Thailand, the land of smiles

August 26, 2019  •  4 Comments

We arrived in Thailand end of July during rainy season. Not our first choice but we had to leave the European Union and we decided to go east. Summertime in most of Asia is pretty much hot, humid and rainy. We chose Thailand because we found the best direct flight and we wanted to go Scuba Diving.  Night market in Bangkok Apart from the necessary vaccination and safety precautions we did little research before leaving. We had decided to spend four days in Bangkok to adjust to the time difference, get vaccinated and see a bit of the city. When we booked our flight, the airline made some hotel recommendation and we choose one close to a BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) stop. The neighborhood where the hotel was located turned out to be an eclectic mixture of Middle East, Indian and Pakistani culture set in Bangkok’s red-light district. The contrast with the rural Sweden where we came from was to say the least enormous. 

Are we in Thailand or the Middle East?

Road side restaurantThe fish are pre-smoked by the passing cars and busses before grilled. Finally recovered from the jetlag and fatigue from the vaccines we made our way south to Phuket where there are many scuba options. Vanessa was there 14 years ago and remembered the diving fondly. The beaches on the island are as beautiful as Vanessa remembered them. But the rest of the island has changed tremendously to accommodate to the mass tourism with lots of development. Many of the restaurant menus are translated in English, Chinese and Russian. Much of the food is also adapted to the palate of the farang (foreigners in Thai). We were glad to be there during the low season when it’s supposed to be less crowded. 

Kata beach from our hotel. We booked 2 days of scuba diving with Sea Fun Divers (with a few days in between). Vanessa knew the owner, Rene, when she lived here, and it was great to see him again. First trip was a 2.5 hours boat ride out to Kho Phi Phi (Kho meaning island). Long boat ride but the two dives were nice, although the reef suffered massive damage from the tsunami in 2004 and unfortunately also from over-exploitation. The highlight were the two turtles and the school of bigeye snappers.

The dive boat  

Us and the TurtleCourtesy of Johan Torfason The second trip was to Kho Racha Yai and only 1 hour and 15 minutes away from Chalong Bay. We had three dives on that day, and it was surprisingly nicer because we got to see more underwater creatures: lion fish, sting ray, giant moray eel, scorpion fish, mantis shrimp, barracuda, yellow box fish, cuddle fish, and lots of colorful fish that we don’t know their names. 

Moray Eel Cuttlefish changing camouflage as it was moving
Lionfish Clownfish and Moray Our divemaster Mr. NewCourtesy of Johan Torfason Low season in Phuket also means rainy season and we got to experience our fair share of tropical rain. Fortunately, we got a really good deal on our hotel, so we didn’t feel guilty spending the rainy days reading and working on the last blog post. As a bonus we got to enjoy a lot of southern Thai food, exotic fruits and beautiful sunsets.

Sunset Kata Beach Sunset Kata Beach
Sunset Kata Beach Sunset Kata Beach Dorian, Passion Fruit, Snake Fruit, Sapodilla, Longan, Langsat, Custard Apple, Rambutan, Mangosteen, Red & White Dragon fruit
We flew back to Bangkok and this time we stayed in the old town. What a change from our previous experience, we thought we were in a different city all together. Our hotel was nicely located so that we could walk to many of the historic sites. We chose a few highlights and spend the rest of our time wandering around the city, checking out flower markets, food markets, the festivities around the King’s birthday and days later the king’s Mother’s birthday. Both birthdays are National holidays.

Bangkok street art Khao San Road Bangkok Khao San Road Bangkok  

Bangkok flower marketOne of the few places it smelled good in Bangkok Bangkok flower market Thailand or Siam as it was called before 1939 used to consist of a number of city states. Arguably the most powerful in the 18th century was the kingdom of Ayutthaya. In April 1767 they city of Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese which completely destroyed the kingdom and left the city abandoned. Before the city fell the Governor Taksin fled with his troops further south in Chao Phray river delta, there he raised a new army, repelled the Burmese army and proclaimed himself King. Chao Phraya RiverBangkok on the left and Thonburi with Wat Arun on the right King Taksin wanted to establish a new capital in Thonburi. As he travelled along the river, he arrived at a small Buddhist temple in Thonburi just as dawn was breaking. Legend says that he wowed to restore it and today it is Wat Arun “The Temple of Dawn” perhaps the most famous temple in Thailand.  

Wat Arun, Bangkok Wat Arun, Bangkok Wat Arun, Bangkok Wat Arun, BangkokSelfie Madness Wat Arun, Bangkok Wat Arun, Bangkok

Wat Kalayanamit, Bangkok Chao Phraya River, Bangkok After visiting Wat Arun we were roped into a canal tour with a long tail boat along Bangkok Yai Canal. We had been hiding from a thunderstorm and in the cooler weather after the rain it was nice to fly along the canals. We got to see some of the old floating homes and a mini version of a floating market.

Entering the Bangkok Yai Canal
  Canal tour   Canal tour Bangkok Yai Canal Canal tour Bangkok Yai CanalIt will end up BBQ on Khao San road soner or later Canal tour Bangkok Yai Canal Canal tour Bangkok Yai Canal Canal tour Bangkok Yai CanalBrave boys. Canal tour Bangkok Yai CanalJoin our tour for a minute Wat Arun from the longtail The reign of King Taksin didn’t last long. His despotic behavior resulted in revolt by his officials in 1782. After deposing and executing him, they invited the chief among his generals to succeed him. The new King, Rama I, was the founder of the Chakkri dynasty which still reigns in Thailand.  Rama I moved the capital across the river from Thonburi to Bangkok and built the Grand Palace complex. He modeled the new city after the old capital Ayutthaya.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok Visiting the Grand Palace is not for the fainthearted. The madness started already at the entrance with a long line before opening hours. One after another busses arrived offloading groups of Chinese tourists with no respect for queues. Luckily, we were prepared and came early enough before doors opened, so we got maybe an hour before it became a complete zoo. Nearby, the National Museum with its collection of the royal chariots, buddha statues, howdah (carriage placed on elephant’s back), instruments and much more was a welcome break from the crowds and the sweltering sun after the Grand Palace. 

Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Grand Palace Bangkok Royal Chariot, Bangkok National Museum Theater masks, Bangkok National Museum Ivory howdah, Bangkok National Museum After Bangkok we took the train to Chiang Mai, located in the north, to see some of the countryside.  As the train ride is 11 hours long, we made a stop about halfway. Taking the train in Thailand was an enjoyable and interesting experience. The train was scheduled to depart at 8:30 AM and we arrived at the station with plenty of time. At 8am sharp we got to hear the Thai National Anthem over the speakers. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood up in attention.  We later found out that the Thai national anthem is played every day at 8am and 6pm on TV, radio stations, over government building speakers, at the sky train, bus stations, in parks and in most other public places. We are not sure if this is only in the capital or the entire country. 

Bangkok Train Station We got off the train in Phitsanulok and took a bus to Sukhothai, the ancient capital which existed as its own kingdom from 1238 CE to 1438 CE. The ancient ruins and temples were stunning with the red bricks and the large Buddha statues. The ruins and temples are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park opened in 1988 and features 190 ancient sites. The Sukhothai Kingdom is often considered the cradle of Thai culture as one of the King devised a script for the Thai language at the end of the 13th century.

Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai The local temple dog Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Old Sukhothai Four days later, we continued our train ride to Chiang Mai, a city founded in 1296. Chiang Mai is in the Lanna region which means a million rice fields. It used to be a thriving kingdom of its own but came under Burmese control in the 16th century. However, the Burmese decision to crush the Ayutthaya Kingdom also left Chiang Mai and the Lanna region in ruins. The Burmese depopulated the Lanna Kingdom by conscripting as the growing army made its way south. When King Taksin drove out the Burmese in 1774 Chiang Mai was reduced to a village. Today it is the third largest city in Thailand.

Chiang Mai, and Ping River The landscape around Chiang Mai was beautiful but we were disappointed by the heavy rains that limited our visibility from the train as we got closer to Chiang Mai. We could see the silhouette of the mountains and the thick jungles but would have been nicer on a clear day. As much we would have liked clear blue skies, we were extremely grateful for the clouds that kept us cool and the rain that brought cooler air.

Chiang Mai old city walls We reached Chiang Mai with only 6 days left before our 30 days visa expires. We stayed here all 6 days and explored the area and enjoyed Northern Thai cuisine. We discovered 2 dishes that were new to us in this region. 1. Khao soi or khao soy, a soup like dish made with crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles. 2. Yen Ta Fo, a pink noodle soup that turns pink due to the fermented soybean paste or a red sauce.

Wat Chiang Mun, Chiang Mai Wat Chiang Mun, Chiang Mai We were told that Chiang Mai has about 30 temples inside the old city and 2,000 in the whole of the city. We did a daytrip to and Orchid Farm and Butterfly House which offered a large varieties and colors of orchids. All stunning! However, in the Butterfly House all the butterflies were shy, so we saw only two. 

Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai
Orchid Millipede?, Orchid Farm, Chiang Mai
The Mae Sa Waterfalls was a nice little trek in the jungle. There are 10 falls within 1,500 meters to the end point. It was a nice path with an easy elevation still we were soaking wet when we arrived back to the starting point.

Mae Sa Waterfall, Chiang Mai Kitty cuteness at Mae Sa Waterfall, Chiang MaiHow many cats are there? We also visited Baan Tong Luang Village. A fabricated permanent settlement founded in 2003 by Mr. Choochat Kalanapijit foundation by bringing together eight tribes in one location as a way to preserve their lifestyle and provide some income. The following hill tribes live in this village: Lahu, Padong, Palong (the Long Neck Karen), Yao, Akha, Kayaw, Mhong and White Karen.

Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Baan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Dragon fly on Rice leafBaan Tong Luang Village, Chiang Mai Our month in Thailand went really fast but Vanessa was really glad to reconnect with a couple of her old colleagues when she worked in Phuket 14 years ago, Bev and Janine. And a Houston friend, David, that happened to be in Bangkok at the same time.

We also had the pleasure of meeting a few fun people. Hubert from France but lives in Morocco. David and Rogelio from Barcelona. We enjoyed many good conversations with them!

 

*mouse over image to see captions

 


Comments

Lisa Chafetz et ...Harry(non-registered)
Vanessa, Sören,
D’abord «  bonjour ».

C’est un vrai cadeau que vous nous faites. C’est fabuleux. Les photos tjrs très belles ou bien descriptives d’une intéressante manière..

Parfois, j'y retrouve Un peu de la Corée du Sud ( 1988).

Bon vent à tous deux.

Bises

Les Chafetz
Nina(non-registered)
So, where is there a fine for durians? The airport? The hotel? That's hilarious! I've still never smelled one.

Nice photos and stories.
Sherrie(non-registered)
I loved reading about your time in Thailand. I was there three years ago visiting my granddaughter who was working in Lampang. She came home for 18 months but is now back in Lampang. We spent time in Chiang Mai and on the southern coast so your post brought back fond memories. Thailand is a beautiful country and we found the people to be delightful.
Raynette Yoshida(non-registered)
Crazy. Unbelievable stories. The remarkable connections and reconnections. Hard to believe. If I didn’t know you, I’d say this was embellished. LOL. The photos are beyond photo shop. Beyond National Geographic. Wow.
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