Monday, December 17, 2012

Bangkok Experience

I will surely talk about Bangkok this time :) The city was hot and humid when we landed. Not knowing where to go, the only place that came to my mind was Khao San Road - I had read about this place as a backpacker's hole. All I wanted was a budgeted place to stay at Bangkok and I knew this place offered such.

But as they say, all things fall in place; it turned out that it was the perfect place to be. It had an amazing night life, night markets that sell from cheap trinkets, clothes, books and good food. Khao San Road had it all; and above all it was just a km away from the Chang Pier, Chao Praya Road and the famous Grand Palace complex. I did read about its proximity to famous places and seen the map as well, but had forgotten all about it until I discovered it again.

Got an amazing place to stay for 700Baht at the second hotel we saw; the first one offered a room for 300Baht but was a matchbox hole with no ventilation. Cheap food and drinks and though it was walking distance to famous places as I said, got almost duped on the first day. This is what happens. As soon as you get onto the street, tuk-tuk guys hustle around you offering you to take to Grand Palace and such. We thought we could talk to guys in the hotel or other shops and get the directions to Grand Palace. But it seems none of them knew where Grand Palace was!!! Maybe they were all small town guys here to slog hard and earn some money. We talked for a while and came to an intersection, having a huge map was a big mistake. A guy who was well dressed walked by and offered to help. How we got duped is a separate post in itself :)

Thailand is all about street food, you will never go hungry at all. Hygenic and cheap food, they are available when the devil goes to sleep or at the break of dawn, at the most sophisticated business district or at toursit spots. What amazed me is how they take pain to keep the streets clean; these food cart folks dont leave the garbage behind. The varieties are mammoth; you just need to have an appetite. A lip-smacking sea food at 30B and you get squids, octopus, sappers and what not. Unfortunate if you are a vegetarian like me.

Here is the food market just opposite to Grand Palace on the banks of the river Chao Praya.

 The aroma is electric again, not everyone may like it but if you are there, experience it.

The Khao San Road, its a sleepy little street during day time and the sun prepares to set; the mood alleviates.  Clothes, accessories, books, food, pub and fun all go hand in hand. The street is closed for motorists and cars.

This is what I mean. 

A pub was celebrating 15th anniversary. The waiters dancing to Gangnam Style 

 They were offering free buffet - but again unfortunately I couldn't taste much apart from the desserts.

I was watching this man prepare a dessert. He was so quick and efficient and churning out the blue sticky dessert. I later found out that this dessert has chicken shreds as a topping :-/

Among the desserts and street food in Thailand, these are the famous. Khanom Buang are small crispy crepes made of rice flour and has sweet fillings like coconut cream and shredded coconut. They are a treat to eat. 

This lady was preparing nuggets of some meat. 

Chefs at work. 

Fruit cart. I ate Dragon fruit and Yellow Water melons for the first time :) 

How many of you are saying Yummm? Sea food grilled - noodles, soup, or with rice. She is grilling octopus ordered by my husband while I was just looking. 

As lively as the street gets. 

The music and drinks flow until 4 AM. These folks are sitting and dancing on the road which actually is a nice wide road for cars and tuk-tuks.

Snacks anyone? Crunchy and protein filled

Well...You dont need an ID :) 

Monday, December 10, 2012


Bangkok was the first destination. What it means is that I knew it was Bangkok but where in Bangkok? More often, we try to forget the vastness of our mother earth and just assume that things can be easy. Bangkok is one big city and not knowing where you want to go after coming out of an airport is a case of insanity. Tired due to lack of sleep and early morning blues; the answer to the taxi driver's question of  "Where to?" after exiting Suvarnabhumi airport was confusion and exchanged looks.

We did spend a good 30 minutes soon after landing trying to figure out where to go. A true traveler has no fixed plan, and has no intent on arriving - Laozi. I so believe this. What fun is it if you know which hotel you are staying, what kind of bed you will have and what food you will eat for your next meal? How predictable? OR how so BORING?

Thus, never thought while flying or back home when planning where to stay, what to do, what to eat. All that was known was the cities in that order so as to book the flight tickets. I have always thought if I was a traveler or a tourist? Which category do I belong? Is there a distinction between the two? At least not for the locals of the place. We are all visitors to them. 

To me, there is a distinction. I call myself a traveler; oh no! not the kind who shun the "touristy" places  like monuments, heritage sites, museums, parks, markets. I would definitely visit those touristy places; if not what else will I have to see? But additionally, I would also explore the hidden gems of the land; to get an authentic experience. Now such places have also become 'touristy' with travel shops offering an 'authentic' experience.

Anyway, my point is a traveler should be open minded and embrace the place as is without complaints  with a hunger to experience. Oh yeah! there were times when I exclaimed "How do they eat this?" but this is my natural human tendency. Complaining is what one must avoid.

The mystique that surrounds the traveler - aah no words to express. Folks, go out and experience is what I would say. The spirit of adventure, grittiness and that urge to experience the unknown is how a traveler differs from a tourist. But its difficult to be a pure traveler; my own travels have been touristy often but cant be avoided. Just the spirit and open mindedness is not enough; one needs enough time as well; free from the clutches of career, finance and responsibilities. I dont get the luxury of letting myself lose with time being more luxurious commodity than budget. How I wish my parents left me good property and money! :-P

So I wouldn't agree if someone said a traveler is one who eats only local food, moves very slowly or lives in a shack to live the way a local would does not necessarily make one a traveler. I have seen such 'travelers' mingling with fellow travelers holing up in a hostel sipping cheap beers; not really venturing out anywhere to experience the place or talk to locals. To me, its about learning something new, experiencing the place, taking a piece of the spirit of the place with me when I leave. The thirst grows and compels only some of us and prepares you for the next you wouldn't even dream of. I never thought I would turn up one fine day in the rain forests of Costa Rica or feel the silk cotton trees outgrowing in the ruins of Ta Prohm at Siem Reap. And who knows maybe I would be walking the landscape of Tierra del Fuego on my way to Antarctica?

What each one of us gain is our own making; the goal is learning about yourself and the world and discovering yourself in the process. Every destination is not a check list to be ticked off; but a point of departure to another place. It need not be exotic location; it could be anywhere. A traveler cant differentiate between a good place and a bad place, wont be able to answer "Which is the best place you have been yet?" For him, every place is unique and offers something different and the possibilities are endless.

When you are a traveler; you are blessed to experience every little thing and cursed with a drive to discover.

Aw, I started to write about Bangkok and realized I deviated. The travel bug in me took over. I will leave this piece as is; Bangkok in my next post :)

Friday, December 7, 2012


Yes, I had this long long wish to visit the Angkor Wat and play in the turquoise waters of Phi Phi. This year, I was contemplating whether to visit Indonesia along with Cambodia. It turned out that Thailand and Cambodia were convenient. And yeah, also had Morocco, Jordan, Madagascar, Turkey in mind; maybe definitely in future.

The experience was as expected different. Be it the food, people, culture and the history. It is nice to see people just let you be, no ogling or no teasing; of course except few tourist places where they pursue you to take a rickshaw or try to have you in their restaurant. This trip was another semi backpacker adventurous trip. No prior hotel booking; with just the plan of where to go next; we had to search for stays and food only after landing in a place.

English is not widely used in both the countries; and even if used; its difficult to follow their accent. Took us a while to follow what they were communicating.  Food was challenging - with exotic stuffs like frog, crocodile, grasshoppers, silk worms and scorpions as snacks. I did a mistake; didnt budget the trip properly; so it was a bit stressful. I think I am now a seasoned traveler and yet need to a smart traveler. Few things could have gone well; and few things turned out better than expected.

Thailand was clean, people were good except for few cons here and there at tourist places esp the tuk-tuk guys. I was actually surprised to see their infrastructure, roads and  other facilities. Cambodia took us like 30 years back. The country is poor, the civil war and the genocide is a deep gash in the heart of Cambodians. You cant avoid feeling depressed and you need the gut to watch the gruesome prison and killing fields. Beggars and street kids selling stuff everywhere; the Siem Reap area is where all the tourists flock to see the great Angkor Wat.

The trip was somewhat a circuit. Started at Bangkok, went to northern Thailand the city of Chaing Mai. Chaing Mai was quiet, green and hill country; it was good for trekking, hiking, kayaking and other such outdoor activities amidst rain forests and rivers.The next stop was Phnom Penh - the capital of Cambodia via Bangkok and from thereon to the much awaited Seam Reap. Back to Bangkok to Phuket to fall in the Andaman sea.

The trip was 16 days; at times I felt we were rushing but we do not have the luxury of long holidays to live the life like a local would. I think that may happen after retirement. I did not show special interest towards photography this time. The reason is that its not possible to capture the details the way you want to when you are pressed for time. For that, you have to make a trip twice, first time to see it all yourself and the second time to capture it on camera.

Anyway I did get few good pictures. At Bangkok, it was mostly street life, food and the grand palace complex and Wats(temples). Here are few pictures of the Grand Palace complex at Bangkok

The Grand Palace complex at Bangkok - official residence of the King. The complex has numerous buildings, halls some converted as museum, pavilions, lawns, gardens and courtyards. A view of Wat Phra Kaew - The temple of Emerald Buddha along with Phra Sri Rattana Chedi.

Wat Phra Kaew has a plethora of buildings. Its the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. 

Emerald Buddha - is the palladium of the kingdom of Thailand; like the sacred tooth relic of Sri Lanka. Its 45 cm tall sitting Buddha made of green Jade. It was mistaken for emerald and thus the name stays. Only the king has permission to touch the idol. According to the legend the image was created in India in 43 BC by Nagasena(a Brahmin who became a Buddhist monk) in the city of Pataliputra. Its a long story; you can find it here Emerald Buddha. Photography was prohibited; I managed to sneak a snap

Phra Mondop - Library build in Thai style beside the chedi.

A close up of building, intricately decorated with colored glass pieces. It glitters so bright that one can't see them well during a bright day.

The Chedi and Prayer rooms

You kind of get lost in these numerous sisimilar looking buildings. Top of it; the names of them are so alien to you that you dont remember what is what and how politically or socially or religiously important they are to this country.

A close up a pillar stuck with colored glass and other knick-knacks.

A gold painted wall.

Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat - its a throne hall. The architecture is Western lower half and Thai roof.

At the far end is the Phra Thinang Dusit Maha Prasat

A royal guard

The sprawling complex

The Dusit Maha Prasat is a throne hall built on a symmetrical cruciform form and looks beautiful. The hall is built in the shape of a tall mountain to represent the mythological center of universe - Mount Meru.

A fruit cart outside the complex

Bangkok's true spirit lies in street food. Pictures of food and more later.