Experience Thailand on last leg

Written Tuesday, 4-3-2012
for Monday, 4-2-2012

Disclaimer:  YES, this is too long to read in its entirety, but, I truly am leaving out so many details!  AND my main reason for writing this is to have a record of my travels from my perspective.  I am including even more details since we have 2 more hours in the Bangkok airport!!

Tuesday morning began with our breakbast bar at the Novotel.  Their free breakast is quite different than a USA free continental breakfast.  It is a feast: Indian food, African food, European food, American food and Asian food: omelet chef, cheeses, meats, salad, yogurts, muesli, waffles, fruits, pastries and breads.  Even a few steamed vegies.  PLUS, juices coffee, expressos and YES: LATTES!

Paul’s brother has provided a driver for us with his company van each day.  He also hired a local guide (Yui is Thai and does tours for the Korean population that visits).  Yui knows her way around town and has been a big help in staying 3 steps ahead of us by purchasing tickets and getting the details.

So the first place the five of us visited on Monday was Paul’s brother’s (Alex) facotroy.  It is call CAP (www.comechai.com) and they recycle high-quality aluminum (from windows).  The factory was about an hour away…way out in what we call the boonies.

Our travel to the factory, however was slowed.  We began to notice pilgrims, of sorts, wearing all white: men, women and children of all ages.  As we rode down the six lane road we noticed only a few dozen at first.  But as we continued  to travel there were more and more.  They were lining the sidewalks but like people do for a parade.  The dozens quickly turned into 100′s, all wearing white.  Then we noticed people laying red carpets on the road in front of the sidewalk.  The they began distributing bags and bags of flowers and petals.

As we continued at a snail’s pace on the other side of the road (we were, fortunately, traveling the wrong way) and as time passed, the flowers were poured onto the carpet.  Then the fancy van appeared.  Since, by this time, both sides of the road came to a halt, I jumped out of our van and began snapping pics!  The fancy van was going slowly followed by another fancy van with a golden Buddha on top.  That is when i noticed the DOZENS of orange-robed, head-shaved Buddhist monks.  It was called the 1,000 monk march but they were simply the predecessors to the HEAD HAUNCHO who, from what we understand, is rather charismatic and is the leader of this cult (my word).  The monks were everywhere, all in a straight line, all stoic, all walking.  (they had a LONG way to walk….!!)  WE never got to see a leader but we were told that it takes $300 a person to be his follower.

Traffic finally moved and we made it to CAP.  Upon arriving we were served tea in beautiful porcelain tea cups and a crumpet.  Then on for our personal tour.  CAP was in the flood that took place over many square miles of Thailand last October.  They showed us the 1 meter water-mark that kept the facility in water for a month.  Clean up lasted another 2 months after the water receded. CAP has about 150 employees, many from nearby Burma.  Alex is not as intricately involved as he use to be and little brother, Won Chi, runs it.  Both of Paul’s brothers were kind, accommodating and generous.  The factory was very impressive and they showed us all of the steps of the recycling process.  Pictures to follow!

Then we all visited a local restaurant.  Won Chi ordered American rice (his favorite!)  It was a pile of rice with KETCHUP in it! (ew!)  The gardens around this restaurant were stunning, Thailand has beautiful flowers…and they grow bougainvillea like the south grows azaleas.

From there we went to the OLD CITY, which was another hour away.  I truly didn’t get whether it was a monastery or a monastery in a city.  But, there were lots of buddha’s all over the place.  It was very hot there, so we snapped a few pics and then visited the local market which was not in full swing.  There i found the “girlfriends/fiance” a gift “made in India” (go figure!)

Next came the elephant ride.  When I saw the contraption that was the tied to the elephant as well as the loading dock, I opted not to take the 20 minute ride.  Paul was game to take my place, so he and Tim loaded up and went waddling off on the 28 year old trained pachyderm.   I am glad I was the photographer.  The elephants looked like they were treated well, but they (about 12 of them) were wearing chains (understandably) and therefore, it felt a little circusy.  It was yet, another adventure!

Then we dropped by another Buddhist monastery where Paul went to speak to one of the monks.

By this time we had run into afternoon traffic and had to forfeit our afternoon rest. :(

So we went on the Hotel Shangri La in which was next to the main river running thru Bangkok. We were about an hour early to meet Paul’s family so Tim and I ventured out on our own into the streets.  It was fun visiting the pharmacy, the Kabul house (yes, the owner was from Afghanistan!) and a local ladies shop where we were able to finish our souvenir shopping!  WE made it back to the hotel in time to order a freshly squeeze pineapple juice.  Then we were lead to the dinner-crise boat.  This treat was totally unexpected!

The tables were all set with linens and china and silver and crystal.  Our table was located in the read (aft) of the boat.  The weather was remarkably “PERFECT!”  The well dressed host gave us explanations of the dinner menu, the bathroom location as well as the duration of the cruise (2 hours).  AS the boat left the dock we noticed many other boats doing the same thing.  Some had teenagers (prom?), some only had a few people, and some looked like it was the Golden Coral.  The host urged us to go ahead into the airconditioned galley where a buffet fit for kings awaited  us: Lamb from Australia, Salmon, sushi, river prawns, river lobster, mussels, salads of all types (green, rice, lettuce, pasta) dressings….then the hot foods: lasagna, red snapper, cream based fish, stir-fired vegetables and rice, stir-fried beef, baked duck and crab cakes…I took photos since there is no way I could remember everything.

The dessert bar (yes we saved room) had tiramisu, cheesecake, Scottish cake, Homemade icecream and sherbert, and many Thai desserts (which are FAR different than the desserts we are use to!)  I tasted a bit of everything and enjoyed it with my Latte!  The pictures are great and I will post later!

The two hour cruise was stunning…the buildings, the high-dollar hotels, the shrines, and the churches (I think I saw 3 while I was here) gave us spectacular views as they reflected on the river.  WE finally found our half-way point (at the modern bridge) and turned around to head back.  20 minutes later we were back at our hotel…and 5 minutes later were asleep.

Today (Tuesday, 4/3/12) we, again, ate a lovely breakfast and then were back into the van.  However, the van grew as we had yet one more host: Pii Lau (Spelling uncertain!).  Pi Lau was the Thailand Ambassador to the USA in 1983 for 10 years!  (He also served as the Thai Ambassador to England for 4 years.)  He is in his late 70′s now, but accompanied us at the request of Alex’s wife, Noii, so that he could answer any questions on our trip to the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace was about 30 minutes (without bad traffic).  It was packed with people (think Disneyworld) but truly was GRAND!  It was very elaborate but due to  great deal of remodeling we were not able to visit the inside of if.  We were able to visit the emerald buddha which was inside a shrine on the Grand Palace campus. Tim really enjoyed viewing the weapons (guns, knives, killing-type-things and wants to begin an armory when we get back! We were able to get some great pictures and it was fun getting to know Pi Lau.

Then we stopped at a local spot for lunch on the side of the road to enjoy more of the local fare.  Paul bought lunch: $11.00 for 5 of us  ANother bargain!

So now, we continue to sit in the Bangkok airport.  WE have 3 indian hindu women to our left and many sleeping Asians all around us.

Ah, I long for home.

Jenni, I promise, I will write one more at the next airport…time for a bit of reflecting….

Chinatowne!!

Bright lights (Vegas style), road side vendors (can you say, “Shark fins!”?), and Chinese food, authentic style!!

Paul took Tim and I and his niece, Bee out to Chinatown tonight. We ate at a restaurant that is over 100 years old. Paul has a bad habit of ordering A LOT of food and the Chinese bring it swiftly, one dish at a time. This truly was a dining experience. We had this soup like thing served in a pot with heat under it. Next to it was raw fish and green veggies that we added to the boiling soup. I just watched and did what everyone else did. Everything was just happening so fast. Food kept coming along with different sauces to go uniquely with certain items. My brain was frying!

THEN, all of a sudden this large platter appear with a cooked piglet (as in baby pig). It had obviously been roasted over a fire as its skin was very hard and already cut into 1″x 2″ rectangles. We got a piece of that, put it on a tiny tortilla-like thing, put a little sauce on it and woofed it down. YES, very tasty. When we finished all the rectangles, they removed the piglet so they could finish cooking it to your liking. (Paul’s liking…!!)

After that we strolled up the street. Street vendors selling a myriad of beautiful vegetables, fruits and nuts lined the road. People were cooking at each one and/or squeezing juices from pomegranates or guavas. There were people roasting chestnuts, making Thai pancakes, roasting animals, cooking prawns, making Chinese ice cream. Paul continued to buy and share his food. However, he didn’t purchase any shark fins that were between $200-$700, based on its size!

The highlight of that stroll was not the food, but the music. This old Chinese gentleman was playing a peculiar (and unidentifiable) musical instrument that sounded much like a violin with an oriental flair. I was mesmerized. He never looked up but kept playing as people just walked by and ignored him. Paul put some money in his case that was next to his feet as he played. Tim handed me a bill that i leaned down and place in the case, too. The man looked at the bill and then looked up at me and offered a smile with his eyes. I suddenly got very teary and couldn’t stop the tears. I am not saying it was an angel, but it was an angelic moment…i still am moved when I think about it…that BEAUTIFUL sound that God put into this simple Chinese/Thai man in Chinatowne in Bangkok. God blessed me, and I am richer. I acknowledge that He allowed my path to cross this sweet musician’s, if just for a moment.

Dentures on the road side

Where as India was a feast for the nose, this is a feast for the eyes. The sights of Bangkok are new around every corner. We can be nearly anywhere, look around and see tall buildings for as far as the eye can see. Tack international bill boards on these high rises and you get visual overload. AS if that weren’t enough the sidewalks grab you! First there are a plethora of small golden Buddhist shrines each equipped with small platforms that act as the offering plate. (Offerings can range from money, to fruit, to cups of coffee. The buddhist monks, from what I understand, gather these things as their salary.) Then there are the street vendors who sell little buddhas, small dashboard size shrines, underwear, Rolex watches, Ray Bans, fruit, meat on a stick, and even dentures (yes, I took a picture!)

Paul and his family love to eat. So we eat constantly and in great quantities. It truly is overwhelming. I don’t even like Chinese food in America, but here eating Thai/Chinese is truly a beautiful experience for my old taste buds. For lunch we ate at a restaurant beside the canal. Paul just kept ordering appetizers and main dishes. There is hardly room on the table for anymore food and then Paul orders just “one more thing!”

Today we visited a couple of Buddhist temples. I was astounded at the number of people that attach their Boht (dollars) to offering “trees” and drop coins into the metal pots that line the walls. Then there are others, often times in families, that purchase incense sticks and flowers to lay on the altars after they pause for prayer.

I asked our guide, Yui, today if she had ever met a Christian. She paused slightly and said, “no.” From what she understood, Christians were people that begged God for what they wanted. I had already asked about what Buddhist believed and she had explained that, basically, one has to do more good that bad (they don’t use the word “sin”, but bad things). They hope that their good outweighs their bad. I took the time to share with her what Christians believe: there is only one God and He created everything from the birds, to people, to the stars in the universe. That He loves us and wanted us. I explained how sin (bad things) came into the world thru the first too people he made and how the God (our creator) loved all of us so much that he provided his son, Jesus, to take the punishment for the sin (bad things) that we have done so that he could bring us back into a relationship with him. OUR God, because of His love for us, worked for us, not us having to work for a god. All I have to do is believe that he did this. Once I do that, and because I believe that then I want to obey him. And he provides not only forgiveness for my sin, but his spirit comes and lives inside of me and helps me to obey AND gives me joy AND gives me PEACE (Yui said that we looked joyful). Paul took over then, but I did not understand ONE word of that Thai he spoke. WE will see Yui again tomorrow.

Oddly enough, at the second Buddhist temple, they have many optional ways to spend your money, and one of those ways was to have a massage. Paul made appointments for all of us and so all of us had wonderful massages. There was nothing odd about it and it helped us to get those plane-cricks out of our necks!

Also today, we visited the Jim Thompson silk factory outlet. It had beautiful fabrics and items made from silk, cotton and linens. The prices were a bit high but we had a good time looking.

WE also stopped by Paul’s daughter (Nat’s) boarding school that she attended while in high school. We met a man on the way to attend church. He was a Christian, but definitely in the minority. I asked how we could pray for him. He thought about that and said that people would want to hear the gospel of Jesus and believe in him.

We are ‘resting’ now and then we will go to Chinatown tonight!