A Travellerspoint blog

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

Paris 2000 - First impressions of a novice tourist

Learning to travel at the age of 48

View First trip to Europe - France 2000 on littlesam1's travel map.

Bel Kaufman in her novel Up The Down Staircase tells the story of a young teacher's first year at an inner city school. The novel opens with the teacher in her first day with her home room class. She has planned to read them a brief essay she prepared on first impressions. In the hectic and chaotic first hour of teaching with a room full of unruly students doing their best to distract the new teacher she never gets the opportunity to share with them her thoughts on first impressions. Much like Sylvia Barrett in the novel I have unsuccessfully wanted to share a series of travel blogs on my first impressions of places I have visited. And much like Sylvia Barrett I have found myself distracted and never had the time to finish my thoughts on first impressions. I thought I would start out with my first travel experience in Europe, a trip to Paris. However my introduction here of the novel and memories of reading the adventures of Sylvia Barrett have already distracted me and unless I use some discipline I will never start this series on first impressions. I will just have to put Bel Kaufman, her creation Sylvia Barrett, the novel and the movie starring Sandy Dennis on the back burner and return to them some time in the future for another blog. So let me get focused and start this blog on first impressions with the words of the character Sylvia Barrett from the novel. "First impressions are very important"


This photo is the best representation of my first impression of Paris. It was chilly, damp and rainy. The skies were overcast for three days. I took this photo from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. I did not have a digital camera so the photo was taken with film. After having the photos developed I had them also digitized on a disc. So they look faded and are of poor quality but they held all my memories of that visit. When I returned home and back to work this photo became my background on my home and work computer. I looked at it over and over and could never get over the thrill of seeing Paris for the first time. On bad days at work I looked at the photo and had an escape. After a long day I could return home and once again there was the photo. I joined a web site called Virtual Tourist not long after the trip. I had been bitten by the travel bug and was planning a second trip to Europe, this time to Italy. In my research photos from Virtual Tourist popped up so I decided to take a look at the site. . There was no Facebook at this time. Virtual Tourist became my very first social media web experience. This photo was my introductory photo on Virtual Tourist. And Paris was my first place I wrote about as a new Virtual Tourist member. Although Virtual Tourist has long since disappeared this photo remained on my page until the last day of that site. A chilly,damp, rainy day in the city of Lights.


We booked a hotel on the internet which was a first for us. We basically went into Yahoo and searched on hotels in Paris. We found one that was affordable near Pere Lachaise Cemetery. It was named "Hotel Modern". I learned my first travel lesson with this hotel. Don't believe the name or what they say on their web page. If it's inexpensive there is a reason it's inexpensive.


The room was not great. It was not even just OK. It was pretty nasty. But look at my face in the photo. I was so thrilled to be in Paris. The room did not ruin the experience. I learned my second travel lesson also from this hotel. You don't spend a lot of time in the room. So don't over pay and don't fret if it's not beautiful. The city awaits you. Get out and experience it.

I will never forget my first impression of Paris. It was magical and beautiful even on a rainy day. I had my first taste of true French Vanilla Ice Cream. It was the best ice cream I had ever tasted. I had a scoop every day. I had my first rump steak in peppercorn sauce, a taste I will never forget. I knew very little about wine before going to Paris. I drank very little wine and when I did drink wine it was usually White Zinfandel. So you can imagine my shock and delight when I had my first true French wines. I was surrounded with people speaking a foreign language. I remembered from high school how to say hello, good bye, thank you and Where is the library. I could also say I fell down in the street. So basically I spent four days saying hello, goodbye, or thank you as often as possible so I could feel like I was speaking the language I got to use my last phrase, I fell down in the street, on my second to visit to Paris in 2008. But that is another story for another blog.

Since that time I have traveled a lot. I have learned a lot. I now consider myself a seasoned traveler. I have been to many of the worlds great cities. But nothing compares to that first moment in Paris. I thought the magic might have been because it was my first trip overseas. I returned eight years later and was a bit concerned. I was afraid I would be let down this time. I thought it might be different the second time around. It might not as wonderful as my memory had made it. But I had nothing to worry about it. It wasn't me. It wasn't because it was my first time to be in Europe. It was magical because it was Paris. I took the photo below when I returned in 2008. It's the Eiffel Tower once again and taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe once more. And it was still a chilly, gray, rainy day. And it's still Paris. And it's still my favorite city of all.


My first visit was in 2000. I returned in 2008. It will soon be 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. I think it's time for another visit.


Posted by littlesam1 06:55 Archived in France Tagged paris france eiffel_tower first_impressions 2000 virtual_tourist modern_hotel Comments (6)

Switzerland - Déjà vu

Looking back on the inpact of my first visit to Switzerland

View Switzerland - August 2003 on littlesam1's travel map.


Larry 10,000 feet in the Alps on top of Schilthorn

When I to took my first trip to Europe I was with my ex partner. He and I had not done a lot of traveling in the past other than family vacations with our individual families. He was scheduled to attend a conference for his job in France in the city of Marseilles and he asked if I wanted to join him on the trip. All I needed was my airfare and money to spend. The hotels would all be taken care of with his expense account for the trip. He said it was a three day conference and we could plan a weeks vacation around the convention. I was so excited. I wanted to see Paris. But the conference is in Marseilles he replied to me. Yes, I was aware that it was in Marseilles but Marseilles is in France and Paris is in France. It did not matter to me that they were at different ends of the country. They were in the same country. And I was not going to France or even to Europe and not see Paris. So we went to Paris and then on to Marseilles. For the next seven years we traveled to Europe each spring to attend this big medical conference in different cities and countries each year. These were my first traveling experiences outside of the United States. With each trip I was fascinated with the cities we visited. I learned a lot about the culture and the history of each country we visited. And with each experience I came home with a feeling of having discovered something new and wonderful. Nothing seemed familiar to me. I was a stranger in a strange land drinking up the knowledge and the beauty all around me. I never felt at home. It always felt foreign and fascinating to me. Then I went to Switzerland.

Switzerland was never on my dream list of places I wanted to visit. I never really thought much about Switzerland at all. It was just Switzerland somewhere in the middle of Europe. I was thrilled when his conference sent us to Italy. It was a real fantasy to finally get to see ancient Italy. Likewise with the Netherlands and Amsterdam, Cologne, and Copenhagen. But when he told me the conference was to be in Switzerland I was a bit let down. I was glad to be able to continue to take the annual trip to Europe. But I was not thrilled about visiting Switzerland. The only thing I really wanted to see in Switzerland was Piz Gloria the location where the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed.


Piz Gloria above the village of Murren

We planned the trip with little excitement. Neither of us were especially thrilled about Switzerland. We made arrangements to stay in Bern the first few days. We planned day trips , Basel, Zurich, and of course Piz Gloria. The conference was in the remote village of Les Diablerets high in the Alps in the western French speaking part of Switzerland. So we knew we would be spending four days there. Then finally we would travel to Geneva for two last days and fly home from there.


Les Diablerets

The strangest thing happened. The moment we departed our plane in Geneva I was spellbound. Something felt very comforting and very familiar. I could not quite figure out what it was or why I was feeling this way. We boarded the train in Geneva and headed to Bern. I could not stop staring out of the windows watching the villages and mountains go by. Switzerland just captured my spirit and I felt completely at home.



The ten days passed way to fast. I wanted more time. I did not want to leave. To this day over ten years later I can still just close my eyes and be instantly transported back to Switzerland. I find it strange. I don't necessarily believe in reincarnation. And I have no ancestors who came from Switzerland. So there is no reason I should have felt so at home there. But who knows. Maybe I did live there in past life. Or perhaps my mother's German ancestors originated in the Swiss area and migrated up to Germany and I felt some connection through them


Littlesam AKA Larry Sampson standing in front of the Samson fountain in Bern

Perhaps it's because there is a Samson fountain in Bern.


The beautiful village of Murren

Or maybe I just fell in love with the beauty of the small villages.

I still feel like there is a piece of me left behind in Switzerland. I came home promising myself to return one day soon and spend some more time there. Maybe I will figure out the connection. Or maybe I will be more confused. But I do know there will be a certain satisfaction to be able to return and continue the journey.


Chateau Aigle

And I know that a glass of wine from the vineyards at Chateau Aigle is waiting for me on my return. And perhaps there, all will be revealed to me. Switzerland deja vu.

(The original trip to Switzerland was in August 2003. I wrote this blog in 2015. Since then I have returned to Switzerland two more times.)

Posted by littlesam1 10:45 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains switzerland geneva alps bern basel aigle chateau_aigle piz_gloria les_diablerets Comments (0)

Wine bars and Embassies - 2001 through 2015

View Christmas in Eastern Europe 2015 on littlesam1's travel map.

I have had several experiences with embassies while traveling. I try not to involve myself with embassies and to try to stay clear of the proximity if at all possible. My first experience with an embassy occured in 2001 in Amsterdam, While not an actual embassy my story involved the American Consulates Office in Amsterdam which is almost an embassy in my thoughts. I was robbed on the train from Schiphol Airport traveling into the city of Amsterdam. A group of you gypsy boys ran into the train, grabbed my travel bag and ran out of the door of the train before I was able to catch them. It all happened very fast and was very scary for me on only my second trip out of the United States. I was still a novice traveler and still had a lot to learn about dangers while traveling. The thieves did not get any of value of to them although the items in the bag were of great value to me. They got my passport and my return plane ticket. I was able to get a replacement plane ticket, at a cost of course. But I was in a foreign country with no passport which worried me more than the plane ticket. I had to go to the American Consulates Office to report the loss of my passport and to place application for a replacement. I had photos made at an office across the street from the consulates office and three days later I had a new passport presented to me. Again this was at my expense so the theft was costly to me even without them getting any money or credit cards.


New passports outside the gate of the American Consulates Office in Amsterdam

It was an adventure. After returning home the inconvenience and the initial fear were forgotten and I now had an interesting travel story to share. My second experience with an embassy was a lot more scarier than losing my passport.

Mark and I traveled to Ireland in 2009. We have a good friend named Holger Haase who lives in Ireland and used to work for a hotel chain there. He helped us book our hotel with a significant discount in Dublin, which we appreciated very much. We landed in Dublin and took a taxi to our hotel. We wanted to immediately get out and start exploring the area around the hotel. We left the hotel and started to walk towards St. Stephen's Green. I had just retired in January 2008. Mark bought me a wonderful digital movie camera for my retirement gift that we could use on our travels. I was excited about using it for the the first time. So as we walked from our hotel I took the movie camera and decided to document out first moments in Dublin. I did not realize our hotel was in the Embassy district. I had just arrived in the city. As we crossed the street from our hotel and as I recorded our walk I was stopped abruptly by a uniformed security guard. He demanded my camera and wanted to know why I was making a movie. I nervously explained I had just arrived and was making a movie of our first walk in Dublin thinking everything would be alright with my explanation. However the guard became less friendly and demanded my identification. It seems I had been making a video of the Israeli Embassy. After a lot of explanations, and providing not only my passport but my drivers license and home address was I released and allowed to continue my journey. I put the camera away and walked quickly out of the Embassy district before taking out the camera again.

Mark and I spent Christmas vacation in Prague and Budapest in 2015. We really enjoyed exploring the Christmas markets, seeing all of the churches and other sights. Prague and Budapest are two of the more beautiful cities we have visited. Our first day in Prague we once more became aware of an Embassy in our presence. We walked from Old Town Square across the Charles Bridge to the Lesser Town area. Mark wanted to see the Church of Our Lady Victorious where the famous Infant Jesus of Prague is located. We found the church easily and were able to explore the church and take some photos of the Infant Jesus of Prague Statue.


The Infant Jesus of Prague inside the Church of Our Lady Victorious

We left the church and decided to walk back to the Church of St. Nichols in Lesser Town Square. On our way we say a small side street that looked interesting. We decided to walk up the side street and then on to Lesser Town Square. As we entered the street we saw a sign for small wine bar at the top of the hill. This caught our attention and became our main focus. It was cold and we were ready to take a break, have some warm mulled wine and a snack before continuing our walk. As we walked up the hill a car turned on to the street and proceeded to drive behind us. Suddenly four uniformed men appeared and stopped the car. We stepped back on the side walk, as we were not sure what was happening but being nosey we wanted to see what was going on. The guards looked in the trunk of the car, searched through the car, and then checked under with car with mirrors. We knew something strange was happening but we were not sure what it was. Another car turned onto the street behind the car being inspected. Once again the guards stopped the car and inspected it also. Then I noticed a large American flag flying over out heads. With our sights on the wine bar we did not notice we were walking past the American Embassy. Travel today is a lot different that it was in 2001 when I was in Amsterdam. Times have changed. The Isis attacks in Paris had occurred just a few weeks before out trip to Prague and safety was on our mind. And being near the American Embassy is probably not the safest place to be walking in a foreign country today. We talked about maybe turning around and avoiding the Embassy area. And then we looked at the very appealing wine bar just ahead of us at the top of the hill. We have traveled to dangerous places before. We have learned to be cautious and be aware of our surroundings. And we have learned that sometimes taking risks creates the best memories. So the wine bar won! It was directly next to the Embassy. We sat in the very pleasant bar and had some warm mulled wine and a delicious Czech Christmas Cake for a treat while at the same time watching every car turning on the street being examined for bombs. All in all it was a good choice and the right decision. The lady serving us was very pleasant and we enjoyed talking with her. We never mentioned the Embassy or the bomb squad searches and neither did she. That is life in 2015.


Larry and Mark at Vineoteka Wine Bar in Prague


Vinoteka Wine Bar in Prague

Posted by littlesam1 05:11 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Bad Ass Beer at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge

Exploring the historic Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville with my daugher

View The Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes Tour - Nashville on littlesam1's travel map.


My daughter Katie had to travel to Nashville in October 2017 for a work conference. As part of my 65th birthday celebration year she invited me to travel with her to Nashville for the week. I had never been to Nashville before so I was glad to be invited. She would be busy all day at her conference which allowed me lots of time to explore the Music City and see what kind of trouble I could get into.


Most of what I knew about Nashville I learned watching Ralph Emery on Nashville Now which was on the CMT channel in the 1980's. I worked night work back in those days. When I would get home at midnight I would turn on Nashville Now and my daughters Katie and Danielle would crawl out of their beds and come out to join me watching the show. So it was very appropriate that Katie and I got to share this trip now that she is an adult. When we arrived I knew I wanted to go find Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway in Nashville. All of the stars on Nashville Now used to talk to Ralph Emery about sneaking out of the back door of The Ryman Auditorium and go into the back door of Tootsie's for a quick drink between shows of The Grand Ole Opry. So after my tour of The Ryman Auditorium I knew I would want to go out that back door and head over to the back door of Tootsie's. You can see the brick wall of the back of the Ryman on the left in the photo and the back door of Tootsie's on the left.


Tootsie's is a tourist trap. No question about that. It opens at 10:00 in the morning and the crowds are waiting for the doors to open. There are bars with music on all three levels of the building including a roof top deck with music also. I arrived at 10:30 that morning. The bar was already crowded. When I went in the back door I followed the sound of the music and found the front bar on the first floor. There was a band playing and everyone in the bar was singing along with the band. The woman who was lead singer of the band was standing on top of the bar singing Patsy Cline songs. She was singing Walking After Midnight at 10:30 in the morning. It was all that I could have hoped for.


It was early morning but after all I was in Nashville so I had to have a beer. I stood at the end of the bar and asked for a beer menu. It did not take me long to decide. I saw the name Badass Beer. What could be more perfect than to have a Badass Beer at Tootsie's my first day in Nashville. And it gives a good travel story to share. I can tell everyone I had a Badass beer in Nashville.


I finished my beer, walked to the front door, left a tip in the bucket for the band, and then found my way back out to Broadway. As I left there was still a small line of people waiting to get inside Tootsie's. They should have watched Ralph Emery in the 1980's or at least read a guide book. Use the back door folks. There is no line!

Katie's conference ended two days later. I took her into downtown Nashville to show her all that I had discovered while she was working. So I course I had to show her Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. We walked down Broadway and when we arrived the lines were twice as long at Tootsie's as they were in the morning of my visit. She looked at the line and said "Dad we will never get in there tonight but it looks like a fun place." I told her follow me. I know a secret. I took her to the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium and showed her the back entrance to Tootsie's. There was no line. We were able to get inside, fight the crowds and get up to the rooftop deck. It was too crowded to bother trying to get a beer at the bar. But she was able to experience Tootsie's the way the stars did back in the day. Through the back door in the alley.


Posted by littlesam1 22:05 Archived in USA Tagged beer tennessee bars nashville tootsie's_orchid_lounge tourist_traps bad_ass_beer nashville_now ralph_emery Comments (3)

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