Bangkok again

We’re back in Bangkok for two days before the long journey home(BKK->Seoul->LA->Boston with 9-12 hour layovers at Seoul and LA, but because of the dateline, it will be Monday for the entire journey)

Today’s agenda includes some temples, hopefully a floating market, and taking delivery of a new custom-made suit (which looks pretty darn spiffy.)

Here’s a couple from yesterday at Wat Pho:

Wat Pho, Bangkok

Luang Prabang – Alms

Every morning around dawn, the monks of Luang Prabang walk the street accepting alms from believers (and increasingly from tourists.) Apparently they have been doing this for a long, long time, but it has been becoming more and more of a tourist spectacle and the monks are thinking about stopping. (Though apparently the Lao government threatened to have laypeople perform the ritual for tourists if the monks stopped.)

We woke up early to see the ceremony. I, along with dozens of other tourists, brought my camera. There were signs up all over town asking photographers to maintain a respectful distance, and not to use flash – not to many people were paying attention to that, but I tried my best to stay well clear, and I used only available light.

The whole thing, aside from being pretty, was fairly upsetting. We felt like we had become part of something exploitative and cheap, which was especially disappointing since it is clear that this is a very important observance for believers.

Later, we’ll be on the night train to Bangkok.

Luang Prabang – Cooking School

We spent most of today in cooking school here in Luang Prabang. It was a really spectacular experience – we made five dishes, learned two others, and had two great meals. (All for $30 each, how’s that for a bargain?) (Patsy reminds me that the day included a trip to the market (which was only semi-covered) during a torrential rainstorm. During this, my camera’s memory card crapped out, making me fear that a day of shooting had been lost (I recovered the images eventually))

It was a good way to cap off a visit to Luang Prabang after a few days of walking and hiking. We finished the day with (yet another) trip to the night craft market and some crepes.

Luang Prabang – Ta Kaung Si Waterfall

Today we hired a tuk-tuk to take us on a ride out to a gorgeous waterfall about 35km outside of town. Along the way we stopped at a Hmong village where people were selling stitchery and other crafts. The waterfall itself has many levels, but the path looked very treacherous so we didn’t go up too high past the base of the falls.

Luang Prabang – I am kinda in love with this town

Luang Prabang, in Northern Laos, is a remarkable little town. It is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, for good reason – the streets are piratically paved with monastaries and temples, monks are everywhere, and the town is surrounded on three sides by beautiful rivers (and hills/mountains.) And somehow, despite all the obvious tourist appeal, the town remains relatively non-commercial and genuine-feeling. I love it here. (Doesn’t hurt that it’s a LOT less hot than Bangkok or Siem Reap.)

Siem Reap – Day 3 (Bus to Cambodia)

The bus ride from Bangkok to the border was easier and more pleasant than we expected. Contrary to the 6+ hours we were quoted, it only took about 4 hours to reach the border.

The border itself was another thing altogether. After passing the thoroughly pleasant Thai passport control folks, the Cambodian immigration process was a bit of an ordeal – tons of paperwork, many different lines, poor communication, not to mention intense heat and confusion. We were glad the guy from the bus was leading us through the process (though we certainly could’ve figured it out.)

From there, it was a two hour taxi ride to Siem Reap itself.

After some really unpleasant negotiating around finding a new hotel (see last post)  we found an adequate (though bizarre, quirky, and in process of demolition) guest house.

Tomorrow we start at the temples.

Bangkok – Day 1 and 2

I am writing these a few days late due to a crazy schedule and spotty internet service. I’m not going to be terribly accurate about backdating but I’ll do my best.

Most of our Bangkok sightseeing so far has been around the Grand Palace – which was every bit as impressive as I remembered from my visit here ten years ago. We both thoroughly enjoyed the palace, though the heat was a bit oppressive.

We also found a tailor to make me a custom-made suit, which is somewhere between exciting and terrifying (because even though it’s very cheap for a custom tailor, it is still a lot of money spent on something without a good idea of what the result will be)

The only bad part was that we seem to have gotten somewhat ripped off by the TAT (official tourist travel agency, government licensed or whatever) – the guest house they booked for us in cambodia was not as advertised (no AC, dirty, etc)  and they charged us about five times its real price. We didn’t end up staying there and will contest the charges.