March 10th, and time to leave this beautiful city, and adventure and head home. It has been such an experience from start to finish. We left the hotel for Suvarnabhumi Airport relatively early, due to potential traffic problems we thought better early than late. No problems at all so we were not in a rush when we got to the airport, which is always nice. No issues going through security and finding the departure gate so we were able to appreciate all the art along the route. It is a very modern terminal, finished in 2006. It is impressive boasting the world’s tallest free standing control tower at 434 feet, and is the worlds 4th largest single airport terminal at 6,060,000 sq. feet. In 2012 it had 53 million passengers pass through, making it the 6th busiest in the country (12 in the world). In 2012 the terminal had more photographs taken and posted to social media than any other airport in the world. Having been there, I can understand why! It is beautiful, AND it has a DQ!
Once we found our gate we wandered back to the DQ and had ourselves a small blizzard! Not the Mango Sticky Rice! The trip to Hong Kong was uneventful, and with only a two hour layover we were onto an Air Canada Flight to Vancouver. It was only around 7:30 pm, but it looked horrible outside. Wasn’t raining, it was actually very warm out, so think a little fog, and a whole bunch of smog! It wasn’t quite as fancy as our flight over on All Nippon Airlines. The All Nippon had the new windows in their planes, changed color automatically to help with the jet lag, Air Canada made everyone shut their blinds, and played around with the lighting! One steward actually got angry with a kid that opened his blind to look outside! It was daylight, why wouldn’t a kid or adult for that matter, want to see what’s below, land or ocean. It was basically daylight from the time we left, until we landed in Vancouver. I Guess we were going back in time!
A couple hours before we landed Vancouver we were served breakfast and coffee etc. Again, a strange concept to me as the local time was getting on to supper. But I again, its to help with the jet lag! Maybe if I get to be a seasoned traveller this will not be quite so odd for me. After 11 and a half hours in the air we landed in Vancouver, BC Canada! We only had a a couple hours lay over, which was taken up mostly going through customs, and we were off to Calgary for the night. We stayed in the same hotel as when we left Canada, and I highly recommend the Clique Hotel. Can’t say enough good about it, exceptional service, room, restaurant/pub and a very affordable stay! We will definitely stay there on our next overnight in Calgary. Kendal and Kyle were arriving in Calgary sometime around 6 am on their way to Las Vegas. We did not meet them at the airport, we didn’t have to fly out until 11 or so. They had taken our car to the GP airport, and locked the keys inside! We have programs on our phones, so as long as they worked, it would be no problem. Yes…arrive in GP and the phone started the car, and opened the doors, so we were good to go out to Ashley’s. No headaches on the way home, so happy for that. Our luggage was with us the whole time, never lost it once, which was awesome. Although again we found we packed an over abundance of cloths! I believe we could have made due with much smaller suitcases. As we travel more, I will maybe get used of it, but laundry was very inexpensive in all the hotels we stayed, so next time I would probably make do with a carry on, and a big purse with toiletries! Not surprisingly we saw how much different things are on the other side of the world, and how spoiled we have become in terms of everyday “things” that we possess, possessions really are over rated in North America. We spent a good deal of time on buses and our CEO was very forthcoming with rituals, customs and daily life in this part of the world. So much different that what we are accustom to, yet so much less stressful. I wanted to share a few photos that we thought were interesting. (And don’t forget, if you click on a photo, you can enlarge it after its opened, just scroll down and open “view in full size” Some of the photos throughout this blog (signs, and palaces, temples etc) it is much easier to see the intricate details.)
We had so many experiences on the adventure and we took thousands of photos, and only posted a handful. There is nothing like being there and experiencing all of these things yourself, good and bad. The smells, customs, religion, history, and the people are memories not soon forgotten. I would go back in a heart beat, although, this world is large, with many places to visit and people to meet and learn from, we’ll likely head in another direction next time.
Once again, keeping fit while exploring another part of the world, we walked the 4 km to the Grand Palace. I realize its not that far, but in the heat and continually dodging around street venders it is exhausting. Nearing the Palace we came across the Ministry of Defence Building. The Gardens were in spectacular shape, and I loved the well manicured topiary. They started building it in 1882 and was officially opened July 1884. The Building and the grounds have been kept in immaculate shape.
As we got within a couple blocks of the Palace a guy comes up and asks where we are going, we told him the Grand Palace, with which her replied, “it is closed right now, but…” and I just turned and continued walking. I had read about this scam, and wasn’t about to get caught up in it. A little further down the road we had to go through a check point. There were a lot of people around and tents set up everywhere. Not sure what was going on at the time, but we got searched and went through with no problems. Just before you turn down the street to the entrance of the Palace a statue sits in the middle of a roundabout. Its a huge statue of three, three headed pink elephants holding up a gigantic lotus flower. It was given to the King on his 84th birthday. The three heads represent three major Gods in Hindu mythology. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the Keeper and Mahesh the Destroyer. The Lotus, represents purity and beauty. There is so much mythology and customs that are shared throughout SE Asia.
There is a dress code at the Grand Palace, as most temples and palaces in Thailand. Although I did wear pants below my knees I wore a tank top, and brought a scarf to cover my shoulders, which was fine elsewhere, but not here. I was turned around at the gate, and had to purchase a shirt from a vendor that was much too pleased to assist in selling me an “appropriate” shirt that would allow me passage into the complex. I think it was $1.50. So now I am a proud owner of a Thailand touristy shirt with elephants on it! The Palace consists of many buildings built behind a wall at the heart of the city, and has been the official residence of the all the Kings of Siam (later named Thailand) since 1782. The combined complex area is 218,400 square metres or 2,351,000 sq ft, so there is a great deal to see once inside. There are three main courts, the outer, middle, and the inner courts all having specific buildings and uses. The inner court, which was a city unto itself, was complete with shops, schools, courts, warehouses and were all controlled by the women. This inner court was reserved specifically for the king and his queens, and what are sometimes referred to as “forbidden women”. The King’s children also lived here, although once boys reached the age of puberty they were sent outside for their education. Polygamy ended early in the 20th century. If men were to enter into the inner court, such as a repairmen, doctors, carpenters etc. they would be watched very closely by the female guards. There are no longer inhabitants at the Inner Court. The buildings are no longer used and the entire court is closed to the public, yet guard’s do standby to protect.
There were some beautiful murals on some of the walls, but they were roped off and we couldn’t see them that closely. Not absolutely sure what the signs said about it being roped off, but as we came across another roped off area, filled hundreds of people dressed in black, it became apparent they were there to pay respects to their King who had passed in October 2016. As soon as the King passed, the country was put into one year of mourning. Any joyous occasions were cancelled, including sporting events, and everyone wore black. Sporting events, joyous or fun activities, etc were allowed to continue after one months time, although people still wear black, and the kings photos, shrines, and special monuments are all over the city and country. People are still coming to the Grand Palace in droves to wait their turn to pay their respects. Tents are set up outside the palace which allows the tourists room to see the area, and keep the mourners comfortable under tents, away from the blistering sun. We really enjoyed the visit, even with the thousand of tourists, its well worth the time but remember to cover your shoulders as a scarf is not appropriate at this palace. Fascinating buildings, architecture and history behind the walls of the Grand Palace.
The famous Emerald Buddha is housed in a temple, with its name at the Grand Palace. It is not made of emerald, as the name suggests, but is made of imperial jade. I expected it to be larger, but it was only 26 inches high, but is shown magnificently atop a stand of gold colored stands and gems. The Emeralds Buddha has a long history, having been discovered in 1434 in Northern Thailand. It is indicated that the discovery was made after lightning stuck a Bamboo Monastery, which then revealed a stucco covered Buddha. It was kept in the residence of the abbot who later discovered a green interior where the stucco was flaking off the nose of the Buddha. All the stucco was removed to reveal the beautiful Emerald colored Buddha. It was housed in many places before finding its final resting place in its own temple at the Grand Palace on March 22, 1784. Shortly after we saw the Emerald Buddha we left the palace, exiting through a huge set of doors. Maybe so big so the elephants could maneuver through easily back in the day?
We continued on and passed through the security check again, we noticed there were hundreds of people, all dressed in black sitting in rows under the tents, waiting their turn to go in and pay their respects to the King. We started to wined our way back towards the hotel. We took a trip through the China town market, and it was so crowded you couldn’t see anything, and hardly move. It took some time to find our way back out onto a street, and then try to navigate to a street we recognized. But we made it and found a street side pub that we had stopped at before and settled in to rest our feet and have a nice cocktail. (really it was a beer, but it was as cold and good as any cocktail I’ve ever had). I am ever intrigued by the complexities of these people lives, and how the new and the old work so well together. Of course like any country/nation there are idiots out there, and we did see some examples here too. As we sat resting an elderly gentleman tried to get onto a bus. He was pretty crippled up, hobbling with a cane, but he was moving in the direction of the stopped bus. He waved towards the driver, but only 2 feet from getting on the bus pulled away. Almost brought tears to my eyes. But a younger fellow came along, and was told the story and when the next bus arrived he held his arm, and assisted him on the bus, then he walked away! So, it did remind me, there is kindness in this world.
Back at the hotel we had a quick dinner and headed out for a night cap, and to watch the sun set one more time from our perch. Unfortunately, the Monks were not chanting this evening, and I have to say I was a little disappointed. Finishing our beer we headed down to our room to get packed, and ready to leave in the morning. To say its been a wonderful trip would be an understatement! Tomorrow….the trip back home!
Wednesday March 8th – another relaxing day for us, once we were able to get Gary’s debit card out of the ATM! The ATM kept it yesterday, and so it sat there overnight as we were not able to contact anyone until this afternoon, but its back, and no problems with its sleep over in the machine. I finally went for my Chrysanthemum Soothing and Sweet Almond 90 minute Massage – for a bargain price of 1,200 Baht. (approx. $42. Canadian). Treated like a princess the moment I walked in the door, and offered a purple colored cold tea drink. I’m not a fan of Lemon Grass in anything, and I could tell there was some in the tea, but wanted to know what made the color. The flower from the Clitoria Ternatea plant, more commonly known as the Butterfly Pea flower, are purple flowers are shaped like a human female genitals, thus the Latin name. Its the leaves that are said to give the tea its various said qualities including memory enhancing, anti-stress, antidepressant, tranquilizing, and sedative properties. If I remember correctly, I only had a couple sips, I don’t remember if it did anything to relieve my stress of returning to the snow in a few days. Of course you fill a form before going in the back, and thank God I checked – medium pressure. All but about 10 minutes was perfect. I actually fell asleep, but then….I think she forgot I wanted only medium pressure, and she went to work on my back and I bout went through the roof. But I endured, and felt better for it in the end! I was so relaxed by the end I hated to go anywhere after that, but always things to see and do. When we left the hotel we stopped at the central train station. We saw it from our hotel room, and walked past it several times a day going from and to the hotel. This station opened in 1916, after 6 years of construction. It is just beautiful with wooden beams and stained glass everywhere. The size is large enough to accommodate over 130 trains and approximately 60,000 passengers daily. In 2004 connections were made to also provide the passage of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit subways, and is also the terminus of the Orient Express. A city always expanding to supply transportation to the millions of residence, and tourists that visit this city each year.
We continued our short tour to the Wat Traima… temple which is only a few blocks around the back of our hotel. The temple always in the centre of our sunset photos from the hotel. The main attraction at this temple is the 3m-tall, 5.5-tonne solid-gold. With todays gold prices, it is estimated to be worth over 250 million dollars! The body is about 40% pure gold, while the area between the forehead and chin is 80%! The hair, and topknot are a whooping 99% pure Gold! It is visibly different than the other statues, and gold paint ( leaf) that decorates the rest of the temple. The value of the statue was discover about 40 years ago, by accident. It was covered in a plaster, with glass decoration which masked the worth. When they attempted to move it, it dropped from the crane, and plaster broke off, and that is when they discovered the gold. The statue is now kept in a 4 story marble structure at this temple. Having walked past, and looking at the temple for several days, it was nice to go in and walk around the many buildings and artifacts. It is truly a wonderful example of the artistry of the Thai people.
Next on the agenda was to go to a sky bar for a cocktail. We headed out, with a Tuk Tuk. It didn’t take long before we realized he wasn’t sure where he was going, but he finally stopped and got directions, and delivered us to the right place, although when we finally arrived we didn’t think we were at the Bayoke Sky Tower. In any case, we got there in time for the sunset, which is what we wanted to see. It still boasts being the highest building in Bangkok, however there is one taller now. We went to the 83rd floor in the elevator, then sat and had our free cocktail, which wasn’t really free because they charge you to go up. What a spectacular view from this height. Just before the sun was going to disappear we walked up to the 84th floor, and got on the revolving observation deck that took us around the building several times. It was very windy up there, but with the heat of the day still present, it was hardly even cool. After the sun set we went back down to street level and found another Tuk Tuk to take us back to our hotel. He was an older fellow, and got us straight back without getting lost, a bonus. Had another wonderful meal along the street, and know I am going to miss the food.
Tomorrow, our last full day in Bangkok, and it’s gone much too quickly! We will embark upon the Grand Palace tomorrow, which apparently is not to be missed on a trip to Bangkok.
We had made arrangements for a tour to the River Kwai and the Burma Railway (Death Railway) which is located in Kanchanabur. We had to catch a van at 7:30 in the morning, which then took us to the tour companies main transfer station somewhere in the city. After we got a little purple stickers, that allowed the tour guide to know which tours we had paid for, we were off through the city, out onto the open highway touring past many small villages, and through several toll booths. It was approximately 2.5 hours trip to the river, but as usual so much to see. Our driver was a bit of a speed demon, which was at times scary. He didn’t get us to our destination any sooner though as getting pulled over for speeding, not once, but twice only added to the length of the trip. In any case, we did get there in one piece. The movie “Bridge over The River Kwai” is a fictional story that made this area famous. It is a beautiful place, and of course has beentransformed into a tourist destination with a great deal of memorabilia, although again, easy to stroll through as the merchants are always busy on cell phones! We did walk across the bridge, and the river looked so inviting in the heat. It appeared to be more clean than anything else we’ve seen on this adventure, but I suspect it is still filthy. The Kuang Im Chapel, a Buddhist temple sits on the opposite side of the river, and although we didn’t have time to explore it, we did get a closer look when we walked across the bridge. It was so nice to be out of the city and surrounded by some Thailand nature. As we neared the opposite side of the bridge we heard a strange, to us, bird. We stood for a moment looking for it, and Gus was able to capture a wonderful photo. I’m not sure what its name is, but it truly was a wonderful song it was singing.
There are people which think these tours are exploiting the survivors and those that lost their lives while the railway was being built. However, my opinion is innocent people make a good living through various jobs with the operations of the trains and tours. Some only know this bridge and river from the movie, which again is fictional. I feel its important that people see what went on during the war, and in some cases it may cause people to feel differently after the experience of being and seeing first hand,through the photos and memorabilia. Unfortunately the tour company we used for this tour seems to get tourists to the sites, but no information was relayed to us. We basically see what we want to see, and do what we want to do, and then be back to the van at a specific time. Done at the Bridge, we were off to a train station that would take us on a 45 minute (5 stops) railway tour. Once we got to the station we had a 10 minute wait before the train pulled in, and it was here that we encountered the rudest person on our entire adventure. In reality, I don’t think we encountered any rude people, until now. Really it was a joke, and I actually laughed out loud at the feeble mindlessness of this woman. We were told to sit on the left side (River Kwaiside) if possible. We found our seats, facing each other. Gus sat facing back, and I sat facing forward – with another passenger. Even though she had her cameras etc. on the seat between her and the window, the seats were large enough to fit three people each, so it wasn’t like I was crowding the her. The train starts to chug along, and we are enjoying the view, it was so beautiful, again going through villages and the very fertile farmlands. We stopped at a station about 15 minutes into the ride. The couple sitting across from us got off the train. It was another 15 minutes when I realized we were along the famous part of the railroad where we would be going over a bridge, with the river on one side, and a rock wall, inches from the window on the other. I stepped across the isle to take a photo out the opposite window, and when I turned to sit back down she had moved over, leaving me very little room to sit. Rather than ride backwards; you know motion sickness and all, I stayed on the other seat.
I couldn’t believe the audacity! At one point everyone from the right hand side of the train got up to see the view of the river on the left hand side. It was spectacular, and I know this because I got up – like everyone else and leaned out her window…I think she may have got my portrait in all her pictures with the River Kwai below us! So happy we could share our holiday with such a wonderful person, no wonder she was travelling alone. In 1885 The British Government surveyed the route for a railway between Thailand and Burma. At that time they viewed the route to be too difficult as they would have to pass over many rivers, and the jungle terrain. However in June 1942, as the Japanese invaded, they found using the sea was too dangerous, and made the ships too vulnerable to attacked by the allies. A railway from Thailand to Burma was a more reasonable option. They began building the railway 1942, and was completed in a record amount of time in October 1943. But the price that was paid were thousands of lives. There is always conflicting stories, but in general the consensus is over 180,000 civilians , and over 60,000 POW’s worked on the railway. Thousands died during that time, thus the name, “The Death Railway”. There are many accounts of how the “working” men of the railroad were treated, but one thing remains constant, they were beaten, tortured, overworked, and underfed. Living conditions were atrocious and no medicine for the sick. Many succumbed to malnutrition and disease. If you are interested in more history of this railway, there are 6 videos herethat have a great deal of information.
We disembarked the train at Wang Po, where we were shuffled onto the van for a short drive to a Resort on the River Kwai. Resorts in Thailand are not quite what one from the west would imagine. It was a little worn looking, and I almost slipped going down the steep sidewalk, but caught the handrail. The floating café was built very simple, and you could see the water through the floorboards, although good for cleaning crumbs off tables and or floors, the floor boards were warped and uneven, so you had to watch your step! It was a buffet style lunch, and the food was very good, even went back for a second helping of noodles! The washrooms were a little on the used side as well, and although you could see the water line going to the toilet, you did not see one that would take any away, it was a western toilet though, so I was thankful for small things. A couple of girls that on our tour were staying here for a few nights, touring the area. As peaceful as it was, I was happy we were returning to Bangkok. Several of the people had booked a bamboo raft trip for after lunch, and so as they prepared to leave those of us who didn’t, loaded back into a different van and, happily with a different driver. Although the van was older and not as nice as what we arrived in, the air conditioning worked and we headed up to the Sai Yok Waterfalls.
Being the dry season the falls were not quite as spectacular as what I had imagine. But it was still very nice, and peaceful in the country. Of course I read several signs warning about the rocks being slippery, but on the way back down I crossed the creek, using the same rock I used going up, but this time wasn’t so lucky. Yes, landed on my left hip. Fortunately, only a bruise – that went from red, to purple to green/yellow! At least I wasn’t going to be tempted to go swimming at a pool at the hotel! We wandered around, enjoying the shade and all the flora and fauna. Then stumbled upon a train at the top of the hill which is one the Japanese used to haul supplies during the war.
With our self guided walk over, we were back in the van and headed towards Bangkok, with one more stop. One lady on the van was a little annoyed with the stop as they had stopped here on the way to the River Kwai, understandably, she sat in the cool van while the rest of us got out to see the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. It is the main cemetery for the Prisoner of the Japanese that were imprisoned, and consequently died while building the railway. There are three memorial cemeteries in Thailand. The commonwealth graves commission does the upkeep on this cemetery, and I have to admit, it was not what I was expecting. It is a beautiful tribute to those men, some very young men, who lost their lives during this horrible time in history. There are several registry books at the gate you pass through, and you can find the plots to anyone you might be trying to find very easily. Strange, you couldn’t leave anything out like that in North America, it would have to replaced every day, however here…it appears the books have been there for quite some time.
We were able to wander for about 20 minutes. Despite the fact that it is a beautifully kept cemetery, the haunting reality comes back when you see the ages of many of the young men rested here, those that succumbed to the brutality of the Japanese. Obviously we didn’t look at ALL the tombstones, but those I did had ages ranging from 22 to 35, young men just beginning their lives, those with young families back home, so sad this was their fate. A little somber getting back into the van to continue our trip back into the city. I felt much safer returning to the city, the trip was uneventful, with no speeding tickets, cutting people off, or going around the block to avoid going through a red light! Another long, hot day under our belt! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining…tomorrow will be another day in paradise! That night we went to a noodle hut on the street for dinner. The soup I ordered was HOT, not sure what was in it, but it was so good, I couldn’t stop eating it. Back at our hotel we had our usual nightcap, over looking the church, discussing the day, listening to the monks chant and watched yet again a beautiful sunset.
With only a couple more days before we depart for Canada, I need to still get my massage. While I was able to convince Gus to have a foot massage in Hue, I don’t think he will be persuaded to go for a 90 minute message here.
March 5, Day 17 of our tour, our first day to travel on our own. The holiday has been great in terms of time, but we took advantage of no plans and just lazed around for the morning. It was going to be another hot day, and as it didn’t appear to be far, we slathered up with sunscreen, and headed out to find Jim Thompson House. He was a highly educated American Architect, with a love of the arts, and he fell in love with Thailand and the people while stationed there during the war. He swore when he was released from the army he would return, and settle in Bangkok. His wife did not move with him. He became a mogul in the silk industry, reviving the this art all over the world. His pieces landed on Broadway’s “The King and I” and other such shows. He disappeared Easter weekend, 1967. His body was never found, and to date nothing has turned up to indicate any foul play. The man had a keen eye for art, and transformed his house, into nothing less than a gallery with pieces from all over the world. He played host to countless parties and dinners in the 22 years he lived in Bangkok. His story, and his house are equally interesting and I highly recommend going to see this historical place. The property is a little oasis in the middle of the city with a canal running down the side of it. If you are interested in the legend of this incredibly talented man, and how he revived the art of silk in Asia, you can find morehere.
We walked many km today…in the hot humid city of Bangkok. After seeing Jim Thompson house we searched the map for a route to the Victory Monument. It seemed like an easy, and short route, so we off we went. The problem was, several km later, Gus checked his phone GPS, and it actually had us going in the wrong direction, so we turned around, and walked back the way we came, again several more km of back tracking, we checked, and again, it appeared we were still going the wrong way, so we had to resort to the old fashion way, and brought out the paper map! Fortunately the walking was relatively easy. We had easy walking as we basically were following under the LRT. There were four lanes of traffic, then a walkway above that, and the LRT above that, so we were actually in the shade while walking back and forth. Finally a nice Thai lady stopped and asked if she could help us – and gave us directions, but did we follow them? Not so much! Thought we would take a short cut, down off the walking path, and a few alleys later, found ourselves walking away from the monument again. We did get to the monument eventually, then grabbed a tuk tuk back to the hotel – after 17 long, hot, sweaty Km. Enough was enough. We saw more of the city than what we intended but was great seeing the contrast in buildings, how they’ve left the old and introduced the new is very impressive.
Before we went up to the room we decided to find a cold place to have a beer. Although in a busy enough area, there didn’t appear to be very many watering holes so we wandered around for another 20 minutes or so. I noticed several guys sitting along a store front and one was drinking something out of a can! I looked closely, but couldn’t tell if it was pop or beer. They notice me looking as we were walking past, and a fellow came up and asked if we needed some help! Always a little leary about someone offering when not asked, but we told him we were looking for a pub where we could get a cold beer. He started giving us directions to the waterfront, and walked across the street to a round about with us. He told us about a little place, on the second floor overlooking the river, and if we wanted to eat, they also had great food. After our LONG walk I was hoping it wasn’t a scam and I kept asking the distance. Apparently, not far but he started looking for a tuk tuk, but a specific one, pointing out to he ones that might scam us, and the ones that were legit; yes, it was beginning to look like a scam! He flags a tuk tuk over, and gives directions to the new driver, and obviously words of how to direct us to the right place when we arrived, we got in and waved goodbye to our new friend. Two dollars and about 7 blocks later we arrive at the waterfront, and the driver does sign language to go around the corner and up the stairs. We arrived at the Chinatown Riverview & Seafood Restaurant, what a wonderful place, it was just what the doctor ordered. We only intended on a couple cold ones, and then would head back to the hotel however, the food that was being brought out to other tables was looking so good that we ordered dinner as well. We were not disappointed and it was the perfect ending to a long blistering hot day. As the sun set we went back down the stairs, out into an alley and started to look for a tuk tuk, wanting to make sure we got one of the “good” ones. It wasn’t long before one stopped and agreed to take us back to our hotel for another 2 dollars! Would have loved the opportunity to thank our new friend that got us to such a wonderful spot, but of course we didn’t see him again! Unfortunately we never did get back to that Riverside Bar/Restaurant.
When we got back to the hotel we had a night cap, and watched the sun disappear into the smog. Although I’m sure not healthy, it does make for a beautiful pictures. An early wake up tomorrow for the River Kwai and the Burma Railway tour.
Again, we walked across the boarder from Cambodia into Thailand. It was busy, noisy, very hot and dirty, but we got through without a hitch. There were the usual markets set up on both sides selling everything from fruit to spiced spiders, clothing and tools,but we pretty much pushed through to the other side and found an ATM at the 7-11, everyone needed some Thai baht before we loaded into a van to continue our journey into Bangkok.
Arriving at our hotel, the Centra Central Bangkok Hotel, we found out it was a little strange as that we went up to the 12th floor to the lobby in one elevator, then went down to the 8th floor in another elevator where our room was located. Either way, it was a nice hotel, with nice patio/bar area around the pool – which really was not so much a pool as it was a reflection pond. And then when you went around the side of the ball room, a beautiful deck overlooking a temple, and the rest of the city. We loved sitting there in the evening, although hot, the sunsets were always beautiful, and the monks were always chanting below. Except for our last night, there was no chanting on our last night!
The last censes done was in 2010, there were 8.2 million people that called Bangkok home. I’m sure that number has risen considerably in the last 7 years! It is a mixture of old versus new. Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, and was the capital back in 1785 when the country was still named Siam. It has blossomed into one of the major cities in Asia and in the World in the past 20 years. There has been huge economic growth, which has led to the construction of skyscrapers, shopping centres, parks and many beautiful parks. There is contrast around every corner with the new meeting the old. Even in the chaos it is a beautiful city, the temples, shrines, churches everywhere glimmering in the sun. Such a history, and the stories are all told in the people, and their culture. There are vendors everywhere selling their goods, and making a living for their families, although they are cracking down on such street life, it is still a way of living, and they are everywhere. I think taking that away would ruin the whole atmosphere of the city, to say nothing of people loosing their livelihood. I have to admit, I have been to other countries which street merchants are relentless in their selling techniques, grabbing, yelling at you across streets, following you down the street. I didn’t witness much of that in Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand, it wasn’t like that. They seem to leave you alone unless you showed more interest other than just passing by and looking. Yes, there were a couple times that I would say we were “harassed” to purchase something by a child coming into a restaurant, or a mother coming into a bar with a baby begging for money, but considering the amount of people that make their living this way, it was nothing! I don’t know if it has always been this way, or if its the introduction of cell phones! I say this because I don’t know that I saw anyone without a cell phone, either in hand, or propped up on something as they watched their favorite video/movie/etc. Either way, it was great to be able to go through the markets and the streets, although some VERY crowded and not get hassled in all three of these countries. All the markets are extremely crowded, and stalls are packed to the roof and all around so little room to move, but its still interesting to see. The old and new of it, you will see in many the photos taken in and around Bangkok.
The day after we arrived in Bangkok several of us boarded a traditional long boat and went for a cruise on the Chao Phraya River which weaves itself in and around the city. There is a great deal of traffic on this dirty river, industrial as well as water taxis, dinner cruises and sight seeing tourist boats. You do not go very far in Bangkok without seeing temples, and along the river was no exception. Many of the Khlongs (another name for canal) were not only used for transportation, they were used to dump sewers as well, but most have been filled in around the city. In central Bangkok one main Khlong remains. The Khlong Saen Saeb is still a vital transportation link in a very traffic congested city. That’s the one we got to tour. There are locks on this canal which keeps the water at a specific level during the rainy season. As you can see, some of the houses and shops would not tolerate much fluctuation in the water levels. There are Water Monitors live in and around the canal. Now I have two reasons to not go for a swim!
It was a great way to see part of the city, although with the rough water, especially in the river, it made getting in and out of the boat was a little tough on a few docks. We stopped at the Wat Pho temple a Buddhist temple. It is the number one temple out of 6 in Thailand classed as the highest grade of Royal Temples. King Rama the first built this temple on the site of an older temple. It is said that some of his ashes are in a shrine here. The Whole complex is more than spectacular, the size being greater than 800,000 sq. meters. There is residential buildings for monks that live within the complex, as well as a school. There are over 1000 Buddha images, with the largest at 150 feet long. Although I’ve seen photos of the reclining Buddha before, the immensity standing next to this statue is mind boggling. Between the amount of people, the tight space, and the restoration that was occurring, it was difficult to get a decent photo. So much to see at this complex, I’m sure we missed lots of it. The intricate tiling of the stupas, the hundreds of statues. These craftsmen were so skilled it what they did to create such wonderful art and history for all to appreciate.
After our boat tour we ended up back at the hotel where we would meet up with the rest of the group to go for our last dinner together as a group. Again, not sure of the name of the place that our CEO took us, but through the dark, dirty, wet back alleys, we enter, and climb the stairs to a wonderful bar/café. I hardly took the time to look at the menu, we were only up 3 stories, but the view of the river and its life was breathtaking. Many landmarks could be seen from here, but the one that got the biggest applause was the Sky Bar and Sirrocco Restaurant, State Tower which was used in the movie, The Hangover Part 2. Having not seen that movie either, we decided not to go. Lots of photos were taken that night, as the group was slowing dispersing that night, thru until the next morning for Ireland, London, further exploration in Thailand, Germany, and so on. Gary and I now on our own will have to discover our own wonderful little spots to eat. Yiks!
Well I have to admit, we have seen some wonderful sunsets since we arrived in Asia! But unfortunately its all because of the smog, it has been very thick in all three countries. I didn’t notice any problems with breathing, but someone with sensitivities would likely have problems. Lots of people wear masks, and then there are those that wear the masks, and then slip it off when they have a cigarette! Too funny! We saw some pretty strange things happening on our travels, and I have to say “safety” is not a number one priority anywhere. Welding with no helmet/face shield is very common…although we did see one guy wearing sunglasses! All their little shops spill out onto the sidewalks, so it was typical to be walking down any street and see the flashing of a welder, no screens, no anything, just get the job done. Work boots? I didn’t go look for any, but I don’t believe there is such a thing. The most common foot attire would be sandals. Doesn’t matter what they are doing, working in the rice fields, climbing a bamboo ladder on hydro poles, which is a mess in itself, tearing down a buildings, or delivery appliances- they all wear sandals! Just a couple of my observations as a former Safety Coordinator! Tomorrow? Just us two alone is this big old city, no plans to do anything but have a day of relaxation, maybe a massage will be appropriate?
Day 15 already. The tour is coming to an end too quickly. Today is a day of leisure in Seim Reap, and with a full day of looking around temples yesterday, several of us decided to head out to the Silk farm about 20 minutes out of Seim Reap. Artisans Angkor is known as one of the finest silk producers in Cambodia. They have 23 shops in Siem Reap, however only one is open to the public. Artisans Angkor set up the centres as a way to bring back the Arts and Crafts after the wars basically destroyed that culture. In essence we were able to see how silk is made, from the mulberry bushes, to the finished products in the shop. Artisans Angkor is a company that was initially started to assist young rural people to find work near their home village. Its aim is to provide skills to communities and villages that have no, or little educational system. It was a very interesting, and I think its fair to say we are now experts on silk worms, and how beautiful garments are created from their cocoons. Those hungry little worms feed three times a day on the mulberry leaves, once they have made the cocoon, they are thrown into boiling water, and the worm dies, and the silk is then retrieved off the cocoon. A very plain scarf with one color will take about a day to make, while those with patterns and several colors may take up to a week. If you get templed out in Siem Reap, the Silk factory is a short, maybe 2 hour tour including driving and shopping time. Yes, there is a fantastic shop attached to the farm, and they have beautiful things to purchase. The prices are higher than in the markets, but here you know what you are getting.
Back into town we had time for a beer at the hotel, and then met up with the rest of the group to go for lunch at the New Hope Training Restaurant, of which G-Adventures is a sponsor. New Hope started operating the restaurant in 2010 in which traditional Khmer food is cooked and served by the students, under the supervision of a former head chef of the Foreigners Correspondence Club. The idea of the program, which has been extremely successful, is to educate the students not only in the art of cooking, but also other aspects of the hospitality sector that will benefit them and their families for years to come. I have to say the food was exceptional, and I encourage anyone going to Siem Reap to find this place, you wont be disappointed!
After lunch Gary and I went to find the market and pick up a few things! Always so interesting in the markets, and somehow we always find the food section. I did try some bartering, but I am not very good at it! I think we probably saw just about everything imaginable so picked up some batteries etc. and headed back to the hotel to enjoy another cold beer, and a quick dip in the pool. We only had two hotels with pools, and this was the first time I utilized one. There was just always something else to do and see. It was refreshing though, and now know we should have taken more time to laze about this pool. Bangkok was a little disappointing on the pool side of things! 5pm was quad time! We actually got to drive them ourselves, after we went for a short trip with a guy on behind so he could make sure you listened to the instructions, and that you could operate it safely. With helmet and mask on, we headed out single file down the road, across a few busy intersections and out into some fields. I got singled out at the end of a line and had to go “slower” than I wanted to, but…that’s alright, we were all going to end up at the same place anyways. There were about 3 guys on dirt bikes with us , and they all had 3-4 of us that they were “responsible” for, so I just puttered along behind, and actually got to look around and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I stopped to take photos a couple times because I knew I could catch up, and he would turn around on his dirt bike and come roaring back to check on me! He finally realized I could drive a quad, and off we went through a field and caught up to the rest of the group! Was too funny! We stopped in a field and then waited for the sun to set. Beautiful hardly describes it.
Yes…Gary and I jumped, I think we were just too far ahead of anyone else so it appears we barely made it off the ground!
On the way back into town, once again I had the urge to stop and take a photo… My guy came ripping back, I’m sure he thought I was crazy for taking a photo of the water buffalo, but I explained, its not something we see every day. Then we raced along the path between the rice fields to catch up with the others, the wind sure felt great on that hot muggy evening.
Once we got back to the hotel and got the dust cleaned off, we headed down to Pub Street with our CEO. Apparently this is the place to go. Although we had seen it a couple of times, we never did get back down to it in the evening. Apparently its the number 2 (behind Angkor Wat) thing to see when in Seim Reap! What a busy place it is. We went to the Red Piano Bar/Restaurant which apparently is very well known as Angelina Jolie’s haunt while filming “Tomb Raider”. Have to admit that bit of trivia we were not aware of. After this many days, we were not surprised, it would be a wonderful spot to eat. Again, on the second floor we were able to observe all the happenings on the street below. And there were a lot of people, locals and tourists alike.
So ends our last night in Siem Reap. Back to the hotel, and get organized for another bus trip across the Cambodia/Thailand Boarder in the morning.
Three o’clock in the morning is early where ever you are in the world, and there are few things I will get up to do at that hour, but visiting Angkor Wat is one of them. It was a short drive, only 5.5 km from Seim Reap. We did bring a flashlight for our trip, however at that hour, we didn’t think to bring it with us! It was dark when we arrived at the temple, and it would have been good to have the light on the uneven grounds, and walks. Either way, made it to the pond where we would sit to wait. We listened to the monks near by chanting, and the birds were waking, it was a beautiful and serene time of the day, I was so pleased we went that early.
I have used this photo below so you can see the magnitude of this complex.
Angkor Thom which means “Great City” was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. Within this city are many temples, with Angkor Wat Temple being the most famous, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest religious monument in the world at almost 163 hectares. It was built by a Khmer King, Suryavarman II in the early 12h century as a Hindu state temple, but was later changed to a Buddhist temple nearing the end of that century. The temple was built with 5 to 10 million sandstone blocks, each weighing approximately 1.5 tons. It is believed they used elephants and rafts to haul these blocks along rivers and canals from Mount Kulen, over 40 km away. The moat obviously was built by hand, which was a huge endeavour on its own. Each and every surface, including the beams, columns and roofs are covered in carvings of winged dragons pulling chariots, warriors, unicorns, dancing girls, elephants with men atop, and warriors. One gallery wall has over 1000 sq. m. of carvings. Much of the scenes and carvings include the 7 headed snakes, adopted from the Chinese by the Khmer. In 1860, a French explorer discovered the temple(s) that were being eaten up by the thick jungle. The view from the top of the temple was spectacular. Photos never do justice.
Much work was needed to restore Angkor Wat, and the other temples. Vegetation had taken over and it had to be removed meticulously. During the time the Khmer Rouge were in control, work ceased and they actually used remaining wood from the temple for firewood as they camped in the area. There is a also damage from a stray American shell, as well as bullet holes due to the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge having gun fights in the area. However, it wasn’t until after the wars that the real damage began. During the period of the late 80’s and 90’s thieves entered the complex and knocked off, and stole most of the statues heads. Unfortunately many of the treasures from all the temples were stolen. There are many temples here, and we did see several. The gates to the temples, and the bridges crossing the moats are all pieces of art as well, with the same intricate carvings, works of ancient beauty all over this area.
The Bayon Temple, just north of Angkor Wat, is a spectacular temple. There are four faces carved on 54 gothic towers and each tower is topped with a lotus flower, which is common in Buddhism as the lotus flower represents purity, spiritual awakening and faithfulness. Each of the faces looks in a different direction – north, south, east, and west. Charity, compassion, sympathy, and equanimity are the four states of Buddhism, of which each face represents. The 54 towers are said to be a representation of the Lunar Calendar having 54 days , and I don’t think it was acoincident that the Khmer Empire of King Jayavarman VII had 54 provinces.
The temples seem all the same, yet are so different in so many ways. The last temple we visited was the Ta Prohm. It was made famous in the Tomb Raider movie, we hadn’t seen it. It is a great example of how the jungle can take over the beautiful architecture that man has made, totally destroying anything in its path. We also made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. Much of this was made of organic material, so has long disappeared, however the retaining wall and the foundation platforms remain. The wall is over 300 meters long. Bas-relief sculptures of elephants, horses, beautiful dancers, and of course warriors. It was used by the King to watch his army returning from battle, as well as parades and religious ceremonies were held on the grounds.
Touring all these temples was fantastic. I know there are many more, and we did get the chance to go to others, but for today, it was enough, and time to head back into Phnom Pehn as we had tickets to go to the Phare Circus that evening. This circus is Cambodia’s answer to Cirque! I highly recommend not missing this event. Without a doubt one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen! Without words, only music and acrobatics they told the story of a young girl growing to an old woman through the horrific history of Cambodia. There are many videos on Youtube, and you can check out the trailer to the show we saw, Sokha here.
It was another successful day in Cambodia, a great deal learned as we toured through temples and the streets of Seim Reap. Tomorrow another day in paradise, and a tour of a silk farm.
After returning to the city, we went to our room to freshen up, and then go out for a walk before meeting up with several others at the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC). It was a beautiful evening, although still very warm, along the boardwalk on Sisowath Quay. Lots of families were out enjoying their time together, and many children running about playing. There are some beautiful islands across the river, and they are looking extremely modern with their skyscraper hotels going up, eager to welcome the tourists dollars!
The FCC is a beautiful building that has seen a great deal of history, although, not as much as one would think as the building is not that old. I found a great story here on its short history, and it tells the story much better than what I could. It was a fun evening, although I think some may have taken advantage of Happy Hour a little more than what they should have, considering we had a 6 – 8 hour bus ride to Siem Reap the next morning!
What a way to bring in March, and our 13th day on the tour. Another hot sunny day ahead but thankfully another bus with air conditioning! Its hard to believe we left Canada over two weeks ago. We have seen and done so much, and gained so much information and experiences along the way in these countrys and with their people. I’m sure it will take time to sort it all out. Our trip to Siem Reap was broke up with a couple of stops. Our first stop was at a very large popular market, full of locals and tourists alike. Baskets, pots, pans, boxes all full of bright, colorful fruits, vegetables, flowers, breads, meat and bugs! Yes, when in Cambodia do as the Cambodians. Well some do, I don’t. I used the “happy room” and came back to find Gary overly eager to try everything our CEO had picked out for a snack, and take his turn at “holding” a critter. I had to use my zoom, as I wasn’t getting THAT close!
Once the snacks were done, and everyone had visited the “happy room” we were off again down the highway. We hadn’t gone far when we pulled off for lunch at Tram Dung Chan resort in Kompong Thom Province, Cambodia. Everything is outdoors, and is not quite the standard that westerners would expect for a resort, but it was great. The food was delicious and the people most gracious. The view was pretty nice too.
With our bellies full, we were back on the bus, and we took off again towards Siem Reap. We had been told that we had a choice to stop at a floating village, but the whole sticky group had to agree, or we would by pass it. Gary and I had discussed it and decided that we would rather just get to Siem Reap without any delays. As we were nearing the turn off to the floating village, it was vote time. Gary and I wavered, we were the only two who did not hold up our hands! We did finally succumb to peer pressure, put our hands up and we turned off the highway and headed down a dirt road to the village. I’m not sure how far it was on the bumpy dirt road, but before long we were entering a village that lined a canal/river. The houses were all on stilts, and they were in the middle of drying and smoking fish caught in the biggest freshwater lake in southeast Asia.
Tonle Sap lake is a flooded lake, with the attached 120 km Tonle Sap River which connects the lake to the Mekong River. The size of the lake varies depending on the time of year. At the end of the dry season the lake is about 2500 sq km (965 sq Mi). By the time the monsoon season ends, and the Mekong River peaks the lake swells to an area covering up to 16,000 sq km (6178 sq.mi). You may ask, how does the peaking of the Mekong River affect the lake, if the lake flows into the river? Its simple… annual fluctuation of the Mekong’s water volume, supplemented by the Asian Monsoon regime allows an unusual flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River, and during the wet season, it actually flows into the lake! The Tonle Sap Lake is in danger of over fishing. The fish from here supplies most of the country. Governments have set regulations, and laws which if broken can lead to jail for up to 2 years. However, many are still overfishing, and still fish in conservation areas and during spawning times to ensure they have enough fish to meet their quotas. Some families have been living and fishing on the lake for generations, but it may come to an end for many. The floating villages on the lake mainly consist of Vietnamese, who also use the lake, for their income and survival. The fields around the lake are utilized growing rice, and other crops for further consumption and sale. It was a pretty enjoyable ride in the boat as well. Got a massage, whether or not we wanted one, and an ice cold beer, or soda! On the way back we did have a bit of a mishap, where I think some weeds may have got tangled in the prop, so we watched as the young masseuse’ went to the back to free it. Was all good! The water was so dirty, I couldn’t imagine getting splashed, far less getting into it, but they seem to get into it to work, and play! Its all good.
And to think that Gary and I initially didn’t want to make this stop. Am I ever glad our CEO gave us a look of “come on…it will be fun” look! Back on the bus, we headed out towards the highway, passing through the village again, leaving red dust to settle over the drying fish again. Then I spotted something in front of us and asked our CEO if it was a wedding, and sure enough it was. She had told us about the traditional Cambodian wedding so it was great to see the procession on the street! You can check out the find out more of the 4 day ritual here. It was a wonderful place to visit, and as I said, the people were so happy. On the way back to the highway I was finally able to get a picture of how they dry the rice, and this time of year, it is drying EVERYWHERE!
We arrived at the Nagara Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap, checked in, and then went out to explore, and find something for dinner. Of course we found a lot to eat, but were a little picky in what we actually ordered!
The food was simply scrumptious, and was enough to last us until we received our boxed breakfast, which we collectively agreed would be better than returning to the hotel, tomorrow from Ankor Wat. We have a 3 .m. wake up call, so we can get to the Temple before sunrise! Weather forecast was for high 30’s again for tomorrow, lights out.
February 28th, being day 12 of our tour, was going to be what I believe, an unnerving experience for everyone in our group. I’m not sure about others, but Gary and I had done some research into the time period that Pol Pot was in control of Cambodia, we knew of some of the atrocities that had been committed, but it was still emotional to be standing at Choeung Ek (Phenom Pehn Killing fields) and in the S-21 prison. Our guide, also spoke personally about the regime. Whether or not these stories were his own personal stories, we’ll never know, they were true for someone. Between 1975 and 1979, 2 million Cambodians, almost half the population, lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime. Thousands were tortured and murdered while others lost their lives to malnutrition, exhaustion and diseases such as malaria. Of the over 14,000 men, women and children which entered into S-21, only 7 survived. It’s very hard to explain everything that went on between 1975 – 1979, but I did find a 4 part series of videos (10 minutes each) here . The first photo below is of a tree which they hung speakers. Loud music played during the torturous executions, so as not to provoke suspicion from people working in near by fields. Choeung Ek Genocidal Center has built a Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek which houses thousands of skulls, and other bones that have been exhumed from the mass graves at this site. Below the level of skulls and bones are several exhibits of tools, or weapons that were used to murder these people. Bullets were too expensive to use so they resorted to using poles, sharpened bamboo or any other tool they could find to bludgeon the victims to death. During the rainy season bones, and teeth still surface and are collected in glass boxes throughout the area. This site was originally a Chinese cemetery, of which there are still remnants on the grounds. The field has fenced areas, and built walkways so people do not walk on the mass graves. I was amazed at how many people we actually saw leave the walks to stroll through the obvious exhumed mass grave sites.
As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, we loaded back onto the bus and headed the 8.5 km back into Phenom Pehn to visit Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (S-21 Prison). When Pol Pot gained power he took over a school on the outskirts of Phnom Pehn and created a interrogation centre in which they tortured and executed the prisoners. The Vietnamese invaded Phnom Pehn early in 1979, and as the s-21 staff bolted they left behind thousands of documents, including over 6500 photographs of prisoners, men, woman and children, with numbers, and dates. An aspiring photographer, 16 at the time was scared for his life, and did the job he was asked, which was to photograph every person brought into the prison. He had to do it, or be killed himself. Former Khmer Rouge prison staff have speculated over 30,000 people had been incarcerated, and only a handful left alive. As Pot Pol’s regime continued, paranoia had set in, and as new prison officials came, older ones were also killed, they knew too much. Walking through the prison, hearing the stories, seeing the thousands of photos that line the walls is very disheartening. And to think, this was only one of numerous areas that this was occurring. Realizing this was taking place while I was in my early teens was extremely disturbing to me. I heard nothing about this genocide until researching this trip to Asia.Some of the below photos are photographs which the Vietnamese took when they walked into the Prison. The Khemer Rouge had killed the 14 prisoners that were left before fleeing. These photos were hung on the walls in the interrogation rooms where they victims were found. Those 14 victims were buried in the yard of the Prison.
Not only did Pol Pot destroyed and reduce the population by 1/3 to 1/4 he also destroyed it’s legal and educational systems, the music and arts sectors, trading, business, and everything else was simply gone. Its only been 48 years since the Vietnamese invaded and put a stop to Pol Pot’s insanity. The surviving population still remember, they remember the famish, loosing loved ones either to killings, starvation or sickness. They remember the terror and the darkest days and hours of their lives. The children born after 1979, are not free from the trauma that swept the country. They were and are being raised by parents that are suffering post traumatic stress disorders, in a country where there are no diagnoses. Rebuilding the country will take generations. Yet, as we travel around this city, I am astonished with how happy these people are. They are very cheery, and genuinely friendly. Chum Mey, a survivor was at the prison signing his book as we were leaving, so we did get a copy, and through an interpreter, he did tell a short version of his story of survival, although sadly he lost his wife and baby daughter. (Chum Mey also speaks in the short videos I mentioned above).
I considered writing a very short piece about this thought provoking day, and not include any photos. Or just omit it all together. After all, it is not the happy day in the park that one associates with a vacation. However, it was important to me to share this experience with you. Yes, trials have occurred, and many of the Khmer Rouge members are in prison for life, but there are many still out there, living their lives freely, living next door to victims families, some have remained in government. Corruption is everywhere. Its hard for me to fathom why so many countries did nothing! That these murders, and the torture continued for over 3 years – was it because there were no natural resources in Cambodia that anyone wanted, was it because the Americans had just left Vietnam, which to this day is still a question unanswered as to why they were there in the first place, and what about the UN? I have many questions, and over time may find some persons views on why. But somehow, I don’t believe there are any answers that will support why these people were not supported by the rest of the world, when their world was dying a slow and such an inhumane death.
“If the human race ignore atrocities such as genocide, we must surely be joined in guilt”.