Well January has really flown by, with Kelly’s visit and with it being festival season once again for Panay and Guimaras Islands. But I finally feel the slow island pace of things again and have time to recount my travels abroad. I have been looking forward to Kelly’s visit since I first found out I was going to the Philippines and she told me she was coming to visit me. I had no doubt in my mind that she would because that is precisely the kind of friend she is (shout out to you, Kel!). Let me first say that planning a trip together when we are literally a world and 12 hours apart is no easy task. But with the help of google chat, email and skype we were able to make it happen!
Finally the morning came when I arrived in Bangkok. Kelly’s flight wasn’t due in till the late evening time so I decided to head to the Peace Corps office there (fortunately Thailand is a PC country and the main office is in Bangkok). I was hoping to run into some volunteers with helpful tips on where to go in the city and how best to navigate around. Bangkok happens to be the medical hub for all Asia and Eastern Europe volunteers so there are usually people around. Sure enough when I got to the volunteer lounge there were a couple of volunteers. One volunteer in particular had been in Bangkok for almost a month and was nice enough to not only give me some maps and tourist brochures of the city, but she also told me the best things to see and showed me how to navigate the sky train system.
|Made it to the PC office in Thailand|
I was very impressed with the metro in Bangkok; it had several tracks running through the city, cheap fares (around $1 to get to your destination) and had a link straight to the airport. So when it was time for Kelly’s flight to arrive I saved lots of money by taking the train back to the airport instead of another expensive taxi.
It just so happens that one of Kelly’s friends in the States used to work in Thailand and had put us in contact with a friend of his. So I knew when I got to the airport that I should look for a small Thai woman by the name of Ann. Sure enough I saw a woman holding a sign with mine and Kelly’s names on it. I introduced myself and we got to know each other while waiting for Kelly. After waiting what seemed like hours (in actuality probably only 30 min) Kelly finally game out of the terminal! It was almost surreal to see one of my best friends from the States here in Asia with me!
|Reunited at last!|
Ann was very adamant that we stay with her instead of paying for a hotel and she didn’t get much argument from us! She was so hospitable, giving up her bed for us to sleep in while she slept on the couch. She even arranged for one of her best friends to take us sightseeing the next day since she had to work. So the next day Ann introduced us to Ning and we headed to the Grand Palace. Using the sky train and river taxi, we headed out for our day of sightseeing in Bangkok.
|riding the river taxi|
The Grand Palace was built in 1782 by King Rama I and its large compound includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Inside the temple is enshrined the Emerald Buddha, where religious ceremonies are performed. It is a very sacred place and tourists are expected to show respect. You must take your shoes off before entering and no cameras or videos are allowed. Ning explained to us to enter one side and exit the other, walking around the front of the temple to get our shoes instead of just returning the way we came.
The Grand Palace and Temple are beautiful, with large paintings and statues everywhere, covered in gold. The paintings on the walls tell the story of Buddha. There are lots of temples and Buddhas to see around but my favorite was Wat Pho, the gigantic, gold plated, reclining Buddha. It is 46 meters long and 15 meters high with inlaid mother of pearl soles.
|Elaborate paintings depicting the story of good vs. evil|
|Guarding the Grand Palace!|
|The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (sorry no cameras allowed inside)|
|A monk! These guys are everywhere in Thailand but after being warned by Ning that women are not to be near the Buddhist monks, I made sure to keep my distance and tried to play coy when taking their picture.|
|The Grand Palace, where the royal family once lived|
|Now THAT is a BIG BUDDHA!|
|Oh Buddha, what big feet you have!|
On another note, while traveling around Bangkok, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how many portraits of the Thai King we saw. The King is beloved in Thailand and his face is everywhere, in portraits, statues, and all of the paper and coin money. According to Ning, he works very hard for the Thai people and so the people love him and honor him.
|The Thai King!|
|There he is again on a billboard...|
|...and again! He is everywhere!|
When we returned from our sightseeing, Kelly and I grabbed a bite at a Thai restaurant in the mall. Kelly had green curry and I had something similar to tom yam kung (prawns in coconut milk). The food was exactly what you think Thai food should be, tasty but oh so spicy. In fact I looked over at Kelly at one point and she had tears coming down her face. Once we ate as much as we could, we met up with Ann and headed back to her apartment.
The next day Ann had volunteered to drive us to the Khao Yai National Park, the first national park in Thailand. It was great to get out of the city, do some hiking and breathe some fresh air. Our first stop in the park was a waterfall. After walking down what seemed like a million steps (not looking forward to the return up) we reached the waterfall. Ann then told us a true story she said all Thai people know. Years ago a family of elephants was crossing the river at the top of the waterfall. A young elephant got stuck on the rocks and was unable to join his family. The older elephants tried to rescue the baby but one after another they slipped and fell to their death at the bottom of the waterfall. The story made headline news all over Thailand, telling about the loving elephant family that died trying to save the baby elephant. As we walked back from the waterfall we passed a small shrine with wooden elephants and incense. Ann said it was for paying respect to the fallen elephant family.
|Shrine for the fallen elephant family.|
|Our looong walk down to the waterfall.|
|A beautiful waterfall with a sad history.|
We continued through the park, stopping to go on a little hike here and there and look for wildlife. Of course Kelly and I wanted to see some elephants, but Ann said it was unlikely during the day since it was too hot. The elephants were known to come out more in the evening time, walking along the road. We did however see birds and lots of monkeys! (Also I go a little crazy for monkeys, I just love ‘em!)
|too many monkeys! and they are chasing our car!|
After our day at the park Ann took us to a road side eatery where the menu was all in Thai. Ann ordered us a variety of local Thai foods, making sure to tell the waiter not to make it to spicy for her foreigner friends. We had papaya salad, mushroom salad, roasted chicken and soup. It was still a deal spicy but bearable for me and Kelly, however according to Ann the spiciness of the food was “for babies” LOL
We got back to Ann’s apartment and prepared to leave for the airport. Our flight to Vietnam was at 6am, which meant that in accordance with the ‘get there 3 hours early for an international flight’ rule, we had to be there by 3am. Ann being the nice hospitable person that she is offered to drive is there but we just couldn’t allow it after all she had already done for us. So we opted to take the last metro to the airport at midnight and spend the night in the Suvarnabhumi Airport of Bangkok, where we (embarrassingly) enjoyed our first beer in Thailand.
So that makes quite a long post for now. Tune in next time for our travels to Vietnam in Part 2!