Sunday, January 4, 2015

มาที่บ้าน [home]

Our AirAsia experience from Krabi to Don Mueang went much smoother since we prepaid our bags (see Paradise post). We also inadvertently booked Priority tickets back in October when we planned this leg of the trip, so we got to move to the front of the line to check our bags and sit in the front row of the plane! We also received complimentary sandwiches for dinner, and our luggage was the first to come on the conveyor belt when we landed in Bangkok.

On the plane, we planned our time in Bangkok using the Insight Guides: Thailand book that Megan received as a present from Jamie Fairbanks. This was extremely helpful and we highly recommend it to future travelers. Thanks Jamie!!

We had read that is it a good idea to have your destination address printed out for the taxi drivers, so we were prepared with our hotel booking receipt. However, we didn’t think that we printed it in English and the driver couldn’t understand the address. It may be helpful in the future to print two copies, one in English and one using Google Translate in Thai. Luckily we had the phone number, so the driver was able to call the hotel from his cell phone to get us there safely.

We stayed at the Hotel Ibis in Siam Center. It was directly under the National Stadium BTS (Sky Train) station on the Silom line and across the street from MBK, a huge discount shopping mall. Within walking distance we could journey to Siam Square (outdoor shopping), Siam Center (similar to a typical American mall), and Siam Paragon (a mall with very high-end stores and restaurants) as well. The Siam Center BTS station, where the Sukhumvit and Silom lines interchange, was walking distance as well and only one train stop down from our hotel. There is also a Sky Walk directly below the Sky Train path that allowed us to stroll up and down Sukhumvit, a very exciting area of the city, from a birds eye view. This was awesome!

Main entrance to Siam Paragon

We arrived at our hotel the first night around 9:00 PM. After settling in, we started our mission to watch the Outback Bowl (Auburn vs. Wisconsin), which came on at midnight our time. After Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, AT&T, DirectTV, and sketchy Internet TV sites failed us, a friend in America set up his phone so that we could watch the game via Facetime.  While we are sad about the outcome, we are so glad we were able to see our last game as Auburn students! For future Auburn students: we discovered afterward that if you log into the Auburn VPN, you could stream games through ESPN and also use things like Netflix! This is because the VPN gives you an American IP address. Good to know!! Thanks for the tip, Jessica Hoover!

Breakfast wasn’t included in this hotel booking, but there was a pretty awesome buffet available with coffee, tea, multiple juices, pastries, and hot and cold food options for about $8 (245 Baht) each. We cannot talk enough about how delicious the fruit is here, or how strong and yummy the coffee. The hotel staff even provided us with adorable “take-away” coffee cups when we left to tour for the day, which our coffee-addict selves greatly appreciated.

We taxied from our hotel to the Grand Palace around 8:00 AM so that we were there when it opened at 8:30. We highly recommend going early in the morning like this, as the crowds and the heat intensify in the afternoon. It is 500 Baht to enter and you must have cash. Also, it’s extremely important to dress appropriately! Your knees and shoulders must be covered or you have to wait in a very long line to get sarongs and wraps to cover. We were pleased when the Thai women greeting visitors said we dressed very politely. After walking in the Foreigner line through the gates, we were inside the Palace walls. Words cannot describe the splendor and the intricacy of every inch of the Palace. The buildings are adorned with colored glass that sparkles magically in the sun—gorgeous, not gaudy. Everywhere you look there are the most beautiful buildings, religious symbols, paintings, statues, etc. Something that still surprises us is that even though we were truly in one of the most beautiful places in the world, many of the tourists wanted to take pictures with us because pale blonde people are an enigma to them. A group of Thai students even interviewed us for one of their school projects!

The main attraction within the Grand Palace complex is Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This Buddha, made of jade, is the country’s moved revered religious image. It is EXTREMELY crowded inside the temple but this should not deter you from moving with the crowd to see it. The only other slight negative to mention is that bathrooms in the heavy tourism areas leave much to be desired. We highly recommend bringing a tissue packet, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Paper products in general are not very common here, and often the public bathrooms don’t have toilet paper or paper towels. Some of the Thai plumbing system cannot handle flushing paper. (Note: restaurants have tiny napkins too).

While inside the Grand Palace walls we also toured the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, where we learned about the history of the silk trade and got to see many of the Queen’s beautiful garments. This museum was recently renovated—it is beautiful and very interesting! Super nice bathrooms and AC, too :)

Upon leaving the Grand Palace, we walked past the park to Lak Muang, the foundation stone or city pillar where the city’s guardian spirits gravitate. We definitely recommend stopping by here, it was also absolutely beautiful and a very cool experience to watch the Thai people come to worship. The offerings included garlands of marigolds (yellow for the King), oils, lotus flowers, incense, and candles. Directly outside the shrine that houses the pillars are posts where one ties three brightly colored taffeta cloths to complete the ritual. We read about this after we visited and feel very fortunate to have witnessed such a special process. 

Next we walked to Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It’s very easy to get around the historic district thanks to nice street maps everywhere. It is 100 Baht to visit Wat Pho and you must have exact change and again, be dressed appropriately!! This Temple does give you free water, which was an added bonus. Wat Pho houses the massively impressive Reclining Buddha, easily the largest monument we have ever seen! Outside the house where the Buddha lies are many chedi and smaller Buddha temples. This whole complex was breathtaking so we definitely recommend exploring the whole thing after seeing the Reclining Buddha.

Ready for a break, we bought fruit from a street stand and had a picnic by the Chao Phraya river. Across the river, we could see the famous Wat Arun. We decided not to journey across because much of the temple was under construction, and the line for river boats was very crowded due to the holiday season and fabulous weather. After our picnic we journeyed to the Flower Market, an outdoor market with flowers in every square inch! This was a neat experience because we walked through less touristy parts of the city and got a real feel for the culture of Bangkok. It’s so neat how they cook, sell produce, etc. It was also cool seeing the Thai women weaving the religious garlands out of jasmine and marigold flowers. The flowers almost look like beads!

From the river, it was quite a ways back to our hotel, so far that a Tuk Tuk couldn’t take us. This provided the opportunity to hail our first cab from the street and learn a few things about how tourists get scammed. At the max, a cab ride across town should cost about 150 Baht and the taxi drivers should always run the meter. Our driver said it was too far and tried to wayyy overcharged us. We bargained down to 250 Baht and just took the ride at that point because he was the second person to tell us it was too far, and we wanted to get home! Our Thai friends later told us that it is illegal for the taxis to not run the meter and if anyone says that again, we should mention we will talk to the police or simply wait for a taxi that doesn’t argue with us.  Side note about taxis: An illuminated red sign on the front right of the dashboard means it is vacant. Aside from that one taxi driver, even Thai person we have met has been incredibly welcoming, nice, and generous!

Back near Siam Center, we ventured to the Erawan Shrine. This was where Erin’s mom prayed when her parents lived in Bangkok and they wanted to have another child. A few weeks later, Mrs. McCreary discovered she was pregnant with Erin. It was a surreal moment for us both to thank the Brahma for a blessed life and ask for guidance in our futures! We wanted to participate in the ritual at this Shrine since it is so special. The Thai people told us how the Brahma has four faces, so we purchased four marigold garlands, four candles, and enough incense to leave at all four alters. We were glad, as the Thai say, that we were able to “make Buddha happy.” This Shrine also has gorgeous female dancers that you can watch every hour.

We walked the Sky Walk to MBK for dinner, and ate at the most unique food court we’ve ever seen. It was an open, international cafeteria with each station offering foods from countries all over the world. You received a card when you entered, and as you selected different foods they swiped your card. Upon exiting, you simply handed them the card and paid the total. It was so efficient! Continuing with our ice-cream-cone-a-day tradition we stopped by Swensen’s on our way out for a take-away sundae. We both opted for a scoop of delicious macadamia nut and a scoop of tasty chewy chocolate. 

That night, we took the Sukhumvit BTS line to Nana Station and walked to Soi 11 (soi means lane, or the smaller roads off the main Sukhumvit area) to see where Erin’s parents lived. The apartment complex is now the President Palace hotel. According to the hotel workers, the entire Sukhumvit area was converted to hotels, restaurants, and bars about 8-9 years ago. You need a key card to access the hotel now, but luckily the workers were extremely nice and loved Erin’s life story. They brought us to the 11th floor, where she lived, and even gave us a tour of the pool (which hasn’t changed, and is where Erin learned to swim!). We had a very, very full day but it was so awesome!

On Saturday, we ate breakfast at an adorable restaurant by our hotel called A Journey. We thought it was appropriate, and the coffee was quite tasty. We also tried some street food as a breakfast snack. Thai coconut pudding is like a stuffed coconut pancake—highly recommended! Friends of Erin’s dad from DEA, Myra and Sophon Sariwatta, picked us up after breakfast and took us to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. As the name implies, this is only open on the weekends. Talk about a fantastic assault on every single one of our senses. There are 15,000 outdoor booths selling anything you could thing of, including gorgeous Thai pottery, wooden carvings, and silks. There is also a pet area, foods with everything from dried fruit to massive raw fish, woven baskets, stationery, clothes, etc. Erin was pretty sad to discover that her feet are too big for the beautiful Thai sandals. We walked around for four hours and had no concept of that much time passing! We were so grateful to have them with us to explain some of the cultural merchandise and help us barter for great prices. Market recommendations: bring sunscreen, water bottles, and a large bag to store your purchases! Megan’s mom bought Megan the perfect bag for us to bring, thank you! The Sariwatta’s treated us to coconut ice cream that is served inside a coconut. We were adventurous and tried palm seeds as a topping, which were chewy and yummy. When we left the market, we went to lunch in Nonthaburi Province, a suburb of Bangkok where the Sariwatta’s live. This was delicious and we are so glad we got to spend time with such wonderful people. They also gave us a great tip: if ever you need help in Thailand, we can call +66 02 205 4000 and ask to be put through to the American Services Duty Officer. This is the number for the American Embassy.

After being dropped off at the hotel and freshening up, we decided to go visit Sky Bar which was an easy BTS ride from our hotel on the Silom line. This bar was made famous in The Hangover II, but we were more interested in the gorgeous views. Also, we couldn’t resist since Sky Bar is a very popular attraction in Auburn—we wanted to compare. As much as we love Auburn, we have to say Bangkok wins this one. The view was marvelous and the drinks were so delicious and unique! Erin’s had aloe and parmesan cheese, and Megan’s had sage and hazelnut liqueur. It’s free to go up to the bar, but the drinks are a little pricey. The spectacular views and ambiance are worth every penny.

Today, we enjoyed a pleasant brunch in the hotel lobby and then taxied back to Don Mueang where we flew to Khon Kaen airport in the North. We’re quite good at navigating the airports now and got to our gate in less than an hour, thanks to having boarding passes printed and prepaying for our bags. Our Thai pharmacy student hosts met us at the airport. It is about an hour drive from Khon Kaen to Mahasarakham University but the time passed quickly getting to know our new friends! Once we arrived, we dropped our luggage off at our dorm and then went to lunch at a local outdoor restaurant where we tried papaya salad (both spicy and sweet versions) and sticky rice. We met the University of Tennessee students and Showa University (Japan) students that are also on this rotation with us and we all took a tour of campus with our Thai hosts and hostesses. Jessica and Zach, they asked about you! We told them all the wonderful things you all had told us about Mahasarakham and how you were absolutely right—we’re loving every second of Thailand. After walking around campus, we went into town to see the night market and the local mall, and to stop at The Big C to get toiletries and groceries. The Big C is shockingly similar to Wal-Mart. Our new friends are SO incredibly nice and we cannot wait to get to know everyone better!

Our room is huge (pictures to come) and has a balcony! We are all housed in Condo 1, and our three rooms are all in a row which is very convenient. The mosquitos are intense here but thank goodness Megan brought bug spray. Travel tip: make sure to bring a big bottle. The University is quite large and reminds us a lot of Auburn. School or Colleges are called Faculty here, so tomorrow we start our first day at the Faculty of Pharmacy. We are so excited!!

Time for our first nights sleep in our new home for the next month. On a closing note, Megan just caught a lizard in our bathroom and released it off our balcony, so she is Erin’s hero and also awesome.

We would also like to give a shout out to our dear friend Sara Ransom who got ENGAGED today! The magical fortune of the Erawan Shrine is already working :)


  1. So enjoy reading! Hugs to you both, the Zeeks

  2. Love reading your blogs though it makes me wish I were back in thailand. So happy the Thai students remembered us! Can't wait until you meet the students we sent gifts for. Keep having fun!