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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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.