Reflections on Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a special place for us.  We lived in Singapore from 1995-1998 and traveled extensively for work throughout the region. The return to Southeast Asia was about many things including visiting the places we missed such as Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.  Here are some observations over the last couple of months:

  1. People are nice and caring- not just to foreign tourists wielding dollars to spend but to each other.  It is the Buddhist way.IMG_2173
  2. Pajamas are worn all day by women of all ages.  PJs are the new leisure suit.
  3. There are no rules of the road. Traffic goes in many different directions no matter the size of the street.  Scooters ride on sidewalks, and the horn is a useful tool.
  4. Dogs are friendly ( or at least that is what everyone will tell you).
  5. Laundry service is abundant and same day service at that.  Pick up and delivery laundry service should be more prevalent in the US.  It is a wonderful thing.Laundry_Bangkok
  6. Fragapani trees with their beautiful, sweet smelling flowers seem to be everywhere emitting a lovely perfume in the air.
  7. There are 1500 different types of bamboo, 150 in Thailand.
  8. Chanted dharma’s can be heard at the temples no matter the day or time.
  9. Chinese tourists are more important to the economies than US tourists.IMG_0777
  10. Healthcare in Thailand is as good as it is in the States ( and maybe better), but far less expensive.
  11. All Thai people are happy, really.  We only met one grumpy Thai person, our bus driver to Pai, but he was a great driver handling all 762 curves.
  12. Older people are respected here as they should be.  Be sure to give up your seat to older persons around you, assist with luggage they are carrying, give them a hand.
  13. The word “no” does not existing in Asian languages.
  14. Wifi is everywhere. Every restaurant has it and even gas stations. This is both great and awful.
  15. Public transportation is abundant whether it is tuk tuks, mini vans, buses, trains, or taxis.IMG_2124
  16. Bathrooms at gas stations are cleaner and have toilet paper.
  17. Scooters can accommodate up to 5 people and are used to transport just about anything-a TV, a desk, painting, block of ice.  No problem, la.IMG_0252IMG_0804IMG_1070 3IMG_0807
  18. Bikes are as useful.IMG_1610
  19. IMG_1046 IMG_1425
  20. So are boats.  Rivers and water transport are key to the economy as well as daily living.IMG_1751 IMG_1208
  21. Soft rock is here to stay.
  22. 7-Eleven owns the convenience store market in Thailand and their brand/copyright is heavily infringed upon in Cambodia.
  23. Ford and Toyota trucks are popular.CMAC Truck Cambodia
  24. So are energy drinks and Tiger Balm.
  25. And for whatever reason, the Michelin man is everywhere.
  26. Clothes are cheap – both in price and quality.
  27. Vietnam is truly a rising dragon.IMG_1347
  28. Sex tourism is BIG here.
  29. Farm to table and sustainable farming really means something in Southeast Asia.  Nothing is wasted, and the food is outstanding.
  30. Pho is a good idea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was our preferred breakfast while here.
  31. Eggplants are tiny, and carrots are huge.
  32. Pumpkin is quite popular for soups and curries.
  33. Fruit is fresh and tasty here -super sweet mangos and watermelon, green papaya (for salads), and 12 different types of bananas.
  34. There are a lot of westerners living in Thailand enjoying life. 20,000 expats in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  35. Coffee in Vietnam is outstanding and much better than any coffee in the States.IMG_1570IMG_1276  IMG_2098 IMG_1435
  36. We love Khao Soi, Banh Xeo, Banh Mi, Pho, and Northern Thailand sausage.
  37. It is too hot for wine, and one often regrets ice in a few hours so it is beer or whiskey neat for happy hours.
  38. Do not wait for the check at the end of a meal to be immediately delivered following the last course. A dinner out is something to be enjoyed at leisure and not turned for the next folks in line. Take as much time as you would like.
  39. Checkpoints seem to be the new norm.  We went through several in Cambodia and a few in northern Thailand.IMG_1430
  40. We both hope it is not another 20 + plus years before we return back to Southeast Asia. Happy Holidays and Cheers.

IMG_1438IMG_1944IMG_2118IMG_2114IMG_0433IMG_0386IMG_1384IMG_0595IMG_0524

IMG_0170

3000+ Curves To Mae Hong Son and Back

Think Amalfi Coast or the Road to Hana.  If you ever been on either of these two roads, you can appreciate a twisting, turning road. (If you haven’t , what are you waiting for!)   Add a lot of ups and downs, roads under construction, Asia safety features (or lack there of), scooters and minivans, a couple checkpoints by the Royal Thai Army and you have the road to Mae Hong Son.  It is a one-way, 6 hour mini-van (too tight and steep for a regular bus) ride from Chiang Mai (with a stop in Pai midway). It is not for the feint of heart or those prone to motion sickness, but what a scenic route through the mountains of the Thai highlands.  If you are into motorcycle expeditions, this is apparently the spot to do it.  Rent yourself a 1200, and take a week of these routes.

We did not have motorcycles. We crammed ourselves in the back of a minivan with a bunch of Imodium, antibiotics and Advil, crossed our fingers and tried to recover from a bad bout of Delhi belly.  It was still scenic, but we did not get a whole lot of photos.

IMG_2238IMG_1427IMG_1437

IMG_1434
Pictures never do it justice. Red means it was getting steep and tight

IMG_1432 IMG_1430 IMG_1429

We had 3 quick days to visit Mae Hong Son.  The town is quite sleepy with not much going on, but it has some interesting Burmese style temples, and it borders a number of national parks.  Because we were so close to the Burmese border, there were military helicopters circling above every day and a few checkpoints with soldiers armed with automatic weapons, mostly, to control illegal immigration we are told. We never felt threatened or uncomfortable in any way and we are happy to report that for the 75 days or so that we have been traveling, we have only experienced human kindness which seems rare these days after reading all the headlines.

We found a fantastic eco-resort set in the woods and on a working rice paddy. It was truly a beautiful spot with a back trail leading to a national park so we had a chance to get out in the jungle for some more trekking.

IMG_2237IMG_2250IMG_2253IMG_2245IMG_2248IMG_2236

The Fern Resort is a basic spot with a 20-30 rooms and a small restaurant. It was set up with government funds to help generate local jobs.  The ladies that work here are great – helpful and super fun; we enjoyed our couple days with them. The lobby is filled with pictures of them with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who visited last year. (We can only imagine their enthusiasm and excitement for this visit).

IMG_2231IMG_2229IMG_1407IMG_2234IMG_2228

IMG_1422 (2).JPG
Sue towering over the locals

Hard to see from the photo above, but the women at this resort made the most amazing flowers in about 10 minutes or less out of banana leaves. Sustainable agriculture is taken to whole  new level here and fascinating to see the multi-uses of things.  Banana leaves are used for beautiful flowers, serving plates, cooking chicken and many other items.

We arrived back to Chiang Mai last night in time to catch up with some friends that are over here for a couple months and got some errands done before we leave Asia today. It has been a blast and an experience to spend a couple months over in Southeast Asia but are looking forward to our future adventures and travels in Europe, South Africa and India.

IMG_2260IMG_2266IMG_2264IMG_2257IMG_2268IMG_2273

A Slice of Pai with a Little Mae Hong Son

Our travels in northern Thailand have continued from our favorite spot, Chiang Rai, to the bohemian, hippy  village of Pai and the sleepy, wilderness outpost of Mae Hong Son (“the city of three mists”) which is about 35 miles from the Myanmar border.  Our travel companions have been young backpackers from all nations settling in for long terms stays in Pai, motorcyclists and local Thai tourists following the Mae Hong Son loop. Both towns are in valleys among the mountain ranges of the Thai highlands.  The weather has been cool, especially in Mae Hong Son. We have broken out our fleeces and wool socks, but the shorts and sandals remain (it has been 10 weeks in them).  It has been a nice break from the heat and humidity and good way to prepare for our exit from Asia in a few days (to Madrid where it will be much cooler).

IMG_2194IMG_2190

Pai

Pai is a beautiful spot in a stunning valley. It is a super popular spot for young backpackers. It is scenic, cheap, and close to waterfalls, canyons, hot springs, and  other attractions just short scooter rides away. Renting a scooter is the thing to do.  Droves of western youth zip around the village center and the outskirts on scooters of all makes and models.  It is unclear if it is the cheap beer and scooters or lack of skills, but the rate of accidents are staggering. Without exaggeration, we have seen 10’s of bandaged souls each day that we have been here.

The town has a wonderful collection of restaurants and bars, and the main street closes every night to cars for an outdoor market. There is street food, music, friendly dogs, street art everywhere. Indeed, music and art are more prevalent here than in most recent stops.

IMG_2164IMG_2167

IMG_2173
Mega Buddah – 50+ feet, scene from miles away

IMG_2197

The beauty of the valley is amazing. The biking and trekking, both done on our own to avoid touristy stops, have been wonderful.  One day, we rented a couple of bicycles for the day for a couple bucks from a shop downtown and went out for a few hours ride. Another day, we headed right out of town on foot for a few hours of hiking to the Mae Yen waterfall.

IMG_2214IMG_2220IMG_2212IMG_2204IMG_2202IMG_2205IMG_2200IMG_2191IMG_2187

IMG_2189
Too many holes in the bridge to cross riding

We found another great place to stay, Family House Zen. The owners, Jonathan from Italy, and his family are amazing hosts. He was super helpful with local recommendations and a lift to the bus station. We hope to see him in Italy next year!

Stayed tuned for details and photos of Mae Hong Son.

Verorab and Murphy’s Law

First, let me start off by saying I am just fine now.  However, a couple of weeks ago, while we were taking the sailing course, a stray dog bit me during a lunch break while walking along the beach near Ocean Marina in Sattahip, Thailand.  This incident made the remainder of the sailing course more challenging.

I share this story as a cautionary and instructional tale.

When we were not on the boat sailing, the theory of sailing was taught in a conference room at the Ocean View Marina Hotel.  The beach south of the hotel offered a short cut to a small village with restaurants and various small shops.  Chris and I had walked this beach a number of times earlier in the week and noted the large number of stray dogs (10-20).  The dogs never gave us any trouble or notice, for that matter, other than the evening we considered walking the path in the dark.  However, that evening, we chose the longer road back to our hotel after noting some aggressive behavior by some of the dogs.  It is important to note that stray dogs seem to be everywhere in Southeast Asia (e.g. while biking in Cambodia, Vietnam  and Thailand), and we also encountered stray dogs on biking trips in Europe (e.g. Puglia, Italy) without any prior incidents.

In my case, I was bit on the back of the leg.  The dog came up from behind while we walking and started growling.  Since the dog was behind us, I did not realize how close it was to me; otherwise, we may have taken a different course of action.  That said, when the dog was growling, our strategy was to remain calm and continue walking (not run). However, before I knew it, I could feel its mouth around my leg just above the ankle.  We yelled at the dog, and it took off.

Thankfully, we were close to the Gulf Charters office, and an individual in the office assisted with cleaning the wound and putting a bandage on it. Not to get too gruesome, but the dog put a few good scratch on the right side of my leg and on the inner side of leg, one of his canine teeth put, what we later learned, to be a 1 inch deep hole in my leg.  Initially, I was not sure if I needed to go to the hospital thinking it was not too bad.  However, our instructors in the course did not even question and suggested I go to the hospital right away.

Upon arriving at the Bangkok Pattaya Clinic, they immediately recommended a Rabies shot (Verorab) and cleaned the wound.  While 50728I do not think I was exposed to Rabies, had I not gone to the hospital, it is highly likely an infection would have ensued.  In addition to Rabies shots, the doctors and nurses required that we make a daily trip to the clinic for cleaning of the wounds.  In summary, lessons learned:

  1. Beware of feral dogs.  Locals will tell you they are benign and most are, but be vigilant and cautious.
  2. Before traveling in Asia, get a Rabies shot.  This was the one shot we decided not to get.  See our post regarding the travel shots and prescriptions https://gocircamundi.com/2015/08/21/shots-and-prescriptions-uw-travel-center/.  We have encountered dogs many times on previous trips, while hiking and biking, and never had a problem.  We thought most of the issues in Asia were caused by monkeys and bats – both of which we thought we could safely avoid.
  3. If you are exposed in any way to a stray dog, go to the hospital or clinic right away. It sounds like a “no brainer”, but sometimes with the shock, you do not always think clearly. Even in a non rabies prone area, the risk of infection is very high.
  4. The challenge with animal wounds are they can not be stitched because of the risk of infection. They need to be aggressively cleaned daily and left open to drain.

We visited the clinic roughly 5-6 times for 3 rabies shots and daily cleaning.  (A total of 5 rabies shots are required over a 30 day period.  I got the 4th rabies shot in Chiang Rai and will get the last when we are Madrid.)

The clinic was pristine, and the care by the doctors and nurses was fantastic.  The cost ranged from $6-$50 per visit.  The rabies vaccine was less than 10% the cost of the shots back in the States, and the nurse care was almost free. The majority of the expense was buying bandages and cleaning kits for the nurses or to take with us when we had to do some self-cleaning while overnight on the boat.  (Chris was a great nurse.)

A huge thank you to the wonderful nurses and doctors at the Bangkok Pattaya Clinic on Sukhumvit Road next to Chic Republic in Pattaya, Thailand .  If for some reason you find yourself in Pattaya (BTW, we definitely do not recommend going to Pattaya, for any reason, other than the sailing course.) and in need of some medical help,  the clinic is exceptional.

 

Mae Kok River

Chiang Rai and Closing in on the Golden Triangle

We are in northern Thailand these couple weeks, just about 100 km from the Burmese border. We have spent the last couple days in Chiang Rai after flying into Chiang Mai from Bangkok and taking a 3 hour bus.  It is beautiful here. The weather is cooler (80-90 F in the days and down to high 60’s in the evenings), the cuisine is slightly different,  and it is a lot more mountainous than southern Thailand, but the people remain the same happy, smiling and appreciative hosts.  (We have had the opportunity to meet a number of locals outside of the tourism industry but more on that later).

IMG_1985
Always the Negotiation

IMG_1980

IMG_2099
Chiang Rai Clock Tower

IMG_2101

IMG_1984
We ride in style

There are many more tourists, especially Americans,  here, than we have been seeing over the last 4 weeks.  This area has been a hot spot for years. With Thanksgiving holiday back in the States and the local Loy Krathong festival, it is busy.

It is the first time in over a month that we have had a day or two without a bag to pack, train, bus, flight to catch, or class to attend. The other day, we were both craving a “Sunday” with a late brunch, a couple football games to watch, and a dinner to cook together.  We don’t have that yet but we will happily take a lazy day of idling near the Mae Kong river,  catching up electronically and exploring some new reads.  If we get motivated, we will wander the 2 km into town for some khao soi noodles for lunch.

Chiang Rai feels like a large, country town. It is much quieter and more relaxed than Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, but it still has a population of 200K and is the capital of the Chiang Rai province with 1 million people (10-12% hill tribes). Many shops and restaurants start closing around 9 pm  – relatively early for Asia.  We found a great place to stay along the Mae Kok river, The Legend (http://thelegend-chiangrai.com/).

IMG_2018IMG_2016IMG_2014

IMG_2023

We got lucky and arrived during a large and important festival for northern Thailand. The Loy Krathong festival is an annual celebration to give thanks to the Goddess of Water. In addition to markets, temple activity, fireworks and parades, locals float lighted flower boats and launch  hot air balloons by the thousands.  The Chiang Mai Airport actually stopped flights for an evening due to all of the activity.  It has been quite the site to see the  hot air balloons lighting up the skies like orange stars.  This morning, we took a long boat up the Mae Kok river and  saw hundreds of krathongs, the flower boats, still floating downriver –  presumably launched miles upstream during the previous evening’s celebrations.

IMG_2006IMG_1999IMG_1998IMG_2007IMG_2012

IMG_1948
krathongs

We have been enjoying the northern Thai dishes as well. Of course, the popular pad thai, pad see ew, tom yum soup, and curries are available but two local specialties that we have really enjoyed are the northern sausage and khao soi noodles.  The sausage is a spicy blend of pork and local herbs, usually grilled and served with fresh green onions, cucumber, and parsley.  The khao soi is a combination of wheat and egg noodles  served in a fragrant, rich brown curry sauce with a coconut milk base.  Pickled cabbage and shallots are often served on top. We have had it a few times already and really enjoyed it. We loved our bowl at Barrab – super tasty and very casual.

IMG_2106IMG_2107

IMG_2096

kow soy
Khao Soi. Image borrowed from Lonely Planet

With all the eating, it was time to get back on the bikes so we found a local guide to take us  up into the hill country for some mountain biking in the Lamnamkok National Park. We headed out with Tony from LannaTrek who was very knowledgeable about the local fauna and flora as well as the back roads of the area (especially useful for steering away from the illegal opium farmers that do not like visitors), but I think we surprised him when we asked to climb the big 6 km hill.

Our first stop was at a elephant camp where we were asked if we wanted to go for a ride.  We both declined. We were not comfortable seeing the chained elephants nervously swaying back and forth waiting for their next ride. These camps, very popular with Chinese and Korean visitors, offer one of the many ethical dilemmas  that one can find while traveling throughout the world (we never mentioned the many dogs we saw in Vietnam serving as pets and the main course).  These camps provide some sanctuary for the elephants when they are not working and appear to protect them from ivory poachers (although some of the males were missing their tusks). However, observing their behavior and reading the numerous stories of violent behavior between the elephants and their mahouts and tourists, one gets the strong sense that these intelligent animals are not all that happy with their situation.

IMG_2021IMG_2024IMG_2025

The biking offered a bit more elevation than we have seen for awhile, but it was on mostly dirt roads winding through tea plantations and national parks with relatively little vehicle traffic. The temperature was cool. Our destination was a waterfall, but it is never about the destination. The ride was fantastic.  We bumped into locals preparing a pig for the festival, cycled through an oolong tea plantation, chewed on some local tea leaves (most of the locals do not actually drink it – they chew it while working), and gasped at the giant bamboo, olive (yes olives), and eucalyptus trees.  We also grunted up a very steep 6km climb.

IMG_2087IMG_2047IMG_2043

IMG_2036IMG_2038IMG_2033IMG_2056IMG_2055IMG_2054

IMG_2070IMG_2060IMG_2067Woven bamboo bridgesIMG_2068

Woven bamboo bridges

IMG_2075
Ooolong tea
IMG_2078
The new crop to keep the Triangle golden
IMG_2059
Massive bamboo – hard to see but 6 inch diameter
IMG_2048
Eucalyptus tree
IMG_2052
Hot springs 57 C

We plan to spend the next couple weeks in northern Thailand with visits to Mae Taeng, Pai, Mae Hong Son and a short overnight in Chiang Mai again to catch up with a friend and fly back to Bangkok before heading to Madrid and then Capetown for the holidays. Stay tuned for more photos and perspective on the region.

 

 

Our Zero To Hero Course

For the last two weeks, we have been completely focused on learning how to sail and obtaining our international skipper licenses with Gulf Charters and International Yacht Training (IYT) organization in the Gulf of Thailand.  (http://www.yachtmasterthailand.com/index.htm).

It has been a challenging and rewarding two weeks learning the language of sailing, studying the theory and sailing. We have spent most of the time on a 43 ft Beneteau with many full day trips, two separate overnight trips of different lengths, and a midnight sail to practice navigating at night.  It all occurred in a busy bay full of fisherman, tourist water taxis, and a bunch of tankers (that are big and move much faster than you would expect).

12249759_10153608090445240_9019540245446164955_nIMG_1939

The group of instructors and students was a wonderful mix of folks from all over the globe. The crew included:

  1. Two instructors from Sardinia- Nicola, a native Italian from the Venice area and Paul, a British expat living there for over 30 years.  These guys have both been sailing for decades, crossed the Atlantic and other ocean crossings and have an unlimited supply of sailing stories and folk-lore.  Their stories of lost fingers had me begrudging stowing my rings.
  2. A US couple from the Kansas City area- one a lawyer with a guitar that had an impressive of number Blues and Jimmy Buffet tunes
  3. A French Expat living in Bangkok running a bakery start-up
  4. A retired, career Coast Guard American from Jersey currently living in Abu Dhabi on an oil rig with a 3 weeks on, 1 week off schedule
  5. A forty-something woman from Montreal at the start of a 6 month sabbatical
  6. A semi-retired, airplane mechanic from Calgary who just drove his motorcycle around most of Australia
  7. A Dutchman from Rotterdam
  8. And a drunk Russian that showed up with beer and new wounds every morning.

We lost two members of the crew after the first few days to Koh Samui, a beautiful island where cocktails and relaxing on the beach is what one does.  I must admit I considered following them more than once.  The Russian disappeared after 10 days or so.  His attendance was spotty at best and his drinking was creating some issues on the other boat.  It was certainly an interesting mix of folks.

IMG_1337
Land Ho after 3 days out. Sue,Paul, Mylyn

The course consisted of practical and class room work including the following:

  1. International Crew Certificate (ICC)
  2. International Watchkeeper Certificate (IWC)
  3. International Skipper Certificate (ISC)

The ICC was an introductory training program looking at basic navigation, sailing theory, terminology, knot tying, rope work,  sail handling, yacht safety, etc. The IWC was another training module focused on knowledge of passage planning, charts and navigation aids, docking, anchoring, boat handling, collision regulations and first aid at sea.  The Watchkeeper Certification also included an all day sail into the evening until about 10 pm.  Motoring at night is challenging, especially here in Thailand.  There are many fishing boats in the Gulf of Thailand and none of them follow international regulations- e.g. lights.  Fishing nets  and trash are abundant.  Sailing in the area requires constant vigilance while underway.  The ISC course focuses on seamanship skills, tides and currents, wind and weather, waves and storms and assuming responsibility for a yacht. At the end of each training module, a successful completion of a written exam was required in order to obtain certification.

The two-week course included five nights at sea on the boat and roughly 257 nautical miles of sailing.   Gulf of Thailand is a great place to sail as there are many islands here- Koh Samet, Koh Chang, etc.  However, trying to sleep on a boat in the tropics with no air condition equated to sleepless nights at sea.  For the watchkeeper course, we could have stayed on the boat in the harbor but opted for a hotel room at the marina with air conditioning.

IMG_1885IMG_1932

 

IMG_1886
One of only 4 in the world. I think the Bentley we saw a couple times at the dock belonged to this boat.

 

This is something Chris has always wanted to do having sailed small boats while growing up and sailed with a few friends in Seattle.  For me, this was a little more of a stretch, and at the end of each module, I was toying with the idea of not starting the next.  (I am not 100% comfortable on the water and found the boats restricting despite having enough space for individual cabins and bathrooms.  It is so hot here unless the boat has air conditioning sleeping is painful in the heat and humidity). However, my wonderful parents taught me many great, life lessons including never quit.  After two intense weeks, we are both now certified skippers allowing us to charter (rent) boats in many locations in the world….perhaps next year somewhere warm? Stay tuned!

12241336_10153608090475240_8913023677106002587_n

 

 

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

In Thailand’s 80+ degree temperatures and 95-100% humidity, it does not take too long to blow through a bunch of fresh clothes. “Light packing” and our preference for a daily run does not help either.  It was not surprising when we started considering laundry only a few days into our travels.

We have found a few basic options for laundry on the road:

  1. Do it yourself – Not bad if you are traveling prepared. We typically have not gone this route in the past, and some of our friends know how much we like to bring along on our trips to avoid it. Humongous bags were not an option given the length and various locations we are planning to visit.
  2. Hotel laundry – An option, especially in SEA, but can be slow.
  3.  A laundry service – Asia is filled with them, and they are efficient and inexpensive.  This is a great option because we have found it takes 24-36 hours to dry anything this week in the hotel room with all the rain and humidity.

Like a seasoned diviner, Susan quickly located a laundry service in the corner IMG_1046alley around the block from our hotel in Bangkok, and she made a new friend. The relationship has blossomed over the last few days and created mutual euphoria for all involved with daily visits and commerce on one side and freshly cleaned ( wonderful smelling), folded garments on the other. At USD .30 cents per 2.2 lbs, we pay extra, and everyone is happy!

For those times when we will be doing it ourselves, we have found some handy items to throw in the bag:

  1. Tide sticks – The key to these is they help you  avoid laundry for a few more days.
  2. Soap tabs – Awesome 50 to a pack, and a couple will do the trick. Super small and light.
  3. Universal stopper – We cannot take credit for this one.  The traveling Irish folks recommended this handy item. A small chunk of rubber goodness.
  4. Clothes line – This one from Sea to Summit is very small with built-in hanging points.

Siam- Bangkok (September 30- October 5, 2015)

Returning back to Bangkok, after about 20 years, we noticed some things have changed, mostly for the better.  Having traveled here solely for business about 20 years ago, we returned to explore the city as a tourist, and Bangkok is a good destination from which to go to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

The new airport and highway (from the airport to downtown) is nicely done.  The airport was well-organized, and there was little traffic driving into downtown from the airport.  Taxis are inexpensive ( USD$6 for a 1 hour taxi ride in city center).  A hotel on the Chao Praya is the way to go- away from the concrete, Americanized jungle of Sukhumvit Road.  Bangkok, Thailand (Siam in earlier years) is an interesting place.  Look past the “Backpacker District” on Khao San Road, bars and other things for which Bangkok is infamous, and one can find some gems.  Here are some interesting spots:

1. MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art- MOCA)MOCA 2_20151002 has a collection of modern art in a cool building.  Although an hour Uber ride from our hotel, the building was gorgeous and housed some fascinating pieces of art.  Definitely one of the highlights during this visit.

2. Wat Pho  is royal temple dating back to about 1650 time period housing a huge reclining Buddha.Wat Pho_Reclining Buddha_20151002

3. Museum Siam is an interactive museum on the history and culture of Thailand.  Not the best museum but a great way to pick up some addition history on Thailand.  Great for kids.  From 4-6 pm, the museum offers free admission to all.

4. Lumphini ParkLumpini Park is a gorgeous park in central Bangkok.  We visited on a Saturday night around 6 pm, and there were a plethora of runners and folks out enjoying the park.  While we were in the park, all of sudden, as the Thai national anthem started playing, everyone in the park stopped moving (everyone), and the feral dogs started howling.

A couple other interesting items of note:

  1. Uber is in Bangkok.  We used Uber a few times, but compared with the traditional taxi services, Uber was not great, just yet.  Drivers seem much less experienced and there are not many (although there is likely a small population looking for them). In a city challenged with traffic, driving skills are key and our taxi drivers clearly out maneuvered their Uber counterparts.
  2. The subway system (MRT and BTS and 10-20 years old respectively) is clean and efficient.  Great way to get around the city and avoid traffic. We were also impressed by the organized queuing system that the Thais seem to obey to get on and off the MRT.

We also need to give a shout out to Riva Surya hotel (Riva Surya ).  It was off the beaten path on the Chao Praya river with rooms overlooking the water.  The restaurant and pool also overlook the river.  Overall, the hotel is a nice respite from the rest of the Bangkok scene, especially places like Sukhumvit Road with a lot of the shopping and standard American hotels. In addition, the hotel is in close proximity to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Temple of Dawn and many other destination points.