Hi everyone! We’re finally posting some photos and a bit about our last days in Bangkok, Thailand. We are currently in Berastagi, Indonesia at a small homestay. The home and our hosts are lovely, and we were surprised to find out that their WiFi was fast enough for us to load photos. Hooray!
After Grams and Grandad’s visit, and just before New Years Eve 2015/2016, we decided to try out a new area in Bangkok. We had already sampled Silom and Bobae, both bustling, busy areas, full of street life in “downtown” Bangkok, and thought it would be interesting to travel a bit further north to a non-touristy area for a few days before we left Thailand. We found a small hotel called B2 and booked a few nights.
Silly sunglass selfie in our room at B2
The neighborhood where B2 is located is quite different from places we have stayed before. It feels like an older, possibly formerly bustling neighborhood that has been altered by highway construction and “big box” development.
We could walk around a bit through neighboring streets, but it was clear that those who walked were in the minority; everyone had a car or motorbike and there were very few people out walking. We did try to get around a bit on foot, but ended up hailing a taxi midway through a walk, realizing we were a bit trapped in a vehicular maze and couldn’t get from point A to point B unless we were in a car. All of the construction related to newer highways and big retail developments had nearly completely eliminated walkable streets.
After getting stuck, we just took cabs for the short distances we needed to go. It wasn’t as interesting as walking, but we just didn’t feel the need to force a walkable city where one clearly didn’t exist anymore. I guess “progress” is the same around the world. Cars, cars and more cars.In this photo, we are standing on an absolutely massively scaled pedestrian bridge across a new mega-highway
We ended up spending a considerable amount of time in a nearby mall. Like back home, the mall has become the social space for many of Bangkok’s residents.
Almost every mall in Thailand has a sizeable “food court”. Food courts in Thailand are not the big name brand chain restaurants of American malls. They are essentially just a more sanitary version of a street food market. They are set up as groups of mini-restaurant operators, with each stall offering just one or two specialty dishes, prepared quite well. Thai food courts are also air-conditioned, which is sometimes an overriding factor when we consider dining options. We freely admit that, after half a year of regularly exploring new places, sometimes sweating for hours, when exhaustion and hunger are involved, we sometimes reduce dining decisions based upon whether they will provide an air-conditioned space, icy drinks and a comfortable seat. Thankfully, Thai food courts have rarely disappointed as they are inexpensive and often, surprisingly good. We were happy to find yet another good food court at this mall and enjoyed several of our last Thai meals there.
The mall where we enjoyed some air conditioning
The volume in this mall felt like 10 zillion decibels
Sometimes, a simple sandwich and a Perrier is just right
We can’t remember what made Jette react! This is one of her favorite meals, grilled salmon.
Waco, happy with his bento
Mall food courts typically have a counter like this one where you purchase a “credit card” and load it with money. You use the card on food purchases and go back to the counter to get a refund at the end of your meal for any unused credit.
This is the “food court” entry in the above mall
A food court payment card
There was a movie theatre in the mall, so Jette finally got her chance to see “Goosebumps”
Isn’t this how you wait for your movie?
There were plenty of western style restaurants and Jette even enjoyed a pancake for breakfast one morning.
One giant pancake with fresh strawberries and chocolate chips, please
The top floor of the mall even had this amazing water park!
A great way to escape the Bangkok heat and humidity
Giant pink tubes for the lazy river
Thais generally wear conservative beach clothing, sometimes swimming in T-shirts and shorts to swim in the ocean. Bikinis are generally only seen on visitors to the country, and this water park was no different. Most of the Thai women were wearing loose-fitting spandex body suits with long sleeves and full length leggings. Spandex shorts were a common sight as well. Everyone also had to wear a swim cap per the water park’s policy.
This is the face of a girl unhappy with having to wear a swim cap
We also finally get to visit a Tesco/Lotus store. We’d heard so much about these groceries, and we were really curious about them. The one we went to was inside of a modern shopping mall and it turned out to be a combination grocery store and “everything else” store. It was extremely busy and looked like a very popular destination. We shopped for a few items we needed and explored the store a bit. Prices were a bit lower than other specialty shops for some products, but grocery prices were a bit higher than at the local markets. There were many inexpensive, casual clothing options in larger sizes. It made us wonder what came first, the bigger shops or the bigger people. All in all, it felt very suburban, quite similar to going to a “SuperWalmart” in the States. Is Costco-Thailand next?
Shopping at Tesco/Lotus
One of our last nights in Thailand was New Year’s Eve. We spent the day out and about exploring. Just across a main road from our small hotel was a really nice, upscale, large hotel that appeared to cater to large groups of Chinese tourists. We decided to take a peek at their rooftop pool. We took this pretty photo from there just as the sun was setting.
Lovely view over North Bangkok and beyond
Lobby of same hotel with a spectacular crystal light fixture
View from one of our cab rides with New Years lights across a bridge
The most exciting aspect of our New Year’s Eve was, unfortunately, a fight that broke out in the room next door. It was actually quite disconcerting with a lot of screaming and shouting and it even made Jette break down in tears. We ended up reporting the incident to the hotel because we had serious concerns that someone in the adjacent room was going to get hurt. The front desk staff very casually let us know they would call to the room to ask our neighbors to be quiet. We were shocked at their lack of concern, but really couldn’t do much else. The argument did seem to break up after a while and it was quiet for the rest of the night.
Bangkok makes a very big deal of New Year’s Eve and we considered taking a taxi back into “downtown” Bangkok for fireworks, but Jette decided she would rather have a quiet cozy evening at “home” after all the excitement earlier in the evening, so that’s what we ended up doing. We did swing open a large window in our room around midnight to inhale our last bits of the city and ended up catching bits of no less than six different fireworks shows all over the city. We also popped some bubbly (well, really just fizzy mineral water, but it was refreshing!) The fireworks were impressive and just the right amount of noise and fanfare for us to bring in 2016.
The first day of 2016 was low-key. We did a bit of school work in a coffee shop.
School work time
And the next day, we caught a very early morning flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Mommy sleeps while Jette sneaks off with her phone
(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
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
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
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!
At Jatuchak Market
Fresh coconut water
It is hard to see the scale in this photo, but this dog was HUGE!
Flip flop city
Grams getting custom flip-flops made.
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
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
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
Jette al fresco
The restaurant by the river
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
In town, we crossed paths with some friendly pooches…
Jette and Puggly
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.
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.
The trees in the temple have beautiful, exposed roots.
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.
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:
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
A large monitor lizard in the canal. This guy was 5-6 feet long,
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.
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
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. 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.
The gang at Moon Bar
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.
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
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
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
A view of the wet market on Soi 20.
Talking about Pandan leaf.
Lots of chicken feet.
Talking about coconuts, coconut cream and coconut milk.
Talking about various fruit and veggies.
Cooks on a mission.
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.
Taking notes during the demonstration.
Ingredients for Penang curry paste.
Working the mortar and pestle.
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.
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.
Curry on the fire.
Papaya Salad – look at the roses we carved from tomatoes
Headed home with leftovers
Thank you Grams and Grandad for a wonderful visit!
We had so much fun!
As Waco mentioned in his previous post, we’ve just arrived in Malaysia, but we wanted to go back in time to early December. Here is a map that shows the path we took north.
Our overnight train from Chumpon back north to Bangkok once again landed us “home” in Bangkok. This time, we decided to try a different hotel in a different part of town, Bobae. The hotel was right on a water taxi line on Khlong Mahanak (Mahanak Canal). We ended up using the water taxi quite a bit and enjoying many aspects of it. Water taxis are not touristy; we were typically the only non-Thais on the boats. It was convenient; the taxi stop was about a minute walk from our hotel’s front door. It was adventuresome; the boats never stopped for more than a few seconds to let people off and on, so you had to be quick or else you’d end up IN the canal. There was no traffic on the canal. Bangkok traffic is awful; it’s gridlock every day and a very short distance ride in a cab can take a painfully long time. And finally, the fares were extremely affordable at just 10 baht, or about 28 cents per person.
We also used the BTS system, which is one of Bangkok’s mass transit train systems, and liked it quite a bit. It was much more orderly, clean and easy to use than the NYC subway which we used for a decade when we lived in New York City. It’s an unfair comparison (5 million NYC daily riders vs. 750,000 Bangkok daily riders), but still worth noting.
Standing in front of our hotel on the canal
Waiting on the platform for a water taxi
Another day, another water taxi
Same view at night
There was a large fruit market nearby and we walked by jack fruit vendors with huge piles of huge fruit almost every day. We also peeked into nearby Bobae tower, an incredible wholesale apparel operation with thousands of vendors with worldwide sales.
These look like durian, but are actually jackfruit
No durian sign in a cab (they stink!!!)
A Bobae neighborhood rooster
We tried not to be concerned about all of the babies and toddlers we would see on bikes and scooters everywhere. It’s just the way things are done here, but I admit I did have to hold my breath every time a scene like this occurred right in front of me. Hold on tight, baby!
Baby on board
We stumbled across a sweet cafe one day. The woman who owned it was the grand-daughter of the original owner and had filled it with kitschy 1950’s vintage pieces all displayed in Chinese style apothecary cabinets. She was proud to point out the original sign with hand-painted Mickey Mouse cartoons. She also volunteered to take a family photo of us in her shop. We couldn’t resist the rare opportunity to have an actual photo of the three of us together in one shot!
Rare family photo
Very old cafe signage
We couldn’t come to a new neighborhood and not expect to meet a sweet dog, could we? Here is Jette at the local laundry spot meeting the owner’s dog.
Our laundry spot
Happy girl, happy dog
This new neighborhood had a lot of manufacturing style family businesses and we enjoyed seeing the small scale of each one; most appeared busy and successful.
Door fabricator displaying samples
Manufacturing shop in the neighborhood
Great example of 1960’s modernist architecture near our hotel
We didn’t buy anything here, but had fun browsing
Beautiful Bonsai Trees
Chinese noodles from a popular tiny 4-table restaurant
Shipping these home for our front yard
We took in the “Bike for Dad” celebration.
Excited about “Bike for Dad”
“Bike for Dad” lights
Festive “Bike for Dad” street
There was a vendor selling these intriguing sweets which we had to try. They ended up being sweet bean treats and were definitely more beautiful than tasty to our palate.
Bikes for rent (Jette misses riding one!)
Jette temporarily turned into a vampire
One of Bangkok’s amazing topiary-filled medians
Just had to get a photo of this gorgeous cafe space
We discovered a breakfast spot about a 15 minute walk from the hotel and immediately became regulars. We don’t really know the English language translation for the name of this place, but it’s a Thai fusion restaurant of sorts. It has a few incredible dishes that all three of us craved. Firstly, they make delicious, icy, Thai milk tea and serve it in frosty mugs. Their iced coffee drinks are fantastic as well. They serve hot, fresh, flaky, fluffy roti with spicy green chicken curry which is Jette’s favorite; the flavors and textures are an addictive combination. They have a signature dish that is difficult to describe, but very easy to eat. It starts with a layer of rice, topped with a crisped egg that has been fried in such a way that it barely resembles egg, yet is just light as air and crispy. Then, they top it all with a scoop of spicy “pad krapow moo” and then we make it disappear.
Walking to breakfast one morning
Best breakfast spot in Bangkok!
We love it here
Iced Latte heaven
Iced Cappucino heaven
Jette loved the roti with green curry
Popular egg dish
Crispy egg on rice
We also were within walking distance from a very famous pad thai restaurant called Thipsamai. Going there was amazing, not just because of the delicious food, but for the entertainment value. The cooking took place on the street and there was so much action from everyone involved in making the hundreds of dishes of food they must make every night. The line snaked around forever and the atmosphere was lively. There was fresh, delicious orange juice and a street vendor selling steamed coconut sweets for dessert after dinner; a closed loop system. Dinner, drinks and dessert all within a stone’s throw!
Line at Thipsamai
We worked quite a bit with Jette finding new cafes for a change of scenery. She accomplished quite a bit of writing and read a significant amount of ancient history.
Coconut desserts after dinner
One more math workbook finished!
We discovered a new dining destination called Food Loft at one of the nicer department stores, Central Chidlom. Basically, a quiet, comfortable dining space set apart from kiosk-style, small restaurant kitchens that were able to prepare almost any dish anyone could desire. One of the kiosks had a northern Thai dish called Khao Soi for Waco. Another had a grilled salmon dish that Jette liked and a third had Indian food for me. On days when the noise, heat and grit of the city would have exhausted us, we would find ourselves wanting to escape to the luxury of our comfort foods in the Food Loft’s soft chairs and plentiful air conditioning. We definitely felt pampered there; it’s funny how simple true luxury really is. It all just depends on your perspective.
The holiday spirit was alive and well in Bangkok. Jette and I had to engage in some photo silliness.
Sparkly snowmen inspire silliness
A holiday display we liked
In case you didn’t know, Jette is permitted a “seasonal doughnut”, meaning one per season, or about four doughnuts a year. How did she spot the Dunkin Donuts?! Check “summer” and “fall” off her list. She made sure to hold back on her “winter” doughnut in case she wants to enjoy two at the same time when “spring” rolls around. Cheeky monkey!
Just before mid-December, we switched back to our familiar neighborhood, Silom and awaited the arrival of some very special visitors…
Nob Cafe back in the Silom neighborhood
A cute display in the boutique portion of Nob Cafe
I’m going to lay it all out there and show you my underwear in this post. Aren’t you excited? Wooohooo!
It’s no secret that Americans are FAT and getting fatter.
The first day our plane landed in Amsterdam we were shocked by all the skinny people and the very obvious absence of obesity. It was true through most of Europe, and doubly so here in SE Asia. Most adults in Thailand and Laos would fall in the healthy “normal” range on the body-mass-index (here’s more info on BMI and how to calculate yours). A “normal” BMI ranking translates to “skinny as hell” on the official US scale!
The US is the second “fattest” country on the planet with the average adult BMI of almost 30 – borderline “Obese.” In Thailand, the average BMI is 23.6. Here’s an interesting graphic that shows BMI by country (click to enlarge):
Click to enlarge
Statistics, tables, and charts are great, but they say a picture is worth a thousands words. So in that spirit, let’s dispense with numbers and move on to my underwear. That is why you’re here, right?!
I typically wear Jockey boxer briefs, size XL. The other day I popped into a department store here in Bangkok to pick up a couple extra pairs. They didn’t have the Jockey boxer briefs I typically wear, so I bought a pair of Jockey bikini briefs, size XL (the largest size they have). When I got back to the hotel and opened the box, this is what I discovered:
US vs. Thai size ‘XL’
Obviously, the pair on the bottom is a size “XL” from the US and the pair on the top is a size “XL” from Thailand.
This picture says it all.
On the roof at the Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar, Bangkok.
Happy New Year! It is hard to believe that this marks the half-way point for our Field Trip X adventures. Can it really be 2016 already?! It’s all gone by so quickly. 2015 was a fantastic year for us and we hope it was for you too.
Grams and Grandad
We’ve spent the past two weeks with family. Yep, Jette’s jet-setting Grams and Grandad met us in Bangkok on the 15th and we’ve spent two wonderful weeks with them. Jette got to show them some of her favorite Bangkok haunts, then we spent a few days in Kanchanaburi (known for the Bridge on the River Kwai) and Ayutthaya (the old capital of Thailand and famous for its beautiful ruins).
Bridge on the River Kwai
The roots of the old trees at Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya make good balance beams.
We were back in Bangkok for Christmas and my birthday, and we saw them off yesterday. They are on their way to Canada via Dubai and Dallas. We’ll be posting about our adventures together soon.
We’re not always the best at keeping in touch with friends and family, but know that we are thinking about you and wishing you a happy and healthy new year!
Waco, Mila & Jette
New post by Mila —
With some trepidation, we boarded our catamaran style speed boat from Koh Tao back to the Thai mainland. This was the same style boat we had taken before and had gotten so motion sick upon. This time, the waters were clear and still, resulting in an easy, breezy ride, landing us in Chumpon in perfect balance and good spirits.
an ad for the catamaran we took to and from Cumphon/Koh Tao
The city was abuzz and it didn’t take long for us to realize that a big event was about to take place. It turned out there were actually two highly anticipated, upcoming events. We arrived one day before the king’s birthday, known in Thailand as “Father’s Day” which would be followed a few days later with “Bike for Dad“, a cycling event which also honored the king. Everyone was either wearing or selling gold “Bike for Dad” shirts which contributed to a festive atmosphere. Thais love and respect their king and wearing a gold shirt seemed to be an important symbolic gesture for many.
Chumpon was decorated with banners and to our delight, it turned out that there was even a small fireworks display on the evening of the king’s birthday. A surprising number of Christmas decorations were also popular throughout town.
Vintage train with holiday lights
Father’s Day fireworks
These gift baskets were being sold everywhere. We have no idea what all those little bottles contain.
Known widely as a stopover, Chumpon was a pleasant surprise to us. We found a nice hotel room, an excellent restaurant just down the street and a lively street market each evening. People seemed genuinely pleasant and relaxed, and we found that unlike other tourist-heavy cities, general pricing of goods and services quoted to us was much nearer to the price “local” Thais pay. Even when we were charged “tourist” prices, they were still much less heavily inflated. We spent two nights and three days exploring.
Chumpon town scene
Note the massive scale and design of the street lighting
Our hotel with gold banners floating high above the main street
Our favorite restaurant in town was extremely simple, like most family-operated Thai restaurants.
You can see the staff and customers all wearing their gold “Bike for Dad” shirts
The restaurant would have a great, spicy selection daily.
They served a big plate of fresh raw herbs and veggies with each dish
Thais definitely eat “snout to tail”
Panda shaped ice cream!
One of the aspects of Southeast Asia that we appreciate is the simplicity of local businesses. Many are family run, whether they are automotive part companies, steel fabrication shops, carpentry shops, restaurants, laundries, etc. We are always amazed at how minimally businesses appear to operate. There are certainly a number of glossy modern shops that look more to our eyes, like those we are accustomed to, but more often, operations are fully exposed and hide very little. A perfect example was this bakery where there was a glass display case with cellophane packed cookies and cakes, but inside, it was quite simple. There were some folding tables where cakes were cooling under an oscillating fan and packaging materials sat in stacks. There were a few photos of the king and queen, some religious hangings and that’s about it. Notice how the office/desk is in the back, which means one has to walk past the exposed work areas to pay. This truthful nature is very typical and we find it refreshing.
A nice local bakery
Inside the bakery
There was a small shop near the train station that featured some vintage western wear and handmade leather goods. The owner and leather craftsman gifted Jette one of his miniature leather vest keychains!
Jette with her miniature leather vest keychain gift
At 7-Eleven, or as the Thais call it, “7”
The stores are full of dozens of varieties of tea, but only a couple of them are unsweetened.
At the night market finding dinner
One of our travel bags is a backpack that Waco carried twenty-one years ago when he explored Southeast Asia. It is also the same Jansport bag he carried when he and I spent a month together in India seventeen years ago. After being a trusty and dependable piece of luggage for so many years, we decided to treat the bag to a bit of a fix. I found a small streetside sewing group and asked them to add a few stitches to the bag where it had started to unravel. With warm smiles, about five minutes of work and a bit of joking around, I was handed the fixed bag, given a thumbs up, asked for 60 baht (the equivalent of $1.66) and sent on my merry way. I think we were all happy campers.
Waco’s well-loved backpack that has been around the world more than once!
not sure how long this set of stitches will “hold”
As I walked along, I happened upon a local kitchen goods shop. It was quite large and felt like a place that needed to be explored a bit. After walking each aisle, my eyes fell on some traditional Lampang rooster-themed ceramics. I had seen this irresistibly charming style of hand-painted ceramics at a cafe in Chiang Kong, a northern Thai city we visited just before crossing into Laos. Now, happily, these two small bowls would be coming home with me. The painting on each was unique. These two were the only ones that did not feature an overly folksy floral in addition to the rooster, or else I would have needed a forklift for a full dining set!
We sampled the wares at Cafe Amazon, found some (hard-to-find) unsweetened bottles of brewed tea at one of Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens and even found a passable mini cheese pizza for Jette.
Jette getting an automated foot massage
One Thai style cheese pizza, please
Jette doing her best “mustachioed Italian Mario” impression
We experienced one of the heaviest monsoon rains in Chumpon, too. This was a heavy, all day pour!
Waco showing off the thick skin of our pomelo
Our random traveller tale for Chumpon occurred when we met a Canadian couple in our hotel lobby. They had accidentally left their ipad on a bus that had dropped them off in Chumpon. The bus left before they realized their problem, but they immediately went searching for (and found) the police station. They figured out how to file a police report and many hours of confusing half-translations later, this Thai policeman showed up at the hotel with the missing ipad. There were cheers, handshakes and photographs made of the successful recovery. The couple was thrilled and the police officer appeared very proud of a job well done.
Proud police officer
After a few days, it was time to book an overnight train back to Bangkok. Chumpon was a great segue from Koh Tao island life to the bustle of mega-city Bangkok. We left feeling satisfied that we’d spent a bit of time in an authentic Thai town, embracing only the aspects of modern life they deemed important, maintaining a bit of a sleepy feel. Most importantly, we felt Chumpon wasn’t trying too hard to cater to tourism, which seems to have only preserved its charms.
Cracking a few jokes while waiting for our overnight train to Bangkok