On To Thailand

I’ve realized I pretty much suck at travel blogging.  I’ve got the travel part pretty well squared away, but the blogging – not so much.  I’ve let things slip too far in the past and it seems strange making posts about things I did several months ago.  My postings have slowed even further to a snails pace as I adjust to life as an expat in Thailand. I endeavor to get caught up, or at least return to a somewhat regular posting schedule. We’ll see how it goes.

With that out of the way.  It’s on to Thailand for the next series of updates.

My original plan was to fly from London to Hong Kong and spend a few days exploring before heading on to Thailand.  A few days before I was about to depart, I came across an article talking about the upcoming “Golden Week” in China.  I’d never heard of this before, but my trip was smack at the start of it.

According to the article, it is one of the largest mass migrations of people on Earth.  Twice a year all the workers in China get a week off and take vacations – Golden Week.  Hong Kong is one of the main destinations and with the newly built high-speed train connecting it to the mainland it promised to be even more crowded than previous years.

With hundreds of thousands of people set to descend on Hong Kong I wasn’t too excited to visit.  I called my airline to see if I could change my flight and head into Bangkok instead of having a few days layover in Hong Kong.  A few minutes and a hundred dollars later I was all set.  Asian airlines are so much easier to deal with than the U.S. carriers when it comes to changing flights or cancelling them. 

I still had to connect in Hong Kong, which made for 16 hours of travel time.  I was flying Cathay Pacific Premium Economy class which made the trip a little more bearable.  To compare, a direct flight from London to Bangkok is about 12 hours.

I had to quickly rebook my hotels and I lost a few dollars having to cancel the one in Hong Kong, but it wasn’t too expensive – I think I only lost one night. 

Since I’d been staying at Europe’s equivalent of Motel 6 or Super 8, I decided to treat myself to something nice when I arrived in Bangkok.  I got a nice 4-star hotel for less than $100 USD a night.  It was the largest and nicest hotel I’d stayed in the entire trip.

Skipping Hong Kong put a bit of a wrinkle in my itinerary for Asia.  I had planned on getting a 60 day tourist visa for Thailand while I was in Hong Kong.  Arriving without it I got 30 days.  I had to do some planning and rearrange my destinations and dates.

The new plan was to spend about a week in Bangkok getting over the jetlag, sightseeing, and relaxing before heading up to Chiang Mai in the northern part of the country.  From there I would head to Laos to visit and get my visa at the Thai consulate there.  At least that sorted out the next few weeks.

Sightseeing In Bangkok

I’d been to Bangkok 10 years ago and seen all the major sights.  I thought I would revisit them on this trip and get some good photos to share with the folks back home who haven’t seen them before.

I have the hotel concierge get me a taxi to take me over to the Grand Palace.  Taxi’s are supposed to use their meters, but finding one that actually does is a challenge to say the least.  I can either wait around till the hotel finds one that agrees to use the meter or pay 200 Baht for the trip – about $6.  I opt for the latter.

Traffic is horrible in Bangkok, even worse than I remember.  It takes forever to get across town and the $6 is well earned.  Things have also changed at the Grand Palace.  The taxi used to drop you off across the street and you could walk right in the front gate.  Now with the large amount of Chinese package tours busing people in by the hundreds, they have a separate area setup for parking and drop offs about a block away.

The line to buy tickets was short and I had high hopes it wouldn’t be too crowded inside.  But once I was past the front gate it was a traffic jam of people.  I new I wouldn’t be getting any good photos this day, but I could still enjoy the experience.

The first thing I notice is that it is smaller than I remember.  But I was wide eyed and in awe of everything on my first visit. I had never strayed from North America at the time so everything seemed larger than life.

One of the things that engages me about Asia and Thailand is how many things are the same but at the same time different compared to the world back home.

You can walk into any church across Europe or America and you find tales and images of angels and demons. If you have grown up around the Christian faith, you don’t give it a second thought.  It is a familiar part of the culture and religion.

In Thailand, they have their angles and demons too, but they nothing like what we are used to.

It is common to see giant statues of Yaksha, spirits that protect the temples. Or statues of half-woman, half-bird creatures.

The Golden Chedi is a popular place for tourists to take photos next to smaller Yaksha.

I make my way to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, something that was closed the last time I visited.  It is home to a two foot tall Buddha Statue carved out of a single piece of jade stone.  It is hugely significant in Thai Culture and only the King or Crown Prince is allowed to touch it.

You can’t take photos inside, but one can try and take an image through an open window.  But you’ll need patience and a good zoom lens.  I had neither this day.

After some more exploring I decide to head out of the Temple and into the Palace grounds.  It is sweltering hot and the crowds are growing larger.

I find myself moving quickly past the Grand Palace.  There isn’t anything new for me to see here and you aren’t allowed inside.

A portion of the compound is under construction, so that expedites my departure.

On my way out, the changing of the guard is about to begin and I follow a troop of soldiers to the exit gate.  I’d seen the changing of the guard before and it is nothing special when compared to the spectacle in London.

I make it back to the hotel just in time as the skies open up with a mighty thunderstorm.  I arrived during the end of the monsoon season and it rains just about every day I’m in Bangkok.  Fortunately, it’s just for an hour or two and then things clear up again.

I spent the rest of the time eating, shopping, and exploring the city by foot and Skytrain.  Here is a little peak.

While I tend to eat Western Food most of the time, it’s always good to try new dishes.

Chicken Rice –  If not for the spicy chili sauce it would be the blandest dish around.  With the chili sauce, it’s tasty.

Singapore style roast pork

Nachos – Not half bad for Mexican food in Thailand, but those re-fried beans left a lot to be desired.

Terminal 21 Mall Bangkok – Every floor is decorated like a different city around the world

Thailand often looks like it was put together by a really bad DIY group versus professional construction workers.

While I had plans to visit more sights around Bangkok to share with you, after the crowds, heat, and lack of good photos at the Grand Palace I just wasn’t motivated to go revisit the other places.  Chiang Mai was the next stop on the list and there would be plenty for me to explore.

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