Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bangkok Temples

Statue in Wat Arun

Bangkok is home to several famous Buddhist temples. Although not very old, they are still extremely beautiful with very interesting architecture. The two temples we visited, Wat Arun and Wat Pho sit on opposite banks of the Chao Phraya river which runs through Bangkok.

Wat Arun from across the river
In order to get to War Arun, you must take a boat to the other side of the river. The river is dotted with boatmen for hire in addition to a ferry specifically designed to take tourists to Wat Arun.

Boats on the Chao Phraya river
The Wat Arun temple is made up almost entirely of mosaics. From far away you can't tell but up close you can see that all the decorations are made of bits of pottery. 
Entrance to Wat Arun

Buddha figure at Wat Arun

Mosaic figures holding up the temple towers

Detail of Pottery Mosaic
The center tower of Wat Arun can be climbed for some great views of the temple and the river. You could also see the other temple, Wat Pho, on the other side of the river.

Wat Arun Temple in Background

View of Wat Pho from Wat Arun
After taking the ferry back across the river, we headed to Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous for its giant Buddha and its massage school. The giant golden Buddha is housed in its own room and is a "Reclining Buddha."

Reclining Buddha close up

Reclining Buddha's feet
After a stop at the Massage school for a foot rub, we explored the rest of the temple. Its much larger than Wat Pho but with a similar look.  Sadly at this point my camera died so no more photos of the temple...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Outside Bangkok

Elephant ride outside Bangkok
We spent one day doing things in the countryside around Bangkok. We hired a driver and guide to take us to the floating market, the "tiger temple," an elephant ride, and the bridge over the River Kwai.

Water Buffalo cooling off
 After the floating market, we went to the tiger temple. Unfortunately, it seemed to be set up entirely for tourists and it was questionable how well the animals were treated.  There are many websites dedicated to this discussion, so I won't get into it, but needless to say, the only reason to go is if you want to pet a tiger. The whole experience consists of the monks walking the tiger down to a pit and then helping people take photos with them. They warn you not to wear red as that will make the tigers angry. I questioned the monks bright orange robes, but they seemed to survive so I guess the tigers can distinguish.
Tiger Temple
On the grounds are also water buffalo and a few friendly deer that will eat corn out of your hands. There are also so tiger cubs which were pretty adorable.
Tiger Temple
After the tiger temple, our guide took us to a park nearby where we could hand feed some monkeys with corn. They had obviously encountered many tourists because they had no qualms about stealing the food right out of your fingers if you weren't careful. But once again, adorable. I love monkeys.
 Next, was the quintessential Thailand experience - the elephant ride.  We fed some elephants with coconuts  and it was amazing to see them eat them like it was a peanut. It would have taken me an hour to crack through a coconut shell and this elephant took it down in about a second. The ride was nice enough and included a walk through a river which was pretty cool.
Guide on an Elephant
Our last stop, was the bridge over the River Kwai.made famous by a movie and book about the events that transpired during World War II.  Apparently British POWs were forced to build to the bridge by the Japanese. Many many POWs died during its construction giving it the name "Death Railroad."
Bridge over the River Kwai

Markets of Thailand

Vendors at a Thai floating market
I have always loved large outdoor markets. There is something about the hustle and bustle of the crowds, mixed with the many different things to eat, see and buy that makes it an extremely fun way to spend a day. Thailand has some amazing and unique markets that I was super excited to visit. Although most have them have gotten a bit touristy, they are still such an unusual experience that they are totally worth a visit (or two).

1. JJ Market

The entrance to Jatuchak Market
 Our first day in Bangkok we went to the Jatuchak Market - nick named JJ market.  The market is at its best on weekends and since we were only there for one weekend day, we had to make sure to go right away. As the sign says, the market sells "Whatever you want," many things you never knew you wanted, and several things you don't want.

Pottery for sale

Popsicle maker
The market is huge. So big that there are actually maps showing you where different items are sold. The most famous on is Nancy Chandler's, which is available for sale online. Also, most everything is super cheap already - and you are expect to bargain. I could have spent an entire day wandering around, trying food and shopping.
Puppies for sale

A monk peruses the items for sale

Cafe in the middle of the market

Outdoor Thai foot massage in the market

Food Stand
Religious amulets
 2. Train Market

The next day we went to the "Train Market" - named because of its location on the train tracks.  The area between the rails acts as a walkway, and the stalls each extend out the the outer rails. Trains still come through, blowing a horn to alert of their arrival. The vendors quickly pull in their tents and merchandise and the customers hurry off into the space created when the food is moved. Then everyone waits for the train to come through, the stalls come back out, and commerce continues.

People shopping amongst the train tracks

More food for sale

Walking along the train tracks

Turtles for sale ...awww baby turtles
At the train market, a man was selling tiny turtles. I got very sad thinking these were food of some kind. But he assured me that they were for sale so that people could buy them and release them into the wild for good luck. Sort of like releasing a dove. I'm pretty sure that is still going to end up in either their death or some kind of teenage mutant ninja turtle situation...but it made me feel somewhat better.

Moving stalls out of the way for the train
 The bins closest to the tracks were all on wheels so that they could quickly be moved out of the way when the train arrived. The entire process was very fast and very impressive. One lady was even selling eggs and managed to get them all moved out of the way without any breakage.

Train coming through - man selling those fish better hurry!
3. Floating Market
The next market we went to was one of the famous floating markets. Really, one of the most amazing things I have seen, the floating markets are comprised of canals filled with vendors selling things out of their boats. You can either walk along the side and they will row up to you, or you can hire a boat to take you around for an hour.

It was pretty crowded
 We rented out a boat for an hour and did a loop around the market. Once again everything was for sale: produce, hot food, trinkets, medicine, animals - you name it. The lighting was a little weird - sorry for the picture quality.

Man selling plates of food for people in boats

Front of our boat