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Beaching like Royalty

This weekend we decided to take a quick trip to Hua Hin, a quiet beach resort town popular with royal and regular Thais alike. In the early 1900s, King Prajadhipok built a summer palace in Hua Hin. In the early 2000s, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had his full-time residency at the palace in Hua Hin. The beaches aren’t as beautiful as the more popular ones farther south but you won’t be inundated by tourists either. If you need a few days of peace and quiet away from bustling Bangkok, Hua Hin is a perfect choice.

Getting There

We initially had difficulty figuring out the best way to get to Hua Hin. We knew the cheapest option was a minivan for 180 baht (a little over $5) but we just couldn’t figure out exactly where it left from. A few years ago, most minivans leaving Bangkok to other locations left from a central point, Victory Monument. This would have been fairly easy for us since the BTS goes straight from our place to Victory Monument. But this point of departure is no more. Now the minivans leave from multiple bus terminals around the city, each terminal servicing a portion of Thailand: one for southern destinations, one for eastern, etc. The Eastern Bus Terminal is in walking distance of our house but reading forums on the internet, I was getting conflicting information whether a minivan left from there to Hua Hin. Finally, I decided to walk to the station and try to figure it out on my own.

I made circles around the station, carefully reading each sign. Pattaya, Trat, Chanthaburi… No Hua Hin. So I went home and waited for Halie to get back from work. We went over our other options: hour taxi ride to other bus terminal, hour taxi ride to train station for a 5 hour train ride, 45 minute taxi ride the opposite direction to the airport for a longer minivan drive to Hua Hin. None sounded fun. Halie decided we should stop by the terminal near our house one more time and try to find somebody that speaks English to ask. As soon as we walk up, a security guard comes up to us and asks if we need help. I’m assuming because Halie’s much cuter than I, she was actually asked for help. Who knows. Either way, he pointed us to a small desk for the Hua Hin minivan. Bought our ticket so we’re good to go.

Next morning, minivan ride to Hua Hin. Uneventful, so let me get to the actual vacation!

Haven Resort, Hua Hin

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Welcome to Haven Resort

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Entrance to Haven

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View from room.

Let the relaxation begin.

Finally at our resort, we decided to quickly make our way to the beach area and start ordering drinks. After a bit on the beach, we moved back to sit near the infinity pool (drink ordering continued). We watched as a storm blew in but decided to stay by the pool. The drinks were tasty, the view was beautiful, the book I was reading was enjoyable. Why leave? Here’s a Snapchat video it raining on the pool. Once the rain let up a bit, Halie had to get into the pool:

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Pulling ourselves away from the poolside, we went back to our room to get ready for dinner and the night market in Hua Hin. Halie made sure our resort had a bathtub because she misses taking baths (we only have a shower in Bangkok). Over the two days in Hua Hin, she took three baths! Anyway, we got ready, had the resort call a taxi and headed down to the center of Hua Hin. Halie found a nice restaurant name Orchid. After dinner we walked down to the night market. They had similar offering as Bangkok, just a third of the price. Which was nice.

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Hua Hin Night Market

Second Day

After checking out of the resort, we grab a taxi to a really unique shopping area named Plearnwan. It is a collection of shops in a collection of older Thai buildings. Meant to be a living museum, it holds on to the traditional Thai shops while offering modern access and wares. Plearnwan cares about social awareness, providing a living wage for Thais, the environment and the preservation of history. The food stands offered incredibly interesting snacks up and down the area. For lunch, I had the traditional Thai kuaitiao ruea, also known as boat noodles. So tasty.

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Plearnwan

Okay, okay. Time to head back towards the minivan for our ride to Bangkok. So taxis in Hua Hin are surprisingly expensive. You pretty much have to get them from a taxi stand and they give you a flat rate before the ride (for us it was 200-300 baht). No meters and high prices. Much higher than Bangkok. It was necessary to use a taxi to get to our resort since it was kind of away from the main part of Hua Hin. But heading back to the center of town, we decided to take the cheaper and way more fascinating option: the songthaew. In Hua Hin, these pick-up trucks converted to passenger vehicles drive up and down the main road. While we walked, the songthaews would honk at us to see if we wanted to be picked up. This time, we waved “yes.” You tell the driver where you’re going, they tell you the price. Our ride was 10 baht per person, which is about 30 cents. You jump in the back, sit on the bench if there’s a spot or stand on the lower step if there isn’t. Halie and I stood. Snapchat video of Halie on the back of the songthaew. So cheap and quick and fun. Highly recommend.

Made it back to Bangkok Sunday afternoon. Back in the traffic and city lights, back to work.

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Posted by on September 6, 2017 in bangkok, Life, Original Work

 

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One Day in Chinatown

Last Saturday Halie and I decided meet up with some friends and spend the day in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Starting at the beginning of Chinatown at Wat Traimit, we walked the 3km to Wat Suthat outside of the neighborhood, winding our way through the market alleyways between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Roads.

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Looking down from Wat Traimit.

As I said, we began our adventure at Wat Traimit, the home of the largest gold Buddha statue in the world. Not only is it the largest, it might also have the coolest story. At some point this statue was covered by plaster to hide the true value from attacking Burmese armies. This was either done leading up to the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 or possibly in an earlier war. Well, over time, it was forgotten that there was gold under the plaster. It wasn’t until 1955 (!!) that the statue fell during transportation, knocking off some plaster and revealing a bit of gold. After removing all of the plaster, they discovered that the statue was the largest gold Buddha and one of the most valuable statues in the world.

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Wat Traimit

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The Golden Buddha, 5 meters tall.

Next we began our trek into Chinatown proper. Walking along Yaowarat, we stopped for a quick, tasty lunch at the Canton House. After a few blocks we finally decide to turn into one of the side streets and begin attempting to navigate the open markets of Chinatown. These small streets, like most of Bangkok’s sois, are an assault to all of your senses simultaneously. It’s an invigorating and slightly frightening experience to be inundated by the smells of food vendors selling all meats and vegetables (raw and cooked), by the sounds of motorbikes honking at you to get out of the way and shopkeepers announcing their wares. To taste the sweat on your lips intermingled with the exhaust from vehicles of every size and shape and to bump into every person and every thing as you struggle through the orderly chaos with your eyes open wide the whole time to behold it all. I love every bit of it.

Blurry Snapchat video of a reprieve I had in a less dense intersection.

After surviving the markets along the sois, we began the last stretch of walking towards Wat Suthat. The main temple was covered with scaffolding for repairs so I was unable to get a good picture of the facade. Really, I didn’t take many pictures walking around the grounds because it was such a beautiful, peaceful area that I just wanted to experience the calm. Dusk was upon us, the people were praying. A few pictures cannot encompass the serenity of the grounds surrounding a major Buddhist temple.

After leaving the temple, we grabbed a taxi to bring us the a BTS station and then took the train to meet some friends for dinner. Got to the restaurant just as the rain began to fall. With dinner complete, we spent some time walking around the Patpong Night Market. We haggled over a few purchases then headed home. I’d say it was a successful Saturday.

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Sun setting outside Wat Suthat.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2017 in bangkok, Life

 

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Thailand – One Month In

สวัสดี!
(Hello in Thai, pronounced “sawadee”)

Sorry it has been so quiet around here for a few months. We’ve been crazy busy with preparations for the move. We sold a lot of our belongings in Philadelphia. Packed what we wanted to store for a few years in boxes. Packed what we wanted to bring to Thailand in suitcases (Halie and I each had two rolling suitcases, a duffel bag and a backpack). Then we moved out of our Philly rowhome and spent a few days driving to Texas. We had four weeks in Texas to spend some time with our families, go on a quick vacation to Mexico, finalize last minute documents for visas and prepare for the big move. Finally, a month and a day ago, we loaded up on a Korean Air flight and headed across the world. One day later, July 23rd, we were in our new home: Bangkok (or in Thai: Krung Thep).

It has now been a month. We’ve moved into a condo downtown. I’ve set up my desk area at home for work. Halie has two coworkers that she shares a cab with every morning and evening for work. Next week the Thai tutor we hired will begin seriously teaching us the language. We are finally settling in to our new lives as farangs in Thailand.

So what does that mean, our new lives in Thailand? Well, we get up really early because Halie’s school is out in the suburbs and we live downtown. We walk to the end of our “soi” so Halie can grab a taxi for school and I can grab breakfast. This lady makes these incredible crispy pancake things with sugar and condensed milk on them. And they’re only 5 baht (15 cents)!! I start off every day with at least two. If I need to grab some water or cokes for the house, I go across the soi to another little shop for that. My walk back brings me across food stands selling prepared lunches and whole fish off a grill, past monks receiving donations from the devoted, fruit and vegetable stands and many other shops. All the while I’m dodging taxis, bikes, motorcycles, soi dogs and other vehicles. What a way to start every day!

In the afternoons we sometimes will meet other teachers for happy hour or dinner. We use the foodpanda app to order dinner some nights. Other nights we either walk to a restaurant or pick up dinner from a food stand. There’s one particular stand on our soi that for only 35 baht (a little over a dollar) you can get rice with two different dishes on top. My favorite Thai dish currently is the minced pork stir fried with basil and peppers, called pad kra pao. It’s so tasty and spicy and also good with chicken.

And of course, the weekends. This is when we really get to explore the city (or attempt to, it’s so freaking huge). The major road we live off of, Sukhumvit, is a perfect place to begin. One reason is because the BTS sky train is on Sukhumvit so using that (and it’s connection to the Airport link and the metro), we can reach much of the city. Sukhumvit is a shopper’s paradise. Everything from fancy, stupid-expensive malls to street markets line Sukhumvit from one end to the other. This is also a large expat area so any type of food at any price is just a few kilometers away. You can get anything you want and pay anywhere from 35 baht to 3500 baht (if you prefer). Farther down the BTS is also numerous Buddhist temples (called wats), cultural landmarks like the Victory Monument and museums aplenty. Many nights, we end up at a rooftop bar because they’re incredible for viewing the night skyline, there are so many of them and… we like bars.

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Day trips are also easily accomplished on weekends. We recently took a trip to Ayutthaya, the capital of Bangkok from 1350 until it was burned down by the Burmese in 1787. It’s a great collection of ruins of temples, stupas, royal buildings and much more. We also visited the current royal summer palace at Bang Pa-In then finished the day off with a riverboat cruise back to Bangkok. Here’s a collection of a few pictures I took that day. 

Another major reason for living in Bangkok is our close connection to the rest of Southeast Asia. Suvarnabhumi Airport is a major international hub with cheap flights all over SEA and the world. A second airport, Don Mueang, will get you places even cheaper. As we get settled in, we’ve been planning our trips around holidays and long weekends. In September, we have flights up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. With a week off in October, we’re planning on spending most of it in Vietnam. October also has a three-day weekend that we want to go to one of the numerous islands along the Thai coast that contain some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Anyway, I’m not completely sure what I was trying to accomplish with the blog post. I just felt obligated to give you guys an update and felt bad about not posting anything for a while. Hope you enjoyed my update and I’ll make sure to include more pictures next time. If you want to see pictures more often, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. I’ll post something somewhere…

Until next time!

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Life, Original Work

 

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In Preparation of Thailand

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If you follow me on any social media platforms, you might have seen the big news. Halie and I are moving to Bangkok this summer!! I’m really excited to move to a new country and experience a different culture and be immersed in a different language. But to prepare myself for this, I wanted to conduct a literary crash course in all things Thai. I wanted to tell you about a few books I read (titles are links to Amazon):

A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

51-twjc45jl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Of course I had to start with history. While looking for a book to begin I realized that there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to Thai history written in English. Plenty of travel books, not much history. But this one had good reviews so I decided to begin my literary journey here. And what a journey.

Thailand’s history is a rollercoaster ride of monarchy and democracy and military coups. Thailand is unique in being the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by a Western power. They were left as a buffer between French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) and the British Empire in South Asia (India and Burma). During World War II, Thailand tried to stay neutral but with pressure from Japan (and subsequent invasion), they allowed free passage for Japanese soldiers and declared war against the United States and the UK. But by the end of the war, Thailand had emerged as an ally of the United States.

While the Cold War raged around the globe, the United States saw Thailand as the bulwark of “democracy” amongst all the communist nations of Southeast Asia. Because of this, the United States funded the Thai military and police. This caused political instability, military coups and the weakening of the monarchy’s power for decades well into the 1980s. Although Thai politics began to be more stable by the constitution of 1997, there has still continued to be political unrest and military coups. The most recent military coup was in 2014 and Thailand is still run by the military junta.

Theravada Buddhism by Diana & Richard St. Ruth

51uskueijul-_sx321_bo1204203200_I decided next to move from history to religion. 95% of Thailand’s citizens practice Theravada Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that began in Sri Lanka and spread throughout Southeast Asia. This short guide explained the beginnings of Buddhism, the division of Theravada from other sects and the practices of the religion. I believe this has been very helpful in understanding some of the cultural practices of Thailand. Their interactions with their monarch, the temples and shrines everywhere and their relationships with each other can be explained in the context of Theravada Buddhist practices. The only issue I have with Buddhism is all the numbers! The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Threefold Discipline, the Seven Purifications… It just gets to be a little too much counting for me!

Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

51qamujhwql-_sx322_bo1204203200_Published in the 1950s, this fascinating book follows minor nobility through major transformations of Thailand. Told through the point of view of a girl (and later woman) named Phloi, we follow her life during four different kings of Thailand, spanning the years 1890-1946. We get to see Thailand become a part of the global political world and part of the modern world. The end of the absolute monarchy and the introduction of the first constitution in 1932 is seen through the eyes of the citizens of Bangkok. We see, through Phloi’s experiences, when Japanese soldiers start marching through the streets during World War II and the different reactions of people depending on their place in Thai politics. The story ends with Phloi’s death at about the same time as her fourth king, Ananda Mahidol.

I would love for there to be a sequel, maybe titled One Reign, that follows a character similar to Phloi during the next king’s tenure. Bhumibol Adulyadej began his reign in 1946 and at the time of his death in October of last year, was the longest serving head of state (70 years). He was a much loved king that was a sign of stability for the citizens of Thailand during the tumultuous politics of the Cold War and into current events.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

51wmtw359wlSo I didn’t talk about every book I read but I wanted to end my literary research (for now) and my blog with a modern Thai book. This debut book published in 2005 is a collection of seven stories. They are all set in modern-day Thailand, some in Bangkok and some in the Thai countryside. Most of the stories have young children as the protagonist and they all beautifully depict a different side of life in Thailand.

“Farangs,” the name of the first short story and the word for foreigners, gives us a picture of the interactions between tourist and Thai. “Sightseeing,” the fourth story, is a gut-wrenching example of the difficulties of growing up, especially with an aging and sickly family member. “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place” is a hilarious and touching story of an American father who becomes handicapped and forced to move to Thailand to live with his son and Thai daughter-in-law. As you an tell from the title, he’s not too excited to be there. “Priscilla the Cambodian” gives us a short look into the life of Southeast Asian refugees that are forced to live in Thailand. Really, all the stories are well worth reading. I’m excited to see what Lapcharoensap publishes in the future.

 

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