Saturday, February 25, 2012

Udon Thani, Northeastern Thailand

Leaving Bangkok before I'd seen everything on my bucket list was necessary if I was going to see more of the country.  The overnight sleeper train to Udon Thani was a pleasant and inexpensive way to get out of town.  Second class sleepers are what night train travel used to be like in the U.S. with daytime seating being converted to upper and lower berths for sleeping.  Curtains provide visual privacy for your bed made with fresh linens and a really nice thick woven blanket sealed in plastic so you know it has been freshly laundered.  The trip began at 8 PM and arrived in Udon at 8 AM next morning.  Price was about $14.  Food was available, but more expensive than eating off the train, but of course I am talking about dimes and not dollars more expensive.

Udon is in a part of Thailand that is not much visited by tourists, so prices are even less here than the rest of the country.  A very nice room here was $9 with bathroom, 60 channel TV, and balcony.  A friend from Alaska rents a condo in this town for $150 a month with weekly linen change.

All kinds of fruits, vegetables, and even hot food is peddled around town making it really convenient to eat anytime, anyplace.  Here Albert is buying a small bag of tangerines that were so sweet you realize the juice sold on the street does not have added sugar.

Thailand is tropical and a rice kind of country.  Beans are not grown here and are expensive.  At this western style restaurant which are always expensive compared to Thai food.  This bean dish is nearly $3 and I'd have to be one hungry Britt to order it.  If one can stick to eating Thai food meals are typically less than a dollar.

Chilies, on the other hand, are ubiquitous, and although there would be no reason to buy them unless you were doing your own cooking, would be cheap.  Thai people do not do much cooking at home since food is available everywhere and is good and cheap.  All food stalls pack meals to go which local folks pick up on their way home.  People worried about the food being too spicy will be comforted to know that much of the time spices are treated as condiments and are on the table for you to add as you wish.  When ordering for take-home just request "mai phet" (not spicy).

More Bangkok

Thailand is a country filled with Buddhist Wats.  Like churches in Europe, once you've seen a few you begin to focus on other sights unless you travel there specifically to meditate and learn about Buddhism.  This is Wat Pho and is large by Wat standards.  Most all Wats are enclosed by walls and are rather serene places in the midst of chaos.  One can often hear chanting in various temples  within the walls and visitors are welcome to enter and sit with monks.  At certain times monks will receive and bless members of the congregation.

There are several temples inside the wat and all have some kind of golden Buddha shrine where there are always chanting or meditating disciples on the floor.  One never sits with legs outstretched because facing the soles of your feet toward the Buddha is an insult.  Likewise one would never touch the top of another persons head because that is where the spirit resides.
The walls inside the confines of the famous "Reclining Buddha" are painted with historical representations of religious life which very few notice because the big attraction is where visitors attention is.

The Reclining Buddha is really huge and is confined in a cramped building making it difficult to get a good full-sized photo.  I've never seen so much gold leaf!

The grounds inside the wat are pleasantly landscaped with small gardens, waterfalls, small ponds, and inspired sculpture depicting deities. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bangkok City

Bangcock is really big and congested and there are so many things to do it is overwhelming until you just start to wear out and pick and choose your activities.

There are so many things to see and do in Bangkok one could spend a month or more and still not discover even the highlights.

Transportation is tricky, but once you learn bus schedules and canal boat opportunities getting around gets easier.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thailand, Arrival in Bangkok

Thailand is exactly halfway around the word.  In other words it's as far away as you can get without actually starting back home round the other side of the globe.  However one looks at it the flights are gruelingly long.... especially in coach class. I have to say that the return trip was much worse then the outbound which I suppose is in some way related to a worse attitude.  Total transit time on the return was about 30 hours, spending 23 hours in 4 different planes.  Of course I have a cold from spending so many hours in "cabin air".

What I have learned about choosing airline seats from this experience is that I will never again choose the right side window seat which are usually designated as "J" or "K".  I like a window seat because of that extra little space near the window.  I chose "A" seats (left side window) on the outbound flights and "J" seats (right side window) on the return.

Turns out that the airline switched equipment at some point for a larger jet and my "J" seat became a middle seat... the worst seat on the plane in my opinion.  Two big guys on either side of me had no alternative than take up both arm rests.  Their shoulders were actually directly over the arm rests.  From this day forward I will always choose "A" seats on long-hauls.

Bangkok is a huge and bustling city and trying to use taxis to get around, although very inexpensive, get gridlocked and you end up spending hours in traffic.  Exploring different modes of transportation will serve to save time getting around.  Buses, Longtail boats, canal boats, river boats, and moto (motorcycle) taxis are all viable quick vehicles for hopping from place to place.

These city photos were taken from the 78th floor of the tallest building in the city.  The view was as congested in all four directions.