Grams and Grandad’s Holiday Visit

(Edit 1/19/2016 – Kanchanaburi video added)

As usual, we are WAAAAAAAY behind on blog posts. It has been weeks since we have had a good internet connection. Every hotel, every cafe, every connection we have found has been slow. Downloads have been slow and upload have been so slow that so far it has taken me dozens of hours and more than 30 sessions to get the photos and videos for this post uploaded! (I am still trying to get a video uploaded, but will go ahead and publish the post and hope that I can add the video later. I’ve been linking to other people YouTube videos for some things because it is almost impossible for us to upload big video files on these slow connections). Since we last posted, we’ve gone from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Taman Negara National Park, to Cameron Highlands, to Penang. We have lots to blog about, but before we cover the past couple weeks, we have to go further back in time to the holidays….

As we mentioned in our New Year’s post, my parents (a.k.a. Grams and Grandad) came to visit for the holidays. It was fantastic. Before they arrived they mentioned that they weren’t too keen on spending too much time in the big cities, so we were planning to spend just a day or two in Bangkok and then head off somewhere smaller. But once they arrived and experienced Bangkok I think they were a little bit blown away. Grandad in particular seems to have fallen in love with the place. I can understand why – it’s one of the great cities of world, and one of my favorites too. While they were here we stayed at the Silom City Hotel. We’ve spent so much time there it seems like a home away from home. Super friendly staff and it is very conveniently located in the popular Silom neighborhood, right next to the great street food market on Soi 20. Yum!

On their first day in Bangkok Jette took them to one of her favorite spots – the Red Cross Snake Farm where, among other things, we got to see them milk venom from cobras for use in creating anti-venom. If you’ve been reading the blog, you already know about this place.

Milking a cobra

Milking a cobra

Red Cross Snake Farm

Red Cross Snake Farm

The next day Jette took them to KidZania. KidZania is at the Siam Paragon shopping center which is one of the largest shopping centers in Asia. For those accustomed to N. American malls is difficult to describe. Grams said it made Dallas’ Northpark Center look like a 7-Eleven. Paragon is one of the largest malls in Asia with 10 floors and more than 4.3 million square feet of luxury and high-end retail. In addition to KidZania, there is a 15 screen movie theater, a massive aquarium (Asia’s largest), a huge gourmet grocery store, and a bowling alley. There are Lamborghini, Lotus, Aston Martin, Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, Spyker, Maserati, and BMW showrooms, and an incredible selection of dozens of restaurants. Forget what you know about mall food courts! Oh yeah, there is also a whole floor dedicated to “edutainment & exploration” featuring music, dance, computer, arts, language and cooking schools for kids.

Fun at KidZania

Fun at KidZania

The sheer scale of it and the number of people is hard to describe. Here’s a video I stumbled across on YouTube that gives you a peek at the restaurants in the main food area on one floor of Paragon. As you can see, it is busy, and it is like this almost every day!

It is interesting to see how some of the mega-malls in Asia have become lifestyle centers that offer much more than “just shopping”. In some cases they have become what whole retail/entertainment districts or neighborhoods used to be.

Ok enough about malls. A little more about food, LOL! We ate at our favorite breakfast spot in Bangkok – a lot! I’m not going to name it here as it isn’t yet overrun with tourists and we don’t want it to be. They have delicious roti with green curry and crispy egg dishes with Penang curry gai (chicken curry with peanut) or pad kaprow moo (stir-fried basil and pork) that are to die for. Great Thai tea and coffee drinks too.

Best breakfast in Bangkok

Best breakfast in Bangkok

 

One weekend we visited the massive, wild and crazy Jatuchak Market (a.k.a. Chatuchak Market) that sells everything under the sun. It is billed as the largest weekend market in the world, with over 8,000 market stalls and 200,000+ shoppers every weekend. Wow! While the ladies dove into the market Grandad and I opted for a Thai massage and coffee in the mall next door. Smart men we are!

Jatuchak Market

Jatuchak Market

At Jatuchak Market

At Jatuchak Market

Fresh coconut water

Fresh coconut water

Jatuchak

Jatuchak

Puppy shopping

Puppy shopping

HUGE dog

It is hard to see the scale in this photo, but this dog was HUGE!

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs

Flip flop city

Flip flop city

Grams getting custom flip-flops made.

Grams getting custom flip-flops made.

Fartin' Style is always a fine choice too, LOL!

Fartin’ Style is always a fine choice too, LOL!

We had lots of fun in Bangkok, but after a few days it was time to pack up and head to Kanchanaburi. We booked a Taxi for the two-hour trip for about $65 USD. Thirteen bucks a person isn’t bad for door-to-door service.

Packing the taxi for Kanchanaburi

Packing the taxi for Kanchanaburi

Bangkok to Kanchanburi

Bangkok to Kanchanburi

Kanchanaburi is about 125 km West of Bangkok and is perhaps best known to foreigners as being the place where the Japanese built “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and the “Japanese Death Railway” with slave and POW labor and a very high toll in human lives. Like all tales of war, a great tragedy.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Bridge on the River Kwai

We did visit the bridge, but spent most of our time in Kanchanaburi just relaxing and enjoying the opportunity to visit with each other. Our hotel was a simple, modern little compound outside of town and right on the river. It was a perfect place to slow down after the bustle of Bangkok and enjoy some quiet time. It didn’t hurt that the cook at the little restaurant was amazing. Oh my gosh was the food good! You just can’t escape great food in this country. The restaurant was an open-air deck and lawn overlooking the river. You won’t believe how many fish were in the river:

Kanvela Resort Hotel

Kanvela Resort Hotel

Jette al fresco

Jette al fresco

The restaurant

The restaurant by the riverWe never could figure out what this sign said, but this was the night they served a bunch of Southern Thai specialties that were DELICIOUS!

We never could figure out what this sign said, but this was the night they served a bunch of Southern Thai specialties that were DELICIOUS!

As usual, Jette made friends with all the local dogs and cats. They really do seem to be drawn to her. At the hotel restaurant there was a mommy cat with two kittens. One was nicknamed “Two-Face” and came over to Jette every time we were there.

Jette and Two-Face

Jette and Two-Face

In town, we crossed paths with some friendly pooches…

Jette and Puggly

Jette and Puggly

Local biker

Local biker

After a couple of days in Kanchanburi, we hired another minivan and headed to Ayutthaya. Minivans are all over Thailand and are a common way for people to get around locally within a city and for cross-country trips.

Have minivan, will travel.

Have minivan, will travel.

Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya

Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which basically means it is a unique and pretty cool place. Around 1700 some claim it was the largest city in the world! Here’s how UNESCO summarizes its history:

The Historic City of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce. Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing attack of the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.

The city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The city was never rebuilt in the same location and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site.

Today it is known for its Buddhist temple ruins. There are a variety of ruins sprinkled around town. We explored the Wat Mahathat temple complex.

Headless Buddha

Headless Buddha

The trees in the temple have beautiful, exposed roots.

The trees in the temple have beautiful, exposed roots.

Jette next to the famous Buddha head at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Jette next to the famous Buddha head at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

All Buddhist temples are sacred sites to Thai people. Whether active temples or historic ruins, they are considered sacred sites. Visitors are expected to dress and behave appropriately.

Attention, stupid tourists: This is a sacred site.

Attention, stupid tourists: This is a sacred site.

Don't dress like self-righteous hippies.

Sadly this depiction is all too true.

There are large numbers of very disrespectful tourists. Here’s a typical mode of dress at the temples:

Euro-trash tourists.

Trashy European tourists inside the temple. Selfie-stick and butt cheeks. I suppose they are lucky the Thai people are so tolerant!

The old city of Ayutthaya is surrounded by a moat-like canal. So, after exploring the temple complex, we hopped in one of the funny tuk-tuks and found a spot to hire a boat to take us around the loop. Then we found dinner on a floating restaurant.

Ayutthaya Canal Loop

Ayutthaya Canal Loop

Ahoy!

Ahoy!

A large monitor lizard in the canal.

A large monitor lizard in the canal. This guy was 5-6 feet long,

Typical canal scene.

Typical canal scene.

A couple of times during our stay in Ayutthaya, Jette had a chance to test out the pool on the roof of the hotel :-).

Testing out the hotel pool.

Testing out the hotel pool.

After Ayutthaya, it was back to Bangkok for Christmas. Santa brought Jette some goodies, as did Grams and Grandad. There were bracelets, Goldfish crackers, Kit Kats, a travel pillow, and a couple of pens from Santa. One of the pens has a laser pointer built in – perfect for playing with cats! Grams and Grandad gave jette a really cool shirt with a cute dog on it.

Christmas in Bangkok

Christmas in Bangkok

Christmas goodies

Christmas goodies

Dog shirt from Grams and Grandad.

Dog shirt from Grams and Grandad.

On Christmas morning we chowed down at our favorite breakfast place again, yum!

Crispy egg with pad krapow moo and iced coco.

Crispy egg with pad krapow moo and iced coco. If only you could taste it…so yummy!

That evening we went for drinks at Moon Bar – one of Bangkok’s famous “sky bars.” Sixty-one stories above the city, Moon Bar and Vertigo Restaurant are on the roof of the Banyan Tree Hotel. The views are amazing and it really underscores that fact that Bangkok is a BIG city. When you are down in the “valleys” between the buildings, the sheer numbers of tall buildings and scale of the city isn’t so apparent. When you get up, way up, and can see city spread to the horizon in all directions it is pretty amazing.

Moon Bar, Bangkok.

Moon Bar, Bangkok.

The gang at Moon Bar

The gang at Moon Bar

High-altitude selfies are fun.

High-altitude selfies are fun. The dark arc in the background is Prapadaeng, a large area known as the “lungs of Bangkok.” It is an almost undeveloped jungle area in the middle of the city!

Mila and Jette. 61 stories up at Moon Bar, Bangkok.

Mila and Jette. 61 stories up at Moon Bar, Bangkok.

On the roof at the Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar, Bangkok.

On the roof at the Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar, Bangkok.

We spent the next week exploring Bangkok, eating ourselves silly, and generally having lots of fun.

Fun in Chinatown

Fun in Chinatown

I won’t bore you with play-by-play descriptions of everything, but I will highlight the Thai Cooking Class we took. It wasn’t quite as good as the one that we took with Yui in Chiang Mai, but it was fun and we still learned a lot. The cooking school was in the Silom area, just a few blocks from our hotel, which was really convenient.

Getting ready for cooking class

Getting ready for cooking class

One of the first things we did was grab baskets and walk over to the “wet market” on Soi 20 to shop for and learn about ingredients.

On the way to the market

On the way to the market

A view of the wet market on Soi 20.

A view of the wet market on Soi 20.

Talking about Pandan leaf.

Talking about Pandan leaf.

Palm sugar

Palm sugar

Lots of chicken feet.

Lots of chicken feet.

Talking about coconuts, coconut cream and coconut milk.

Talking about coconuts, coconut cream and coconut milk.

Talking about various fruit and veggies.

Talking about various fruit and veggies.

Cooks on a mission.

Cooks on a mission.

Fresh coconut milk for the walk back.

Fresh coconut milk for the walk back.

Baskets full, we walked back to the school and started cooking. First on the list was making the curry paste for Penang Curry from scratch.

Curry paste demonstration.

Curry paste demonstration.

Taking notes during the demonstration.

Taking notes during the demonstration.

Chop chop!

Chop chop!

Ingredients for Penang curry paste.

Ingredients for Penang curry paste.

Working the mortar and pestle.

Working the mortar and pestle.

Curry paste coming together.

Curry paste coming together.

Once we had our paste made, we switched to dessert and started on the Mango Sticky Rice (yum!) which would need some time to steam. Irin, our instructor, chose Jette to be her assistant for this step.

Jette cooking the pandan and coconut cream for the Mango Sticky Rice.

Jette cooking the pandan and coconut cream for the Mango Sticky Rice.

With the rice prepped, we switched back to the Penang Curry. With our paste made and other ingredients prepped, it only took a few minutes in the wok.

Ready to make Penang Curry.

Ready to make Penang Curry.

Curry on the fire.

Curry on the fire.

Yummy curry!

Yummy curry!

Working

Working

Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad – look at the roses we carved from tomatoes

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Our instructor Irin and Jette

Headed home with leftovers

Headed home with leftovers

Thank you Grams and Grandad for a wonderful visit!
We had so much fun!

Bangkok in a nutshell

As usual, I’m playing catch-up with the blog posts. Documenting our adventures takes a back seat to experiencing them! Before I fill you in on Chiang Mai, I thought I would try to do a quick overview of our time in Bangkok.

Bangkok...traffic!

Bangkok…traffic!

We did a post about the Snake Farm and we posted a couple of rambling video updates. That barely scratches the surface of what we did in Bangkok, and we barely scratched the surface of the city! It is an awesome city with so much going on and we really enjoyed it.

Let’s start with the shopping malls. Like Singapore, Bangkok now has lots of huge, modern, luxury shopping malls. for those of you in Dallas, think Northpark, but add another 6 levels, a Rolls Royce showroom, some avant-garde local boutiques, and about 50 good restaurants. No joke. These places are massive and impressive.

Outside Central World Mall

Outside Central World Mall

One of the malls even features life-size model apartments for a local development:

Life-size model apartments in the mall

Life-size model apartment in the mall

One of the big, popular malls is Siam Paragon, and while we’re not normally drawn to malls, this place has an aquarium – Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World – in the basement and a cool mini-city built for kids – KidZania – on the top floor.

Jette loved both.

Handstand in Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok

Handstand in Sea Life Ocean World Bangkok

I sat in one of the many cafes and worked while Mila and Jette visited Sea Life Ocean World, so I can’t tell you much about it, but I can share some photos…

Hands-on with a starfish

Hands-on with a starfish

Big fish!

Big fish!

Awesome aquarium

Awesome aquarium

On the glass-bottom boat

On the glass-bottom boat

"Oh, they're adorable!"

“Oh, they’re adorable!”

Suffice it to say that much fun was had at the aquarium and Jette learned a little bit more about local aquatic life in Thailand. Jette likes the TV show River Monsters, and having seen a couple of episodes on Thailand, already knew a bit about the giant rays and snakheads found in Thailand’s rivers. Scary!

So the quarium was on the bottom floor, but 8 floors up is KidZania. KidZania is basically a mini-city for kids (4-14 years old) built indoors. Imagine a Disney city with shops, car dealers, beauty salons, restaurants, firemen…a place where kids can learn, where they can earn their own money and make their own financial decisions…

KidZania entrance

KidZania entrance

Cashing a check at the bank, just before Mom got kicked out. Sorry Mom, this place is for KIDS ONLY!

Cashing a check at the bank, just before Mom got kicked out. Sorry Mom, this place is for KIDS ONLY!

Adults please observe outside!

Adults please observe outside!

Upon entry, each kid gets a check for 50 “kidZo” (the currency). Inside the “city” they can spend their money at the local shops. They can also choose to work or study and earn money. They can even open a bank account.

kidZos

kidZos

For example, they can work at the Vet CLinic and earn 8 kidZos:

Vet clinic

Vet clinic

Or pay 10 kidZos to  take a course at the local Culinary School:

Culinary School

Culinary School

Here’s the story behind KidZania:

How it began

The history of KidZania starts like all great stories start with unwavering passion, idealistic vision, and the desire to be a catalyst for change. This particular story happened across cultures, across continents, and, more importantly, it happened in the minds of kids. The kids of the world became fed up with the current state of world affairs. They wanted a world where governments operated efficiently, societies were equitable, and resources were valued. This collective state of mind led them to envision a better world full of possibilities.

A nation is born

In development of this new world, they recognized a need to document their beliefs and their wish for independence. They began by establishing 6 fundamental rights: to Be, to Know, to Care, to Play, to Create and to Share. Inalienable and timeless, these rights are more than just entitlements; they are the foundation for real world training and the achievement of happiness. The children proclaimed their beliefs by writing an official Declaration of Independence, a statement of their independence from adults and an unequivocal announcement of their new nation’s existence. Next, they made a great leap by calling themselves a nation united on ideals rather than geography or culture. The kids decided on a purposeful name: KidZania, which means ‘Land of Cool Kids.’

Cities Evolve and Continue to Grow

Since they wanted a place where KidZanians could experiment and train, they decided to create their very own city. This is because cities are places where people live, share ideas, care for those around them and contribute to a greater whole. Since they wanted to learn quickly and retain their knowledge, the kids knew that the environment needed to be fun and realistic. After much work, they settled on a design and the first KidZania came to life. It was in Santa Fe Mexico City because that city has the largest population of children in the world. Thousands of children came and the success of their first city drove the kids towards growing their vision to more and more cities around the world.

Rights are Kept

The kid founders of KidZania gave a great deal of thought to their nation’s future. They knew they would each outgrow their ability to be active members of the community they founded. To guarantee that KidZania’s belief system would continue even after the original kids departed to participate in the grown up world, they created “Rightskeepers” that would live at every KidZania and never outgrow it. These rightskeepers – Urbano,Beebop, Chika, Vita and Bache – would help carry on the traditions, serve as role models and represent the values at the core of KidZania. Urbano represents KidZania’s infrastructure and learning, Beebop symbolizes its artistic phase, Chika characterizes its trends,Vita personifies the commitment to the environment and Bache reminds everyone to have fun. Each would remain a particular age, but could evolve over time in personality and thinking to reflect the fresh ideas every new KidZanian brings. The characters would be exemplary in their thoughts and actions and would be model citizens the kids could look up to as they looked to ready themselves for, and help create a better world.

Our favorite vet

Our favorite vet

Our vet waiting in line

Our vet waiting in line

Neighborhood signs

Neighborhood signs

Neighborhood theatre

Neighborhood theatre

Yep, even a 7-11

Yep, even a 7-11

One of the really fun activities was a climbing wall that was a building facade!

Ready to climb a building

Ready to climb a building

On the way up

On the way up

Getting to the top

Getting to the top

Coming down with a smile

Coming down with a smile

Our photographer on assignment

Our photographer on assignment

After the beauty salon

After the beauty salon

Jette had a great time at KidZania and is eager to go back!

When I think of Bangkok, I think of traffic. There is a LOT of traffic.

More traffic

More traffic

Of course there are tuk-tuks:

In a tuk-tuk

In a tuk-tuk.

Tuk-tuking (is that a verb?!)

Tuk-tuking (is that a verb?!)

and taxis:

Sleepy taxi

Sleepy taxi

and river taxis:

River Taxi

River Taxi

On the river taxi

On the river taxi

And perhaps best of all, the Sky Train (or BTS). The Sky Train is an elevated train that snakes through the city above the traffic. Nice! Like Sinagpore, it is clean, cool and very orderly. Folks like up in single-file lines at the station:

Waiting in line for the sky train

Waiting in line for the sky train

But enough about traffic and transportation. We also went to the Bangkok Zoo:

This croc don't bite

This croc don’t bite

At the zoo

At the zoo

And Chinatown:

In Chinatown

In Chinatown

Chinatown

Chinatown street

Shopping on Sampeng Lane

Shopping on Sampeng Lane

Sidewalk vendor

Sidewalk vendor

More shopping

More shopping

Panda ears for Halloween

Panda ears for Halloween

We also went to Wat Po – the temple of the reclining Buddha. In addition to being a beautiful temple, Wat Po was the first institution of public education in Thailand – the first University if you will, and is still today a teaching center for traditional Thai medicine and Thai massage. We got massages while we were there 🙂

Most Thais are Buddhist, though Thai Buddhism has it’s own own unique “flavor” heavily influenced by local traditions, Chinese traditions, and Hinduism, among other things.

Bananas at Wat Po

Bananas at Wat Po

Arm of the reclining Buddha statue

Arm of the reclining Buddha statue

Whimsical statue in Wat Po garden

Whimsical statue in Wat Po garden

Into one of the temples

Into one of the temples

Temple complex

Temple complex

Of course, we did a lot of other things too, and ate A LOT of yummy street food!

Bugs anyone?

Bugs anyone?

Bangkok was fun.