There are so many things I could write about our recent trip to Southeast Asia, but to spare you a long-winded description, here is a snippet in snapshots. Hang tight and scroll.
Bangkok is a huge, sprawling city full of high contrast. Slick skyscrapers live next to street shanties, with everything else in between. Lots to see, but hard to get around.
We used the public ferry system but this is a more stylish way to get around to see the Temples. These boats have an enormous V8 engine with a long shaft and a propeller for swift steering. I saw one with a duel turbo-charged system that was super-fast.
Grand Palace Temple, the largest complex in Bangkok and former home of Kings.
Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha………wait for it!
A big boy Buddha! It was impressive. There were many signs warning you of pick-pockets, while at the same time you hear the jangle of coins dropping into open jars for offerings.
The entire city is wrapped in a tangle of wires above ground. Not sure how they keep them straight! That is a hospital in the background.
Steve Cannon playing with The Soi Dogs at Apoteka (see previous blog post).
Don’t be fooled by the cheeky name. We had a spectacular dinner here with Steve. They had Deshutes beer on the menu from Newport, Oregon! Too bad they were out of it.
Traffic Man on TV at the Bangkok airport. He takes his job seriously!
Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand, surrounded by rice fields and mountains. We stayed at a beautiful hotel built around this historic house from the turn of the century.
The Pillars House lounge, library and dining room. It’s a fixture of a bygone past.
Live bullfrogs sold at the market. They deep fry these babies whole and slice them. Yum?
Cooking School outside Chiang Mai. We made thom yum soup, steamed tilapia, fried rice and pork spring rolls. I was able to add as many peppers as I could stand (which is a lot).
Mountain Temple with our expert guide, Irene (in the white hat). We spent the day with her visiting a number of temples. She has been a guide for 17 years and was awesome.
Entering Cambodia was completely chaotic and a bit of a ruse. You have to get a temporary visa at the airport, which basically means you stand in several long lines and pay money. Luckily, once we got to our hotel, we were greeted by this lovely bouquet at the front desk.
These lotus flowers are folded in various ways to create different designs. They do this every day and spread them around the hotel for the pure joy of it.
Angkor Wat at sunrise was a surreal experience. To imagine that this was only the temple of the enormous city of Angkor Thom in the 12th-15th c. is hard to get your head around.
Be the time the sun is up, you can see the huge scale of the place, along with the intricate detail of the carvings which cover the walls and buildings. You can go to the top and look out over the complex of 203 acres of temple, the jewel of 250 square miles of city.
Of all the places we visited, Angkor Wat was the least cared for, which was a shame. We were hassled by people trying to sell us stuff, there was a lot of trash around, and the toilets were the worst we encountered. With entry fees of $200,000 a day, they could put some of that back into this World Heritage site and employ their people.
While amusing, it seemed unworthy of the world prominance of the site. Bring some TP!
This temple of 200 gigantic faces, also part of Angkor, was one of our favorites. Most of the towers have four faces, keeping an eye on the cardinal points.
Banteay Srei, the Women’s Temple, was our top pick in the category of small temples. This beauty is about 20 miles outside of Siem Reap and the trip there by car was amazing. You could see how people actually live in the country, which is on a shoestring. Nevertheless, Cambodians are industrious and find any number of ways to make a meager living.
The carvings were intricate and covered every square inch of this temple complex. It’s amazing to think this was done in the 10th century and is still here for us to enjoy today.
Outside the temple this group of musicians was raising funds for victims of land mines. One of the soloists played a leaf, which produced an eiery, high-pitched buzzing sound. He had several there; I guess they lose their buzz after a while.
Tuk-tuks were a feature everywhere we visited, taking different forms in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Siem Reap. This one had a built-in hammock!
The Banteay Srei Butterfly Center is an outdoor conservation garden. It was set up by a non-profit to help local farmers learn new farming techniques that support many families while also conserving forest land typically cleared for traditional farming.
After the hub-bub of the cities we spent a few of our final days on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. It is dotted with resorts and dominated by two popular beaches, Lamai and Cheweng. We stayed outside of Lamai in our own little paradise.
Our island “hut” with its little porch was right on this secluded beach. The tide is gradually taking over, but there is just enough sand to plant your lounge chair and umbrella. The day after we arrived we had a traditional Thai massage in an open air tent by the water. Wow!
Rocky’s has a beautiful open air restaurant, creatively named “The Dining Room.” One evening we ate outside on the rocks and then came in to listen to Koran Daniels play smooth BGM (background music) jazz. The fact that we actually listened, clapped and then danced to a final tune was a welcome treat for this transplant from New York.
Girls, Girls, Girls! This collection of bars was empty at noon, but we imagine it is hopping at night! Not sure what happens at the Titty Twister. Ouch!
And then there are the Ladyboys.
The ubiquitous scooters are fueled by some kind of funky gas that they sell at restaurants, laundromats and on the side of the road.
Our last dinner before heading home was at the Treetops restaurant on Cheweng Beach. Each dinning table is its own treehouse, complete with your genre of music and your own wait staff. They are connected by a series of bridges like the Swiss Family Robinson!
WHOA! Talk about a culture shock. No matter where you come from, this place is a shocker. Massive building going on in all directions with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The population is about 2 million, 85% of which are expats. They had 3 million tourists last year. And yet, there was hardly anyone on the streets, the roads were jammed with traffic and the metro was empty. Everyone is at the mall. They continue to build.
This is just a fraction of the collection of buildings, in scattered clumps across the city.
A respite inside our hotel at the Arabian Court. We saw people in traditional garb smoking tall water pipes called shisha, alongside fashionable tourists from all nationalities. A band on the roof was playing a rendition of “I’m not the only one,” by Sam Smith. Small world.
Hot cars everywhere, mostly stuck in traffic.
Palm Island construction, one of several mega-projects to support more development.
This is the aquarium at the Dubai Mall. There were two waterfalls and an ice skating rink.
The famous Burj Al Arab hotel sits on its own island in high contrast with the traditional Souk Madinat. It is reportedly a seven-star hotel. Not sure what they do for the extra stars!
Before I leave you, I have to tell you about our brush with the Taliban. Yes, the Taliban! We were trying to cross the city to recover an earring Yolanda thought she lost at a shop earlier in the day. We were in a time crunch, with checkout, dinner and flight home just hours away. Our Afghani taxi driver asked us where we were from, then proceeded to carry on about the war, how we are all made of the same blood, and how we misuse labels like the Taliban. In fact, he was a card carrying member, which he proudly displayed, in Arabic, with a photo from his youth. About that time we were getting anxious and traffic was at a halt. We were pretty sure he was saying we should all just get along, but his increasingly animated rant was making us nervous. At some point he decided we needed to get out, noting that it would be faster to walk. Whew! We found the earring.
And now for the finale. This was a once in a lifetime experience – a dinner at AtMosphere, the restaurant on the 123rd floor of the tallest building in the world. Don’t look down!