A Travellerspoint blog

Shopping, shopping, and more shopping

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The past two days have been mostly filled with shopping. We spent Friday night at Suan Lum Night Bazaar and on Saturday morning we went to Chatuchack Weekend Market, which is apparently the biggest market in Thailand. Most shops have signs warning against taking pictures, so we don't have anything to show. I'm not sure I entirely understand that rule, but that's the way things are. Most museums and temples also have that rule, but in those settings it's a bit more understandable.

We did get to see a lot of the city while shopping, though. There seems to be two sides of Bangkok. The street vendor, hawker market side and the high rise and giant shopping mall side. I prefer the former, but it's good to see both.

The high rise side:
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The street food side:
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This morning we had no plans, but decided on the fly to head out to Chinatown. It was well worth it. We got to take the Chao Praya Tourist Boat again, but this time we were significantly less jet lagged. The views from the river are stunning. There is a huge amount of traffic along the river unlike anything I've ever seen before. People genuinely use the river to get around and I can understand why. The skytrain (BTS) and metro (MRT) don't reach out far enough to hit things like the Grand Palace and Chinatown. You have to either take a boat or fight with dreaded Bangkok traffic.
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San Francisco's Chinatown, while it may be one of the best in the US, has nothing on this one. The streets were incredibly narrow, yet bikes and mopeds shared them with pedestrians, hawker carts, and store fronts. There was all sorts of merchandise out on the street, but we had done so much shopping already we didn't buy anything except for food. We do a lot of eating here, but everything is just so delicious.
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After that, we went to the National Museum, which was pretty cool, but probably would have been better earlier on in the trip. It was basically an introduction to Thailand, with dioramas depicting the history of the country as well as various artifacts throughout Thailand.
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We finished our day by visiting the Jim Thompson House. First of all, the house was beautiful, but what I found most interesting was that in 1967 Mr. Thompson went for a walk in the Malaysian jungles and just... vanished. No trace of him. However, he's best known for reviving the Thai Silk industry and creating his traditional Thai home, filled with artifacts from throughout southeast Asia. It was a really beautiful home and I'd totally live in a house like that if I had the money. (Freaky note: 2/3 of the house is exactly the sane design as my dream house,and I'd never heard of this place before today - Josh)

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We're back now and preparing to leave Bangkok tomorrow. We'll be headed to Ayutthaya, the ancient capitol of Thailand (known as Siam then). We'll be spending two, possibly three days there.

By the way, this is tonights dinner.
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Posted by slugtrek 02:16 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping Comments (1)

Crickets and Bananas

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The past 24 hours have been so jam packed with new experiences I don't even know where to begin. Chronologically? By how exciting it is? Well, we've got to start somewhere, so how about where we left off.

We got stood up on Khao San Road by our Internet friend, but not all was lost. Khao San is the backpacker center of Bangkok and it is truly the party capital of the city. After having a nice meal at one of the restaurants ("nice" means it was more than $2.. more like $4), we set off to explore. One of the first things we ran across was a food cart filled with bugs. Yes, bugs. Worms, scorpions, and unidentifiable creepy crawlies cooked up right there on the street.

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Josh and I were tempted by the scorpions, but we ended up getting a bag of crickets and chowing down right there to the dismay of a nearby crowd of western tourists. I was hesitant, but after biting down on the cricket it became just another piece of food. It was quite good, if not a bit too salty.

After that we got Traditional Thai Massages (the non-kinky kind). A half an hour was about $3USD. We totally should have gotten an hour, but we were unsure what we were in for and didn't want to commit to too much time. It was incredible! It wasn't just any old back massage. They went all out and massaged our backs, legs, scalps, necks, and faces. Needless to say I had the best night's sleep I've ever had.

This morning we woke up early, greeted by Kitty Meow Meow in the hallway, and headed to Ko Kret.
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This part of the trip almost didn't happen because we couldn't find the bus to take us there. It seems like it was a locals only bus that you just had to know about to find. The number wasn't written on any of the bus stops. We asked several people the best we could, saying "Ko Kret" and "Pak Kret" as well as the bus number "166," until we finally found someone who understood what we meant. The Victory Monument bus terminal is huge, so it was sort of like looking for a needle in a haystack.

But we found it and off we went. The stop was also difficult to find, but a kind Thai woman behind us helped us depart in the right place. We headed down some back allies "towards to water" asking "Ko Kret? Ko Kret?" every few blocks, only to be assured again that we were headed in the right direction. The dock was unmarked, hidden behind a Wat, but I saw the famous Stupa at the head of the island across the river and could finally relax. Ko Kret was in sight!

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We took a boat to the island, rented bikes and just... rode. No plan. No schedule. Just us, a couple of bikes, and Ko Kret.
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Along the way we ran across several food carts that looked like they were just set up on peoples' front porches. Again, we aren't sure what we ate exactly, but we do know that there were banana trees everywhere so we bought a bunch of them to supplement the "strange meat on a stick" that most of our meals have consisted of.

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Ko Kret is populated mostly by the Mon people. They are an ethnic minority in Thailand. The ones that have gathered on Ko Kret are particularly known for their pottery. We bought a bunch and need to figure out a way to get it home. We stored it in the basket of our bikes and every time we went over a speed bump they'd clank together, yet they are still in one piece!

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The trip ended suddenly. We rounded a corner and there was the bike rental lady ready to take our bikes and rent them to more people. We were fine giving them up though. We were sweating bullets at this point. Between us we drank seven bottles of water on our hour long trip around the island. We are very thankful to the wonderful Ko Kret residents who set up little stores on their porch with ice cold water at 10 Baht each (about 30 cents USD).

We hopped back on the boat and navigated our way back to the bus stop.
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But our adventure wasn't over! Bus 166 wasn't coming, but we saw a bus that said "JJ BTS" which is one BTS station away from our hostel, so we hopped on it. It was a super SUPER local bus that took the long way back to Bangkok. It took us about an hour. No air conditioning. No English. No idea where we were or where we were going. Thankfully Josh's iPhone had a compass app, so we knew we were headed towards Bangkok. Again, a friendly Thai woman helped us get off at the right "stop." I put "stop" in quotes because it was more like a slight slow down in busy traffic. We had to jump from a moving bus, but again our pottery did no break (and neither did we) so it all worked out in the end.

We are back in our Hostel. It's pouring outside and we have a bunch of bananas left to chow down on. As always, flickr, yadda yadda yadda...

Oh crap! Now it's thundering!

Posted by slugtrek 23:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The Tuk-tuk Scam (and other fun adventures)

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On our first full day in Bangkok we decided to head straight over to the Grand Palace. It's tradition to hit the most touristy site first, then spend the subsequent days seeing obscure or more offbeat sites. This doesn't mean we aren't well read on Bangkok. Quite the contrary. I've spent many weeks reading up on the trip and came to this country prepared for the common problems many tourists face. This fact severely annoyed one particular scammy Tuk-tuk driver... but more on that later.

First, the Grand Palace was remarkable. Words and pictures do not do it justice. You just have to see it for yourself to realize how overwhelming the whole complex is. However, we did take a lot of pictures so we will post just a few to at least try and convey how awesome it is. (Seriously, everything is covered in gold leaf and detailed down to small gems he size of your thumbnail on these giant columns. - Josh)
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In order to get to the Grand Palace we had to take a series of Sky Trains and then the Chao Praya river boat. The trip along the river was quite fun too.
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We hopped back on the Chao Praya boat and went to the next stop, unsure of what we were going to see. Apparently there was a "cool market" but what ended up happening to us was much more exciting. We randomly wandered around the area and ended up in what looked like a market for the little stalls and restaurants, which got us a few weird looks. We then ran across a Tourist Police Officer, or at least someone who had sewn the TAT badge onto their jacket. At first he seemed very helpful, but the moment he flagged down a Tuk-tuk driver things went south fast.

He asked us if we spoke Thai, which was red flag number one. He immediately flagged down a Tuk-tuk and started circling things on the map that the driver was suppose to take us too. It all sounded well and good, until he said "and then you'll go see the Lucky Buddha," which is the biggest red flag for a scam of them all. By this point we were already in the Tuk-tuk and committed to pay 40 Baht (about $2USD). We knew we were being scammed, but there was nothing we could do about it so we just tried to sit back and enjoy the ride.
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The "lucky Buddha" was a really small shrine with an attendant who tried to recommend random shops for us to go to (he'd get a commission if we shopped there). When we returned to the Tuk-tuk, he too tried to take us to the same shops, but we firmly refused (Yay, scam red flag number two - Josh). He started to realize we were onto him, but he continued on anyway.

He took us to a "Tourist Information Booth", where they tried to sell us tourist packages. We were supposed to be taken to the official tourism board booth, but this was a small privately owned one (Red flag number three! -Josh) We were in and out in less than a minute; as soon as they said the word "package" we booked it out of there. When we returned the driver was clearly annoyed that we didn't buy any of the packages (again, he missed out on some commissions). At this point we demanded to go straight to the Chao Praya Boat dock. We had several other things on the map circled, but we didn't care. We wanted to go home. He obliged. (He pretty much knew he was screwed trying to screw us by then - Josh)

The whole experience took about 20 minutes, but it could have taken a lot longer if we had been more gullible. We ended up out 40 Baht, but we got a great little Tuk-tuk ride through Bangkok and a great story to tell (thanks for reading). Hell, it was cheaper than riding the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz and a lot more fun for the money.

We are now back at our Hostel and waiting to go out and meet some Internet friends for a drink at Khao San Road. Before we wrap up this entry here are a couple of other great pictures that we just couldn't fit anywhere else in this post.

First, our friendly neighborhood cat that likes to hang out on our balcony. I've dubbed him Kitty Meow Meow.
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Second, this is Josh from last night. We sprawled out the maps and tried to figure out what we could do, but we were both too exhausted and ended up falling asleep before 6:00.
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We'll write again soon! Hopefully with far less scam stories to tell. As with the last trip, more pictures are up on flickr.

Posted by slugtrek 00:47 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Alive and well in Bangkok

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We've arrived safely in Bangkok. Our hostel is very far away from the main tourist areas, so we are experiencing quite a bit of culture shock... but in good way! We decided to take a walk to find where the nearest BTS (sky train) station is and on the way we passed cart after cart after cart of delicious food. Most of it was mere pennies. The most expensive thing we got was about a dollar, so we pretty much bought whatever we thought looked delicious (and gluten free). I have no idea what most of the stuff we just ate was, but it was incredible.

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Our taxi ride over to the hostel has already set the tone for the trip. We couldn't really communicate with the taxi driver, but somehow we got to where we needed to go so it worked out I guess. The billboards along the freeways were gigantic. We are talking Times Square gigantic, but everywhere! There are beautiful palm trees sandwiched between busy highways, crumbling buildings, and glistening Wats. The traffic is chaotic, the pedestrians are brisk, and the smells everywhere are overwhelming. I can't really believe I'm here.

We are exhausted, so we probably won't venture into the main city today. Tomorrow, however, we'll go and do the touristy things like seeing the Grand Palace, Chinatown, and all that stuff. We are far too delirious from our 14 hour plane ride to really appreciate any of it. Neither one of us are very good at sleeping on planes so we are running on only a couple hours of sleep in the past 24 hours.

By the way, we had a brief layover in Taipei. Though we'll have a longer one on the way back, we did manage to get a feel for the place. In Taiwan they don't mess around.
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Posted by slugtrek 16:03 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Four Days To Go

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Josh and I leave to southeast Asia in four days. Well, five days kind of. Our flight leaves just after midnight on Monday, so technically Tuesday morning, but we'll be leaving the house on Monday so we are counting that as the day we leave. We are incredibly excited! And I'm also incredibly nervous. We'll be going to some really out of the way locations, such as the jungle train in Malaysia and Bintan off the coast of Singapore. It's going to be quite an adventure to say the least.

We've decided to both have our cellphones on this trip, though mine will probably be off for most of the time and used only in emergencies. If you need to contact us you can call. Please keep in mind the time zone differences though, as a phone going off at 3:00am in a hostel is bound to bug our neighbors. If you aren't sure what time it is where we are, check out Sunrise Sunset.net and look for the city that we are closest to. If you aren't sure where we are, check out our itinerary from the last entry.

Well, this is it. This will probably be our last (or second to last) entry before we hit Thailand.

Posted by slugtrek 18:26 Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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