but still can’t find anything.  Anyway, whoever she was, she was very heavily guarded and respected!  Everyone who approached her did so on their knees, never turning their back to her.  After viewing the event for a bit, I headed to the Palace (which was shut) then decided to just get back to the hotel.  At this point it had already been a 10 hour day and I was shot and ready for a shower!!

I approached some cops to ask the best place for a taxi pick-up to which they all lined up to hail a cab for me as I stood on the sidewalk (so polite and helpful!!).  I was taken to Phaya Thai (by a driver who did use his meter) which is the first stop in the Airport Rail system.  Last funny- I needed a cab from the Lat Krabang station to my hotel.  I hailed one and he stopped.  I showed him the card I had of the hotel and he nodded “yes”, so I went to get in and said “meter?” to which he then looked at the hotel card again and shook his head.  He pointed to his eyes and squinted as if to say he suddenly couldn’t read the address on the card… Scammer avoided??  Too funny!!

 

On to Temples and Monks

Back to Thailand

One Day in Bangkok

I didn’t know what to expect when first exploring Bangkok.  One thing for sure is that there are many different parts to explore.  I stayed in a hotel not far from the airport (Floral Shire Hotel) basically picking it because it was easily accessible from the airport AND they offered a free shuttle, so can’t go wrong there!  I stayed for two nights, which turned out to be a good call since I barely had any sleep on the flight over and was dead tired when I arrived.  So technically my first day there was spent catching up on sleep!

From the air Bangkok has the look of Houston (industrial and HUGE with lots of a large variety of buildings) yet as if it was set in southern Florida (tons of wet fields and watery canals/rivers giving the land a swampy look).  Upon landing, the air smelled like San Jose, Costa Rica (thick jungle air with the scent of a city nearby).  Honestly there were times I had to remind myself I was in Thailand and not back in Costa Rica as the plants and animals also reminded me of C.R. with loads of banana trees and geckos (love those little chirping buggers!!) crawling all around the walls and ceilings chasing after bugs.  Oh, and there was the veggie truck that came by each morning by the hotel advertising fruits and veggies for sale.  It brought a smile to my face once again being in place that felt easy going with simple living:)

Before going into my day there, I wanted to give my overall impressions.  Bangkok is an interesting mix of life.  There is obviously poverty there and it has a very dirty feel to it (literally dirty as you could feel the street on your skin after a few hours of walking around and at the end of the day my snot was black!   Too much info??  Lol!).  People are everywhere, all around working away or moving about, bumping into you (not rudely, just the nature of crowds) or simply minding their business with whatever task they are into.  Yet, for as sketchy as the surroundings looked and for the amount of people coming closely in contact, I felt safer there than anywhere I’ve been so far.  I can’t speak for all people who’ve traveled or will travel there, and I did get scammed a bit, but I never felt unsafe.  Strangely  there were times I wandered with my camera in hand (I NEVER do that!  It’s always packed unless in use) or walked through areas that at a glance you would think “don’t go there!!”.  But my senses never felt any danger or real threat, so I went where I wanted watching the life of Bangkok unfold.  That’s the feeling I came away with from Bangkok…  Before moving on I have to say I’m not at all a fan of the scent of Bangkok…  It’s fish mixed with dirt, car pollution, stale standing water, industrial oil and what smells like a toilet somewhere.  Not everything can be peaches! 🙂

Moving on to my day: as I’m not a huge fan of big cities, visiting downtown Bangkok took a bit of a kick in the rear.  I kinda dreaded having to navigate such a large place, especially given that the language was SO different than anything I’d been used to before.  As it turned out, one DAY in Bangkok was enough for me!

Before heading to town I did a bit of research on what to see/do and came across a website that outlined the top 9 things to do in Bangkok in one day… Perfect!  Sounds like a plan for me and it got me excited to head into the city!  So I jotted down all the necessary information (where and how to get there) and the next morning headed out.

That was about where everything went NOT according to plan… The first thing on the list was a floating market which thankfully also mentioned it’s only open on the weekends.  So #1 was off the list.  On to #2, the temple of dawn: Wat Arun.  I asked the receptionist to get a taxi so I could be taken to the Airport Rail station to head to town (as always I figured I would walk from there or get another cab if needed to where I wanted to go).  She however, suggested I just have the taxi take me into town (“much easier”).  Ok, fine.  Why not?  So I get into the cab and we start heading to town.  On the way he starts telling me about “boat”.  “Boat trip down river”.  I responded with “nice, ok” not realizing that he took “ok” literally and proceeded to take me to a boat tour place.  Once I figured out what was going on I insisted that no, I wanted to go to the Grand Palace (a teeny boat trip across the river from there would get me to Wat Arun).  He then said that wasn’t possible because the Grand Palace was closed to tourists due to the Kings Birthday being tomorrow (December, 5) which was actually true.  “Too much traffic there” is what he also stated.

We ended up at the Oriental Pier just north of the Taksin Bridge where they gave boat tours.  2000 baht for 1 hour… Which equates to almost $61… No thanks.  I would rather spend my time walking around than one hour on a boat taking typical tourist “picture, picture, picture” (how the tour lady explained the boat trip).  It also turned me off that she tried to negotiate the price with me.  To me, the original price is either worth it, or it isn’t.  I’m happy to pay the full price of something IF it’s worth it to me.  This wasn’t,  so I declined all the way.  15 minutes later after finally succeeding in explaining to my taxi driver that I wanted to pay him (375 baht in total damage) and just walk to town from there I headed out on foot.

I was definately NOT in the touristy part of town… I was in the Hangover Part II, back alley, so-many-car-fumes-in-the-air-you-could-barely-breathe part of town.  I was so off the map of where tourists “should” be that I never even ran into another gringo until I got to China Town.  It is amazing to see how people live.  Food markets and street food kiosks were everywhere lined right up along the edge of the sidewalks where cars and motorcycles (which by the way they also use sidewalks to drive on) zoomed past.  There wasn’t anywhere to be able to stop for a break unless you sat for food and bathrooms?  Hope you have a big bladder because you won’t find one for a while in that area!  But then again, as I said I was off the perhaps “normal” path for a bit.

I made it to China Town along Yaowarat Rd. where they were having some sort of itty bitty car show!  There were tons of people wearing yellow shirts that at first I thought were part of a tour of sorts but later realized yellow is the color of the King, so just about everyone was wearing a yellow shirt to honor his birthday:)  I ran into my first English speaker since leaving the hotel who confirmed I had been walking the right way for the Grand Palace (phew!!!).

Now, normally when navigating my way around places with a map and my feet I always think after the fact “gee, those distances were a lot shorter than I would have thought based on the map”… This is NOT so with the Bangkok map!  Everything is quite a bit further than the maps would lead you to believe…   One block on a map seemed to be 5 in reality, lol!  After about 4 hours of walking I was getting a bit tired.  According to the map I was ALMOST there so I kept trucking… And this is where the scam occurred…

Bangkok ‘Gangster’ Scams

Back to Thailand

Cruise Critique

I will start off by saying that my family and I had a great time on the cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas.  There was lots of laughter, great conversation, fun in exploring the ship activities and of course the port stops were fantastic to visit!  However, and I think I speak for my family as well, we will never sail with Royal Caribbean again.

I will start with the positive: the staff were for the most part very nice and accommodating.  The activities on board (Bingo!, Name that Movie Trivia, nightly movies on the main deck, mini-golf, etc) were lots of fun.  In fact my sister and I each won a round of Bingo! (her $25, me $300, a bottle of champagne, an umbrella and a scrapbook package… I got the X, yay!).  Our woman who cared for our stateroom was very nice and often left towels in the shape of very cute animals in our room to come back to at the end of the day.  I loved the little daily itinerary they left each night in our rooms so we could see all the activities and plan accordingly.  I loved that they had a salt water pool instead of using chlorine.

But, here’s the thing… When people pay good money to go on a trip that is supposed to be something of a luxury, it is expected that the staff are nice and accommodating and it’s expected that there will be fun activities on board so people can fill their time up on sail days with something other than staring at the water.  It’s expected that the port stops would be interesting places to see/go.  Otherwise why would people go on cruises to begin with?  So really the only positive items about the cruise were things that one would EXPECT to be positive.

Now for the negative:  1) Booking with them was one of the most painful and stressful experiences we’ve dealt with in planning a trip.  We booked online and everyday it was a new story as to what was owed.  First everything was paid off, then we owed 5 times more than what the cruise was supposed to be, then it was back to almost being paid off, then we still owed more…  Literally everyday there was some issue or another in our booking and I can’t tell you how many phone calls (upwards of 20 at least!!)  were made back and forth to customer service (who were at least patient and nice on the phone) trying to sort everything out.

2) Steak night: my sister decided one night to order a steak… She ordered the temperature medium.  What she got was a very tough piece of medium well steak.  She didn’t want to send it back or make any fuss, but at my parents insistence (they wanting to make sure she actually enjoyed the steak) she told the waiter it was too cooked for her liking.  He immediately sent off for a new one.  Great!  Well done!

No pun intended there, but that’s pretty much what she got for the second try: a medium well to well done steak.  The waiter stood by as she cut into it (as he should) to make sure the cook was correct.  It wasn’t so off it went again.  This time however the manager came over to chat with my sister to fully understand what she was looking for.  She again stated ‘medium’ then described how the cook should look (warm pink center).

Off went the manager and server and a few minutes later out came a VERY WELL DONE steak…. Ummm…… ??????  Seriously????  At this point is was just too comical!!  Ironically it was the most tender piece received so far despite being well done, and my sister was at that point beyond trying to make them get anything right.  She was content just eating the veggies and nibbling on some of the bits of meat.  But no, the server and manager weren’t happy that she wasn’t happy, so they whisked away the plate again and brought back… Lucky steak #4????  No…. a RARE, almost so rare you could still hear it mooing steak… Again, we (my family) were actually quite humored by the whole fiasco and were in good spirits about the comedy of errors unfolding around us…

What wasn’t comical however was the second manager who came by to inform us that next time, if we wanted a piece of meat to be tender when cooked at a medium temperature, we should order the filet mignon for an extra $17…. THAT was condescending and highly rude.  Duh!  Of course the better the cut the more tender the meat!  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was there was a huge miscommunication going on with how to cook THAT particular cut of meat to the correct temperature.  And by the way, we weren’t the only ones having issues with the steak as we overheard several more tables around us raising the exact same issue.

3) On the topic of food, in general it was lackluster whether at the buffets or at the restaurant.

4) Last little bit, I had the worst drink I’ve ever tasted… I ordered a mojito.  Seriously mojitos are made by muddling mint, lime and sugar (simple syrup will do too) then adding in rum, shake shake shake, top off with soda water.  Done.  This bartender put in (I was watching) mint, simple syrup, sugar (yes, regular sugar WITH the simple syrup already put in), she muddled for about 15 minutes.  Then added rum, mojito mix out of some cardboard container, added ice, shook for another 20 minutes then topped off with Sprite… Oh and THEN she added a lime on top…  I could feel a sugar induced coma coming just looking at it!  I hate to be rude though so I took a straw sip (not sipping from the straw but capping the straw and dipping it in for a taste).  I have a very big sweet tooth, but seriously, there was no way to drink that drink!!  It was so sugary and gross.  Nowhere near refreshing as a mojito should be.  I had to refuse it and later had to make sure it wasn’t charged to my account, which it was so I had to have it taken off.

Really the real theme going on behind all the negatives was the lack of…  I’m not sure, knowledge, communication or experience with the staff???  I don’t know for sure but it was frustrating.  Again, the staff were very nice and they tried (except for the condescending manager) but there was some serious link missing there .  And again, the cruise was fun and relaxing and great to get away with my family, but if we ever happen to do another family trip via a cruise, it won’t be with Royal Caribbean.

On to Thailand

Back to Europe

 

Butterflies

In less than 24 hours I fly out of Pisa, Italy and ultimately land in Bangkok, Thailand.  I’ve been talking about going to Thailand for over 2 years and it’s finally coming true.  I’m reaching another goal that I’ve set and saved for.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder…

Before I get anywhere with what I wonder, I first feel the urge to simply say I’ve so much to be thankful for: a family who loves me and who I love in return, unbeatable friends who’ve come through for me all over the world (way above and beyond my expectations) and good health.  For those things that are truly important in this life, (family, friends and health) I’ve been blessed and fortunate.  I can’t be thankful enough and give thanks everyday for them, as I believe it very important to be thankful daily in any way possible.

As I get set to take off again for who knows how long and ultimately where, I can’t help but wonder and hope whether this trip, whether this place will be THE trip, THE place where I’m finally able to be of real use in this world in a way that really matters.  Metaphysics says that simply ‘being’ is enough.  But there is so much I hope for.  So much that I hope to be able to actually contribute in this life and for this world.  Am I doing “enough”?… Will I have the courage to do something truly worth while?…  Could this trip be it?

I also can’t help but wonder whether this trip and place will be THE trip and THE place where I will finally find my best friend/husband/partner/lover or whatever you want to call him.  I’m done trying to fix those who can’t be fixed, done being the convenient one, and done being the one who isn’t really loved in return.  Yet I still hope.  I still wonder… Could this trip be it?

I know I sound completely spoiled: traveling the world and yet complaining about not having a man in my life or complaining about my insecurities about not REALLY doing enough in/for this life…  Maybe it’s too much to ask for- having a loving family and friends, great health, making a difference in the world AND having someone beside me supporting along the way… I just don’t know.

Yet these are my thoughts…  These are my butterflies…

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