S: Thailand and Cambodia 2012
FC: Thailand Cambodia 2012
1: Our bus driver, Nop, skillfully guided us over nearly 1500 miles of Thai roads. The comfortable tour bus helped the miles slip by painlessly. | Trip Itinerary | Sun, 2 Dec Bangkok -- National Museum Mon, 3 Dec Bangkok -- Wat Traimit, Wat Pho Tues, 4 Dec Bangkok -- Khlongs, Temple of Dawn, Grand Palace Wed, 5 Dec Railroad market, floating market, Jim Thompson house Thurs, 6 Dec Tiger Temple, RR cemetery, death train, River Kwai Fri, 7 Dec Ayuthaya, Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, night market Sat, 8 Dec Sukhothai Historical Park Sun, 9 Dec Almsgiving, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, White Hmong Mon, 10 Dec Orchid farm, elephant farm, float trip, Karen tribe Tues, 11 Dec Akha hill tribe Wed, 12 Dec Golden Triangle, Laos Thurs, 13 Dec Fly to Bangkok, then on to Siem Reap, Cambodia Fri, 14 Dec Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple Sat, 15 Dec Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, Tonle Sap floating village | Our daily routine started with a 5:30 wake-up call, bags outside the room door at 6:15, and seated in the bus by 7:00. This allowed us to make our first stops while it was still cool.
2: The Majestic Grande Hotel | I spent five nights in this room over-looking the pool. | Bangkok | From the top of my hotel, the city of 10M people appears quite cosmopolitan, but most office workers can't afford to live in town and control costs by getting their lunch from a street vendor for about a dollar.
3: Lumpini Park, where I played as a child, appears little changed and is still the largest park in Bangkok. | Vestiges of the past | The only visible part of the embassy where Dad once worked is the visa office, the busiest in Southeast Asia. | King Bhumibol has been on the throne for over 60 years, and his shrines are everywhere.
4: This stele from the 13th century was the first use of the modern Thai alphabet.
6: The Buddha in Wat Traimit, made of solid gold, weighs 11,000 pounds and has a current street value of $300M. Created in the 13th century, the Buddha was covered in plaster to prevent its theft during an enemy invasion. It was rediscovered in 1955 when the plaster cracked open as it was relocated to Bangkok. | Wat Traimit, Bangkok
7: Wat Pho, Bangkok
8: Wat Pho, Bangkok | The Reclining Buddha is 150 feet long, 45 feet high and covered in gold leaf. | The soles of Buddha's feet are inlaid with 108 mother of pearl images.
10: Khlongs (canals) in Bangkok | Most canal-side homes and stores are modest, but a few upper class homes can be seen. | Khlongs were once the principal means of traveling around Bangkok. Khlongs in the city bustle with activity while rural khlongs are peaceful. Many are being filled in as development expands. | Our tour guide Louis helps us board our boat. | A vendor paddles out to meet us.
11: Feeding frenzy. | Loading coconuts for transport. | A large monitor lizard suns on a dock. | A leisurely trip.
12: Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) | The stairs up the central tower offer a challenging climb. | The night picture was taken from a rice barge on the Chao Phraya river while having dinner. | The Grand Palace is visible across the river.
13: Grand Palace, Bangkok
14: Wat Phra Kaew
15: The Emerald Buddha. Thailand's most revered Buddha is 2 feet tall. | Grand Palace
16: Railroad market | A young patron | A unique farmers market lies about 50 miles outside Bangkok. Sellers have their stalls positioned on either side of active train tracks. Customers use the tracks like a sidewalk to move among the stalls. Four times a day, a commuter train barrels down the tracks and everyone clears out just long enough for the train to pass through. Government officials tried to close the market, but relented after a massive public protest.
17: Fish packaged for individual meals | Small squid | Upon hearing the train whistle, vendors pull awnings and carts away from the tracks. | As soon as the train passes, the carts and awnings are repositioned and business resumes immediately.
18: We took these longtail boats through the khlongs to get to the floating market outside Bangkok. | Dumnoen Saduak Floating Market
19: Jim Thompson house | Jim Thompson, an American who settled in Bangkok after working for the OSS in WWII, took an avid interest in Thai silk and helped re-establish the industry. He then used his fortune to acquire an exquisite collection of Asian art. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1967. | Thompson built his striking home by acquiring six different existing homes and reassembling their parts on his property in Bangkok. He then surrounded the house with beautiful gardens. | Drawing silk from cocoons. One yields 1500 feet of fiber.
20: Tiger Temple
21: Tiger Temple started when monks took in a few orphaned tigers, and then added more. The tourist attraction is now the temple's major source of income. The animals are declawed and almost certainly given short-lived sedatives before being posed with tourists. However, they are quite energetic when tourists use noisemakers to facilitate exercise sessions.
22: The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre is a well-crafted museum dedicated to telling the story of the building of the railway during WWII. No pictures were allowed in the museum, which features many artifacts from the period. Japan needed a reliable connection between Burma and Siam and used both civilians and POWs in the labor force. Over 115,000 people lost their lives as Japan pushed to complete the effort in record time. 6,982 Allied POWs are buried in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The bridge crossing the River Kwai has become known as the Death Bridge and the train that crosses the bridge is known as the Death Train. | As an aside, Kwai is pronounced "Kwair". "Kwhy" means water buffalo.
23: Death Train | Bridge over the River Kwai | We took a 90 minute ride on the train, ending just after the bridge.
24: Mongkhon Bophit, Ayutthaya | Bronze Buddha, fifty feet tall | Intricately decorated stacking tables
25: Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Ayutthaya | For a 400 year period ending in 1767, Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, and one of the major cities of Asia. Each of the three chedis contain the remains of a king.
26: Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat | This unimposing temple in Phitsanulok houses a glowing bronze Buddha image that many consider to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand. It is accented by an intricate stylized halo. This image is second only to the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok in importance. | Beginning at 5:30pm, monks gather on the left side of the hall and chant evening prayers for thirty minutes. Microphones are used to broadcast the chants to the faithful outside on the temple grounds.
27: Night Market | I am trying a bamboo worm, shown on the left center of the plate. I enjoyed it so much I had several more. The silk worms in the lower left corner, however, were bitter and I stopped at one. | Heading home after a night of debauchery. | We boarded 21 rickshaws at our hotel and a motorcycle-mounted police escort guided us to and from the night market where we sampled bugs and participated in a Chinese spinach tossing ritual. While cooking the spinach, the chef tossed great gobs of it up over his head to a raised stage where a costumed tourist would attempt to catch it in a trash can lid. I was one of the few that sampled the tasty final product, washed down with rum. | Melanie | Jacob | Chinese spinach
28: Sukhothai, founded as the capital of Siam in 1238, flourished during the golden age of Thai civilization.
29: Wat Si Chum features a 50 foot high brick and stucco Buddha with elegant, tapered fingers -- a photographer's favorite.
30: All devout Buddhists have Spirit Houses, or 'second houses', placed in a prominent location outside their home or business. Offerings are made to keep the departed happy in their new life. There are many different styles. | Spirit Houses
31: Almsgiving | A good Buddhist boy serves as a novice monk for at least 3 months before the age of 20. His only food comes in the form of alms from the local community. Monks eat only breakfast and lunch. Any leftover food is given to the poor. Every morning between 6 and 7, 700 young novices descend 306 steps from the temple and move down the street in search of an offering. Helpful vendors sell packets of food to those needing them. Louis provided our packets for us. | Novices wear nothing but a single piece of cloth fashioned into a robe. Once alms are received, they offer a blessing and return to Doi Suthep.
32: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep | Ringing the first of many bells. | Chiang Mai
33: The location of this temple atop the sacred mountain Doi Suthep was selected by a white elephant that wandered freely until it died at this spot. | 'Forest monks', who live and practice as Buddha did, can be recognized by their brown robes.
34: White Hmong hill tribe | From Doi Suthep we rode half an hour in the back of a pick-up to visit the White Hmong at the top of the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. It is a friendly, but poor, coffee-growing community set in a beautiful location. | A spectacular poinsettia tree. | Terry is enjoying the day.
35: Orchid farm | There are few better ways to start a day than having an opportunity to wander freely through an orchid farm.
36: Entering the elephant camp required navigating a shaky suspension bridge. Our mahouts were waiting. We rode through the jungle for an hour, and I couldn't stop smiling.
37: Ninety-one year old Jacob was my riding partner. The leg chains indicate that our elephant is training for logging tasks.
38: Crossing the Ping river was the highlight of the ride.
39: Following the elephant ride, we watched a demonstration where the elephants showed off their logging talents. What impressed me was the skill with which an elephant could position a log by kicking it along its length, either while on the ground or while piled in a stack. Also impressive was watching three elephants work as a team to lift logs onto a pile. The final demonstration was creating a painting; the elephant was determined to exactly align all the strokes needed to create the limbs of the tree. After the demonstration, the elephants were led to a shady part of the river for a bath.
40: Float trip | We boarded handmade bamboo rafts at the elephant camp and floated down the Ping river for an hour. For most of the trip the only sound we heard was that of a pole quietly pushing off the river bottom. It was a peaceful, relaxing experience that ended all too soon.
41: Karen village | The Paduang long=necked women live here. Brass neck rings can weigh up to 20 pounds, which depresses the shoulders about 2 inches, giving the illusion of a long neck. Principal income for the tribe is selling crafts to tourists. Paduang women willingly pose to draw people to their shops. Girls can decide for themselves whether to take up the practice. Many do. | Most men are farmers. This woodcarver was the only man to be found in the village. I bought one of his carvings.
42: Lodging | We stayed in many nice hotels as we traveled through northern Thailand. A memorable one was the Thaton-Maekok River Village Resort. The grounds were beautiful and the rooms dared to depart from the traditional tourist style. I particularly liked the bathroom that had a stall-less shower with loose rock on the floor.
43: Akha Hill Tribe | Women of the Akha tribe wear headdresses that feature large plates of silver in the back. As with the Karen women, the villagers are quite friendly and willingly pose in the hopes that tourists will buy their handicrafts.
44: Golden Triangle | We didn't set foot in Myanmar, but we did pass by the Paradise hotel as we took our boat trip to Laos. | The Golden Triangle is where the northernmost point in Thailand meets up with Myanmar(Burma) and Laos. The area was once notorious for drug trafficking. This history is explored in the Hall of Opium, an excellent museum that allows no photos. Shops next to the border offered the most interesting collection of merchandise we saw anywhere on our trip. I purchased a woven bamboo storage jar.
45: If you are looking for any kind of handbag, especially a designer knock-off, this is the place. Thousands are on display. | A leisurely cruise along and across the Mekong River brought us to a small shopping village in Laos. We spent about an hour here, long enough to get our passports stamped and wander through the shops. A highlight was the opportunity to sample cobra-infused alcohol (it had remarkably little flavor.) That is my shot glass sitting next to the open beaker. Bottled product was available for purchase.
46: Thai dancers | A restaurant we visited featured traditional Thai dances. The elegant costumes perfectly complemented the beauty of the performances.
47: Each of these Cambodian musicians lost a limb to land mines. | At Doi Suthep, one young dancer scattered flower petals, while others waited their turn to perform. | When I first passed this rock en route to a hill tribe, I found the four young boys. An hour later the girl was here. | A Hill tribe resident. | Snapshots
48: Local fruit | Throughout the trip, our guide Louis bought fruits from local vendors for us to sample. A few of these are shown here. | Enjoying fresh coconut milk. | Mangosteen -- the hard brown rind conceals 6 fleshy segments that are quite flavorful. The juice however leaves a bright red stain. | Rambutan -- the outer tendrils are soft to the touch and the whole rind peels away easily to reveal a tasty fruit similar to a litchi nut. | I photographed this papaya tree while riding on the death train thinking it was a pomelo. Louis had brought us pomelo fruit, which has segments that closely resemble grapefruit, except about twice the size. Pomelo even tastes similar to a mild grapefruit.
49: Group photos | Our Thailand tour guide Louis (Sirisak Juabkwamsuk) was born in Phuket, trained as a dancer, learned cooking as a street vendor, was a monk for a year, served in the military, was a chef in the US, acted in the movies, and still teaches history at a university. On our final night, we learned that he is an excellent singer as well. | Golden Triangle group photo. Front row: Melanie, Corinne, Mumtaz, Joan, Chris. Back row: Diane, Stan, Murad, Steve, Clara, Mae, Dave, Jacob, Terry, Charlie, Michelle, Michael. Missing: Arkady, Nellie, Livia. | Cambodia tour. From the left: our tour guide Bunrith, the driver, Chris, Terry.
50: Siem Reap | Siem Reap is in the middle of a tourist boom. The 1M tourists of 2009 grew to 2M in 2012, with 4M expected in 2015. The entire town is geared to the tourist industry. Almost all hotels are new and everything is priced in dollars, not in riels. Most tourists come from Korea and Japan. | My room for 3 nights overlooked the saltwater pool in the Prince d'Angkor Hotel. | Over 90% of the street traffic is on motorcycle. This is good because if everyone were in cars, the town would be hopelessly gridlocked. | Mixed in with the motorcycles and cars are a few street vendors and bicycles.
51: A family of five | A babe in arms | A load of lumber | Everything moves via motorcycle
52: Angkor Wat | On the west side, looking east over the reflecting pond. | Looking over the reflecting pond toward the west. | East entrance, unrestored. | Typical apsara carvings found on exterior walls. | (Twelfth century)
53: Angkor Wat | Seven headed naga at entrance | Over 1000 temples were built in this area. Angkor Wat was the last, and largest, Hindu temple. | Many windows feature lathe-turned balusters.
54: Sunrise | We departed the hotel at 5:15am to be here.
55: Bas-reliefs | Intricate carvings covering Khmer history and mythology extend over 2000 feet through Angkor Wat. | Battle victims are trampled underfoot. | An enemy's head is kicked away.
56: Exacting attention to detail is evident throughout Angkor Wat
57: Only a few images of Buddha can be found in Angkor Wat. | Vaulted hallways originally had wood ceilings as shown in this re-creation. | Remains of the original paint that once decorated much of the temple are still visible. | Angkor Wat reflected in the pond is a picture of serenity.
58: Bayon Temple (Angkor Thom) | Bayon had 49 towers, each with 2 to 4 faces.
59: The faces of Bayon
60: Preparing a feast | Playing chess | Boar fighting | Bayon Temple | Bayon is the youngest temple we visited, dating from the thirteenth century. Its reliefs have a greater focus on events in everyday life.
61: Ta Prohm | Ta Prohm is largely unrestored. Trees grow over, and out of, nearly every structure. | (Thirteenth century)
62: Even though trees are slowly consuming the temple, beautiful artwork is still visible. | Ta Prohm
63: It is not always clear whether the buildings are holding up the trees or the trees are holding up the buildings.
64: Banteay Srei | Built in the tenth century, Banteay Srei is the oldest, smallest, and arguably the most beautiful of the temples that we visited in Angkor. It is a Hindu temple built to honor the god Shiva.
65: Each entrance gate to Banteay Srei is adorned with its own uniquely designed pediment.
66: Tonle Sap floating village | Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia, changes its flow twice a year. The water level can rise 20 feet in the monsoon season when the 500 people in the fishing village completely relocate until the dry season returns. | Lakefront homes during the dry season. | Floating basketball court.
67: Bringing home the ice. | This woman paddled out to meet our boat in the hopes that we would pay to photograph her daughter wearing the snake around her neck.
68: Native fauna | Six year old python on a shop floor. | Wild boar at the Tiger Temple. | Long-tailed macaque at a roadside stop. | Butterfly at the orchid farm. | Asian openbill storks at Sukhothai. The male is white; females are gray. | In addition to tigers and elephants, we saw many free roaming animals during the course of our travels. | Water buffalo in a Tiger Temple pond, and a different species grazing in Cambodia.
69: Some meals I enjoyed | A traditional Thai breakfast with self-made hot noodle soup. | A traditional Thai dinner with all courses served at once. | Thai appetizers. | Typical Thai dessert featuring fruit. | Traditional Khmer dinner.
70: Parting shots | Enjoying the company of the Cambodian tour group. | Thais show us that elephants can coexist with cars. | Just as we suspected -- Thais spell words the way they pronounce them. | A pleasant evening spent launching lanterns, courtesy of Louis. | Water lilies are found everywhere.
71: Sukhothai | Grand Palace, Bangkok | Sunset at Angkor