Road Scholar, here we come!

I’m so glad we arrived in Bangkok a few days before the Road Scholar tour started. Doing so gave us an opportunity to adjust to the time difference (although if truth be told, I STILL haven’t completely switched over to Asia time) and to slowly savor this magnificent city. Bangkok is amazingly affordable, so the extra days didn’t increase the cost of the trip by much. Four nights at the Bangkok Loft Hotel, for example, cost $175 TOTAL, and that included airport pick up, plus great breakfasts. The Loft was an excellent choice–within walking distance of the SkyTrain, just two stops from the river. It was quiet, clean, very comfortable, with all the amenities that are important to us: firm mattress, good water pressure, plenty of hot water, free wi-fi, perfect temperature control, excellent free breakfast, and helpful, friendly English speaking staff. Thank you, Trip Advisor!

Before leaving home, I had gotten $250 worth of Bhat from our bank. Had we steered clear of the resort hotels (lunch at the Mandarin Oriental, drinks at the SkyBar, dinner at the Shangra-La), that amount would have been more than enough for our transportation, entrance fees to attractions and food during our stay.

Rama lX is featured on Thai money.
Rama IX’s portrait is on Thai money. He looks pretty good for an 86 year old man. But why does one denomination have a different portrait?

The hotel chosen by Road Scholar, the Majestic Grande was also quite lovely, in the business section of town.

Thursday night, we met our fellow travelers. The group is composed of 5 Canadians, 8 from Washington state, 2 from California, 2 from NY, 3 from PA, and the two of us from NJ. As with other Road Scholar Trips we’ve taken, the women outnumber the men, 14 to 8. I love making new female friends! In fact, one of the reasons we keep choosing Road Scholar is it seems to attract interesting, friendly, curious travelers who are fun to be with. Mike and I are looking forward to getting to know everyone better over the next few days.

Friday was an action packed day, with visits to Wat Po and the Grand Palace, followed by lunch at the Supatra River House. After a lecture on Buddhism by Jim Lehman, we returned to the hotel. By then, all we wanted was some cold water and some cold air on our sweaty bodies!

Here are some visual highlights from Wat Po.
The Reclining Buddha is enormous–150 feet long by 50 feet high.

It's hard to get all of him into one shot.
It’s hard to get all of him into one shot.

This gives you an idea of the size of both the Buddha and the crowd at Wat Po.  The place was mobbed!
This gives you an idea of the size of both the Buddha and the crowd at Wat Po. The place was mobbed!

Do you think these qualify as “Happy Feet”?
The bottom of the Buddha's feet are covered with mother of pearl.  Talk about having big shoes to fill!
The bottom of the Buddha’s feet are covered with mother of pearl. Talk about having big shoes to fill!

The Wat Po grounds are filled with gold Buddhas, temple guards, and interesting statues. This temple guard is clearly Chinese.


But what about him? To me, he looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne.


Our return to the Grand Palace was a different experience. We traveled by bus, which gave us a chance to get a different glimpse of the city. Road Scholar provides ear pieces, so that we can easily hear the guide. What a godsend in these crowded sites! Mike and I were glad that we had been able to spend time on our own, and leisurely wander the grounds; having a second go-round with a guide allowed us to see things a little more deeply, and catch some of what was missed the first time. For example, the gallery surrounding the religious section of the Grand Palace is painted with scenes from the Ramayama, and the yellow “paint” in the scenes is liquid gold.

My blog is lagging behind our activities, but I need to end this so I can get myself together for the start of our day. More to come!

Night in Bangkok

Many years ago, Mike and I saw the musical “Chess”, which was memorable for two reasons:
1. it is the only musical that Mike and I disliked enough to leave at intermission, BUT
2. it had a really catchy theme song by Tim Rice, whose lyrics I remember to this day.

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble,
Not much between despair and ecstasy,
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble,
Can’t be too careful with your company,
I can feel the devil walking next to me.

Well, now…MY man has been here for THREE nights and he hasn’t tumbled yet. Let’s see what night number four has in store for him.

First decision–what to wear? While at Wat Arun, I saw some possibilities.

20130207-094944.jpgHad one of my female traveling buddies (you know who you are…) been by my side, this next photo might have been us in our evening attire. (These sweet young girls were also touring Wat Arun, decided to purchase the full outfit, fingernails and all, and allowed me to photograph them).

But I digress. Back to last night. Our first stop was Distil Bar on the 64th floor at the Lebua Hotel, where for the equivalent of about $40, I had a rose apple martini and Mike had a beer.

That might sound a bit pricy, but the olives and pistachio nuts were free, and we were able to relocate to the SkyBar when it opened. I’ve been told that this place was prominently featured in the movie Hangover Two. Since we saw neither that nor Hangover One, that wasn’t our reason for going there–it was, what else, the amazing view.

It would have been wonderful to have dinner at the restaurant, but it is booked months in advance, so we needed to go elsewhere.

That gold blur in the center of the next photo is indeed McDonald’s Golden Arches; Kentucky Fried Chicken is a few yards further down.

As tempting as those options were, we decided to walk on by, and headed for “Flow”, a restaurant on the river.

20130207-102150.jpgLast stop, the 360 bar atop the Millennium Hilton, from which you can see the Dome at the Lebua Hotel. A great way to end our time “on our own”. We join the Road Scholar tour on Thursday evening, moving from the Loft Hotel to the Majestic Grande.


And now, as promised, the answer to yesterday’s question. There may actually be SEVERAL correct answers, but here’s the one I had in mind when I posed the question.

Thais, like the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Japanese, Indians and South Africans, drive on the left side of the road. If you think that wouldn’t make a difference to non-drivers, you would be wrong. We kept heading for the escalators, doors, and turnstiles on the right, not the left.  So, wouldn’t you think walkers should bear left? Sometimes…but most of the time it didn’t matter what side of the sidewalk you chose, it was guaranteed to be wrong. And if you think motor scooters should only be ridden on the road, you’d be wrong again! We have been wrong a lot.


Recycling in the old days

Question: What do you do with your defective porcelain?

Answer: If you are Chinese, and it is the 1800’s, you use it as ballast in your cargo ships; however if you are Siamese, you realize it makes ideal building materials for your next temple.

Although Wat Arun is called the Temple of the Dawn, supposedly it is best viewed at sunset, when the light makes all of the porcelain glow, and the temple slowly turns into a silhouette against the crimson sky. Mike and I had another location in mind for our sunset hours, so we visited in the morning. The view from across the river was spectacular enough for us, even without a dramatic sky.

If you are game enough to climb the steep steps (check out the relationship between that guy’s leg and the step behind him to get a feel for it), you are rewarded with a spectacular view.

Oh wait–those weren’t the steep steps, these are the steep steps, and someone thoughtfully left a bottle on one of them to provide scale. They are SHALLOW, steep steps, not designed for big western feet!

Going up was like climbing a ladder; coming down was a bit harder, but the view was so worth it.

On the top left, you can see the rooftops of the Grand Palace.

The view looking up was pretty great too. Erawan, the elephant that the Hindu god Indra rides, is standing on the ledge above us. (Don’t see Indra, though).

The grounds surrounding the temple, normally lovely, are even more so, because they are being decorated for Chinese New Year with red lanterns everywhere. Can you see the two Yakshas guarding the entrance? These spirit “monsters” were at the grand palace and also had green and white faces.

I’ll end this post with a question:
What do Thais have in common with the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis (New Zealanders), Indians, Japanese and South Africans? This is a hard one. The answer will be in the next post.

The Grand Palace

Pick your favorite adjective: outstanding…awesome…fantastic…way cool. Regardless of the word chosen, I’m confident that it will in no way capture the beauty, the wonder, the glory of the Grand Palace.

Mike and I will be returning to the palace with our Road Scholar group, so we opted to wander around aimlessly, gawking and gasping at the explosion of color and art that surrounded us.

Here’s a look at royal housing in the Kingdom of Siam in the late 1700’s


There was a bit of a dispute over what the palace should look like. The king wanted a western style palace, but his advisors thought a traditional building was more appropriate. The end result was a western bottom and an eastern top.

The complex includes the Royal Monastery, which was built to house the Emerald Buddha. Although photos are not allowed within the monastery, you ARE allowed to take photos outside. this young lady is standing at a window and my zoom is all the way out.

The “emerald” Buddha is actually made of jade. Thailand and Laos both claim ownership of it, with Laos accusing Thailand of stealing it from them in 1778, when Rama I conquered the capital of Laos and brought the Buddha to Bangkok. The Thais claim it was rightfully theirs, and was moved to Laos in 1552 by the son of a Chiang Mai princess and Laotian King, when he succeeded his father as King of Laos. Are you confused yet? I sure was.

The Royal Compound felt like Disney world on steroids, except this fantasy land is REAL.

Every figure is unique. Check it out.



These guys made me think of the Wizard of Oz.


I leave Mike alone for 2 minutes, and look what happens.

She was one of several women clamoring to have their picture taken with him. They also insisted on having their pictures taken with me. Since they didn’t speak English, I have no idea why, but my guess is they couldn’t get over how HUGE we are. “Look, I’m standing next to a giant!”
We were just another curiosity, sorta like this guard, who stood perfectly still, despite the steady stream of young women posing at his side.

I had read about the Naga, snakes with multiple heads whose bodies are used as bannisters.

This particular example has five, but there are also seven headed versions.

The complex includes a scale model of Angkor Wat, so large that I couldn’t get it all into one photo.

The attention to detail is amazing.

Our last stop was Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, an air conditioned oasis. It contains clothing the Queen wore during official visits, beautifully displayed with photos of the queen wearing the displayed garments. Now 71 years old, she was movie star gorgeous. She married the king before her 18th birthday.

I can’t resist a few more photos of this amazing complex.




Let the adventure begin!

To my surprise and delight, I discovered that crossing twelve time zones while confined to a small space for twenty hours is not as awful as I thought it might be. I’m not sure whether it was yoga (“breathe into it”) or my Bose noise canceling headset and iPod, but something got me to my happy state of mind and kept me there!

After flying over the Arctic, we landed at Incheon in South Korea. It is a gorgeous new airport built right on the water. With less than an hour to change planes, we quickly dashed from gate to gate, discovering just in time that our departure gate was one floor higher than our arrival gate. On our return, we’ll be spending five hours there, so our transit will be far more leisurely.

This was our flight path for the first 14 hours of our journey. We were literally on top of the world.



Our plane landed an hour late, because the wings had to be de-iced. We went from a snow storm in Korea to 82 degree weather in Bangkok–at 11 PM, no less. Yikes! What will it be like in the afternoon?

By the time we got through immigration, collected our luggage and exited customs, it was midnight. We were a little concerned that our ride might have given up on us when we didn’t see anyone holding a sign with our name on it.

The Thais sure make it easy for tourists–staffing a help desk at the official meeting place (door 3 in the arrival hall), calling the hotel to make sure our ride was on his way to fetch us.

The airport is on the outskirts of Bangkok. With no traffic, the hotel was about 40 minutes away. We finally made it to bed a little after 1 AM Bangkok time, which was 1 PM our biological time, 24 hours after we took off from JFK.

Because of jet lag and the heat, we decided to take it really easy on our first day in Bangkok. Our big accomplishments were locating the SkyTrain station two blocks from our hotel, buying train tickets from the machine, touring the Jim Thompson House and having dinner at a restaurant on the river.

The Jim Thompson house is actually six separate teak buildings that he brought to the site in 1959 and combined. The buildings are at least two hundred years old and are filled with antique Buddhas, beautiful silk paintings and porcelains. Some of the buildings were moved from the ancient capital of Ayutthaya.

At the entrance to the house and museum complex, I saw my first Thai spirit house.


Spirit houses are very common in Thailand and Cambodia. They are usually miniatures of the actual dwelling, and filled with offerings to the gods. Can you see the little figures inside?

Jim Thompson’s life story is quite interesting. He was born in 1906, and was an architect before
World War ll. During the war, he served in Thailand, as an officer with the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. He fell in love with the country, moving to Thailand at the end of WWII.

He recognized the beauty and craftsmanship of handwoven silk, and did much to promote and popularize the industry.

In 1967, he went for a walk in the jungle of Malaysia and disappeared. No one has been able to determine what happened to him, although his astrology chart indicated that things would not go well for him after he turned 61, his age at his disappearance.

This beautiful young girl was our tour guide.


She was full of interesting stories about the house, pointing out the previously mention
Astrological chart in his study and challenging us to find the children’s chamber pots in the guest bedrooms. Mike correctly identified the porcelain frog as the girl’s chamber pot, but no one spotted the boy’s–a cat, whose head came off. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the house. Too bad–those were quite cute.

After the tour, we had lunch at the museum restaurant. I was uncharacteristically adventurous, going for the the spicy curry with grapes, duck and pineapple.


The gift shop was definitely worth a visit. They sold the cutest clothes for children. I may not be a grandmother, but I’m determined to be a great aunt, in every sense of the word…so there are some surprises for the little people in my life.