A childhood memory comes full circle

A bit of Thailand, a bit of Cambodia

Aug 10, 2016

The flight to Bangkok goes smoothly. It’s the afternoon when I arrive.

It’s another country so it’s time for some new currency. Out here in Thailand $1 US dollar equals about 34 Thai Baht. So an easy way to kind of think about it is 100 Baht is about $3. You pick up the conversions quickly enough.

I’m staying the night at the Sheraton on Sukhumvit Soi 15. I heard Sukhumvit is a good area with lots of restaurants and good transportation to anything that you would want to see in the city. I’m staying at a Sheraton because I’m kind of craving a comfortable American hotel. I need a decent night sleep after the hectic pace of the trip and the previous night sleeping over at the airport.

Taxis from the airport are by meter. It’s nice to not have to haggle for a price. You also choose whether you take toll roads or not. Any chance I can take in my life to purchase time for money I normally take. So toll roads it is.

The drive takes some time. Especially as you get into town. The entire time in Bangkok the traffic was pretty terrible, at all hours.

The ride into Bangkok reveals a quick view of the city. It’s a much bigger place than anything I saw in Myanmar. From the taxi it seems like it has the makings of a good city. A variety of areas and things to see and do. Hustle and bustle. I’m not in the countryside any more.

I eventually arrive at the hotel. Check in goes smoothly and I head in for a nap. A nap ends up being a long sleep. I don’t mind. It’s important to listen to your body on trips like this. Sleep when you have to. Eat and drink when you have to. Sometimes do those things even more than you have to so you can build up reserves. I decide to just sleep until the morning and head out to see the city the following day.

Before I head to bed for good I book a late night flight to Chiang Mai. It’s a destination that seems reasonable based on what’s available. I would have preferred to be in Chiang Mai tonight, but the flights and busses would not allow it. It’s no worries. The itinerary is fluid. It can adapt to what is available and what I feel like doing.

Aug 11, 2016

Morning arrives. And with it a sense of exploration. I check out of the hotel and drop my bag off so I don’t have to lug it around the city.

The plan is to walk from Sukhumvit Soi 15 all the way to Wat Pho. That’s about an hour forty five of walking. It’s a long ways away. But I like walking in new cities. It let’s me easily stop for anything that catches my eye. It let’s me get to know the city a bit more personally.

The plan is to get some Thai food. And street Thai food. Thailand is known for having some of the best street food available so I will be happy to try some out.

My first stop on the walk is a market that I saw on the taxi ride the day before. Yesterday they were selling some delicious looking lobsters and other seafood. Today that spot is peddling some other sort of food. This stuff looks pretty good. It’s some sort of fried cube that’s being sold for 30 Baht, which is about $1 USD. Business is simple out here. In this picture you can see the chef cooking up, the sales woman, the guy who gets paid but just stands there doing nothing, and the two customers. You can even see the Baht being exchanged.

Give me the Baht
Give me the Baht

Up close this stuff looks as follows. It’s like a fried dough cube that might have seaweed in it. It’s drizzled in sauce. It’s very filling, which is saying a lot, as I haven’t eaten in quite some time.

This will do

I continue the walk and pick up some drinks. It’s rather hot out and I have a lot of walking to do today. The mountain dew in Thailand is the best I’ve ever had. It’s a different blend of ingredients out here for sure.

I continue the walk. Past the hookers, the lady boys, and the massage girls. It’s about noontime, and business is open. Throughout the walk, especially as day turns to night, this scene only increases in its frequency.

I make my way off of the street and up onto the elevated walkway. This walkway is a good way to avoid the bustle of the streets, stay out of the sun and rain, and grab access to some public transportation options. I love the architecture of all of these transportation methods all intertwined in the same area.

Bangkok views
Bangkok views

And to get a better look at the whole mess of moving around in Bangkok, here’s a panorama.

Many ways to travel in Bangkok
Many ways to travel in Bangkok

Sometimes I like the elevated view of the walkway and carry along on my walk on it. And sometimes I want to see the city down at the level of the street. As I’m waiting to cross a road some twenty-year-old kid strikes up a conversation. People along my travels have been pretty willing just to start giving you advice about the city or asking you simple questions. I think a lot of these people are just practicing their English, but I don’t mind, as the info gained is beneficial to me.

He lets me know to avoid going straight as there is a demonstration up ahead. He says to check out the Lucky Buddha, the tall Buddha, and Wat Pho. Apparently you can grab an open-air tuk tuk for 30 Baht. It’s a promotion put on by some suit factory. The purpose I think is to grab the cheap ride and then at the end you have someone trying to sell you suits. But the kid also says the deal is in honor of the Queen’s birthday tomorrow. He says there will be fireworks tomorrow. I won’t be in town, but it’s an interesting foreshadowing to some bombings that are about to rock some of Thailand’s popular tourists spots later tonight and the following night, including Bangkok itself. Yes there was a bombing in Bangkok the day I was here, but so goes life. You can’t avoid this stuff no matter how much you follow the news. I hear news of this from my family who gets in touch with me the following day asking if I’m alright. I am alright, and I plan to swing back through some of those other previously bombed areas, depending on the pulse of the news.

I turn down the offer for the tuk tuk ride trying to complete this walk. Eventually after about another mile I have to give in and take a ride. The sun is too strong. The exhaust fumes are too brutal. I have a guy give me a drive to Wat Pho. I’m skipping the lucky Buddha and tall Buddha. The guy wants to charge me 200 Baht but I tell him about the special that’s supposed to be run. We kind of get into an argument and he asks another tuk tuk driver for help to resolve the issues. He’s unwilling to be the mediator. I don’t really have much of a choice but to pay the price, which ends up being 150 Baht. It’s only about $5 US dollar so no real reason to even argue about it. I learn as the trip goes on to negotiate quickly, and a lot of the times just leave money on the table. Better for the driver to have an extra dollar or two and avoid the stress. It will make a difference to his life a lot more than it will to mine. When I get out I talk to the tuk tuk driver who didn’t want to mediate. Both him and another security guard later in the day agree the fare should have been 30 Baht. I got ripped off, no worries.

Tuk tuk life
Tuk tuk life

Here’s a view facing the rear of the tuk tuk. I don’t often take many pictures of myself when traveling. Usually when you look back on pictures you appreciate the ones which include you or your friends or family the most. For me I don’t gain much in showing people that I’ve been to places. I’d much rather get a better shot of where I am or what I’m trying to get into. I also kind of really hate all the selfie sticks whizzing in the air and horrible pictures that so many tourists spend so much effort on getting. Take a picture and move along. Don’t sit in the better picture spots and waste everyone’s time taking fifty really bad pictures of the same thing. I’ve kind of learned to just avoid the more popular views and look for angles of things that no one is taking pictures of. It’s a lot more rewarding to get a good shot of something that no one else is interested in.

Selfie time
Selfie time

The price for Wat Pho is 100 Baht. Most of these temples have fairly reasonable entrance fees. Prices are usually around the $3 US dollar for this one. One of the things that people like to check out is the enormous lying down Buddha. This thing is huge. It stretched the entire length of the building and all the way to the ceiling.

Just resting
Just resting

There’s a lot of gold out this way in Southeast Asia. I love the depth of it on this Buddha.

Do it for the gram
Do it for the gram

And these painted ceilings rival some of the beautiful painting religious walls of Europe.

This goes on forever
This goes on forever

It starts down pouring while I’m there. I wait it out a couple minutes, which is fine, as I’m still gassed from the miles I’ve walked today. Even when I get outside to put my socks and shoes back on I take my time. I sit for about ten or fifteen minutes just relaxing and charging back up. I love these little breaks throughout the day. It’s a simple way to charge back up, take a moment to clear the mind, and make plans for what to do next.

Every corner of these temples has something to see. You just wander around and explore. Statues like these are everywhere. There are smaller versions of all sizes available for sale at many stores in town. Religion is very prevalent here. I’m not sure if I notice it because I’m new to the area, but it seems everyone everywhere is burning candles, incense, or praying at either some large popular temple or some random tiny little temple on a street corner or down an alley.

Pretty good posture
Pretty good posture

The inside of Wat Pho is again completely gorgeous. A lot of time people are just trying to snap a selfie or just walking through and looking at the higher-level view of the area. But there is stunning beauty in the details. Those pillars, the area behind the Buddha, the walls are all incredibly painted. Religious buildings like these always seem so absurd to me. The amount of hours and work that goes into building something like this is completely insane.

I need tall ceilings
I need tall ceilings

After checking out the views I stroll back out to the streets. I want to see the Royal Palace but it’s closed today. It’s no longer in use these days but it still looks extremely extravagant. It’s behind a wall so you can’t even get a good view of it. I talk with a security guard who recommends I instead go to see tall Buddha, happy Buddha, and the silk factory. He waves down a tuk tuk for me and I politely tell him I’m alright. Yea, 30 Baht for the drive. I’ve heard this story before.

I’m starving and I need some more food. I start the walk back and keep an eye out for Thai street food and any Thai restaurant that looks popular. One of the first things I grab is a fried chicken leg and a fried chicken finger on a stick. They cost a total of about $1 US. The leg is some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. This area of the world is expert in their frying techniques. Everything that comes out of the oil is brilliant. Perfect. Battered. Crisped. Whatever you’re eating that is fried is done so to perfection.

I walk through markets and shops and on the street and back up the skyway. As I get closer to the hotel my options for food are running out. I eventually even pass the hotel. I get about as far as Sukhumvit seems to go. I order pork on a stick and a spicy sausage from a cart. It might not look like the safest bet but the food is moving, even at this late rainy hour.

Questionable street food
Questionable street food

I retreat to the hotel, completely drained after maybe a dozen miles of walking. I grab my bag and a taxi out to the airport. The taxi ride involves more traffic, even at this hour after 10 PM at night. The town is starting to get nice and questionable. The stands that used to sell shoes and trinkets have switched over to stands selling sex toys and some questionable looking body building drugs. Alcohol carts have been rolled out onto the streets so I guess you can just get drinks on the streets. More hookers. It’s about to be a crazy night.

My taxi eventually takes me out of these scenes to the airport. The lighting here is bright enough to perform surgery. The noise level and constant announcements do not go away. I lay down on a row of seats and nod off, stealing whatever hours of sleep I can.

Aug 12, 2016

Morning comes. Or just an extension of the previous night. I’m in and out of sleep. Eventually I’m able to check my bag. The flight to Chiang Mai goes smoothly. So far all of my flights have been fine.

I get to Chiang Mai around 8 in the morning. I grab a ride to the hotel hoping to check in early. I’m not allowed to because the room isn’t ready, but the receptionist lets me drop off my bag and go explore. First I need food and a coffee since I’m beat.

I find a place that has everything I couldn’t find in Bangkok, plus the things I need to get this day started. It’s a meal sent down from the buddhas. Double espresso to stay awake. Pad thai. And tom yam kung soup. Tom yam (or tom yum as it’s often spelled back home) is one of my favorite bowls of soup. It’s often a must for me at every Thai restaurant. It’s alright here but the pad thai is the star.

Pad thai
Pad thai

Another city, another bunch of temples to see. I decide on heading to Wat Phra Singh first. It’s 20 Baht entry. There’s a huge Buddha here just as there is at all of these temples. But I’m much more drawn to the smaller details of the temple. I’m trying to find beauty and explore areas that don’t often get viewed by the majority of people. Some of the patterns and colors are pretty beautiful.

Patterns and colors
Patterns and colors

You see stuff like this when you keep your eyes peeled.

Oh hey guys
Oh hey guys

Wat Phra Singh has a smaller personal feel. It doesn’t feel as extravagant as some of the temples that I have seen but it is beautiful. There are a lot of things you will notice if you pay attention. I love the illusion of this elephant. It’s only half an elephant but in the reflection you can see the other half. You can even see the tail even though it’s not there.

Elephant magic
Elephant magic

There’s a lot to see and a lot of good angles to shoot and capture here.

An infinite amount of pictures
An infinite amount of pictures

There’s an peaceful area where they have some Buddhist sayings. I normally hate cheesy quotes like this one, but I like this quote. I’ll leave it open to interpretation for you.

I just want to be great
I just want to be great

After touring Wat Phra Singh, I’m off to Wat Chedi Luang. Entrance is again a modest 40 Baht. Again the massive Buddhas and beautiful buildings are worth seeing. But the smaller details are what I’m drawn to.

Animals and stuff
Animals and stuff

Some of this stuff is pretty magical looking.

Magic stuff
Magic stuff

The outside has an older temple. It’s like a ruin that is in the middle of the city.

Casual
Casual

I sat on a bench for a while here just taking a break from all the traveling and temples. After about fifteen minutes or so I was charged back up and ready to get up and keep moving. Before I did I snapped this picture of these buildings that were the backdrop for my rest. I wasn’t expecting to like this picture so much afterwards, so I apologize for the people. I didn’t spend any time putting this picture together. I was literally about to get up and just said, oh that looks kind of cool. Let me snap a single pic from the bench. It puts into perspective the cool stuff out here that you get tired of seeing after a while.

Architecture on fleek
Architecture on fleek

Finally time comes to check into the hotel. I swing back and finally am able to check in. It’s nice to have been able to see some sights of the city but I’m beat and I really need that sleep.

Sleep goes well and by the time I wake up it’s time to head out for dinner. I stroll about the city. Everyone in the world is playing Pokemon. It’s a bit weird. I walk through a town square and I have to avoid running into all these people on their phones. People are driving cars slowly on the streets playing. The driver and the three passengers are all doing it. It can’t be the safest but it seems to work.

I finally find a place selling some delicious Thai food. I’m pretty hungry so I order a ton of food. A coffee, fried pork bites, pork fried rice, some chicken and crab rolls, and another bowl of tom yam. This time the tom yam is perfect. It’s one of the dishes that I came to this part of the world for and I couldn’t be happier with it.

I came to SEA for bowls like this
I came to SEA for bowls like this

At dinner a German girl asks to sit with me. We end up talking about life and all sorts of stuff. She wants to go to school for philosophy, so the conversation gets pretty deep. The takeaway for me is that I probably end up spending too much time thinking or waiting for a perfect opportunity when in reality I have to just jump in and go for things. Make a decision and run with it. If you know me you probably have told me this at some point. I mostly agree with her analysis of my life and plan to take it with me after I return back from the trip.

We close the place out. Staff tries to kick us out. We have to leave. We part ways. We wish each other well. No kisses though. She says that’s for the Spanish and the French or something. Germans say goodbye with some pat on the back thing. All good with me.

I definitely am American when I travel. It’s nice to be American. That’s how I feel back home, but when you’re back home everyone wants to know I guess where your parents or grandparents came from. In the States a lot of people look at me more as Polish, which is weird because I’m definitely American. But so it goes.

Another night of sleep awaits. Before I can do that I need to book the next day. I decide on Angkor Wat over Luang Prabang. For me Angkor is a must visit on this trip. Luang Prabang gets tons of praise but I think I’ll be passing on it on this trip. I decide the pace and itinerary is probably a bit too much so I decided to slow things down and chop out a couple destinations going forward. There’s no direct flight so tomorrow will consist of two flights.

Aug 13, 2016

Today ends up being mostly a travel day. After last nights decision to slow down I’m feeling a lot better about travel. I know I’ll be able to enjoy it and get the most out of it now. I understand how to operate out here and know I’ll be able to solve any problems that arise without much stress.

This is tested early on in the day. The hotel lobby is closed. I can’t check out. I was counting on them getting a taxi to the airport for me. I’m already a bit late leaving the hotel but I’m not the least bit stressed. I slot the key in the door to the lobby. I start walking to the airport. I know for sure I’ll find a ride along the way. Either taxi, tuk tuk, hitch hiking or walking as a worst case scenario. Within maybe three minutes I have a tuk tuk ride that costs about $3 US dollar. I don’t know how I knew that there would be a ride waiting for me, but I did. This is a great feeling. Faced with unknown situations or problems I’ll be able to operate without stress and get done what I have to.

The two flights involve a flight back down to Bangkok and then out to Siem Reap, which is the jump off spot for Angkor Wat. The first flight back to Bangkok is without issue. As is the second to Siem Reap. I land, leaving Thailand behind me for a moment and enter Cambodia. I’ll only be here for a day, but it houses one of the must view sights for me.

I eventually get to the hotel. Or the resort rather. It’s a five star rated place. Pools. Swim up bars. Restaurants. Good service. All that stuff. I feel I need a decent rest after the pace I’ve been going. There seems to be a lot of these types of resort hotels out here. I’m not sure I can recommend them. They are what they are. I’d much prefer to be in a central location, but today I needed a rest. I spend the night at the hotel sleeping and relaxing. I book a flight to Da Nang, Vietnam for 7:25 PM the following night to be able to check out Hoi An. I want to be up early the following day to see Angkor Wat.

Aug 14, 2016

Morning brings a pretty good complimentary breakfast. There is some decent Western style food but you really have to get the local (or at least local to this general area of the world) food here. A bowl of pork soup. Soba noodles. These soba noodles are delicious. The fact that this is hotel food is a testament to the delicious food that Asia knows how to provide.

Soba, even at a Cambodian hotel
Soba, even at a Cambodian hotel

Freshly fueled up I get a tuk tuk to Angkor. Everyone here takes the US dollar, which is new to me. The first price they tell you is US dollar. You kind of have to ask to pay in Cambodian. Both are accepted. The drivers are hard bargainers. Like the guy the day before who drove me from the airport. I turned down a tour to see Angkor from him and he stormed off yelling how he thought Americans were nice people but obviously he was wrong. His outburst seemed childish. When it happened to me I wanted to say something to him but bit my tongue. I’m sorry I don’t want to buy whatever good or service you are selling. In this case something overpriced and not worth it to me. I make apps and websites and do engineering for a living but you don’t see me all upset that you don’t want to buy what I do for a living. That transaction annoyed me, but so it goes.

It’s ultra hot out when I get to Angkor. But it’s worth the heat and dealing with the tourists to see the sites. Angkor is a great place.

Welcome to Angkor Wat
Welcome to Angkor Wat

I’m going to just include some more pictures here than I normally might because these write-ups take a while to get done and pictures can tell a bit more in less of a period of time.

I made it
I made it

There are a lot of places to explore. Taking a turn away from the selfie stick yielding tourists gives you a part of the temple all to yourself.

A step away from the tourists
A step away from the tourists

This next picture is one of the most important of my life. I was getting ready to shoot this picture of Angkor and at that moment a flock of birds flew into the shot. I couldn’t believe it. The birds have been symbolic of flight and freedom, which for me are the perfect symbol of travel. You fly, and then you land in a destination where you have been planning on going to. It was an amazing moment.

Birds, the ultimate symbol of travel
Birds, the ultimate symbol of travel

I’m actually just lying about the birds. They’re not symbolic of anything, ha.

After Angkor I took a short ride to nearby Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm is in all seriousness an important place for me to visit. It’s a place where trees eat temples. I’ve always been fascinated that the earth will eventually eat the world that we have created. All of our greatest successes, all of our greatest accomplishments, our great pieces of engineering. Our palaces, our temples, our garbage dumps. All of it will be consumed and returned to the earth.

I remember seeing a picture of a tree growing out over a temple when I was a child and that image has stuck with me. It was in a copy of National Geographic that my grandma had at her house when I was maybe 8 or 10 years old. I thought it was so cool. That image sticks out in my memory. Something about it was so awe inspiring. It was magic. It wasn’t what was supposed to happen. We were supposed to take the tree, kill it, and build the temple. And here was this tree like nahhh, that’s not happening. I will kill your temple. I will build myself up. I think I’ve seen shots of this tree and temple in various places afterwards throughout the years, but I’m not sure.

Regardless, I was here, at the destination of this childhood memory. I was at that tree. I never in a million years would have thought as a child that I would have been able to find and see that tree. I haven’t really thought about it much since I saw it 20 years ago, but here it was. I was standing in front of the tree. Somehow, some way, this small moment from my childhood came full circle. I can’t really explain the feeling. But yea that happened. For real. No lies.

A childhood memory comes full circle
A childhood memory comes full circle

Some of you who have seen the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie will know this setting from that movie. It was shot here. It’s easy to see how strolling about the area that you could start immediately letting your mind wander. A movie producer might easily be inspired to create a movie based on the area. An artist might be inspired by the lighting and adventure of the place. An architect might be inspired by designs that honor the interconnectivity of manmade and natural elements. Regardless, there are some cool shots here.

Trees are dope out here
Trees are dope out here

Exploring tombs.

Pretty lit
Pretty lit

After spending time at Ta Prohm I swing back to the hotel. I spend some time going through pictures for the blog. I repack my gear and swing out of the hotel for my flight to Vietnam. My time in Cambodia was a quick one, but I’m thrilled with being able to have see Angkor.

It’s been a tiring and stressful couple days. Throughout it I’ve learned how to operate and travel without the initial stress that was accompanying my early days here. The comfort and beautiful life of Southeast Asia is seeping into me and allowing me to really enjoy my time here. I’ll be in Vietnam for a couple days before swinging down off of the mainland onto the long strip of islands and continuing my journey south and east towards Australia and New Zealand. I’m not sure if I’ll have the stamina and desire to add those destinations to the trip, but I wouldn’t mind being able to hop in a car and have two of the best road trip experiences of my life. We shall see.

I’ve missed home for sure but there’s a lot more for me to see and do here before I can return. I hope everyone back home and everyone on travels all around the world is having the greatest of times.

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