Five Nights in Bangkok

Bangkok, Oriental Setting…

We spent five nights in this fascinating city in April.  Our travel plans have moved so fast and furious that I have not yet posted any photos from the Thai capital.  This was a business destination for Andy but we still managed to see a few highlights as a family.

A View of the Grand Palace

I was last in Bangkok fourteen years ago. The city had been my first Asian destination.  I remember the streets being so crowded with cars, tuk tuks and even an occasional elephant.  Now the city has more public transportation, a flashy monorail zooms overhead Louis Vuitton stores.  The traffic is still thick but there as fewer tuk tuks, and no elephants were seen.

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are a highlight of any trip to Bangkok.  They were beautiful in 1998 but appeared more stunning this recent trip.  Certainly as Thailand has gained wealth, some of the money has gone towards restoring the beautiful landmarks, paintings and mosaics.  It is also likely the scorching 104 degree day with fantastically blue sky helped add a glisten to everything.

The Emerald Buddha  in Wat Phra Kaew is the most revered Buddha in Thailand.  Despite its name it is actually made of a form of jade.  It was under scaffolding during my last visit, so I was happy to see it beautifully displayed now.

There are many wonderful details around the complex.

We had a fantastic guide hired at the entrance of the palace grounds.  He would tell the children facts they appreciated about the structures.  Did you know this is a good demon?  You can tell because he is wearing a ring.

Sydney loved the paintings and the story of the Ramakian.  What 2-year-old is not moved by epics involving princess and monkey gods?

Here our guide instructs us how to sprinkle water on our heads with a lotus flower before entering the Wat.

Bangkok is famous for it debauchery and nightlife but I find the people overall very devout.  Many boys spend time as Buddhist monks.  The saffron robes are beautiful and easily visible throughout the city.  

The women are known for their beauty and it is not lost on Aidan.  The dreamy look in his eyes is priceless.  I night be tempted to blame it on mild dehydration from the insanely hot day but I know my son better… I am in serious trouble when he is a teenager.

The grand palace was a stunningly wonderful introduction to Bangkok.  Another time I will share what we did on the other days…

Phang Nga: James Bond, Monkeys and More

After five days in a lazy relaxed haze, only the promise of spectacular limestone islands set in emerald-green waters could lure us from the poolside.     

My mother and father-in-law had traveled 36 hours from Indianapolis to Asia and it seemed only right that they see more of Thailand than the resort so we signed up for a day trip destined for beautiful Phang Nga Bay.  After an hour bus ride, we boarded a long tail boat and the views were majestic.

We eventually came to an area of mangrove trees where the water was very shallow.  We boarded inflatable kayaks to get a closer look.

We travelled through passages and into caves that were so narrow at times we had to lie flat to fit.  The children loved the excitement.

The waters in the bay were once even more shallow and passing ancient men left paintings on the cave walls.

There are 40 islands in the Phang Nga Bay, but the most famous is Koh Tapu or as it is known in the tour guides – James Bond Island.

The location was chosen in 1974 as the tropical hideout for the assassin Scaremonger in the ninth Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.  Roger Moore is Bond and his antagonist portrayed by Christopher Lee installs a laser on the top of the island.  There is a duel scene on the beach.

The movie is definitely cheesy and not P.C. by today’s standards but the setting is beautiful enough to attract throngs of visitors today including many who have never seen the film. It is definitely a well visited place we went early which helped avoid some crowds.

This interesting leaning rock formation was the entrance to the Scaremonger’s lair in the movie.

Next we went to the floating fishing muslim village of Ko Panyi for lunch.

At last it was time to return to dry land, on the way back to our hotel we visited Wat Tham which is unique because of its setting in a cave. Inside the cool chamber are many Buddha images, including a massive one in the reclining pose.

Aidan engaged in his favorite temple ritual lighting incense.

Outside the temple is a monkey circus.  There were few around until a tour bus showed up.  The simians then knew it was “lunch time”.  Suddenly there were dozens all earnestly looking for a handout.  Their antics were amusing.

This guy is particularly well fed.

It was a wonderful day exploring Phang Nga Bay.  Who knows what adventures lie ahead for my own future “James Bond” and “Bond Girl”

Rolling in the Thai Deep

Nothing in human evolution has adapted man for life underwater, yet floating 60 feet beneath the ocean’s surface feels so natural to me.  Perhaps it is genetic, my father loved to dive. When I was a young teen, he encouraged me to learn so he would have a “buddy” and I have been in enamored ever since.

When we left for Thailand, six years had passed since my last dive.  Like many young loves a busy career, small children and general daily life took priority.  However, last week the famous Similan Islands were just a short boat ride away and grandparents were happy to play with the children, so Andy and I embraced the opportunity.  We signed up for a “refresher course” and found diving skills quickly come back.

One day we visited the remains of the tin mining boat Boonsong and Andy tackled another underwater first by renting a camera.  The wreck is over 20 years old and has become an artificial reef in an otherwise vast sandy area.  The little fish come for the protective niches and hiding spots and the big fish come to eat the little ones.

The sea was particularly rough which diminished the visibility at times we could only see about 20 feet. However, often I found my vision impaired not by silt  but rather large schools which felt like becoming engulfed in a fantasy world of “fish soup”.

The Boonsong harbors impressive variety of eels.

Generally eels hide their bodies while peeking heads out of protective holes. This made the spotted one we saw swimming freely particularly impressive.  It was about 3 feet in length.

There were many scorpion fish.  They are quite poisonous so you have to take care with where you touch.

Stone fish were also plentiful, difficult to see, and dangerous.  Their sting is known to cause excruciating pain and a great deal of swelling which rapidly leads to tissue death.   Again we watched our hand placement closely.

My children love “Finding Nemo” so I have viewed this movie often. This one reminded me of the feisty aquarium fish Gill voiced by Willem Dafoe.

No amount of taunting this puffer fish would incite it to “blow up”. I suppose I was not scary enough.

The Boonsong wreck site was the location of our second day of diving.  The first day we concentrated on the fundamentals of scuba not photography at Koh Bon island.

The visibility there was fabulous.  I wish we had taken dozens of photos.  One particularly unique and amazing sight were the giant manta rays.  These gentle plankton eaters feed off Koh Bon island by floating gracefully through the water.  We saw four and they were about 12 feet in diameter.  One of the dive masters Tory from SeaBees diving was kind enough to share a few of his photos of the magnificent creatures.

Alas our time diving completed and we returned to the harbor full of beautifully colored long tail boats.

At the wharf I spied the Andaman Dancer II listed  as a “Hot Sale”.  I loved my diving experience and briefly considered the “fixer-upper”.

On second thought there is likely not enough left of her to fix so it is time then to move ashore.  I only hope soon to return to the deep blue sea.

Khao Lak, Thailand: Swept Away in Paradise and Beauty

Thailand, something about the country urges one to kick back and relax so I did.  My blog fell aside neglected as I sat by the beach in beautiful Khao Lak.

Khao Lak sits just over an hours drive north of the more famous Phuket. It is a quieter place, no parties filled with young backpackers, rather sedate scuba divers and thier families.   My in-laws were visiting and we thought such a tropical retreat would be a nice break for everyone.

Today the beach and resorts feel like paradise. It is nearly impossible to imagine the devastation here on December 26, 2004 when the fourth greatest earthquake since 1900 occurred close off Sumatra. The shifting of the earth released the energy equivalent of 23,000 Hiroshima bombs and created a tsunami that devastated the area.  The largest wave was almost 50 feet high and it killed over 4000 people in the area many of them tourists.

A grandson of the Thai king was lost in the tsunami as well as the crew of one of the police boats protecting him.  The other patrol boat #813 was swept a mile inland, where it remains as a reminder of the force that Mother Nature can hurl at will towards the human guests on her surface.   We drove by this monument once but never was able to take our own photo.  This one I borrowed from Wikitravel.

Today there are remarkably few physical scars from the devastation.   We stayed at the Le Meridian Hotel which was beautifully restored and enjoyed a fantastic bungalow right on the beach.  Admittedly the first night both Andy and I had thoughts of “what if…” Fortunately tsunamis of devastating size are very rare and the tropical beauty seems to erode worries quickly.

Aidan who is fearless wasted no time and quickly plunged in the Indian Ocean.  Here is still in his clothes from the flight.

The pools went on forever and both kids were “fish” for the week.

A special resident of the hotel is a 1 1/2-year-old elephant and her appearance always brought much joy.

The baby elephant even gave kisses, here to grandma…

She also played a mean game of soccer.

There was a good selection of places to eat at the resort as well as just a short walk up the beach.  We often ordered freshly grilled seafood.  Simply chose what creature you like from the cooler and it is wonderfully prepared.

The only downside to the vacation was that it rained very hard almost every early evening.  This is unusual for March which is typically the “dry season.” It was difficult to enjoy the sunsets, but we managed to catch a few.

Khao Lak is certainly now a paradise on earth.