Monday, February 2, 2015

ฟื้นฟู [restore]

Our weekend began promptly at 7:30 AM on Saturday when our private tour guide, Miss Kate, met us in the lobby of our hotel for our tour of the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, Thailand. Ayutthaya is actually the second of 4 capital cities in the history of Thailand, also called Siam (first was Sukothai, then Ayutthaya, followed by Thornburi, and now Bangkok) and was declared in 1991 a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning it bears an exceptional testimony to a civilization. We opted to use Travel Hub again since we had such a pleasant experience with this company during our Chiang Mai trekking tour. We also decided to spend a little extra money for the private guide because we both love learning about the history of the things we are seeing. It was WELL worth it!! You can find our tour information here. 


After greeting Miss Kate, we got in a cute little silver sedan operated by our driver for the day, Mr. Seven. The inside of his car was an early morning delight as it boasted pink ambiance lighting and two large black leather bucket seats instead of a typical back seat. This sounds like a silly perk, but there was a trashcan in the car and they provided us with cold water from a cooler in the trunk all day! The weather in Bangkok the past two days has been really hot and muggy, so we really appreciated this.

Our ride for the day!

The tour began in Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as the Summer Palace for the Royal Family. It is mostly a tourist site now, as the current King of Thailand is very old and unable to travel often. King Buhmibol or Rama IX, has been on the throne 68 years, making him the world’s longest reigning monarch! The Summer Palace is located on the Chao Phraya River bank in Bang Pa-In district, Ayutthaya Province, which was about an hour from our hotel. Since we knew we were facing a bit of a drive and we had slept in a little too much for breakfast, we asked Miss Kate if she wouldn’t mind taking us to get some coffee first. She proved to be an amazing tour guide right from the beginning when she immediately took us to Starbucks, where our iced hazelnut lattes got our morning off to the best start. As an added bonus, we also found dark chocolate covered macadamia nuts. YUM!

Bang Pa-In Palace

Upon entering the Palace grounds, we first stopped at a small stone pagoda near one of the many ponds that was built in Cambodia style, known as a Prong. This structure really stood out because the rest of the Palace complex is very European in design. King Rama V, or more commonly known as King Chulalongkorn, designed it as such so that the Thai people could be exposed to European culture. There is one building that was built after the king’s death in the middle of the lake to honor the structures of the Thai Grand Palace in Bangkok. Inside this gorgeous Thai design is a statue of King Rama V. The actual Palace was gorgeous, but we were not allowed to take pictures inside to preserve the privacy of the Royal Family. The inside was very European as well, except for a large throne that is purely Thai and even is framed by large ivory tusks! We learned that thrones for kings have 9-tiered umbrellas (like the 9 layers of Buddha temples because the King and Buddha are on the same level), while princes and princesses have 7 and 5, respectively. Perhaps our favorite moment of exploring the house though came when we were approaching it and passed under a mango tree with new fruit and blooming flowers. We celebrated this moment by buying some fresh mango from the vendors when we were leaving the Palace as well. We swear we don’t remember fruit being this delicious at home!

Cambodian pagoda

Palace grounds

Inside is the statue of King Rama V

Mango Tree!

While strolling the well-manicured grounds, we saw bushes shaped like elephants and quite a large live relative of a komodo dragon walking around near the lake. We then passed an adorable small pink garden building where groundskeepers can prepare all of the fresh flowers arrangements when the Royal Family visits. Next, we came to a graceful tower that was built by King Rama V, so that he could watch for wild elephants. We climbed to the top of the stairs but sadly didn’t see any elephants roaming! We did overlook the gorgeous Phar Thinang Wehart Chamrun building though, which translates to Royal Residence of Heavenly Light. This Chinese-style two-story mansion was built by the equivalent of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and presented to King Chulalongkorm in 1889. It was the favorite residence of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, when he visited Bang Pa-In Palace. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but the carved furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl was breathtaking! Everything was also brilliant red and gold, the Chinese colors for good fortune.

Elephant bushes on the grounds

Flower prep house

Elephant watching tower

Phar Thinang Wehart Chamrun

The final monument we visited inside Bang Pa-In Palace was constructed for Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, the Queen of King Rama V, who died tragically in a boating accident when she was only 20 years old and pregnant at the time. This was a sad, but beautiful area of the Palace.

After leaving Bang Pa-In our next tour stop was in Ayutthaya at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol (which means Auspicious Victory), a monastery built by King U-Thong in 1357 to honor King Naresuan the Great for his victory over King Maha Uparacha of Burman in 2135 BE. The ancient temple grounds feature an amazing Reclining Buddha, which is the posture of Buddha depicting his achievement of nirvana. There is a legend that if you hold a coin to the feet of this Buddha and make a wish, your wish will come true if the coin sticks without glue. Both of our coins stuck, and we were quite excited again about the great possibilities before us in 2015! This monastery also boasts a prominent chedi that is 62.1 meters tall and was built with 28,144 tons of brick. We climbed up into the center, where eight golden Buddhas surround a well. The entire inside glistens because Thai people stick gold leaf paper to every facet of the temple for good luck.

Our coins stuck!


You can also walk around the top of the temple around the steeple of the chedi (only clockwise though for good luck) where you have a breathtaking, birds-eye view of the monastery walls. Here, hundreds of Buddha images line the walls and are adorned with gorgeous gold cloths. The cloths draped on the Buddha images are those that were donated by Thai people to make merit with Buddha. We also observed the typical ritual the people perform to Buddha images, which involves incense, flowers, and candles. Three incense sticks are burned to pay respect to Buddha, Buddha’s teachings, and the monks. The flowers symbolize a beautiful life, and the candles symbolize illuminating your life. We also learned that you should always explore a temple clockwise for good luck! Walking counterclockwise only occurs during funeral services. This entire complex was one of our favorite sights that we have seen so far in Thailand!

Next we journeyed to Wat Maha That, the historical park of Ayutthaya. 33 Kings reigned supreme from Ayutthaya, from 1351-1767. Wat Maha That was the royal temple and most scared in Ayutthaya during the glorious time. When Siam lost a fifty-year, intensely bloody war with Burma in 1767, the ancient capitol was abandoned in ruins. Years and years later, citizens and government officials came to restore these historic ruins into a national park. When they did, they discovered the head of a sandstone Buddha image buried in the mangled roots of a Banyan a tree! It has remained untouched ever since and it one of nature’s miracles! We had to kneel in order to take a picture in front of it, because it is disrespectful to stand above the head of Buddha. Walking through these ruins was pretty incredible. Megan also commented on how it’s interesting that we call them ruins when there is nothing ruined about them, they are true works of art. It reminded Erin a lot of Rome and the juxtaposition of ancient temples tucked into a modern city.

Our final stop of the Ayutthaya tour was Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the only temple inside the complex of the Grand Palace of the Ayutthayan Kingdom that did not have resident monks. There was a model of the old Palace inside the ruins that showed how incredibly large it was during the glorious period of Ayutthayan kings. Mostly ruins now, there are still three impressive chedis that stand tall and proud. The chedis’ neighboring temple, used to house a 16-meter tall Buddha image that was destroyed during the Burmese attack. In honor of this Buddha image, Phra Mongkhon BoPhit sits next door to the ruin site in a more modern (but still ancient) Thai temple. It is one of the largest bronze Buddha Images of Thailand. These bronze images are really built with brick, cast in bronze, and then decorated with gold. It was built early in the Ayutthaya period and stands 12.45 meters high. It’s restoration of a lost arm from the Buddha image was complete in 1957.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Phra Mongkhon BoPhit

A day in Thailand always brings not only wonder at the big things, but so much joy in the little things. Today was no exception, for we had the fortune of seeing an elephant walk down the street again as we drove up to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. There was also a local market next to the last ruins that our tour guide walked us through for an afternoon snack. We found these "Ba Bin", or sweet coconut sticky rice cakes. They were amazing! We're still in awe how after this long here we can still find good new foods to try and are so glad we’ve journeyed to so many different areas of this country to see and discover local arts and flavors.

Life is about the little things :)

Ba Bin

The tour ended with a cruise down the Chao Phraya River back to Bangkok (Chao Phraya means King’s River in Thai). We boarded in Nonthaburi Province and disembarked for Bangkok, which meant we cruised for around two hours. In true Thai hospitality fashion, the entire crew of the ship was so gracious and accommodating. We were immediately presented with ice water and a fancy dining table for two, as well as a water view! The lunch buffet set up was unbelievable. Some of our favorite items included fried coconut fish, sushi, individual mini mango sticky rice desserts, steamed vegetables, and sliced beef. They also had tea and coffee available upon request, and festive boat drinks served with orchids! Erin even befriended the sweet bartender girl and helped create a new pineapple coconut frozen concoction.

While sailing along the river, we passed some of the homes of the current prince and princesses. We also saw many temples, Thai houses, and restaurants. It was interesting to see livelihood set up right on the river. Our international journey continued as a kind Austrian couple asked us to take their picture and we learned he was an Austrian chemist! It was neat to meet people from yet another country and talk healthcare, science, and education.

As we sailed into Bangkok, we were able to get a stunning view of Wat Arun from the riverbank. We also saw the Grand Palace and caught a glimpse of Sky Bar! This was cool since we took so many pictures of the river from Sky Bar about a month ago, and now we have a whole new perspective. Mr. Seven, our driver, met us at the pier when the boat docked, and it was a short journey back to our hotel for the evening.

Wat Arun

View of the luxury hotels and Sky Bar from the River

We have been experiencing so much that we were honestly exhausted when we arrived back at the hotel! After checking some emails, we both decided that a movie and pizza night would be so perfect if only we could arrange it. Never fear…we’re resourceful when need be! Erin remembered our friend Mint telling us that anywhere in Thailand you can dial 1112 and connect to The Pizza Company. Sure enough, it worked! They already knew our location from our call and were willing to deliver to the hotel within 30 minutes! One Hawaiian pizza coming right up! Erin also wandered down to the hotel lobby to seek a microwave to pop popcorn while Megan downloaded a movie off iTunes. We opted for The King and I, the story of an English woman who journeys to Siam to teach the children of King Rama IV or King Mongkut. We thought it was quite appropriate for our historic day in Thailand, and we both love a good love story! We also can’t believe we’re missing the Super Bowl, so even though we were a day early, we’re glad we joined the projected 12.5 million pizzas that will be ordered today back home.

For Sunday, we had nothing planned but sleeping in and heading back to Chatachuk Weekend Market to finish buying souvenirs for everyone back at home. We were excited for an uneventful, relaxing girls day. The morning started off great with a breakfast of coffee and jackfruit that we had bought fresh off the street the night before. A little after 9:00AM, we headed out of the hotel to the BTS Sky Train station that is literally in front of the hotel doors. Since we had planned to go all the way to Chatachuk (the last stop, called Mo Chit, on the Sukhumvit line) and then journey the opposite direction on Sukhumvit toward the Thong Lo station for dinner, we decided to purchase one-day passes instead of individual fares. It is 130 Baht for the day pass so we definitely saved money this way! Erin was really craving a jasmine tea and Megan was feeling an espresso frappe for the ride, but unfortunately none of the vendors at our station (National Stadium) were open in the morning. We rode the train two stops down and got off at the Phaya Thai station, a busier area, for our drinks at a local coffee shop next to the station. Much to our surprise, when we went to get back on the train, the guard stopped us. We forgot there is absolutely no food or drink allowed on the Sky Train! Begrudgingly, we walked back down the stairs and back into the shop to sit and finish our drinks. We were ready to get our shop on!!

The jasmine bubble tea that started it all...

When we finished our drinks, we looked around for trashcans but faced a very common problem around Thailand, and that is a serious lack of public trash receptacles. Therefore, we approached the coffee counter inside the shop to hand our cups to the sweet girl who had made our drinks. Turning to leave, we were hit with one of the few doors we’ve seen in Thai restaurants. Most everything is an open-air concept and we have gotten so used to that! So quite literally, Megan smacked right into the glass door, because we did not even realize it was there. The force of impact split the skin above her eyebrow, but the door was fine! Erin (Megan’s hero) immediately went into Mom-mode, sat her down, obtained a washcloth, antispectic (in Thailand this is ammonium and witch hazel based), and some bandaids and went to work to contain the bleed. By a fortunate miracle, not a single drop of blood got on Megan’s adorable outfit. However, the cut was deep and definitely required stitches. Thank goodness we had visited Bumrungard International Hospital on Friday and knew we were very close to world-class healthcare.

We told the coffee shop owner we wanted to get to Bumrungard and we were surprised when she hopped in the car with us. After she paid for the driver, we realized she had brought us to the closest hospital, which also looked very nice but we weren’t 100% sure about their ability to treat international patients. We explained that we wanted to go to Bumrungard due to our American insurance, and the sweet shop owner insisted on covering all of Megan’s medical bills. In Thailand, there is no questions asked about who was at fault. They simply take care of everyone, from commoner to celebrity. It is truly an amazing culture. We felt so bad for making the shop pay for such a silly accident, and we wanted to be able to call home and file appropriate paperwork, so we graciously thanked the shop owner and continued to Bumrungard.


Upon arrival, we entered the Emergency Room and explained what had happened. Within 5 minutes, they had referred Megan to a doctor in the outpatient clinic building. They told us exactly what to do: go to the 10th floor to register as a new patient, and then continue to the 16th floor to see the doctor. After registering (an extremely easy process!) and admiring Megan’s awesome International Patient card, we traveled up to the 16th floor and had quite a laugh when we realized we were in the Department of Plastic Surgery! The nurses working this outpatient facility were incredibly kind, and to Erin’s delight there was free jasmine tea in the waiting area. They apologized profusely that we had to wait and see a doctor, and we honestly had no idea what to say because to us, the whole process had been so quick and smooth thus far. In the meantime, sweet and brave Erin went to the gift shop to surprise Megan with an adorably soft teddy bear wearing a green Bumrungrad Hospital hoodie to help her through what would come next (Megan has since named the bear Khoa Dan after Erin since this is her Thai nickname!). The Thai surgeon, who saw Megan within 20 minutes, was incredible and did confirm that she needed stitches. He completed the local surgery within the next half-hour. His bedside manner was fabulous as he talked to Erin calmly the whole time about pharmacy and medicine. He also let Erin sit at Megan’s side throughout the entire procedure to hold her hand (again Megan’s hero!). When he was finished, the nurses (wearing beautiful silk!) gently dressed the wound and taught Erin how to change the dressing. Megan will have to get the stitches taken out in 7 days once we return home, but there should be absolutely no scar!

After checking her blood pressure one last time (107/94…what a champ) we were guided to financial services and the pharmacy. These two check-out services were linked, and after a very pleasant check-out with the billing department, Megan stepped over to the pharmacy department on this flow and was provided with Keflex, paracetamol, chloramphenical ointment, pharmacy counseling, wound tape, and 7 wound dressing kits.  This was all presented in a super nice Bumrungard Hospital bag that is honestly nicer than a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag!

Erin preparing Megan's dressing

We were so, so surprised at the quality, efficiency, and affordability of this whole endeavor. The coordination of care was outstanding and we gained a great appreciation of the convenience of receiving medications at discharge and not having to fill prescriptions or obtain medical supplies on our way home from the hospital. The only things we noticed that we would have like to have been done were confirming her blood type and medication history in the ER. They did check for allergies and prior surgical history. Also, they didn’t perform a mental status or neurological exam, but Megan was extremely functional when we walked into the ER. Erin had preformed a Mini Mental Status Exam in the taxi, so we felt pretty okay (her three words to remember were coffee, macadamia, and jackfruit, :) ).

Hospital lunch AKA comfort food

Needing to take a moment to process what had all just happened and a little lunch (plus a few tears and a hug) we stopped at Au Bon Pain in the lobby of the Outpatient Clinic Building. Bagels and cream cheese have never been more comforting!  A mere 12 stitches and two hours after the event first occurred, we were back on the Sky Train heading to the hotel to regroup and email our parents.

2 internal and 10 external stitches! She's a rockstar!

We were determined not let this little bump get in our way, so after our email break we made Chatachuk Weekend Market attempt #2 of the day, which turned out to be incredibly successful! We made it all the way to Mo Chit station this time and into the mayhem of this huge, busy market! Since we had been here before we looked for familiar landmarks and found our ways to the stalls we had been waiting to return to in order to bring gifts home. Again, our Thai bartering phrases came in handy for discounts and we came away with many great gifts and treasures!

To make sure we got the most out of our Sky Train day pass and our last days in Thailand, we dropped our two large shopping bags back off at the hotel and at 7PM ventured via the Sky Train to Sukhumvit Soi 38 just off the Thong Lo station on the Suhkumvit Line. Erin found an awesome blog about the best Thai food in Bangkok, which acclaimed that Suhkumvit Soi 38 had the best street food. We agree 100% with this blog and recommend any future Bangkok visitors make their way here! We had a great time walking down this street, taking in the vast amount of vendors and incredible display of menus. We opted for a little street-side restaurant that seemed to have it all. We ordered three of our favorite dishes, massaman curry (a mild conconutty curry with chicken and potatoes), khao soy (chicken and tender mushrooms in a coconut milk broth), and stir-fried cashew chicken. These were delicious and it was fun to eat family style in the open air, just as we did in Maha Sarakham. We also got our beloved Pa Thong Ko (fried dough) with pandan sauce for breakfast from this restaurant. Then to our delight we saw a streetcar filled with more mangoes than we have ever seen and the cute vendor was rapidly slicing through the pile to make mango sticky rice desserts. We of course got a take-away mango sticky rice and were thrilled to have two of our favorites for breakfast the next day. (Note: mango sticky rice doesn’t keep well when refrigerated for leftovers! We wish we would have saved a little room after dinner to be able to eat this as dessert the night before!)

Sukhumvit Soi 38

Going to miss seeing coconut in the fridge like it's normal

This weekend has been filled with being captivated by the splendor of the old and experiencing many new and very unexpected things, but seeing the good in it all, especially good friendship! We are looking forward to our last few days of our International rotation at Roen-ya Community Pharmacy and savoring our last days of adventure in this wonderful city!

Massaman Curry

Khao Soy

Chicken and Cashew 


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