Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deserted Beauty

Though Kata Beach was beautiful, it is crammed with tourists. Searching for something less paved-over, we settled on Koh Yao Noi, which was billed in our guidebook as "Phuket, 20 years ago and undeveloped." Undeveloped it was, with a single road that looped the island and spectacular views. However, it is low season in Thailand (hot and rainy), and low means "semi-deserted" on Koh Yao Noi. It was lonely, and the accommodation options were two: arm and a leg luxury resorts, or extremely buggy. We soon left for Krabi and nearby Railay, which is just as beautiful but less expensive and more populated.

Stunning scenery and deserted beaches are Koh Yao Noi's biggest attractions.

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Surfing Thai Style

Kata Beach is supposedly one of the best beaches in Phuket and in Thailand for surfing. The waves were indeed bigger here than at the others beaches we saw, but the monsoon winds presented a challenge. We gave it a shot anyway, renting boards from a group of rastafarian dudes. The second picture is the entire "board shop!" It was fun to get in the water, and we both caught a few!

Grommits live everywhere:

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Beach food on the cheap

On Kata beach in Phuket, I had the best pad thai I've ever had, prepared to order with tofu, egg and extra carrot. It cost me $1.40. Karen and I ate ours on the sand. The sand almost ate mine instead, but thankfully I have reflexes like a cat.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saparot so yummy!
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In Search of Saparot

Ok, so I've fallen a bit behind. Karen and I have been on the go a lot in the past few days as we are in the Southern Islands and we've been trying out several different spots. We are more settled now, but I'll get to that. First, back to Bangkok! The day after temple-ing, we met up with Kira and Wallace, friends from Pomona who were en route to Myanmar (Burma).

We didn't really know what to do so we aimlessly wandered around the streets of Bangkok for a bit. As is usually the case, we stumbled into somewhere we never would have found or seen if we stuck to our guidebook (if you're curious, it's Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, often referred to on the "packpacker trail" as the Bible or simply "The Book.")

We were trying to find a view of the river. We found it, but it didn't merit a photo because we also found this huge local vegetable and fruit market that may have also functioned as a distribution center. There were huge vats of curries, fried fish and stir-frys for sale, as well as stands that specialize in chili peppers, garlic (separated into buckets by clove size), or durian (the spiky green fruit, see photos below).

We also met a very nice pineapple seller in a purple hat who both taught us how to say "pineapple" in Thai ("saparot" with the 't' almost silent. Knowing how to say this sometimes earns us extra fruit with other vendors!) and also showed us her well-practised technique of cutting the pineapple preserves most of the fruit and turns it into a delicious yellow spiral-cut lump. Pineapple vendors sell bags of the stuff on virtually every street in the city for 10-20 baht, or 30-60 cents, and they all cut pineapple very very quickly! Karen and I carry a big red knife in our bag, which sounds menacing but is really just for cutting fruit, so I am going to learn the technique.

That night we met up with Pon, who is also an ex-Payden & Rygel employee. He now works for the Bank of Thailand. Pon gave us directions to this awesome open-air restaurant that sat right on the river in the middle of the city and right under this soaring yellow suspension bridge. He brought with him four other people, mostly people in his IR program at Johns Hopkins. They were really cool, and one of them may set us up with her contacts in Chiang Rai (northern Thailand) to teach English for a few days to middle school kids there. The food at the restaurant was far less impressive than the view, and about 4 times more expensive than the street food we have been living on. Still, it was a nice evening. After dinner, Pon tried to take us to one of the skyscraper rooftop bars that Bangkok is famous for, but our little group was denied entrance because Karen and I were wearing flipflops. oops! I was worried that would happen, but there was not much we could do because our other shoes are running sneakers!

This is me outside the restaurant. You can see the bridge in the distance. It was beautifully lit up at night.
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Becoming a Spectacle When Visiting One

After listening to the monk reading for a while, we continued exploring the grounds of Wat Pho. Golden Buddhas were everywhere and yogic statues were everywhere!

Finally, we followed the snaking crowds and found Wat Pho's main attraction - the Reclining Buddha. Each of his toes was about the same size as me, but much more posh. Instead of sweaty travel clothes, it was inlaid with mother-of pearl to look like toes prints. The center of the feet was even more elaborate, with a 1000-point star.

As we left the giant Buddha, we turned from spectators into a spectacle ourselves. This India family was very enthusiatic about taking photos with us, the two oversized blonde girls. This was the most complete photo, but there were many variations on it! We have heard that this will become a very common when we get to India.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday walking: Canals and Wats

Bangkok is sometimes called the Venice of the East - lots of canals branching off the main river, with arching white bridges over them.

Today is the full moon, which means that all of the temples were full of the faithful. We only discovered this when we arrived at Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Bangkok and the largest in Thailand. It was a vast grounds filled with countless gorgeous temples covered in glittering mosaics and moss-covered stone statues. One of the larger temples had young Buddhist monks listening to an elder monk read to them from Buddhist text (see photo below, on the left), and on the right, lay Thai people praying and listening. The golden buddha
was the largest I've ever seen, but it wasn't as big as the one that came next.

On our way to Wat Pho, we wandered into a small and peaceful "wat" (temple) this morning, right as this monk was ringing the bell in the marble belltower.

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Street Sights 1

Two very common sights in the streets of Bangkok:

1. His majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej adorns posters, billboards, and buildings everywhere. His wisdom is widely revered, and it is illegal to step on any money as his image is on all notes and coins. When we were standing in line to pass through customs at the airport, we were shown a video about a young Thai boy wondering where the wise King gets his inspiration. Eventually, he realizes that His Majesty gets inspiration from wherever Thai live.

2. There are little temples and shrines everywhere, and most of them have offerings like jasmine garlands, incense, and pink sugar drinks. Many families have mini shrines outside their house to keep the spirits away from the inside of the house but still satisfied.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Our first meal in Bangkok! Tofu pad sii ew and tofu pad thai. The bowl is a spicy sauce - choose your own adventure!
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What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?

"Make Me One With Everything!"

This blog will highlight people, adventures and food from my trip through Southeast Asia with my friend Karen Bonner (her blog is here). We arrived in Bangkok two days ago. We return in September. Enjoy!