Back in Bangkok

On our way south through Thailand, we knew we would end back up in its capital and largest city, Bangkok. You may recall that we already visited once in January, but we didn’t see all of the main sights, so we spent a few more days to discover more of what this immense metropolis has to offer.

Getting There

We were coming from Ayuthaya, which is pretty close to Bangkok – only about an hour or so by bus. Since we had done many long distance buses in a row, we decided to switch things up and ride the train into town. We had no idea what this entailed beyond that there were trains every hour or so. We were shocked at how low the price was: 15 baht (50 cents) per person! But this made a little more sense when we discovered that this was not a luxury train but a basic train car with open windows and old electric fans. It was pretty crowded, so at first we weren’t able to sit next to each other, but as the stops went on the crowds thinned out and we were able to be together. In the end it dragged a little bit and probably took longer than the bus would have, but it did take us into the heart of downtown and to a MRT subway station that was convenient for getting to our accommodations.

Where We Stayed

If you search on the Internet for travel blogs about Bangkok, you are bound to stumble upon a good number that rave about their stay at the Lub d Hostel. We had read enough about it that we decided to see for ourselves if this slick, modern hostel was all it was cracked up to be. We booked a “railway twin” room at the Silom location. The design scheme of the entire hostel felt “industrial chic,” with plenty of metal railings and exposed ductwork. The shared bathroom was large and nice. There was a bar and common area down below. We were very excited that they had a washer AND dryer for use for a small fee. They also had a movie room – but strangely no DVDs that one could borrow, so it seemed somewhat pointless.

With all these amenities and all of the rave reviews, we were expecting to love the place. But, as we have discussed before, high expectations are hard to live up to. We felt the service, especially at check-in, was a little slow and impersonal (they kept us waiting for about 10 minutes while filling out unnecessary paperwork, made us bring up the receipt on our phone even though they clearly had it on the computer, and didn’t bother to tell us to remove our bags or that our rooms weren’t ready until we had been standing there, sweat dripping, waiting to head up the stairs with our bags for over 10 min). The place was so big that we never made a connection with anyone (although I guess we could have tried to party more down at the bar…). It seemed like a lot of other travelers really had a good time though, so maybe we just discovered that the large, slick hostel is not our scene. It was also very expensive. We got a deal somehow, booking through agoda.com. But, the room that we were splurging on by paying $25/night (for almost no room, bunk beds, and shared bathroom) was apparently really worth $37/night. WAY too much. Especially since Della’s parents booked a ginormous room at a place with included breakfast, a jacuzzi, and a pool for $50/night. Lesson learned.

What We Did

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace – We had missed the city’s main attraction on our first stop in Bangkok so we made sure to visit this time. It was a visual spectacle, but also so crowded that we aren’t sure we’d recommend going out of your way to see it!

Getting there was a bit of an adventure. The grounds are located in an area that is not served by the Sky Train or metro system, so to use public transportation requires a bit more advanced planning. From the Silom district where we stayed, it seemed like one of the fastest and most interesting ways was to take the public boats that run up and down the Chao Phraya river. We lost a little bit of time by heading to a stop that is not currently operational (which begs the question of why stop 2 is still a numbered stop in the first place, but we digress). Once we got to the right stop, we got to see the intriguing loading of the boats for the first time. They try to move very quickly, so they zoom up to the docks, quickly tie a rope, and then back into place. You have to be speedy if you want to hop on or off!

We got off at the Tha Chang stop and headed with the crowds to the palace entrance. We paid our steep (500 baht = $15) entrance fee and headed into the first part, Wat Phra Kaew, a.k.a.the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We first explored the colorful chedis, then braced ourselves and dove into the big crowds squeezing in to see the Emerald Buddha itself. The statue was pretty, but far away and a little small, so we didn’t linger.

We left the wat and then walked through the grounds of the palace. This was formerly the residence of the Thai royalty, and there are many fancy buildings that show a mix of Thai and Western architectural styles. Most are closed off to the public, but a few of the throne halls are open, so we wandered through them to see the splendor and take a brief respite from the heat.

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We followed a tip from Wayne and Peggy, who had visited the previous day (they chose to come to Bangkok while we did Ayuthaya), and finished our visit at the slightly out of the way Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which allows free admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.

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Wat Pho – Next door to the Palace is this major attraction in town, and one that we turned out to enjoy even more than the higher billed Palace. The highlight that you encounter when you first enter is a large, reclining Buddha. We took the prescribed route around, admiring the decorations on his feet. The rest of the grounds also proved peaceful and interesting to stroll through. Highlights were colorful royal chedis, monks leading schoolchildren in classes, and old educational inscriptions that helped serve the purpose of educating the populace on a variety of topics. The visit here was much calmer (and much cheaper) than the visit to the palace, so if you only have time for one, we think we’d recommend this one!

Saw a Movie – We had heard that the Thais love heading to a movie, so we thought we had to try and see a film while we were in the country. Each of the fancy malls has a nice theater, but we opted for a vintage experience and headed to the one-screen Scala theater. Luckily, it was showing a movie that we intended to see anyway: Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent series. (Funny that both movies we have seen on the road are sequels in YA dystopian series). The inside of the theater felt old-school, with red velvet seats and ushers in yellow suits escorting us by flashlight to our assigned places. The screen and sound system were nice and modern however. One interesting experience unique to Thailand was that after the previews, they played the national anthem while showing a montage of clips of the king, throughout which the entire audience stood out of respect. The movie itself was good. It diverged (get it?) quite a bit from the novel, but in a way that made it have more action so it was pretty exciting.

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Danced in Lumphini Park – We joined Bangkok residents in their nightly workout routine!

Where We Ate

The Silom neighborhood where we stayed is more of a business district than a tourist district, so our cheap restaurant and street food options were a little limited. The Lub d staff did point us to one alley, Silom Soi 20, where there were some stalls and a few restaurants set up. We ate here twice, both times choosing restaurants with indoor seating to get out of the heat.

After visiting the Palace and Wat Pho, we decided to check out the Khao San backpacker area in the Banglamphu area to see what we were missing out on. We hoped to be able to find a lot of cheap street food, but we were looking in the middle of the afternoon and didn’t see nearly the variety that we had hoped for. We ended up choosing a small sit-down restaurant that was open and had Della’s preferred dish, pad see ewe.

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Before we saw the movie, we decided to visit a mall food court for lunch. We decided to branch out (the last time we had visited MBK’s two courts), so this time we went to “Food Republic,” the food court on the upper level of the Siam Central. It felt a little fancier than the cheaper court in MBK, but the prices were reasonable and the selection was pretty good. Della was able to get a pad thai and Eric had green curry with roti (Indian fried bread) instead of the standard rice.

Final Thoughts

We’re glad we had a few more days to see more of the sights in Bangkok. It’s a big city, so we still didn’t even see everything on our list! The heat and humidity made it hard to want to push to see lots of things, so we’d like to come back when it’s a little cooler. It was nice to be back in a big city and have easy use of public transportation as well. Bangkok’s a little frenzied and the climate isn’t the best, but we think we like it!

Dancing in Sukhothai and Bangkok, Thailand

The heat of Sukhothai was sticky and oppressive, even though it was finally dark. Despite that, we were excited about the prospect of visiting a new town, and hungry for some delicious Thai street food. As we exited the hotel, we saw lights dancing across the river and could hear the bass booming. Something was going on! We wandered across the bridge and found ourselves in a lively night market, boasting all sorts of yummy Thai delicacies- most of which we didn’t even know what they were. We browsed the choices, noticing coconut drinks, fried squids, unidentified balls of something squishy (and delicious, it turns out), Sukhothai style noodles, and frying Roti. After stuffing ourselves, we found our way out of the market into the adjoining park where people we relaxing, working out, and watching a dance performance.

 

About 20 women, wearing what looked like cheerleader uniforms, were dancing together in the middle of the park in front of the stage of musicians. The dances looked memorized and rote, as if they were well known line dances and occasionally other women from the audience would join. The music was loud, the lights were flashing, and people were watching. We settled ourselves down on nearby steps to take in the sight.

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It wasn’t long before a local man – gregarious, bearded, and possibly drunk – ran up to to us, bringing plastic chairs. They somehow had appeared and he wanted us to have them. He found more and more till each of us had a seat. Then, he waggled his eyebrows, wiggled his hips, and threw out a hand to Della. Somehow, he must have known that it is impossible for her to say no to a dance. He led her to the stage, where they joined in with the rest of the women who were now doing some sort of circle line dance.

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The man wriggled and shook, and sort of followed the group. Della tried to pick up the steps and after a few shared smiles with the other women felt like part of the group. A few laughs were shared through a few more dances until the friendly man brought her back to the family. With a quick smile and bow to Eric and Wayne, he disappeared back into the park to join his friends.


As in Phnom Penh, the ladies of Bangkok (and some men) enjoy a good dance aerobics class. We had enjoyed Lumbini Park on our first trip through the city, and were pleased to learn that there should be dancing in the evening there. After a bit of a lazy, more at home kind of day, which consisted of sleeping in, heading to the mall for lunch, and watching a new release movie, we took a train to the park.

There was slight wind, which was a great relief as it wafted by us, slightly cooling our sticky bodies. We wandered through the throngs of joggers, walkers, and general exercisers until we found an area with big speakers set up. We stopped to wait, assuming we had found the place, though there seemed to be no gathering people. We entertained ourselves by watching a group of young Thai men practicing their acrobatic skills – running and flipping off of the rocks on the grass.

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As it got a little later, people began to converge on the spot, and suddenly, the music boomed out and it was time to start. The group became huge, close to a hundred dancers, with up to 3 or 4 leaders, spread out so all could see. We danced hard, working up quite a sweat. The routines were simple and easy to follow and we felt in our element.

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But, all too soon, after only about 25 min, there was a quick stretch and the music stopped. What? So soon? We drank down a bunch of water, trying to rehydrate after we had sweat all of water out, and began to pack up to head home. But then, the loudspeakers played the song we had come to recognize. The music must have said: prepare yourselves, it is almost 6 pm, it is time for the national anthem and respect to the king to be paid. Movement continued, people continued to talk, joggers kept jogging until 6 o’clock on the dot. The anthem started to play and the entire moving park came to a stop. The streams of runners, the walkers, dancers, and even the acrobatic kids were still for the anthem – about a minute. And then it was done, the pause button unpressed, and life moved on.

Our dance class started back up. Part 2 was much harder, much more complicated! They must do the same class every evening, but there were those around us who knew exactly what to do, with almost no instruction. It became more and more tricky with long sequences back and forth and even turning around in circles. We flailed around, not really able to keep up with the group, but enjoying our clumsy attempts. Another 30 min passed, we admit this one went a bit slower. We were relieved, sopping wet, when the stretching finally came.

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Once again, we really enjoyed participating in a non-tourist activity, and seeing a community come together to exercise in the evening. All these cities in Asia really have it right!

 

Monthly Recap: Month 8

We are feeling strangely nostalgic for many of the places we have already visited on this trip. It’s not that the places we are exploring now aren’t wonderful, but it is because we feel the year slipping away from us already. Here we are on month 8, much closer to the end of the trip than we are to the beginning. It’s hard for us to imagine coming back to our real lives! But enough about the future, let’s talk about the present (well… past really) and think about our highlights of month 8!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos) *Countries slept in: 4 Add Singapore to the prior list.

*Countries looked at: 1 (We watched sunset over Thailand, viewing it across the Mekong River from Vientiane)

Beds Slept In: 12 (This is a little higher than it could be. There were a few places, Phnom Penh and Siem Reip, where we switched hotels in the middle of our stay, and it counts one night back in Phnom Penh before our flight to Laos. *Chairs Slept In:  1 (See above about Singapore airport)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 3 (Cultural Landscape of the Bali Province, Angkor, Town of Luang Prabang) Total on RTW: 37

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled 5 long distance buses/minibuses.

Top Moments:

~ We really enjoyed meeting up with an old college friend in Bali at the beginning of the month. It was great to reminisce about some college times as well as talk about future travel! There were many great moments, but one of the highlights was experiencing a birthday party for the temple in the small town we were staying in near Ubud. It was just great to be able to witness this and the evening culminated with Eric dancing onstage!

~ We had heard about the evening aerobics in Phnom Penh, but kept not making it work to go for the first few days we were there. We finally made it on our final night and it was such a wonderful time! It is hard to explain how both peaceful and exhilarating it was to see so many people getting together to exercise. There were people of all ages doing all sorts of activities. Our favorite of which was dancing, of course! We met some really nice people who welcomed us into their evening tradition. It was topped off by a lovely sunset as well. Hard to beat!

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Runners Up for Top Moments:

~ We didn’t know exactly what to expect from Battambang, a town in Cambodia. Most people just hit Siem Riep and Phnom Penh and move on. We had just a little bit more time so headed to Battambang on our way to the temples at Angkor. We stayed a few nights and had a wonderful time in this less bustling, less touristy city. One of our favorite memories from there was to see the Phare Circus. The performers were delightful, both funny and talented. It was a lot of fun!

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~ As most people say, a trip to southeast Asia wouldn’t be complete with a visit to the famous temples at Angkor. We spent 3 days there and saw a lot of amazing temples. We enjoyed several of them, but one of our favorite moments was actually at the tail end of the second day. We had a long hot day on our ebikes, seeing several different temples. We were on our way home while the sun started to set. We rode through one of the famous complexes called Angkor Thom where we glimpsed some of the most famous temples for the first time. We headed out the south gate with the many faces, and had to immediately pause for the glorious sunset over the river/moat. We took some pictures and then continued on the ebikes where we rode past at got our very first glimpse of the most iconic temple of them all, Angkor Wat, before zipping on home. It sounds a bit anticlimactic but it was really one of our favorite times of the visit.

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

  1. Della’s sunglasses broke. They had broken twice before and she had managed to repair them with super glue… and then monkey tape. But they finally bit it and died.

Added:

  1. New sunglasses for Della
  2. New sunscreen
  3. New deodorant
  4. New laundry soap
  5. New shoelaces for Eric
  6. New lotion for Della
  7. New multivitamins

Packing Update:

We are currently quite happy with the contents of our bags. After our repacking at home, we are feeling pretty good about what we have. We both are carrying some more cold weather gear which we haven’t used at all since being in Asia, but we still think we might need it for Nepal and it is comforting to know we have it.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (4), 1984 by George Orwell (4), UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (3), Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (3), No Birds Sing by Jo Bannister (3)

Eric has read The Blind Assassin by Margarat Atwood (3.5), Titus Groan by Mervin Peake (2.5), Gormenghast by Mervin Peake (3), Titus Alone by Mervin Peake (1)

Eric and Della have BOTH read nothing this month.

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7

 

 

 

Zumba* Around the World: Phnom Penh

It has been far too long since we’ve found a good Zumba class. In Phnom Penh, we found a semi-equivalent which was even better in a couple of ways!

We had read/heard that almost every evening, many Phnom Penh residents gather in different parts of the city to do aerobics classes. The Lonely Planet recommended the Olympic Stadium as one area where you would be sure to find several groups.

We made sure to head that way one evening. We arrived as the air was cooling and the sun was starting its descent. As we approached the stadium we saw all sorts of people of all ages and genders! Some were playing volleyball or soccer, others were walking or running, and still others were just enjoying the sights and chatting with friends or family.

soccer by sunset

soccer by sunset

We entered the stadium and found not one, but at least 4 different groups of dance aerobics. Each led by a young male instructor and rocking to the beat of loud Cambodian music. We watched for a few minutes and then picked a group that seemed to be suitably high energy.

It was similar to Zumba, though a bit less choreographed, so it was quite easy to jump right in. It was a lot of fun to watch people of all ages doing the dances. There were older to middle aged to young women. There were also several men of most ages as well.

We danced for about 30 minutes before there was a break. During the break, a local woman came up and tried to chat with us. Her English was a bit difficult to understand, but her smiles and friendly shoulder taps were unmistakable.

A little later, a young man joined us as well. He was a student and tried to explain a bit more about the evening events. He explained that they do aerobics every night and then a short pause and then the “dancing” would start. We were perplexed what the difference could be, so we waited around to see.

When they started dancing again, it seemed as if everyone already knew the dances. Our young man friend explained that some were traditional dances. Then we started doing line dances! There were several, including one that seemed like it was almost the electric slide!

We absolutely loved this experience! There was something really special about a huge community coming together and dancing together. People were not self-conscious or worried what others would think! Instead, they all just moved together, people of all different ages and backgrounds. It was fantastic!

We were so enthusiastic that we made a point to go again when we returned to Phnom Penh for just one night before flying off to Laos. We were so disappointed when we got to the stadium and the dances weren’t happening!! Our only thought was that it was cancelled because of the Chinese New Year. Many shops and restaurants were closed as well. So disappointing! =( But we still really enjoyed the first experience!