Category Archives: Bangkok

Wat Traimit

As I indicated in the previous Chinatown post, I did have enough time to tour Wat Traimit, one of the big attractions of Chinatown. According to the link on that post, the Golden Buddha in Traimit is the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image, weighing in at 5.5 tons and standing 15 feet tall (although the image is seated). So, at today’s gold prices, the image is worth quite a few millions of dollars!

Wat Traimit Buddha
Wat Traimit Buddha

There’s also an interesting history of the 13th century statue, a history involving deception and discovery. Again, check out the link to read about the image.

Here’s another smaller Buddha image that’s near the Golden Buddha.

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue
Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

There’s also a detailed history of Chinatown located in a second-floor exhibition, which shows 3D life-sized scenes of daily living and which also includes a scale model of Chinatown as it looked in the mid 1950s or so. This was the only photo I got of the exhibition, since most museums and similar places don’t allow you to take photos. I didn’t see any signs forbidding it, but I didn’t want to offend anyone. At the final exhibit, the scale model of Chinatown, I saw someone else taking a shot, so I figured it was ok and took the one below. As with all the photos taken this vacation trip, I had only my pocket point-and-shoot with me. It’s a good camera, but it doesn’t do too well in dark lighting, so I had to crank up the ISO to capture this shot. In post-processing, I removed most of the digital noise that’s usually present with high ISO settings, but in doing so, the image lost some of its sharpness, as you can see in the photo below. I’ll have to bring along my small tripod next time.

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit
Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

And, of course, here are a few shots of the exterior of the wat. As you can see, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is honored everywhere.

Wat Traimit exterior
Wat Traimit
Wat Traimit Bell
Wat Traimit Bell
Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic
Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

This one is looking up to the spire from a position close to one of the outside walls.

Wat Traimit
Wat Traimit

Directly next door to Wat Traimit is a smaller temple, sort of an annex. Here’s a detail shot of the roof of that area.

Wat Traimit annex
Wat Traimit annex roof detail

Also next to Traimit is a boys’ school (well, I didn’t see any girls, so I assume it’s a boys’ school). At the entrance to the school is a statue of a scholar (again, I assume) from days gone by. Here are the kids during what appears to be recess.

Boys' school next to Wat Traimit.
Boys' School recess

And the scholar.

Boys' school statue
Boys' school scholar statue.

Finally, I did have some time to go to the Siam Paragon shopping mall to buy some reading material. They usually have some kind of display outside the center, and this year’s set-up featured an Alice in Wonderland motif. (Pretty girls not included) Quite colorful.

Siam Paragon display
Alice in Wonderland at Siam Paragon shopping center

OK, that’s about it for the Bangkok portion of the trip. It feels like I’ve kind of over-saturated the blog with too many photos of the trip already, so I’ll just post a few more from Nong Khai and Laos a bit later. In the meantime, I’ll process the new Expo 2012 photos I took this past Saturday and get those up soon. More later.

Laos-Thailand Trip Report: Bangkok’s Chinatown

In all my previous visits to Bangkok, I’d never visited Chinatown, except for a crazy tuk-tuk ride on my way to another area several years ago. I’ve read and heard that this section of Bangkok is one of the city’s most interesting and fascinating to visit. Here’s what Lonely Planet has to say about it:

“Bangkok’s Chinatown is the urban explorer’s equivalent of the Amazon Basin. The highlights here are a rather complicated web of tiny alleyways, crowded markets and delicious street stalls. Unlike other Chinatowns around the world, Bangkok’s is defiantly ungentrified, and getting lost in it is probably the best thing that could happen to you. The neighbourhood dates back to 1782 and relatively little has changed since then. You can still catch conversations in various Chinese dialects, buy Chinese herbal cures or taste Chinese dishes not available elsewhere in Thailand. Getting in and out of Chinatown is hindered by horrendous traffic but the area is a brief walk from Hualamphong Metro station.”

Although my time in Bangkok was very limited this trip, I decided to take a brief excursion to the Chinatown area, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to see it in depth. I had several hours to kill before I hopped aboard the overnight express to Nong Khai, so I dropped off my big bag at the luggage holding room at Hualamphong Railway Station and made the short walk (15 minutes) to Chinatown.

It’s easy to find the main road, Yaowarat–just look for the large gate marking the beginning of the area.

One of Chinatown’s main attractions is Wat Traimit, which is a short walk from the gate (I took the shot of the gate from the top of Traimit). It was on the right hand side of the road as I was walking down Yaowarat.

I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to spend browsing around the area, so I decided to visit the temple on the way back, if I had time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have all that much time to spend in Chinatown, with its many shops, side streets and vendors’ stalls. It was extremely busy and crowded with shoppers and tourists, and walking was quite slow, although it’s probably faster than driving. Motor bikes would probably be the fastest way of traveling through the dense mass of traffic.

It’s a very popular place to buy gold, gems and other jewelry, but it appeared that, in the short time I spent there, you could buy just about anything you might be looking for. Here are a few items that caught my attention.

Traditional clothing.

Tassels

Fruit and vegetables.

Stuffed crab, anyone? Chinatown is renowned for it’s nighttime outdoor eating venues. Unfortunately, by nightfall I’d be on the train to Nong Khai. The next time I’m in Bangkok, I definitely want to visit this area at night.

Oh, and did I hear you say that you need a barber’s chair?

So, just about anything you need or want, you can probably find it here.

Yes, I did return to Wat Traimit and took the tour of the temple area. This post is getting rather long, so I’ll save the wat for next time. More later.

Vacation Time

It’s the end of the fall semester, so, as usual, I’ve been busy with final assessments, grading, paperwork, meetings and other duties. But soon, however, I’ll be vacationing in Laos (mainly) to visit with my friend Nai and his family. Korea’s weather is starting to turn wintry cold, so spending some time in a more tropical clime is very appealing, of course.

I’m not going for a long time–just a bit more than a few weeks. My Air China flight to Bangkok leaves next Monday around noon, and I’ll be back in Yeosu on January 5th. I got a pretty good price on the flight about a month and a half ago, but that price came with some long layover times in Beijing, five or so hours going and more than seven hours coming back. Going to Bangkok will be the worst leg of the trip. I’ll be leaving Yeosu on the 11 p.m. bus to Incheon Airport, which arrives around 4:30 in the morning. Since my flight doesn’t take off until around noon, I’ll have a long wait. Incheon, however, is one of the top rated airports in the world, so I don’t mind hanging around there for that amount of time. Then, I go to Beijing and have a wait of about 5 hours until I go to Bangkok. I don’t arrive in the “City of Angels” until around midnight. From there, I’ll take a taxi to my hotel, probably not getting to sleep until 2 a.m. A long day, indeed.

After goofing around in Bangkok for an all-too-short while, I’ll take the overnight train to Nongkhai on the evening of the 21st, arriving there the next day around 8:30 in the morning. I’ll spend a few days in Nongkhai with Nai, then we’ll cross the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and . . . hmmm, not really sure. We might head up to Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang, or we might decide to stay at his family residence for Christmas and New Year. Christmas in a Buddhist, Communist country–an interesting place to spend the holidays, to say the least.

Finally, after whatever adventures and strange situations that occur in Laos, I’ll take the train back to Bangkok and take a flight back to Incheon on the 4th of January, including another long layover in Beijing. Such is the cost of cheap airline tickets.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep you posted about the trip, so stay tuned for more later.

Final Vacation Photos

Here are a few more photos from my recent trip to Laos and Thailand. This is one of my favorite views of Bangkok, looking into the Silom area and taken from the statue of King Rama VI in Lumphini Park. I probably should have tried to take a panoramic shot to give a better sense of the beautiful skyline that surrounds the park, but this small sample will have to suffice for now. Maybe next time.

After a few days in Bangkok, it was on to Phuket and Patong Beach. We spent a week there, lazing away the days on the beach while getting a sunburn and enjoying the nightlife. I’m always tempted to try the para gliding offered at the beach, but the price seems too steep (about $20) for the short ride (about 2 1/2 minutes). It’s kind of fun, though, to watch people taking off and landing.

The beach is usually crowded, but it’s not too bad to sit under an umbrella and read a book or “people watch.” You can’t see the lifeguard station in this shot, but at least one or two people had to be rescued every day due to the strong undercurrent in this area. The guards kept warning people out of the restricted area, but there were always a few people who ignored the warnings or accidentally strayed into the red zone. Fortunately, no one drowned.

Near day’s end.

Ok, that wraps up my vacation shots. I’ll try to get some Yeosu photos up soon, although this week sees the beginning of a 3-week kids’ camp and next week marks the start of a week long camp for children of faculty members, so I’ll be quite a bit busier than I have been.

Thai Planes, Trains and Mototaxis

This is the first post, then, about my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos. Let me say congratulations, though, to Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the winning party in Thailand’s recent election, future Prime Minister and sister of deposed ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Hopefully, the election will help to unite the country and heal the wounds caused by all the strife there recently. Some commentators on Thai politics think it will be a good thing, but there are those who think another military coup is possible. I left the country just a few days before the election, and, while I did see more than a little campaigning going on, I didn’t see any demonstrations or acts of violence. Good luck, people of Thailand!

Next, I have to comment on the quality of Thai Airways. I used to enjoy flying with the “Smooth as Silk” airline, but lately their service has really declined. The quality of the food served on flights has gone down noticeably from, oh, say about five years ago; the attendants, while not surly, don’t seem as interested or caring; and the in-flight entertainment has become sub-par. On the trip to Bangkok, all we had were the overhead video monitors–no individual seatback screens with video on demand (older planes, I guess). On the trip back to Korea, we did, indeed, have the video on demand, individual screen system–nice. However, less than halfway through the flight, the system went down–no video, no music to listen to, nothing. That made for a much longer flight. Yeesh! I’m gonna have to start booking my travel on another airline, methinks. Sorry, Thai Air, you’re gonna have to pick it up quite a bit to keep my business.

Ok, I got that out of the way. I only stayed in Bangkok for one night, so I didn’t get around too much. One thing I always do in Bangkok is eat at the Bourbon St. Restaurant, which, as you might guess, serves mouth-watering Cajun cuisine. It’s only about a kilometer or so from the hotel, so I could have walked there. I felt like having a little fun, though, so I decided to take a motorbike mototaxi, a rather unsafe way to travel in Bangkok’s notorious traffic.

It was around 7 p.m. and Sukhumvit Road was experiencing its usual rush-hour jam, so taking a regular taxi probably would have taken around half an hour. On a mototaxi, it took about 10 minutes, with the driver weaving between the non-moving cars and buses, working his way to the front of the pack waiting for the traffic light to change. Then, at the green light, he roared to the back of the next stalled pack and again squeezed to the front. You have to really keep your arms and legs tight to the bike–you’re the meat in a sandwich and the buses and cars are the bread. It’s actually not that bad in a traffic jam, because not too many of the big vehicles are moving–just watch the arms and legs. I took a couple of videos while I was riding on the back, holding on for dear life with one hand and holding my compact camera with the other. I’ll try to get one of them posted here for your amusement.

So, I did make it to the restaurant ok and had a great meal of red beans and rice. Fantastic! Be sure to give the Bourbon St. a try if you’r ever in Bangkok. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Check their website for directions.

Another thing I like about Bangkok is all the surprising cultural trappings that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I walked back to Sukhumvit 11 (no sense pressing my luck on the mototaxis), and this statue caught my attention. It looks like it might be a shrine of some sort, and it was located across the street in front of a bank or department store–I really don’t remember which. I didn’t notice it on the ride down, but that was probably because I was too busy taking the videos and trying not to die. 🙂

More mundane transportation is the overnight train to Nong Khai. It departs from Hua Lamphong Station at 8:30 p.m. and arrives in Nong Khai around 8:30 a.m. The train is usually late by about 20-30 minutes, although it’s been on time occasionally on my past trips, but this time we were 2 HOURS late getting into the northeastern Thai city. Again, on the return trip, the train was almost 2 hours late arriving in Bangkok. Very unusual, but not a big problem for me, since I wasn’t on any real pressing time schedule. (Nai had a pretty long wait in meeting me, though.)

Here’s a shot of Hua Lamphong I took from a restaurant above the main waiting area.

I kind of like the rickety, over-aged night train–it’s seems like an escape to the past, when people weren’t in such a hell-bent-for-leather hurry to get somewhere else. On the train, it’s not the arrival that’s important, it’s the trip. The train has a dining car, so I rocked and rolled my way down a few cars and sat down to have a snack. You meet all sorts of interesting folks. I talked to one Norwegian guy who co-owns a guest house in Vang Vieng, Laos, and he told me that the police up in the “frat” town (about which I’ve previously posted) had clamped down on the after hours (closing time–midnight) partying there. That’s excellent news–it’s a beautiful area, but the young backpackers that seemed to party ’round the clock had turned it into something less than appealing to older folks like me.

I also struck up a conversation with one of the police who patrol the cars, checking passports, watching for thievery, and other such mundane chores. I took a photo, but for some reason I had the settings on my camera messed up and didn’t get a clear shot of him. However, it does give some idea of the swaying motion of the train, so I kind of like it anyway.

So, I’ll end this rather long post with my arrival in Nong Khai and try to get some more photos and stories up this weekend. Stay tuned.

Back in Bangkok

I’m back in Bangkok again, and it’s still the polluted, noisy, smelly, hectic and crazy place it’s always been on my past trips–I love it! Not because it’s polluted or noisy or smelly (some of the smells are wonderful), but those detriments do seem to add to its edgy appeal to me. Seoul–that huge megacity–doesn’t have the same attraction; it just seems to sterile, too mundane, and too predictable. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a nice city and many people love it. Nothing wrong with that. But for me, that’s the difference–Seoul’s nice, but Bangkok is NASTY! Nasty, though, in a good way. 🙂

I’m heading north this evening on the overnight train to Nong Khai, where I’ll meet up with Nai tomorrow morning. I’ll probably spend a few days in Nong Khai, then go to Laos for several more, then back to Bangkok and to Phuket on the 22nd. More later.

In Memory Of

I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t write about the loss of one of our good friends in Bangkok. When Nai and I go to the Big Mango, we always look up our friends Git and Goh. We can usually find out where they’re hanging out by checking in at a hole-in-the-wall (HITW) restaurant/bar/karaoke where Git has worked at times and where he can quite often be found. We went there in late June and Nai asked about Git. The folks who own the place, who always welcome us with open arms, spoke with Nai for a bit, and Nai turned to me and said “Git die.” “What?!” I said. We were both too stunned for words. What a complete shock. It seems that he was getting severe headaches, but didn’t go see a doctor until it was too late. He passed on just after Songkran, around the middle of April, from what, I don’t know–encephalitis, meningitis, an edema or tumor?

Git was such an extremely outgoing guy, enthusiastic, polite. He was the one who would fill your glass with beer or ice if you were running low on either, the one who would wipe off a wet or messy table, the guy who would go punch in your karaoke tune. Though he wasn’t that great of a singer, he loved karaoke. He always encouraged me to give it a go, though I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. The night we found out about his death, Nai and I went to our favorite karaoke bar and I sang a Beatles tune, “In My Life,” dedicated to him. A lot of tears were shed. We’ll miss you, Git. Rest In Peace.

Here’s a shot of Goh (on the left) and Git enjoying a bit too much beer in one of our favorite karaokes.

Coincidentally, while Nai and I were there this past June, Goh, who is deeply broken-hearted by the loss of his friend, was recuperating from what I think was an appendectomy up in his hometown of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. Nai phoned him after getting his number from the people working in the HITW restaurant/bar/karaoke, and from the description Nai gave me of his medical problem, it sounded like appendicitis. Goh will be back in Bangkok by now. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t post a photo of our friends who own and work in the HITW place. Quintessential Thai–friendly, fun-loving and welcoming.

Laos Update

After an uneventful journey on the overnight train to Nong Khai, I met up with Nai and we decided to stay in the small border city for a few days before going to Laos. At the moment, I’m in Vientiane, and I still haven’t decided whether to venture up to Vang Vieng or to go back to Bangkok tomorrow and then to either Phuket or Hua Hin to take in a few days at the beach.

Nong Khai hasn’t changed all that much, unlike Bangkok, which has dozens of new buildings going up and old ones being torn down; the skyline seems to be in a constant flux, undecided as to what face it wants to show. Everything is open again, at least those places not destroyed by arson in the recent protests. There are very few signs of the trouble, though a cleaning man pointed out a couple of bullet holes in the metal railing of one of the skywalks near Central World, courtesy of the Thai army, he told me.

Vientiane is also seeing a lot of activity, with new construction going on in the city itself and along the banks of the Mekong, where a new waterfront park is slowly taking shape. It’s been very dry and hot here, though we’re getting a bit of rain this morning. I’m not sure where my next post will be from, but I’ll certainly have more later.

In Bangkok

Last week and the week before, I managed to wade through all the interviews, exams and paperwork associated with the end of a semester, and now I couldn’t be farther from that atmosphere. I’m writing this post sitting in an outdoor bar/restaurant in Bangkok on one of the side streets of Sukhumvit Road, one of the main thoroughfares and tourist areas of The Big Mango. I said goodbye to each of my classes and most of my students were happy to see me go, ummm . . . , that is to say, they wished me well on my vacation. If you’re interested, you can view the class photos I took here.

When I left Incheon Airport yesterday, it was raining and had been doing so for hours. Bangkok, in contrast, was sunny, humid and hot. When I walked out of air-conditioned Suvarnabhumi Airport, I was smacked in the face with the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of Bangkok. I suppose it was more like my senses being eveloped by a big, wet dish rag as I was immediately soaking with sweat. However, it was not an unfamiliar nor unpleasant feeling, but more like a welcoming one. For those who’ve never visited Thailand before, the impression can be overwhelming and off-putting, or addicting. I’m addicted.

The best time to see the city is in the early morning, before all the hustle and bustle begins and when it’s still fairly cool. That’s what I did today, taking the sky train a few stops up Sukhumvit from the Nana stop, where my hotel is located, then walking to the MBK (Mahboonkrong) shopping mall, with time out to take a few photos of the Central World mall, site of a huge fire during the recent protests.

Here’s a shot of the former Zen World, an upscale portion of the huge mall. This one’s from my compact digital cam, and when I return to Korea, I’ll post some from the big DSLR.

(EDIT: I keep beating my head against a brick wall, trying to upload the photo using the computer from an Internet shop near my hotel, but it just isn’t working. I’ll try again at another time and place.)

(EDIT AGAIN: Got it uploaded finally.)

It was a nice walk, with the only bummer being that I lost my Mio watch, which has a built-in heart-rate monitor, timer, and calorie counter. It cost about $100 and it was great for jogging. The watchband had broken and I had put it in my bag where my camera was at. There was about 3/4 of the band still attached to the watch, and when I took out the camera, the band must have hooked onto the camera strap and then fallen to the ground unnoticed by me. I’ll probably order a new one from Amazon.com. In the meantime, I’ll get a cheap timepiece here. In fact, I saw a street vendor who is selling Rolexes for $20. Wow, what a great deal!

I’m taking the train to Nong Khai tomorrow evening to go see Nai. I’ll post more later.

. . . Crazy Too Much

My Lao friend Nai, whose mother was born in Thailand and who dearly loves the country, comments on the latest turmoil there by saying “some Thai people crazy too much.” Indeed. The Land of Smiles (what a misnomer these days) seems to be on the verge of all-out civil war, at least in Bangkok, though the strife could easily spread to some of the other provinces. I watch the updates on CNN and see lots of videos and photos of places that I’m familiar with in the Big Mango. I dearly love the country and the people, but it appears that there are few options remaining that will keep total chaos and anarchy from descending.

Two possibilities that might end the current fighting, at least temporarily, are kind of like good news-bad news or good cop-bad cop scenarios. The positive situation would be that Thailand’s revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, would give some advice about what should be done. He’s considered to be almost like a deity to most Thai people, but his word is not law. Instead, it is above the law, so to speak. He intervenes very rarely in these types of situations, but when he does, everyone listens and takes heed. All he would have to say, in so many words, is “cool it,” and things would probably settle down.

The other possibility, a more likely scenario, perhaps, is a military coup, nothing unusual for Thailand. The last one, a precursor to current events, was in 2006. Including that one, there have been eighteen of them since 1932, when the country became a constitutional monarchy. I don’t think that’s desirable, but maybe it’s what is needed, for now, since cooler heads seem to be in short supply.

Nai and I have several good Thai friends who live in the area where the violence is occurring, so I just pray that they are safe and sound. (Hmmm, knowing those guys, they could be right in the middle of things.) My former supervisor in Morocco, John, is also in Bangkok, working at the U.S. Embassy, which is currently shut down. He told me that he and his wife are scheduled to depart the country on June 1st for a new assignment, which, as of yet, hasn’t been determined. He said that the reassignment couldn’t come too soon. The area of the city in which they live seems to be far enough away from the trouble spots, but if all hell breaks loose . . . ? I’m sure they’re out of harm’s way, but since I haven’t emailed him in a few weeks, I’m going to drop him a line to see how he’s doing.

I have an airplane ticket to Bangkok in the middle of June, and I’m not canceling unless things go completely south. The airport and large parts of the city aren’t caught up in the craziness so far, and my original plans were to just spend one night there and then take the train to Nong Khai in northern Thailand, across the Mekong from Laos; hopefully, I’ll be able to stick to that plan. Until then, I’ll be saying some prayers, burning incense to Buddha and keeping my fingers crossed that the people of Thailand can get out of this crisis without further bloodshed. More later.