A view from my seat leaving SD going to KC!
After a visit to Cambodia, we were jet-setting it through the last week in Thailand. First stop: Chiang Mai! This was a highlight of my entire trip because it was the elephant riding experience that I was looking forward to having in SE Asia. The excursion included a bamboo raft ride, a visit to a waterfall, an elephant trek, and a white water rafting ride! Talk about being on an adrenaline rush the entire day! Northern Thailand’s temperature was a little cooler than the other places I was able to visit on this trip, which was a nice reprieve from the hot heat of rainy season. That night we were all able to have dinner together, and that would be that last time that AB Thailand would be together on this trip since 2 were leaving to head back to the US the next day, and 3 of us were going to travel around to see more of Thailand.
The next day before getting on a plane we decided to see another temple, Doi Suthep, situated on a high point over Chiang Mai…it was so elevated that we were in the clouds and couldn’t see anything below us. It was an amazing experience, and we even had a chance to stop at a viewpoint and check out the panoramic views of the city. Then we were on a race with time to catch our flight back to BKK. Once we were at the airport to send the 2 on their way…we hired a taxi to take us to our second stop: Ayothaya. It’s the former capital city of Siam and there are ruins everywhere amongst the more modern buildings. The ancient temples are stunning and they had their own awe inspiring views, somewhat similar to the temples in Cambodia. We decided to check out the floating market in the morning then see the ancient temples by bike riding through the city. Then we ended the day with a boat ride around the island to see 3 temples that sit on the other side of the river bank…a beautiful trip around Ayothaya. We had a great dinner on our last night there before we were going to leave for BKK.
We decided to do some final shopping on our last few days in Thailand…so after we arrived in Bangkok and checked into our hotel…it was time to visit MBK Center-7 floors of shopping goodness! It was pouring rain that night but we still decided to visit a night market for more shopping. Ruth and I decided to try fried grasshoppers…not bad, but we definitely had to grab a drink and a yummy pork and rice dish to finish the night. The next day was our last stop: a day trip to Kanchanaburi.
Kanchanaburi is much known for the Bridge over the River Kwai, which we did make a visit to see…but the main reason was to visit a temple just outside the city limits commonly referred to as Tiger Temple. It’s become a tiger refuge and a huge tourist spot, and there is a lot of controversy around the temple practices, but for me it was a worthwhile and educational experience. The temple grounds are big and the set-up for the tigers is nice. They have the tigers on leashes when tourists are around which is only for 3 hours in the day. They allowed us to pet the tigers and take pictures with tigers (I’ll post a picture later.) We were able to walk with the tigers and see them interact. These tigers are beautiful creatures and this was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! I think it was a great way to spend our last full day in Thailand.
Once we were back in Bangkok, we had worked up an appetite and decided to grab dinner before meeting my cousin. This was an ordeal on it’s own! But once we found the place that they chose for dinner, it was worth every wrong turn and missed direction. The food was authentic Thai cuisine and it included a show with dancing and singing! Afterwards my cousin and his friend took me and his friend’s friends out to party. We went to the State Tower which has 360 views of Bangkok, then to the RCA district which is a street filled with dance clubs that rival some of the best New York and Los Angeles clubs (but were much cheaper!) And as if staying out on my last night in Bangkok til 2 AM wasn’t enough…they took me to another club that stays open until the sun comes up! I couldn’t hang that long, but 430 AM was pretty good for a gal in her 30s! :) My cousin and all my new friends showed me how fun Bangkok can be and it was a great way to finish my stay in SE Asia.
On my last day I decided to venture out to JJ market, the largest weekend market conceivable…you would need all weekend to see the whole thing! I was able to pick up some last minute gifts and another fruit shake. Also found a stand selling mango and sticky rice, so I picked some up for me and the girls. As I took the skytrain back to the hotel, I saw the various Bangkok buildings fly by…and I was so grateful to have seen so much of this city, country, and region. I reflected on every experience, interaction, and photo I was able to capture in my time here…and I realized how much I had learned and how much I have grown from my time in SE Asia.
I didn’t want it to end! And as I packed up my luggage and headed to the airport…I could only think of the generosity of the people that made this experience so memorable and life-changing for me…and I will be forever indebted to each and every one of you who have made me a better person. The past 26 days have opened my eyes to see the world with a different lens…to enjoy every moment with each person I am able to interact with…to live my life to the fullest! Thank you! Xie xie! Aakoon! Kob Khun Ka!
As soon as I knew I was flying to Thailand, it was a no-brainer that a trip to see Angkor Wat and some of the other 36 temples was going to be part of my travels. The research prior to the overland trip was an eye opener…but ultimately very accurate and extremely helpful as we made our way across the border. After a 4-hour taxi ride to the Thailand-Cambodia border, we exited the taxi to a group of touts trying to get us to spend unnecessary money on visas into Cambodia, but because I read about this, I knew that we needed to move past them and head directly to the immigration office. Once we got through all the formalities we were approached by a number of other touts trying to get us into a taxi. We knew how much we wanted to pay. A swarm of guys had surrounded us, and we had 3 cars following us…finally, we found 1 guy who was willing to take us to Siem Reap at our price! And after 2 hours and 2 strategic stops (1 to a convenience store and 1 to a tuk-tuk) we were at our destination! A beautiful, big, four-star hotel with the slightest view of Angkor Wat in the distance! This was only the start of our adventure.
We decided to venture out into the Old Town to grab some dinner, traditional Khmer food. I had Asok, a yummy curry dish, and tried lychee juice and rum…yummy! Then we were off to bed since we decided to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Turns out…that’s what everyone does! We were so fortunate to find a nice spot to catch the sunrise and beautiful views of Angkor Wat. Then we moved on to Bayon, an incredible temple, I could have stayed there for hours! So many cool pictures…but we were on a mission to make 7 temples in 1 day. We stopped at Prah Pithu for a short photo shoot before heading to Neak Pean. There we ran into an American who worked for the US Embassy and he told us about the amazing places he has seen around the world! Then we decided to take a break and enjoy a banana pancake. I decided to also try a Lychee flavored Fanta. Both very good.
We decided as we were heading to the next temple to stop and see if we could fit in one more…East Mehon Oriental…absolutely worth every second we spent there! Then our last temple before the lunch break was Ta Prohm. I took the most pictures at this temple. It’s been taken over by the trees and the roots have climbed all over the buildings which created some interesting and picturesque shots of Ta Prohm. Once I saw this temple, I knew I was where I was supposed to be and this experience was a unique one. I felt so blessed and happy to have stood amongst the stone and trees. In just a few minutes after that thought…the sky opened up and the rain poured down on us…and we were headed back to the van to make our way back to the hotel.
Once it was time to head back to the temples we stopped at Prasat Kravan before going to see the sunset at Angkor Wat. We decided to cut out a temple visit to spend more time at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was incredible…we explored the inner network of hallways and pagodas…and I’m still in awe by how picture perfect that place is at every turn. And it was nice to finish the day at the Ancient Temples of Angkor at the place we had started…along the pond facing Angkor Wat. We were also lucky to have some monks pose for us at the base of the balustrade to capture a photographer’s dream moment. Overall, these temples were amazing and I took almost 1000 pictures in one day…and we only saw 7 out of the 37 temples! I truly enjoyed the trip to Cambodia and I would highly recommend this trip for anyone who is willing to go and see a piece a magnificent history in the present.
I’m now on the last leg of my journey here in Southeast Asia…and I’m trying to enjoy every second that I have here! More to come on Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, and my last days back in Bangkok, Thailand!
Grace A. Bagunu, Assistant Director, Express to Success, Center for Communication and Leadership, (858) 822-1356, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today was the ‘best day ever!’ It started off with sleeping in til 10 AM and turning on MTV Asia just in time to hear Airplanes (and me singing “I could really use a wish right now…” could probably be heard down the hall!) I brought some clothes down to be laundered and then went to grab brunch (not remembering that I get seasick-more on that later!) It was delish and enjoyed every bite for only 60 Baht (not even $2.00!) After brunch I decided to roam around and find a good deal for a sunset island hopping adventure…I then walked around to find a towel or underwater disposable camera, but decided neither were necessary. I found a fruit stand selling lanzones (aka duku/longkon) for 25 Baht for a big bag…so I bought it! :) I stopped at the hotel and asked for a beach towel to borrow and headed to the beach before my excursion to the other islands. The beach was hot and the water was so warm. I walked out about 100 yards and still could stand up in the clear blue water and it was at the most thigh high.
When it was time, I headed back to the place where I bought my excursion ticket so they could take me to the boat. I followed this guy and waited…then finally realized after he was telling me to go on a longtail boat that I was in the wrong spot! So they made a quick call to the people on the big boat and another man came to get me and take me to the big boat. The big boat had already left the dock and they had to send a small boat to come and get me. Once I was on the boat we were off to see Monkey Beach…you are probably wondering why they call it Monkey Beach, right? LOL…it’s a small beach and it’s completely inhabited by monkeys! So cool…except a girl got bit by one! I forgot to bring my longkon…they love it when you give them fruit! But I got a few good pictures! (See my album when I post it!) I decided to swim back to the boat which wasn’t too far away…and met a girl from California who was now teaching in Taiwan. She had just gotten up the boat but as I was reaching for the ladder…the captain started the engine and just that small wave pushed me back. I had to grab the small boat again and they had to pull me back in! Whoa! What a moment when I thought I would be left behind for the second time! I made it back on and off we were to Ko Phi Phi Ley (you might be thinking that’s the same island, but actually the island I am on is called Ko Phi Phi Don) PP Ley is an island with nothing but a beach and uninhabited land.
The boat ride was lengthy and rocky…so it swayed a lot (too much for my stomach to handle) so the crew gave me a pill and something to smell to calm my tummy…it helped for a bit. When we stopped…it was time to kayak and snorkel! This was my first time to snorkel…and it was pretty awesome! I was still feeling sick, so I decided not to kayak. They feed the fish around the boat so all the fish swim around you to get the food. I was a bit anxious to snorkel (my greatest fear is that I’ll die by suffocation/drowning) so I took it easy at first. I met a new friend before jumping in, she was a diver and also traveling alone, so I felt a bit more at ease when she said I’d be fine. When we went in there were fish everywhere! She told me a sea snake was swimming underneath me…I looked down just in time to see it’s tail go under a rock! So many different types of colorful fish all around me…just swimming in front of my mask! A man nearby picked up a sea urchin with a net…it was really cool, but he got yelled at to put it back in the water. Amy got a picture of me underwater with the fishes…and then above water with my camera…so I’ll post those later. I got back on the boat and we waited for a few folks to come back from kayaking…as we were waiting I met a guy from France (French classes came in handy this time around…a rare moment, but I was able to speak a few phrases with him!) Once everyone was back, we were off to Maya Bay (the place where in the movie ‘the Beach’ Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets eaten by a shark and the carry him back to the shore where he dies…I never saw the movie but that’s what another guy told me).
That’s when the seasickness really kicked in…and I decided that I was just going to have to lose my brunch in order to survive the rest of this boat ride! After a quick trip to the bathroom I felt better and we arrived in a small bay where we took a small boat to get to this little opening with rocks all over and big waves coming in! That was an adventure getting on the island that way! Then we had a short hike to the other side of the island that took us to Maya Bay (and by short-I really mean short-2 minutes tops to walk to the other side and the walk was worth it! You walk through lush tropical vegetation and then you hit a clearing and it opens up to a beautiful bay. I met a couple of guys from the Netherlands that were on my same boat. There were so many boats in the bay…all people visiting for a short stay. That’s all I’m going to say about that island…pictures and video to make you jealous will come soon! :) After an hour there…it was time to catch the small boat to head back to the big boat for dinner (fried rice and tea with watermelon for dessert) and then catch the sunset on the water in between PP Ley and PP Don.
The sunset wasn’t spectacular, because the clouds in the distance didn’t allow is to see the sun go below the horizon…but it started to rain a little before the sun went down and I was able to see a rainbow and a sunset at the same time! (on 2 different sides of the boat) It was still pretty rocky on the boat and as I type this hours later I can still feel like I’m rocking on the ship! I absolutely loved this excursion…totally worth the 500 Baht (less than $15!) I almost didn’t want it to end but the night sky had settled in. Before I got off the boat I wanted to be sure to give Amy my card (I teach the Professional Communication students never to go anywhere where there might be other people without business cards…so even on this excursion I had my cards! You never know where and when you’ll meet someone…and Amy is from Tazmania! I never thought I would meet someone from there). I asked if she could send me the pictures she took on her camera. We ended up talking as we walked back into town and decided to hang out. She showed me a great massage/mani/pedi place near her hotel then we went to eat mango and sweet sticky rice (yum!) at this place where we ended up making friends with the owner and taking pictures with him. :) His story was so touching…as he rebuilt his business after the tsunami washed away his restaurant in 2004…we were able to read about it through newspaper clippings he had made into a book to tell the story. We stayed there for over an hour just talking and meeting 2 people seating near us. Everyone here is so friendly! I love it…I’m so glad I decided to vacation here in Phi Phi.
Tomorrow is my last day on the island and then I head back to Bangkok via Phuket…more to come on my adventures in Southeast Asia!
I’ve landed in Kansas City!! :)
At the gate waiting to board the plane…I don’t wanna leave SE Asia…but it’s time for this adventure to come to an end. This has been a trip of a lifetime!! Thank you to all who supported me and followed me in my travel adventures…I’m SO blessed!
One week of service in Bangkok, Thailand with our partners CCS Thailand.
What an incredible experience! I would highly recommend this type of vacation for anyone interested in doing volunteer service while learning about another country’s customs, culture, and language. I am so blessed to have experienced this for myself. First off, the staff of CCS Thailand is incredible. Pimsuda is the Mother Hen who took great care of all of us volunteers. Jack was the best program coordinator. He always went above and beyond to make our experience the best it could be and he had lots of jokes! :) Our driver Benz was awesome…and our home base house keepers, Jiew and Noo, took very good care of us. Second, from the Thai language lesson to doing service in an elementary school teaching English to 5th and 6th graders…this experience is an unforgettable one! The excitement of the kids to have us there and the generosity and hospitality of the school teachers and administrators was heart-warming! I felt like a celebrity! I was brought to tears so many times this past week and I am forever indebted to the people of Thailand. A cultural highlight was meeting Dr. Anil who taught us about Buddhism. He’s brilliant and his teachings gave me a new perspective on life. I am forever changed. Each moment of this trip I was transformed into a better me! Just to experience the culture and to practice some of the customs is a unique experience that I hope to share my story with others to inspire them to try something similar.
Lunch is served! Yum!
From the delicious food to the easy public transit system, Singapore has been a spectacular place to vacation. Upon my arrival I immediately notice how clean and organized this city truly is…the parking stalls are marked red and green to indicate open parking spaces, and there are tons of eating and shopping places (and I hadn’t even left the airport!) I knew I was in for a treat.
My first Singaporean food experience was the Hainanese Chicken and Rice…mmmm! I immediately fell in love with food here. Petrina took me to a food hawker place where you find a table then go around to the different stalls and order food and the deliver it to your table. We ate chicken wings, crayfish, and oyster omelet (my personal favorite!) The next day for dinner was my food experience of my entire vacation…Chili crab at Jumbo Seafood. (See a picture in a different post). But we didn’t just have chili crab, it was served with soup, steamed shrimp, fried shrimp, cabbage, fried sea bass, and for dessert I tried Mooncake for the first time. We went to food hawker places and I tried chicken laksa, satay, durian, and a lot of other new foods. Singapore is a foodie’s heaven…I for sure could live and eat here! I tried so many new fruits.
I have been able to see so many things here in Singapore. Orchard Road has a ridiculous number of shopping malls…even if I could have shopped here everyday I don’t think I could have seen every mall on this road! I visited Chinatown, Arab Street, Clark Quay (pronounced like key), the Botanical Gardens (specifically the orchids), the Singapore Flyer, the Zoo, and I even saw the Youth Olympic Games flame and a tennis event! I can’t believe I have seen so much in such a short period of time.
Petrina and her family have been so hospitable! I have truly enjoyed every minute of my stay here! :) I know my time in Singapore would not have been close to what this experience has been if it weren’t for the Loh Family. Thank you so much for opening your home and helping me experience the best of your country.
Now I am headed back to Thailand…this time to Ko Phi Phi Island via Phuket. More to come!