Chiang Rai Video Part Two: The White Temple

Wat Rong Kun, or the White Temple as most international travelers know it as, has become one of my favorite things I’ve seen/done in Thailand. Nothing beats the back drop of the green grass, blue sky, and white sparkling temple. Once we got sight of it, I found it difficult to take my eyes off this masterpiece, designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. It’s nowhere near complete being about fifteen years in to construction and an estimated fifty more to go to finish what will be a collection of temples. This contemporary Buddhist temple is a must see for any traveler coming to Thailand.

I didn’t get to take any pictures inside, but it is more explosive than the outside.

Tourist Thailand: Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai first came to my attention from several other PCVs mentioning their trip and the bugs they had placed on various parts of their body. Planning my Mom’s visit to Thailand, I knew we had to make a stop after reading again and again how staggeringly beautiful this park is.

On the edge of Nakon Ratchasima (Khorat to any Thai person), you get off the bus (or train) in Pak Chong. Most accommodation is somewhere within town or close by. Our guesthouse, Greenleaf, picked us up on the side of the road and swept us out-of-town. We arrived with just enough time to get some lunch before the half-day afternoon tour started. It felt a little rushed at the time, but looking back, I’m so glad we did it.

Our first stop was a natural spring that was beyond magnificent. I saw it through my Mom’s winter-tired eyes that made it seem like an explosion of green and blue with the crystal clear water that we swam around in. We weren’t the only ones, with a few groups of Thais joining in the water and armed with picnic lunches. It wasn’t crowded despite it being the start of high tourist time (winter for Thailand), but I imagine during the long afternoons of hot season, it would be packed.

Water looks inviting doesn't it?

Water looks inviting doesn’t it?

After our swim we were off to the bat cave, Bruce Wayne not included. I was a little freaked out as we descended underground, but once we got there, I was ready to get up close and personal with some creepy crawlers. And boy, did we.

This is the same kind of bug they used in Harry Potter.

This is the same kind of bug they used in Harry Potter.

This temple is just outside of the bat cave. I loved how the light was hitting it at the end of the day.

This temple is just outside of the bat cave. I loved how the light was hitting it at the end of the day.

The guide picked these little guys up and told us to put them in our mouths as tasty snacks. They surprised us by popping the moment they touched our wet tongues.

The guide picked these little guys up and told us to put them in our mouths as tasty snacks. It surprised us by popping open the moment they touched our wet tongues.

I found the bats equal parts fascinating and disgusting. More than once I felt wings flapping in front of my face once we turned our flashlights off. Never before had I seen so many bats in one place, and babies too! The cave we went inside was apparently quite small compared to our next stop outside of a different one. As the sky turned dark we watched millions upon millions of bats flood out in search for dinner. It was really difficult to capture in a photo or on video, so dear blogette, you’ll just have to go yourself one day to take it all in.

Oh hey, what's up guys?

Oh hey, what’s up guys?

The next day we were in for a whole day of hiking within the national park. We spotted gibbons up in the trees, toucans in the sky, and a family of wild elephants who roam freely (they have a couple hundred within the park). The hike we did with our guesthouse was very doable, even if you aren’t in any sort of exercise shape. More difficult treks are available though too with camping in the park. I’ll let the photos tell the story from here.

These guys were bold enough to accept food from people's hands. We were told not to encourage them though.

These guys were bold enough to accept food from people’s hands. We were told not to encourage them though.

Not the first photo I've imitated a bear in a national park...

Not the first photo I’ve imitated a bear in a national park… don’t forget your leech socks!

Didn't hurt but it wouldn't be comfortable either.

Didn’t hurt but it wouldn’t be comfortable either.

This day I learned female spiders are usually bigger than their male counterparts so the gals can eat them after mating. Must be nice.

This day I learned female spiders are usually bigger than their male counterparts so the gals can eat them after mating. Must be nice.

This is one of the coolest trees I've ever seen. You could climb inside and no one would even know you were there if you didn't want them to.

This is one of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen. You could climb inside and no one would even know you were there if you didn’t want them to.

No the bugs weren't done after day one.

No the bugs weren’t done after day one.

Mid-hike, we leave the rain forest for the grasslands. It was so beautiful watching the different directions of the wind in the grass.

Mid-hike, we leave the rain forest for the grasslands. It was so beautiful watching the different directions of the wind in the grass.

One of the guides taught us a little scorpion lullaby... clearly this guy is in need of one.

One of the guides taught us a little scorpion lullaby… clearly this guy is in need of one.

Totally uninterested in us.

Totally uninterested in us.

Mid-day lunch break (provided) at this scenic spot. I'd say they picked a good one.

Mid-day lunch break (provided) at this scenic spot. I’d say they picked a good one.

We ended the day with a visit to one of the many waterfalls within the park.

We ended the day with a visit to one of the many waterfalls within the park.

Even if you’re not a nature or hiking kind of person, I would definitely suggest a visit to Khao Yai. I cut a few days off of Bangkok sites so that my Mom and I could have time in Khao Yai instead and I think we were both glad for that schedule change. It’s developed enough for non-Thai speakers to be able to get in and out easily, but not overcrowded in the least. An awesome alternative to the Bangkok-Chiang Mai-Phuket itinerary that many travelers stick to.

Chiang Rai: Part One

This will be part one of three videos about Chiang Rai. Yes, I liked this city that much. This one covers our first day and a half exploring the city, there are a lot of temples along the way. Our two favorite things within the city were the original Wat Pra Kaew (there are temples of the same name in Chiang Mai and Bangkok that display a jade Buddha that was supposedly exposed by a bolt of lightning from this temple (the real one is in the capital)) and the stunning clock tower. Chiang Rai is a breath of fresh air with the mountains to your back, flowers exploding everywhere, and the comfortable size of the city itself (compared to Bangkok and even Chiang Mai). I hope I captured that in this video.

Tourist Thailand: Bangkok

The ‘kok as Manfriend so unoriginally calls it. And sometimes, that’s just where you feel like you are, in a humid, crowded place with trash, odd smells, and traffic. Much like other major cities in the world, Bangkok doesn’t really reflect how the rest of the country feels culturally, politically or economically. And it’s a lot hotter too.

By a year in to my Peace Corps service, I decided I was more than ok never spending a long time in the capital or going to the major tourist sites. The most I ever did in Bangkok before I had a visitor was hang out in the delightfully comfortable PC lounge (it’s like a little sanctuary of America), eat lots of western food, and frequent the ginormous JJ weekend market.

So when Momma Coop was going to be coming to town, I knew I needed to bite the tourist bullet and figure out our way there. I was pleasantly surprised. Absurdly jacked up ‘foreigner’ prices not withstanding, Wat Po and the Grand Palace are worth a visit. For the ‘templed-out’ traveler, I would still suggest making your way to both locations. Both Wat Po and the Grand Palace are easily accessible and very close to each other so you can do both in one day. Like I wrote in my other post though, I would definitely suggest starting earlier in the day so you can wander around half a day in each location. Let’s break them down.

Wat Po
One of the largest and oldest temples within Bangkok, Wat Po is recognized as the birthplace of Thai massage, the first school opening within the complex. Visitors will note it is the home of the jaw droppingly huge reclining Buddha. Along with it, there are over 1000 Buddha images, beautifully colored pagodas (my favorite part), and a nice little fountain of a waterfall (very peaceful compared to the normal experience of being on a Bangkok street).

The reclining Buddha, a must-see in tourist Thailand

The reclining Buddha, a popular must-see tourist attraction in Thailand

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I got a little obsessed with the faces

I got a little obsessed with the faces

I really enjoyed wandering around the back portions of the complex. This was where most of the Buddha images were, along with many pagodas, animal statues, and not a lot of tourists. For this reason I would suggest going in the morning if possible before the tours and to not be on a huge tour in the first place.

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

The colors on these things was amazing

The colors on these things was amazing

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

There are modesty skirts and shawls for those with wearing shoulder and thigh baring clothing, but Wat Po’s standards are more relaxed than the Grand Palace. At the Grand Palace, both my Mom and I were stopped and asked to cover even our lower legs. You pick those up at the very front with a small deposit.

The Grand Palace
The official residence of Thai royalty since the late eighteenth century (though the royal family has lived in other palaces since the 1920s), the Grand Palace is a staggeringly large collection of buildings. Currently in use for only a few official state functions and ceremonies a year, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Bangkok. It’s easy to see why.

We didn't get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

We didn’t get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

The big attraction here is the jade Buddha. The story originally goes that a temple in Chiang Rai was struck by lightning in the 1400s and broke open an octagonal pagoda. Inside was the jade Buddha. No personal pictures are allowed inside (though people sneak all the time), but it is something to sit and gaze at the Buddha (feet pointing away, obviously). I also really enjoyed the golden pagoda and all the buildings made from tile that made it seem to have a rainbow effect.

Blue, blue, blue

Blue, blue, blue

The colors that wrapped around the entire building... sigh

The colors that wrapped around the entire building… sigh

How can you not love these guys?

How can you not love these guys?

What I imagine meditation looking like

What I imagine meditation looking like

The main event

The main event

I love the flowers and colors

I love the flowers and colors

There are a number of museums and smaller temples within that are worth a quick gander. Our favorite was the Queen’s Museum of Textiles with yards upon yards of beautiful Thai silk and utilizing it like bookmarks, magnets, notebooks, and the like. Right near the exit/entrance, it was a nice finish to our day of touring.

For those a little cultured out (or in desperate need for western food like myself), there is a conveniently located Au Bon Pain right across the street from the Grand Palace where Momma Coop and I indulged, waiting for sun set. Have I mentioned I’ve been dying for a chicken caesar wrap for two years?!

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn't care one bit

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn’t care one bit

Afterwards we wandered over to the river and digested and were quite rewarded with this shot.

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Check out the companion video for Bangkok in this previous post.

Khao Yai National Park

Grab a bus to Pak Chong for one of the most accessible national parks in Thailand, Khao Yai. Just four hours from Bangkok in Khorat, the gateway to eastern Thailand, Khao Yai is an excellent option for people who want to do a little hiking and outdoorsy activities, but not sure where to start or have much in the way of ‘equipment.’ PCVs frequent Greenleaf Guesthouse for their trip there and I would highly recommend it as well. Rooms are cheap and clean and the tour guides were very friendly and happy to answer all of our plentiful questions. Let’s take a look shall we?

Tourist Thailand

Peace Corps Volunteers see a side to Thailand that few non-Thais see. Thailand is known to the western world for its beautiful beaches, the somewhat risqué Bangkok nightlife, and the mountain views in Chiang Mai. Most of my posts are not about those things because that’s not what my life is usually like here. This next series of posts, ‘Tourist Thailand,’ however, will be about just that. This set of blogs will be more useful to the average visitor to Thailand because that’s what I got to be for a little while. It was marvelous.

I blended well enough with the other foreigners and could get boatloads of western food for once, but I could use my particular set of Thai skills to be set apart (and reap the benefits) when I so chose. Again, it was marvelous. Thais who are farang-weary love a Thai speaking one, even if it was the simplest of things I said.  So this is my official ‘try to learn a little of the local language’ bit and you’ll find your travel experience improving. In Thailand, I would guarantee it.

So here’s looking ahead so you can expect what’s coming and the things I’ll be covering:
Bangkok
Khao Yai
Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai
Kanchanaburi
Sangklaburi

A cultural and general things I think are valuable to know will also be attached somewhere in the series.  The first half will also have Saturday videos to accompany them.

And if you think I let my Mom off easy and just let her be a tourist, think again.

Yeah, she's badass

Yeah, she’s badass