Greetings, friends, family, and fellow travelers. Here we go again!
Days 1, 2, and 3
This is the blog of my Overseas Adventure Tour (OAT) 18 day trip to Southeast Asia with my brother Peter Stevens, from Cape Cod. We Left Thanksgiving Day (November 28, 2013). This is the chronicle our trip:
First, Peter flew from Cape Cod and I flew from Orlando to JFK in New York. We met there and we flew together to Narita (Tokyo, Japan) and then on to Bangkok where we met Ole (aka: Wichai O-Sathirakul).
Here is a colorful map of the area (drawn by Ole, I think) we visited for 18 days. If you squint, you can see that we flew to Bangkok, Thailand, then flew to Luang Prabang, Laos, then flew to Vientiane, Laos, then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, then bussed to Chau Bok, Vietnam, then boated to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, then bussed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and then, finally, flew back to Bangkok for our return flight home.
7 Southeast Asian cities in 18 days. Whew!
Here I am at 2 AM on Day 1 getting the van from our home in The Villages, FL to the Orlando airport. Kind sleepy, but excited! Note my Travel Vest. It carried my passport, camera, Nook, glasses, iPhone, cash, extra batteries, etc. I wore it for 18 days and I never lost a thing!
We had traveled for 32 hours (door-to-door) and were exactly 12 time zones from eastern USA. It was midnight here and noon back home. We were very travel tired, but still excited!Here is Peter and Ole at noon at the Bangkok airport. Ole personally met every one of our 12 other OAT fellow travelers. That’s Gloria Jesaitis from New York standing in the background. She was lots of fun! You’ll meet others in our group as we proceed.
Our 2nd day of the trip began at 7 AM. We had very nice rooms at the Pantip Suites Hotel and enjoyed a fine buffet breakfast in the hotel dining room: Eggs to order and lots of tasty Asian fruits- mangos, dragon fruit, papaya and pineapple.
We first met with Ole and the others for a tour orientation and self introduction. He issued us all a name tag with the flags of the countries we’d visit. We were to have each Country Guide write our name. Ole started with “Phil” in English.
We then departed for a trip across town to the Grand Palace.
We drove through China Town. Notice that all the signs are in Chinese with some Thai “sub titles”. This was a busy, congested area. It was also the setting for the blockbuster “buddy” movie “Hangover 2”. I’m sure you all caught that one…
We passed many sights on the way including the portrait of Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara. She is the queen consort of King Rama IX of Thailand. As the consort of the king who is the world’s longest-reigning head of state, she is also the world’s longest-serving consort of a monarch.
These regal royal white elephant statues are in the middle of an intersection in Bangkok. The royal white elephant has been considered to be a sacred creature in Thailand for centuries. As a symbol of fertility and success &. It was believed that young kings would’ve long and prosperous reigns if they kept several white elephants in their stables.
These elephants were themselves treated like royalty, they weren’t subject to any of the duties that normal working elephants would face, were cared for by a royal veterinarian. Fed only the best foods, as the death of one would signal disaster for the kingdom!.
We finally arrive at the Grand Palace. Here is a map of the Palace. It covers over 53 acres near the Chao Phraya River. If there is one must-see sight that without which no visit to Bangkok would be complete. it’s the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782 – and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government.
The Grand Palace of Bangkok is a grand old dame indeed, that continues to have visitors in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
This guy (on the right) is a statue of a Temple Monkey. Temple Monkeys are good guys. They defend the temple and the King from the Demons. You can tell them because they don’t have the Demon’s pointy toed shoes.
More on Temple monkeys later…
Here is “The Emerald Buddha”. It’s made of green nephrite[. According to the legend, the Emerald Buddha was created in India in 43 BC in the city of Pataliputra (today’s Patna). The legends state that after remaining in Pataliputra for three hundred years, it was taken to Sri Lanka to save it from a civil war.
In 457, King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha, in order to support Buddhism in his country. These requests were granted, but the ship lost its way in a storm during the return voyage and landed in Cambodia instead of Burma.
When the Thais captured Angkor in Cambodia in 1432, the Emerald Buddha was taken to Laos and finally Chiang Rai in Thailand where the rulers of the city hid it. For over 400 years the statue was moved between several cities in Thailand and Laos.
In 1779, the Thai General Chao Phraya Chakri put down an insurrection, captured Vientiane, Laos and returned the Emerald Buddha to Siam (Thailand). After he became King Rama I of Thailand, he moved the Emerald Buddha with great ceremony to its current home in The Grand Palace in 1784. It is now kept in the main building of the temple of the Grand Palace.
The Emerald Buddha is adorned with garments made of gold. There are three different sets of gold clothing, which are changed by the King of Thailand or a liaison in a ceremony at the changing of the seasons. The three sets of gold garments correspond to Thailand’s summer season, rainy season, and cool season. Ole described this to us with this picture. I guess we’re in the rainy season now, but we didn’t have a drop of rain in 18 days!
One final Palace picture: This small (3 feet tall) Buddha statue is being covered with gold leaf. You can buy a piece of gold leaf (about the size of a stamp) and stick it to the statue. Your money is a donation and eventually the statue will be fully covered and smoothed. The water bottle gives an indication of size.
After a nice lunch of Pad Thai (what else?) we went to the “Gem Factory”.
The “Gem factory” is the type of place that OAT likes to takes groups (think kick back?). It is a combination of an educational and buying experience. Here we see gem cutters demonstrating their skills and in the background we see lovely sales ladies preparing to demonstrate their selling skills in the adjacent retail room. The gem cutting was interesting: Rubies and sapphires were their specialties as well as gold work.
The sales room has subdued lighting and glittering counters filled with all kinds rings, bracelets, necklaces and other beautiful jewelry. There is lots of individual attention and adjustments can be made on the spot.
Peter bought a pretty sapphire ring as a surprise for his wife, Margo, but his credit card company spilled the beans and notified Margo of a large purchase made in a foreign country. Pete had called the bank before he left, but they called Margo anyway. It took a while and several overseas calls before it got straightened out, but, alas, the beans were spilled!
After that adventure, we returned to our hotel and had an early dinner at the nearby “Just One” restaurant. After dinner we hit the hay to try to continue adjusting to SE Asia time and recuperate from the long flight. OAT nicely gave Peter and I separate rooms. One of our group couldn’t make it (illness) so there was a extra room booked. It was a good thing because we both snore and we didn’t bring our CPAP machines.
The next day (Day 3) many of our group took an “optional” (read Extra Cost) trip to the city of Ayutthaya in the north. Pete and I decided to stay in Bangkok and tour on our own. I had visited Bangkok on business 17 years ago andI remembered a bit about the city.I knew about the Jim Thompson silk store/museum and we thought it might be a nice place to shop so we took the Metro and found the store.Pete liked the silk stuff and bought a few things for his family. I skipped this activity because I had bought a nice mirror/compact for Mary Ann in ’96 . She still has it!
We then spent a good bit of time in the Bangkok Siam Center shopping district looking for a phone for Pete. He wanted to make overseas calls back to Cape Cod so he bought a phone at the BHK Mall that was supposed to be able to do that. There was a lot of time spent trying to get it set up, but the phone never worked right during the trip.
Where we were, the demonstration was a peaceful, but noisy. The sound truck would blare a few words and the crowd would erupt with whistles, clappers, and shouts. They would quiet down and start again.
The politics of Thailand are too complex for me to truly describe, but the gist of it is that the former Prime Minister “Thaksin” and his “Red Shirts” want his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who is now prime minister, who failed an attempt to pass a bill that could have granted amnesty to Thaksin and others so they could to form a new government and kick out the entrenched politicians who are the “YellowShirts” because that is the color of Monday, the birth day of the highly revered Thai King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.., I think.
Anyway, we got back on the Metro and went to the river to eat the lunches that we made at breakfast at the hotel that morning.
I had hoped to arrange a visit for today with my niece Elizabeth, teaching English here in Thailand. It didn’t happen. It got too tricky. Sorry Elizabeth!!
Here are some of the boats we saw on the Chao Phraya River: A tour boat, a rice barge converted into a dinner boat, and a “long tail” boat which is a long narrow boat driven by a big automobile engine with the prop on a looong drive shaft. Those boats could scream!!
We settled for a river tour boat that made many stops along the Bangkok stretch of the river. Notice the guy jumping. You had to be fast because the boat only stopped for a minute.
We stopped at “The Reclining Buddha” where we learned that if the Buddha is resting his head on his right hand he is asleep. If his head is on his left hand he is dead. He is 50 yards long and 50 feet high and plated in gold.
This is a tasty SE Asian fruit called a “Dragon Fruit”. It has a mild flavor and is like a firm watermelon with lots of very tiny seeds. They are colorful and I like ’em! They can occasionally be bought in the US.
Here are the before, during and after pictures of Pete getting a tattoo in the Patpong “Night Market”. I gave him my best counseling and advised him against it, but he did it anyway. It’s Yin and Yang.
After Patpong, we took a “Tuk Tuk” back to the hotel. Tuk Tuks are a major form of in-town transportation in much of SE Asia. When I was here years ago, they had smelly 2 cycle engines that belched out blue clouds of exhaust. The air pollution in Bangkok was like Beijing today. The old Tuk Tuks are now gone – replaced by 4 cycle engines that are more environmental friendly. They have improved the engines, but not the passenger comfort: There is still minimal foot and leg room, but they’re cheap, so what the hell??
We got to the hotel and decided that we had time for a massage. Massages are quite popular in all the cities we visited. I only had this one and I felt like I was beaten up by a football team. There was a lot of punching, twisting, and kneading and I was left sore all over. It only cost 3 dollars, so what the hell??
That’s it for days 2 and 3. Tomorrow we head for Luang Prabang,