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Thailand

Bangkok - Overwhelming The Senses with Danger and Beauty

Enjoying the beautiful of Bangkok and remember the danger the wonderful people we met were facing


View Larry and Mark follow Bond to Thailand - Februrary 2014 on littlesam1's travel map.

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Elephant statues at an intersection near The Grand Palace in Bangkok

I had never been anywhere in Asia before my trip to Thailand in February 2014. I have done a lot of international travel and usually go to Europe and on a few occasions to South America. So I had no frame of reference to prepare me for visiting Thailand. I had guide books. I followed an English tour guide in Thailand on Twitter before the trip. And I kept up with the news about Thailand on the internet before the trip. It was a tricky trip to plan. After we purchased our airline tickets and reserved our hotels in November 2013 Bangkok erupted into a city under siege by political activists wanting to over throw the prime minister. We read warnings about the unrest escalating, but I thought by mid February 2014, some three months away, things would certainly calm down before our arrival. But I kept reading more and more warnings about the danger of traveling to Thailand. While watching and researching this I discovered @Richard Barrow on Twitter. He is an ex patriot who lives in Thailand and works in the tourist industry. He published daily updates about the violence and published maps telling what areas were safe and what areas to avoid each day. The hotel we had booked turned out to be right in the middle of one of the most dangerous protest sights in the city. So with his advice we changed our hotel to a safe area outside of the inner city. Richard's advice each day was to not cancel your vacations. Bangkok is a big city. The protests are only in a small part of the city. If you plan well and follow his advice you will never know there is any danger in the city. I thought many times perhaps it would be best to just cancel the trip and forfeit the money we had spent for hotels and air fare. But each day Richard reported the danger areas, told you where to avoid and where you would be safe. His tweets convinced me to follow through with the trip. I texted with Richard many times before we arrived in Bangkok and he was always very patient and helpful with my questions.

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Chatrium Riverside Hotel - Bangkok

Our original hotel was the Sky Hotel located on the Sky Train which is used to transport you all over the city of Bangkok. This would have been an excellent hotel for people unfamiliar with the city and wanting to explore the streets of Thailand. But it was located right in the heart of the protest sights so at Richard's advice we changed hotels to one located on the Chao Phraya River. It was a beautiful choice. They had free shuttle service on the water for places we wanted to see. And if the violence in the city caused the roads to the airport to be closed we could have taken the river shuttle to the sky train and still gotten to the airport safely. We were on the sixteenth floor of the hotel with a view of the river and also the skyline of Bangkok. It was the perfect location and had there been no violence we would never have stayed here.

We walked down to the boat dock at our hotel each day and caught the shuttle boat down to the tourist boat dock for our daily adventure in Bangkok. Then we returned each night to check in with the ex patriot on twitter to see what was happening in the areas we could not visit. For every beautiful Buddhist temple visit we visited we read of hand grenades being tossed at police or shopping centers in the inner city areas.

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The day we visited the beautiful Grand Palace we had to walk past the Department of Defense surrounded in barbed wire bringing back the reality of the danger in the city around us. But for every barbed wire we saw there were overwhelming art and colorful Buddhist temples to fill our memories. It was difficult at times to take it all in and also face the reality of what is going on in Thailand. There is very little on the news here in the west about the problems in Thailand. I was completely unprepared to deal with the beauty and also the ugliness of the situation in Bangkok. I never had to witness the danger and the protest thanks to Richard Barrow and his updates. But for everything beautiful that I saw there is that memory of the updates and photos of the bombings and deaths I saw in the daily news updates. I was far removed from the danger but I could sense the loss and sadness around me.

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Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok

I will never get over the image of the gigantic reclining Buddha I saw at Wat Pho in old town Bangkok. After walking through the temple and being overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of the images around me I had to take time to stop and let it all sink in. At times there was too much to see and take in all in one day. My mind could only accept so much before it all became a blur. This was not the Madonna and Child I was used to seeing in European churches. This was something completely different and very foreign to me. This was not the Basilica in Milan where I had to take off my hat before entering. This was a Wat where I had to take off my shoes and wear long pants instead of shorts in reverence to the Buddhist who worship here.

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Taking off my shoes before entering the Wat to see the Reclining Buddha

After returning from seeing the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho I went to my hotel to check on the daily updates from the inner city of Bangkok. There were three children killed by a hand grenade tossed towards a shopping center on the Sky Train. It was all too much to take in. I fell in love with the people in Bangkok. I have never been treated better as a visitor anywhere. The kindness and welcome arms of the people in Bangkok is beyond imagination. Traveling expands our horizons. I have always felt traveling makes me a better person. But I have never had to share my travel experience with a people whose country was in revolution. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of all that I did not understand. But I was also overwhelmed by the sadness I felt for these beautiful people facing an uncertain future for their country.

I returned to my safe hotel on the river front in Bangkok. I went to dinner and spent time with other tourists who were enjoying their vacations. There was an interesting band playing at our hotel in the restaurant on the bank of the river. The lady singing had been a contestant on The Voice in Thailand. I even was asked to get up and dance with her, which I did with much delight. And I went back to my room that night with many memories of things that I had learned that day about a culture I knew nothing about previously. I went back to my room with a camera chip filled with beautiful and fascinating photos. I went back with a brain on overload being unable to take in and appreciate all I had seen. And I went back to read about three children who lost their lives that day at a shopping center in the inner city.

Bangkok will stay with me forever. I would love to return someday and see the areas I had to avoid. But for now I have to sit back and try to make some sense of it all and to reflect on what I learned in Bangkok.

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Larry with a guard at the gate to Wat Pho in Bangkok

Posted by littlesam1 13:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged hotels thailand bangkok wat_pho revolution reclining_buddha riots chatrium_riverside_hotel @richardbarrow Comments (3)

Tuk Tuks - not only in Southeast Asia

Exploring the world in Tuk Tuks. From Thailand to Portugal. You never know when you might need one. Especially if happen to have a broken ankle.

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Tuk Tuk's and traffic in Chiang Mai

When I think of tuk tuk's I immediately think of large Southeast Asian cities with lots of traffic and tiny little tuk tuk's weaving in and out of the traffic to transport tourists quickly to a special destination. I took my first tuk tuk ride while I was in Bangkok, and yes it was large southeast Asian city with lots of traffic. The guide books all said to be careful of tuk tuks. They over charge. They are expensive when compared to using a bus or a tram. I did not find them all that expensive in Bangkok. Once I assured the driver I did not want to visit the tiger sanctuary or any other tourist trap on his list it was a pleasant and quick way to get to my chosen destination. Mark and I used tuk tuks' several times while in Bangkok. We found it fun to zoom through the busy traffic blocked streets. And the breeze blowing through the tuk tuk was a welcome relief to the heat in Bangkok.

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Mark and I in Bangkok in the back of a tuk tuk

After leaving Bangkok we visited the city of Chiang Mai. We decided to hire a driver with a taxi in Chiang Mai instead of using tuk tuk's. Our driver was a very nice lady named Ebon. We spent an entire day with her for only $45. She was delightful and showed us many interesting places and taught us a lot about the city of Chiang Mai and surrounding area's outside of the city. We met her at the airport when we arrived in Chiang Mai. She drove us from the airport to our hotel and gave us her business card to use if we were interesting in hiring her the next day.

After our day with Ebon we decided we would spend the rest of our time in Chiang Mai on foot visiting the many side streets, temples and shops. As we walked the streets we say many tuk tuk drivers parked along the streets. Each tuk tuk we passed called out to us "Tuk tuk?" After a day of hearing "Tuk tuk?" at least a hudred times I started to find it humorous. We saw one last tuk tuk driver on a very hot afternoon and as he called out to us I responded with a friendly laugh "No. No tuk tuk's today". I was looking back at the driver and was not watching my step very well. Mark had walked on ahead of me. I slipped on a curb and had a very bad fall right in front of the tuk tuk. I called to Mark ahead of me frantically. I knew something was wrong and I could not get up on my feet. I had broken my ankle. I looked back at the tuk tuk driver I had just said "No" to hoping for a ride. I must have made him angry when I said "No tuk tuk" the first time, as he just looked at me and started up his tuk tuk and drove away. Mark helped me to my feet and I realized I could not walk back to our hotel. Luckily we were able to flag down another tuk tuk and he took us safely back to our hotel.

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After leaving Chiang Mai we flew to Phuket and stayed in the city of Patong. I had no issue hiring tuk tuk's in Patong. My foot was very swollen and it was painful walking. At this time I thought it was just a sprain. I did not find out it was actually broken until I returned home and went to the emergency room four days later. Four days of tuk tuk rides in Phuket gave us the chance to see the variety of different tuk tuk designs in the city. Some had fancy lights inside the cabin that blinked on and off. One had a Winnie the Pooh decor which I found amusing.

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It's a Winnie The Pook Tuk Tuk in Patong

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We traveled to Portugal in June 2015. The last thing I expected to see was a tuk tuk. We were not in Southeast Asia. We were in Western Europe. We took a day trip from Cascais to the city of Sintra. We had been in Sintra in 2009 for a day also but did not get the chance to really explore the city. We made the big mistake of walking to the Castle of the Moors our first time in Sintra. We had wanted to see the Castle so when we saw a sign pointing to the trail to walk to the castle we thought it would be a good idea. We did not really research this very well. The sign made it look like just a brief hike. In reality the Castle of the Moors is on a very high hill way above the city. We spent our entire day climbing the hill to the castle and we too tired afterwards to really explore any of the city itself.

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Castle of the Moors - high above the city of Sintra

When we were at the Castle of the Moors in 2009 we were able to see the beautiful Pena Palace located above the castle on an even higher hill. We did not have the time or energy to visit it that day. So on our return trip in 2015 we planned to take explore the many side streets and alleys of Sintra and then take a bus up the hill to visit the Pena Palace. As we explored Sintra we walked past a tuk tuk stand. What kind of sorcery was this? Tuk tuk's in Portugal? We also noticed that the drivers of the tuk tuk's were very attractive young men.

So it was decided. We would hire a tuk tuk to take us to the Pena Palace. It was a bit more expensive than the tuk tuk's in Thailand. But it was worth the price. We had a very pleasant driver who took us to the palace and showed us quite a few beautiful over looks on the way to the top of the hill. It was a lot easier and more fun than the long climb we had on our first visit.

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Our driver was not only pleasant and a good guide but he was also a very attractive young man which made the day all the more pleasant for these two "older" gay men. At the end of our trip I asked the driver if we could take a photo. His thought I meant for him to take a photo of Mark and I together. When I explained that I wanted a photo with him he kind of blushed, smiled and said of course.

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Our friendly tuk tuk driver in Sintra

So if your in Sintra take my advice. Do not follow the sign to the walking trail to the Castle of the Moors or the Pena Palace.

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Take a tuk tuk instead.

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Larry home from Thailand with crutches and a broken ankle

Posted by littlesam1 21:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok chiang_mai phuket portugal sintra accidents tuk_tuks broken_ankle Comments (5)

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