Saturday, August 29, 2009

2nd Stop - BANGKOK

Alright - here we go - our first entry from Bangkok!!

We arrived at the new airport, Suvarnabhumi, in the early evening. Our guide book was written before it opened so we were on our own for finding transport to the city centre. Our only advice was to avoid the people and info booths that looked official . . . because they probably are not. The touts have figured out that travelers will follow their advice if they are wearing a uniform and badge. We stood our ground and refused many offers for rides / hotels / etc. and made our way to the actual 'Airport Express' bus stop.

The bus dropped us off at Khaosan Road, which is the backpacker centre of the universe! Millions of bars, restaurants, and guest houses. Hippies getting henna tattoos, Bob Marley cover bands, and even Captain Jack Sparrow made a brief appearance. A street built for foreigners - not exactly what we were after . . . but a fun and bustling area anyway.

We ate our first Thai dinner and, as you can see, someone was a brimming with excitement. . .

The food in Thailand was cheap and delicious. Just what we were hoping for. Once our stomach's were full we wandered around Khaosan and then back to our guesthouse. We needed a good night sleep because we had a big day of sightseeing ahead of us.

We started our morning with the Grand Palace. The monarchy is of significant importance in Thailand. When we were there it was the Queen's birthday. There were giant billboards and altars set up around Bangkok to honour her. The Thai people are very proud of their monarchy and its history. Construction of the Grand Palace began in 1782 by King Rama I. All of his successors have contributed since then and now it is a sprawling compound of elaborate statues, buildings, and artwork. The palace is still used regularily for ceremonies with the royalty.

The surrounding walls of the palace were covered in murals depicting the Ramayana. They were amazingly detailed and are constantly being restored to keep from fading.

They even had fierce guards protecting the entrances. "Can I have your ticket, please?"

Shawna was in charge of route planning and historic detail so, in this photograph, you can see what she looked like for most of our trip.

The palace buildings were massive and not a square-inch of space was left without detail. A veritable feast for the eyes . . .

It was actually quite difficult to get pictures without other people in them. The place was full of tourists . . . most of them competing for silliest photograph.

King Rama IV (played by Yul Brynner in The King and I. . .remember??) built a replica of Angkor Wat in the temple grounds. When he was in power Thailand owned it. We will be able to verify its accuracy in detail next week.

In the North-East corner of the palace grounds lies Wat Phra Kaeo which houses the "Emerald Buddha". The most important religious article in Thailand.

Politicians accused of corruption traditionally come here to assert their innocence in front of the most precious and legendary Buddha carvings.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the temple but you can see the Buddha perched in the background above Shawna's shoulder. (you can click on the photos to see more detail) The legend of its origin goes like this. It was originally discovered in the 15th century when lightning hit a stone tower in a Buddhist temple and cracked it open. Inside was a Jadeite Buddha (originally thought to be Emerald). Since then, it has been taken (without permission) all over South-East Asia dispensing miracles wherever it goes. It now lives safely and permanently in the palace. The King even changes his clothes for each season.

Here is the throne room. Once again, no pictures inside but you can take my word for it that it was nice.

Rama V employed a European architect to build a Neoclassical residence but other members of the Royal family complained so the put a Thai-style roof on it. The building was named "The Foreigner with a Thai hat".

Well, we've done a lot of sightseeing and its time for a break. Even Buddha himself will be reclining in our next blog post.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vacation - 1st Stop - HONG KONG

Hello everyone!!! We're back in Yeoju after our super-fantastic-non-stop-awesomeness vacation. Now we have the enormous task of loading / sorting / editing the 2 million photos we took. We'll try to do this in chronological order, splitting it up as we see fit. This post has over 25 pics and this was just a 22 hour stopover!! Welly well, here we go . . .

As luck would have it, we were able to book our flight to Bangkok with a long stopover in Hong Kong. We arrived in the evening . . . and it was HOT (in fact our entire vacation was ridiculously hot - more on that later). We caught a double-decker bus and headed to our guesthouse.

We were booked for the night at the Yiu Fai Guesthouse in Kowloon which is part of mainland China. It was clean and safe but maybe a little on the small side. Space is at a premium in Hong Kong so this is what our budget afforded us . . . a closet with a bed.

Our view was a little lackluster but hey, check out the cool bamboo scaffolding - not sure I'd wanna climb up that. Even in Cambodia they were using modern metal scaffolding. Well, enough about scaffolding. If you want to read more you'll have to check Wikipedia.

The location of Yiu Fai Guesthouse was amazing!! The subway was right outside the door, we could walk North and hit the main shopping district, or walk South and get to the harbour . . . which is exactly what we did.

We watched some of lights at the harbour-front and then hopped on a ferry to Hong Kong Island. Then we took a short bus ride to the Peak Tram. We obviously weren't the only ones heading up the hill that evening . . .

The Peak Tram takes people from Central District up to Victoria Peak. The tram ride is a kilometer and a half and takes passengers almost 400 metres high. It's been running since the 1880's.

The ride was fun - at the top they had souvenirs, attractions, and restaurants (not unlike the CN Tower).

At the top we went to the lookout points but we were greeted with fog (the pea-soup kind). We couldn't see past our noses but we had a good laugh about it anyway.

Our time in Hong Kong was precious so we went back to the mainland and went in search of food.
Lucky - we found a McDonalds!!!

Really??. . .Do you think we're crazy??? We just used their bathrooms and went in search of real food . . . and we found it.

We went to the Temple Street Night Market and wandered for a while checking out all the bootlegs and fake watches. Around 11:00(late dinner), we stopped where there were a group of small restaurants with patios that spilled out into the streets. We headed straight for the busiest one . . .

A delicious Chinese dinner with some San Miguel (brewed in Hong Kong) and we couldn't be happier.

Then we called it a night and hopped the subway back to the guesthouse. We wanted to fit in some sightseeing before our flight the next day.

We woke up early and went to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery for a beautiful stroll.

We could smell the incense and hear the chanting. It was a calm and relaxing place to offset the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong.

We had one last stop in mind before heading to the airport. . .The Jade Market - a vast complex devoted entirely to Jade hawkers.

Shawna made friends with this hawker and after some serious bartering back and forth with the calculator (see photo) ended up with a small keepsake from her first trip to China.

Well, we had no choice but to hop on a bus and catch our flight to Bangkok. The double-decker bus ride gave us a glimpse into the shipping yards of China on the way to the airport. Absolutely Massive! Imagine all of those 'Made in China' things inside those crates.

Gotta go sort out some more photos - next post: BANGKOK, THAILAND . . .