(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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
In town, we crossed paths with some friendly pooches…
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.
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.
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.
There are large numbers of very disrespectful tourists. Here’s a typical mode of dress at the temples:
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.
A couple of times during our stay in Ayutthaya, Jette had a chance to test out the pool on the roof of the hotel :-).
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.
On Christmas morning we chowed down at our favorite breakfast place again, yum!
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.
We spent the next week exploring Bangkok, eating ourselves silly, and generally having lots of fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you Grams and Grandad for a wonderful visit!
We had so much fun!