Tag Archives: temples

Thailand Part 1: Bangkok


It’s been a couple weeks since I returned from my Christmas trip, and let me just say, Thailand is AMAZING! Seriously, it is by far the most exotic, interesting country I have been to yet in Southeast Asia.  I must admit, as much as my mind loved the country, my body was not always a fan. Over the course of a week and a half my allergies were terrible, my face broke out, and I got diarrhea on several occasions, not to mention I was forced to take several cold showers and totally got my butt kicked on a really strenuous jungle trek. But in the end, everything was worth it, and I got to see some of the coolest sights of my life.

So it all started in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. Josh, one of my best friend’s from high school, was meeting me there from Tennessee to join me on a two-week, Thailand/Malaysia adventure. Since Josh’s first flight was canceled due to snow, I found myself with an extra day in Bangkok to see some of the sights he hadn’t been interested in. As I made my way down Khao San Road, the touristy/backpacker area near where we were staying, I started to get really excited. Khao San Road was so cool! All up and down the street, the road is filled with markets selling, surprisingly, really interesting stuff including clothes, food (deep fried bugs, yum), paintings and a whole bunch of knock off goods. At night, all the restaurants play pretty good live music and the street performers come out, and it’s just a really fun atmosphere. Before we left the city, I already had bought a t-shirt, a dress, funky Thai pants, a backpack and a Buddha wall hanging, it had been a much-enjoyed shopping trip!

Our room in Bangkok. This was the farthest back I could get without leaving the room, it was so small and the mattresses were so hard!

But as I was walking down the street that first afternoon heading to the bed and breakfast we had reserved, I soon became acquainted with the room accommodations in Bangkok. Our room at the Tuptim Bed and Breakfast was one of the smallest rooms I had ever seen in my life. It came with two twin beds (with hard mattresses) merely a few feet apart and was so small we could not even open the door completely before hitting one of the beds. Not only did this room not have a bathroom, it didn’t even have a closet, and our luggage space was limited to one shelf with a bar overhead. The place had promised hot showers in the community bathrooms down the hall, but as I soon found out, that was often a myth in Thailand. (According to an American woman who was living in Thailand, the water heaters are quite expensive but break easily and no one knows how to fix them, so they just don’t). Thus began the first of many cold showers that would punctuate my Thailand trip.

Anyway, after settling in, I went to the place’s restaurant to order my first official Thai meal: green curry chicken, rice and chocolate milk with ice. It was absolutely delicious, but as I soon learned, don’t drink the water, and ice counts as water…  Things were fine until I reached my first destination, the Jim Thompson House. On first arrival, things were fine. The house is beautiful. It is a mansion made of teak wood comprised of several traditional Thai houses, with quite a collection of art and china. Jim Thompson was the American who made Thai silk famous in the west by organizing the silk production using traditional hand-woven methods. He disappeared in 1967 in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and, to this day, his death is still a mystery.

Things were fine and dandy until my stomach started cramping up, and I found myself regretting part of that first Thai meal I had found so delicious. Seriously, it was quite embarrassing. Every time I would stand in line to wait for the next tour group, I found myself running to the bathroom! The only thing I can say is I was eventually able to make it through a 25-minute tour with no problems and was grateful I found myself at a relatively high-class, well-maintained tourist attraction with clean, well-equipped bathrooms.

As I took a cab back to Khao San Road (most of the cabs are delightfully bright pink!), feeling weak, exhausted and dehydrated, I decided to take it easy the rest of the night and chuckled to myself that of course this would happen on my first day, such a stereotypical travel story!

Josh’s plane arrived later that night and by the next morning, we were both semi-well-rested and ready to really hit the ground running. Our first stop was Ko Ratanakosin, Bangkok’s former royal district. Let me tell you, this was one of my absolute favorite sights in Thailand. The grounds are full of temples and former palaces/royal buildings that are absolutely beautiful, full of architecture that I had never seen before. To start, the temples are huge and often come with a “chedi”, a large, bell-shaped tower that often hold relics of Buddha or a Thai king. The temples are covered in gold, colored tiles and mosaics that just sparkle in the sun. They are also full of images of mythical creatures with tails and strange faces that was really just unusual and interesting to see. And unlike all the churches in Europe, these temples are well-maintained and look like they were built yesterday.

Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest temple housing Thailand's largest, reclining Buddha.

Next we headed to Wat Pho nearby, Thailand’s oldest temple and home of the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. After having spent a couple hours in awe of the buildings in Ko Ratanakosin, I was delighted to find myself in awe once again: the Wat Pho Buddha is HUGE!  Seriously, as Josh and I waited in line outside the temple, I got a glimpse of Buddha’s head through the window slit, and I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. This Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, with my head making up the size of just one of his toes!

Wearing the sarong I was forced to buy to enter the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

Later that afternoon, we headed over to Dusit Palace Park, Thailand’s current royal district containing the Vimanmek Teak Mansion, a former palace from the early 20th century full of Victorian-like décor after the Thai king got inspiration from Europe. More interesting, however, was the old parliament building turned museum, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. The museum has a pretty interesting collection of Thai arts and crafts, including some really cool-looking gold thrones/decorations and some really intricate, iridescent green tapestries colored from beetle wings. What I found both interesting and irritating, however, is that I was forced to buy and wear a sarong to enter the building! Now, just to be clear, I was already fully-dressed including long blue jeans, closed-toe tennis shoes and a t-shirt with my hoodie JUST IN CASE I had to cover even more. Not to mention the fact, I wasn’t even in a temple! But no, on King’s orders, all women must be wearing a skirt or something, so I paid the 40 baht (about $1.30) and wore the sarong, over my jeans. Yeah, I looked hot.

After all the excitement and beauty of day one, I must say day two was a little bit of a letdown. The day started off just fine. Wearing my brand new, super cute (super cheap) Thai dress, Josh and I headed out to visit Wat Arun, a temple full of tall, spire-like buildings covered in porcelain tile. The buildings were beautiful and you can take extremely steep, dangerous steps to walk all over them overlooking lovely views of the Chao Phraya River.  From there, we took an hour-long boat tour of the river to reach another part of the city, where we were treated to a relaxing ride viewing modern Thai houses and giant lizards sunbathing on the rocks.

Bangkok tuk tuk driver covering his nose and mouth while driving around Chinatown

All was great until we reached Chinatown, when all the negative ideas I had about Bangkok being crowded and dirty suddenly came to life. The sidewalks are so full, you can’t even walk down them without touching people and the air is so polluted a lot of people cover their mouths and noses as they walk or drive down the street. Furthermore, the stuff they’re actually selling is mostly a bunch of tourist junk, nothing interesting at all. And worst of all, it is never ending!  I swear to you, every time we turned a corner in the hopes of leaving Chinatown, we just found more Chinatown! Finally, I told Josh we just had to grab a cab and get the hell out before I went crazy. I finally was able to get some much needed peace at Wat Traimit, home of a three meter tall, solid gold Buddha where I was able to “meditate” (Josh called it napping, whatever…).

Our day ended with an evening of Muay Thai boxing, a very long evening… Unlike American boxing, in Muay Thai boxing boxers can use all parts of their body (except the head) to hurt their opponent, including the more fun parts like elbows and knees. Honestly, after expecting a really brutal fighting match, I was a bit disappointed that a bunch of the moves ended with the guys really close to each other, almost “hugging” it out. Not that I’m really interested in watching people beat each other for entertainment (not enough testosterone), but if I’m going to sit through five hours of this stuff, I’d at least like to see someone get knocked out or something. Of course, that is exactly what happened during the most interesting fight between the current champion and his opponent. That one was quite exciting but the guy got knocked out in the third or fourth round, so it was over pretty fast. All in all, I’m glad I saw it, but find it unlikely I’ll ever do it again.

So thus ended our stay in Bangkok (at least for a few days). Then Josh and I headed back and prepared to visit Ayutthaya!



After four months of going stir-crazy in Malaysia, I was finally able to do some traveling last weekend and took a short, three-day trip to Singapore.

A huge part of my decision to come to Malaysia was the prospect of traveling throughout Asia, and though I had the time and money to travel, I was growing increasingly frustrated struggling to find travel buddies. Luckily, my friend Gina, a former colleague of mine who now works in India, contacted me out of the blue one day and asked if I was interested in traveling with her. Two days later, our tickets were booked, and we were set to explore this small, Asian country!

Singapore was very…pleasant. As a former (and briefly-lived) Malaysian state, Singapore is very similar to Malaysia in terms of culture, ethnic make-up and food. Had it not been for the fact that I had already spent several months in Malaysia, I might have been more impressed. Singapore is, however, much more developed and cleaner than Malaysia and is Chinese-dominated (as opposed to Malay-dominated) and, therefore, not a Muslim country. From what I understand, it is also one of the most “westernized” parts of Asia. I’m not going to lie, it was refreshing to be in a country with proper sidewalks and “normal” traffic with cars that stay in their lanes and don’t make me want to run for cover.

Me and Gina aboard the Singapore Flyer, the world's largest Ferris Wheel.

On day one, we decided to explore the city by foot, hitting some of its famous sights on the way. We started our journey checking out the business district before taking a trip on the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest Ferris Wheel (much like the London Eye). We then hit up Arab Street where we had an awesome Middle Eastern lunch and checked out the very Aladdin-esque Sultan Mosque. As we headed back to our hotel near Little India, I was determined to find this one particular temple in my guidebook that was supposed to grant wishes and tell fortunes after a somewhat complicated-sounding procedure involving joss sticks, bowing and shaking a cylinder. Of course I wanted to go! As I soon learned, however, messing with Eastern gods is not always a good idea…

As we walked toward the corner of Waterloo and Middle Streets, the general vicinity of said temple, I suddenly looked up and saw this beautiful Hindu temple before my eyes with a group of people bowing and lighting joss sticks in front. Delighted at our find, Gina and I set out to make our wishes, lighting our joss sticks and bowing very carefully to make sure they came true. As we entered the temple, things got a bit more confusing. I’m not sure if it was because it was Friday afternoon or Deepavali, one of Hinduism’s biggest holidays, but there was a lot of activity going on inside the temple, though none of it seemed to be fortune-telling… As we watched the priests make their offerings and the visitors line up to receive blessings (I think), I began to wander around the temple thinking, “Where are these damn fortune-tellers?” I sheepishly asked one of the men at the counter if there was fortune-telling going on, where he gave me a strange look and said no. Apparently, not only was there not any fortune-telling but there never had been…

Confused, Gina and I stepped outside where I re-opened my guidebook to find out what happened. As I read the words “Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple,” I began to feel really stupid as I realized we were supposed to be at the BUDDHIST temple next door! Whoops…

Unfortunately, the Buddhist temple had just closed for the day, so we decided to head over to Chinatown to see another famous Buddhist temple, the Sacred Buddha Tooth Temple. Just our luck, my guidebook was three hours off on its “opening hours” and the temple had just closed. Buddha clearly was not interested in seeing us that night.

The next day, we set off to see some of Singapore’s natural elements with a visit to its Botanic Gardens, the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari, with the Sacred Buddha Tooth Temple squeezed in-between. I must say, the gardens were lovely. There were acres of paths that led around beautiful trees, plants and flowers before surrounding a romantic lake full of swans and turtles, a lovely setting in which to read a book if you could just ignore the sweltering heat…

Inside the 100 Dragons Hall at the Sacred Buddha Tooth Temple in Chinatown, Singapore.

Next, we finally made it to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Temple, which was really quite impressive. The whole thing is four stories tall, with the temple on the ground floor, a Buddha museum on another floor, a rooftop garden, and a separate temple on the fourth floor containing the well-protected, beautifully-encased relic of one of Buddha’s teeth. Just entering the ground floor alone is a pretty spectacular sight with a huge golden Buddha at the back of the room surrounded by 100 Buddhas around the walls. I thought it was very cool and very interesting.

After that, we decided to head out to the north of the island for the much-acclaimed Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. Though neither Gina nor I are big zoo-people, the Singapore Zoo is supposed to be one of the best in the world, so we decided to check it out. For a zoo, it is pretty awesome, but at the end of the day, it’s still a zoo. What does make it special is the fact that the animals are contained with mostly hidden or natural barriers, such as moats, that make it appear more as though you’re actually experiencing them in the wild. My biggest draw to the zoo was the chance to get a photo with an orang utan. I was soon disappointed, however, when I found out you don’t actually get to hold one, you just stand in front of them while the guy snaps a picture. Still, I was mere inches away from three of them during the photo, close enough that people started shrieking at me, because one nearly peed on me! (It was still super cool!) The Night Safari next door was decent. It’s basically a zoo at nighttime that lets you observe nocturnal animals while you ride around in a tram. Again, pleasant, but not life-changing.

Me after mixing up a Hindu temple with a Buddhist temple. Whoops!

On day three we decided to try our luck again at the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and get our fortunes told before checking out one of Singapore’s smaller islands. Despite my genuine interest in Eastern religions, I apparently had not yet been forgiven for my original temple mix-up by either the Hindu or the Buddhist gods… After lighting our joss sticks, Gina and I went inside the temple and were given a cylinder full of wooden sticks. You’re supposed to kneel before the Buddha statue, make your wish and shake the sticks until one comes out. Then, you shake these two, red semi-circles. If one lands face up and the other face down, your stick is a winner. If not, you have to try again.

Ok, simple enough. I knelt down on the carpet, made my wish and began to shake…and shake…and shake… the darn things were not coming out! I looked around the room to see if anyone else was struggling and watched my fellow templers shake out a stick with ease. Even Gina, a fellow foreigner, managed to shake out a winning stick on the first try. This was not a good sign.

So I shook more vigorously. This time, three sticks came out. Again, not a good sign, but I was not giving up. Finally, after much patience and one “false” stick, I managed to drop one (just one) and have the two semi-circles fall in opposite directions.  I raced up to get my fortune, and given the events of the past two days, I shouldn’t have been surprised at what I found:

“Interpretation: Bad. Best to do what you’re doing now. Be quiet and experience peace. Do not hope for good results. Best to forget your problem.”

Then, after looking up my fortune number in the fortune book (66, of course) I soon read that my marriage was going to fail, my crops were going to die and if I get sick I should make offerings to the gods to expel my demons. Moral of the story, apparently Eastern gods don’t appreciate it when you mix them up…

After that uplifting morning, Gina (who got a semi-decent fortune, by the way) and I headed over to Pulau Ubin, a small island off Singapore’s northeast side and the only part of the country that has not yet been touched by urban development. Pulau Ubin was BEAUTIFUL! After days of well-organized tourist attractions and over-commercialization, it was refreshing to find a small part of Singapore that just seemed a little more down-to-earth. That being said, the minute you reach the island you’re immediately approached by locals competing for your business to rent you a bike to cycle around the island…

A house on Pulau Ubin in Singapore.

Anyway, Pulau Ubin really is charming. To get there, you head to Changi Village on the east side of Singapore and wait until there are at least 12 people to fill a rickety old ferry to take you to the island. Once arrived, you’re greeted by a quaint little village of bicycle rental shops, seafood restaurants and friendly locals, eager to help you on your adventure. Minus the fudge, horse poop and no-car rule, the island was a bit a Mackinac-esque, which I found delightful. Gina and I quickly rented out bicycles (warning, they’re really not in that great of shape) and set to explore. Let me tell you, it was AMAZING! Despite being undeveloped, the island is covered in well-paved roads with very little traffic and is amazingly peaceful. It’s like you get to leisurely ride around the jungle enjoying palm trees, banana trees, old Singaporean homes built on stilts, without any of the stress of mosquitoes or dangerous animals. The only drawback (for me) was it was a bit hilly, and after two and a half days of walking non-stop, my butt was not really into any more physical exertion. Though we had originally wanted to explore the tougher mountain bike trails, Gina and I decided to hit the mossy 1 km trail and call it a day.

Now I’m back in KL, recovering from an intense but very enjoyable weekend and starting to plan my next trip. My work is sending me to Kuching, the capital of East Malaysia, in two weeks and soon after, I’ll be heading to Bangkok to meet a friend for a two-week trip throughout Thailand and Malaysia. Life is good!