“A Visit to the Land of Smiles”The Kingdom of ThailandA Travel Article by Brian for Travel MagazineMs. Plowman’s Class 2002
Day One • The Kingdom of Thailand is one of the friendliest countries in the world. Everywhere you go throughout this exotic land you see friendly, smiling faces. This is a great country for young people to visit, as I will report for Travel Magazine.
Day One Many were sitting outside in front of small shops and eating at small restaurants. I couldn¹t wait to explore Bangkok. • Thailand is the size of Texas and is located between Burma Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. Thailand is on the other side of the world, so it takes a long time to get there. I boarded the country¹s national airline in Seattle and flew 15 hours in a 747 jumbo jet before arriving in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, and largest city. I ate three meals, watched two movies and had two naps on the airplane. When we landed I was anxious to get off. As soon as the door opened I felt a warm blast of humid 80-degree air, even at 11:00 at night! We went through immigration and were whisked away by taxi to our hotel. I noticed a lot of families were on the streets at this late hour.
Day Two • I woke up at first light and looked out my glamorous hotel window. The mighty Chao Phya River, the “River of Kings”, flowed below me. What a magnificent sight! Huge barges filled with rice or coal crawled slowly up the river. There were long tailed boats skimming across the water and I saw water taxis carrying people from one side of the river to the other. Bangkok was huge; it stretched out in all directions as far as the eye could see! Dotted all around the city were gilded temples or wats, and I could even see the walls of the famed Grand Palace in the distance.
Day Two • We ate breakfast outside on the verandah by the river. My mom thought it would be a good idea to try a typical Thai breakfast. It wasn¹t a good choice for me. It was a kind of rice gruel with an egg floating in it. My mother ordered fruit and I shared her plate. There was pineapple, watermelon, mango, papaya and many fruits I have never seen before like mangosteen and rambutan, all beautifully sliced and carved in different patterns.
Day Two • It was 8:00 a.m. and it was already getting hot. February is supposed to be a cool month, I can¹t imagine what the hot season is like. We started our sightseeing adventure by river on our first day because it is cooler on the water, and we can avoid the famous Bangkok traffic jams. We rented a long tail boat with a guide for a half-day. Our driver was named Prasert and he spoke a little English. He liked to hydroplane, skimming across the water at a thrilling speed. The long boat passed the slow rice barges using the long motor for shallow maneuvering. Our first stop was Wat Aroon, the Temple of the Dawn.
Prasert let us out on a platform near the temple and said he would wait for us. The temple rose high into the sky and glittered in the sun. As we came closer we could see the temple was made of small, shiny, colorful ceramic tiles. We climbed the steep stairs to the very top of Wat Aroon. It was a beautiful view. A Buddhist monastery was behind the temple and I could see many boys my age with shaved heads wearing saffron colored robes. Buddhism is the primary religion in Thailand. Most boys spend six months to two years as monks. They live in monasteries and are taught about Bhuddism and how to live a simple life. All over Thailand early in the morning they sit on the ground before their living quarters heads bowed while people line up to put food offerings in their empty bowels. To feed a monk is an honor believed to bring good luck. Day Two
Prasert was waiting for us as he promised, and he sped us away at high speed to see the Royal Barges. It was interesting to see life along the river. I saw beautiful flower markets filled with orchids and roses of all colors and we could smell the fragrant lotus blossoms. There were huge warehouses filled with teak logs. There were ornate Thai styled houses belonging to the wealthy next to simple houses where children bathed and brushed their teeth in the shallow banks of the river. Prasert maneuvered our boat through Bangkok¹s canals to the home of the royal barges. Bangkok is known as the “Venice of the East” because it was built on canals or klongs. Day Two We stopped at a large open building and we stepped out to see the royal barges. Two times a year at special ceremonies the royal barges are brought out from their river warehouse. They are like giant, elaborately decorated canoes. Forty men wearing traditional Thai costumes oar the individual boats in races on the Chyao Phya River. They pass the grandstand saluting the King and Queen of Thailand with their oars.
Day Two There are many statues of Buddha, which are covered in gold leaf. I liked seeing the interesting murals painted along the walls of the complex. The murals tell the story of the life of Buddha. • Our next stop was the magnificent Grand Palace built in the eighteen century. It looked just like the elaborate palace in the movie the “King and I”, which is actually banned in Thailand for making fun of the King. It is here that Thailand¹s King, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadez, meets heads of states. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. It is run by an elected parliament headed by the Prime Minister who is elected by the King. The King is a figurehead, but still has a lot of influence in Thailand and is loved by the people The Grand Palace complex is spread out on many acres. There are temples with ornate gilded spires guarded by exotic statues of mythical beasts.
Day Two We also visited nearby Wat Po which is the oldest and largest of Bangkok¹s more than 300 temples. It is home to the huge Reclining Buddha, the largest Buddha in Thailand. • I visited the Royal Chapel, which is the home of the Emerald Buddha. Everyone has to take off their shoes and sit on the marble floors with their feet crossed so as not point their feet at the Emerald Buddha, which is a sin. The Emerald Buddha is smaller than I thought. It is only about three feet tall and sits on a golden altar in the front of the temple. It is not really made of Emerald but jasper. The Emerald Buddha was wearing its winter coat. Three times a year His Majesty the King changes the robes of the Emerald Buddha to reflect the season. There is a scent of burning incense, and many Thais pray and meditate in this peaceful place.
Day Two Thai food is very popular in the United States so I was not surprised at many of the flavors of the cuisine including coconut, peanuts and coriander. I was surprised at how much hotter and spicier the food was here. • As we were leaving the Grand Palace, I begged my mom to let us take a thuk- thuks back to the hotel. Thuk-thuks are fast, noisy open -air three wheeled vehicles, She relented and we had a crazy ride through the famous Bangkok traffic. • We decided to eat dinner that evening at the popular Sala Rim Naam one of the six restaurants at the Oriental Hotel where we were staying. We wanted to see the Thai Classical Dance show. We sat crossed legged at the low tables while waiters served us many different kinds of delicious food. Including sweet noodles curry and prawns.
Day Two • Soon after dinner the lights dimmed and musicians started to play music using instruments I had never seen before. They were woodwind and percussion instruments. The musicians sat on the floor and played Thai classical music by ear. Then the Thai classical dancers appeared wearing elaborate costumes and headdresses. They danced and acted out stories from the Ramayana the ancient Thai story of good versus evil. There were characters representing monkey gods and princesses and princes.
Next we visited many of the gem and jewelry stores near our hotel. Thailand is famous for its rubies and sapphires as well as many other precious gemstones. You can choose from individual stones or beautiful jewelry designs at great prices. My mom bought some sapphire earrings We visited many small shops selling Thai handicrafts from bronzeware to baskets, quilts to porcelains. There are also many shops selling antiques such as tapestries and puppets from Burma. The next day we went shopping hoping to find some famous Thai bargains. Our first stop was the Jim Thompson Silk Shop. Jim Thompson was the American who helped establish the Thai Silk Industry in the 1950¹s. There were rows and rows of brightly colored silks, all of them hand-loomed and hand-dyed in a mind-boggling range of colors, patterns and weights. My mom purchased some bright royal blue silk in an elaborate pattern. A tailor took her measurements for a custom made dress which would be ready for a fitting the next day and ready for pick up the following day. Day Three
At dawn the next morning we were on our way to the floating market of Damnern Saduak. The market is about one hour from Bangkok. People here live on klongs or canals and travel by small boats from one destination to another. The local market is on the water where vendors in boats sell everything you could want. We arrived early so we could enjoy the market before it gets too hot. We arrived at the market and hired a boat and driver so we could wander among the klongs. The waterways were crowded with boats paddled by women with their unique wide brimmed Thai style straw hats for sun protection. The boats were laden with all sorts of things to sell from beautiful orchids to fruits and vegetables. There were boats selling noodles, fried bananas, fresh coconut milk, dried fish, and rice. It was very colorful and I took lots of photos. There was even one boat brimming with durian fruit, the most infamous fruit in all of Asia. I saw many signs in Thailand saying no durian allowed. People say that a ripe durian tastes something like a banana but it smells terrible, like Limburger cheese. I don¹t think I want to try one. Day Three
It was interesting to see life along the klongs. Many children waved to us as they paddled to school on the narrow waterways. We looked inside one school, which had its doors wide open, and we could see young children reciting the Thai alphabet. We passed a wat and we could see monks in their orange robes sitting on the floor humming in unison. A small boat came alongside in which the driver cooked us some delicious Thai noodles, or Phad Thai. The next morning we left exciting Bangkok for a visit to northern Thailand and the slower paced city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was once the capital of a kingdom called Lanna or “Land of the Million Rice Fields”. Chiang Mai is known for its slower way of life. We rode on a bicycle pulled cart through the city to visit the handicraft areas. One area makes lacquerware; another produces big, brightly colored paper umbrellas. We visited silk weavers and I saw silk moth larvae being fed special leaves. When they got big enough, they would begin spinning their silk cocoons. In another part of town we watched silversmiths hammer out bowls that look as thin as tissue paper. We visited a Thai celadon pottery factory. Celadon bowls are light green or blue in color and they have a cracked glittering glaze. Day Three Once, the only way to get there from Bangkok was a trip of several weeks on elephant back or an exhausting river journey. In the late 1920¹s a railroad was built, but today it is only a one-hour flight by air.
In the evening Chiang Mai has a night bazaar that is very interesting. Hill tribe people from all around the area come to the market to sell their wares. Each tribe has their unique costumes. I bought some jewelry at one stand of the Karen tribe. I think the jewelry is made from the horn of a water buffalo. My mom bought a quilt and a wall hanging. The next morning we took an excursion out of town to a traditional Thai logging camp and elephant training center at Chang Dao about 40 miles away. Elephants are still used today to move teak logs from the dense jungle areas of northern Thailand to the rivers. Day Three/Day Four At the camp, the mahouts or keepers train the young elephants. The elephants lumber down to the river every morning for a bath. They are like mischievous children. Sucking up trunkfuls of water to drench their mahouts. We watched the older elephants demonstrate how to roll, pull and lift logs. I even got to feed a baby elephant some bananas.
A few children are playing soft music on bamboo flutes. On our return to the hotel we stopped at the famous temple of Doi Suthep on Suthep Mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. It was built in 1383 to house a relic of Lord Buddha. It is said that to find the perfect site the local King released a white elephant, which walked all the way up the mountain, circled one spot three times, trumpeted his satisfaction then knelt down. A tower of gold in the courtyard of the temple stands to this day to mark the spot. It is a festival day and there are vendors making special foods such as banana fritters. Other vendors offer wicker baskets of caged little birds. I buy a basket with a bird and set the bird free for good luck. Our next adventure was a short trek on elephant back. We took a 1 ½-hour trek through the jungle, passing through bamboo, mango and litchi trees as we stomped up a jungle creek bed. I sat in a creaking, swaying box behind the mahout who sat on top of the elephant behind the ears. Along the way the mahout taught us how to say hello, a little, and thank you in Thai hello is Sawasdee, a little is nit noi, and thank you is kap khun krap. The elephant walked slowly through the jungle on our way to visit a hilltribe village of the Lisu people. The Lisus live in a small village with a single row of open houses. There is no running water or electricity. There are pudgy pigs running around like pets. Chickens and roosters wander through the houses. Day Four
Day Five in the water and on the shoulders of the water buffaloes were little orange birds. Rubber plantations and fields of sugarcane cover large tracts of the island. • From Chiang Mai we flew to the south of Thailand to the tropical island of Phuket. Phuket is a beautiful coral-rimmed island of rolling hills and jungles resting on the waters of the Andaman Sea. It is now a popular tourist attraction. The first thing I noticed as we were landing was how bright blue and clear the water was. I couldn¹t wait to go swimming! • On the way to the hotel we saw plantations of coconut trees. We watched as men urged monkeys to climb the tall trees and throw down their harvest of ripe coconut fruit. We saw rice paddies with water buffaloes standing
Day Five • We arrived at our hotel which was right on the beach and I wasted no time in putting on my swim trunks and heading for the water. I swam out a short way and was amazed at the coral that was so close to the beach. Swimming around the coral were brightly colored tropical fish including angelfish and parrotfish. I ran out of the water to get my fins and snorkel and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the coral reefs to watch the interesting sea life including groupers, sea rays and schools of small fish of every imaginable color and shape. We feasted on seafood that evening, including huge Phuket lobster and crab.
We took a boat the next morning to see the unique limestone rock formations near Phuket which were once featured in a James Bond movie. The amazing green cliffs rise straight out of the sea for hundreds of feet. We visited nearby sea caves and saws hundreds of swallow-like birds build their nests on rock walls on the caves. Their nests are made with the bird¹s saliva. The Thais harvest the nests of these birds to make bird nest soup, a delicacy in Thailand. On our return to Phuket we visited the Sea Gypsies who are Muslim fishermen who have built their houses on stilts on top of the water beyond Phuket Island. There are about 50 houses and buildings on stilts. Day Six
Day Seven • The next few days were spent relaxing on the beach with a few visits to Phuket town and a sightseeing trip to the nearby jungle of Ton Sai National Park. It was eerie hiking in the dense jungle with waterfalls cascading into jungle pools and strange sounds of animals I couldn¹t recognize.
Day Eight • We returned to Bangkok after a few days in Phuket and the following day we were on another 747 back to Seattle. • I will never forget the exotic sights, sounds and smells of Thailand. Most of all I will never forget the friendly people who always greeted me with a “wai” and the word Sawasdee or welcome to the “Land of Smiles.”
TRAVEL TIPSGetting There • Getting There: The best way to get to Thailand is by using the country¹s national carrier, Thai Airways International. The airline has great package deals from locations throughout the United States. When you board Thai Airways 747 jumbo jet, it is like you are entering the country of Thailand. Airhostesses wearing traditional Thai silk dresses, which were chosen by the Queen greet you with an orchid and a “wai”; their hands folded in a prayer like gesture that bids you welcome.
Where To Stay • The best hotel to stay at in Bangkok is the exotic Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Phya River. There is a lot of history at this beautiful hotel originally built in 1800. It was the only hotel in Bangkok at the turn of the century and many rooms have been named after the famous authors who have visited the Oriental. Including Somerset Maughm, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Tennessee Williams. It has two swimming pools, a workout room and six restaurants. One of the restaurants has a Thai Classical Dance show. Ask for a room with a view of the river.
When To Go • When to go: Thailand¹s climate is ruled by monsoons resulting in three seasons: rainy (June to October), cool and dry (November to February), and hot (March to May). There are also extremes in weather from 95degrees and humid in April to 70 degrees in December. The dry season is the best time to go from November until late April. From May to October there is a shower most mornings and sun in the afternoon, occasionally there are days of pouring rain. The cool season is from November to February.
What to wear: Thais are exceptionally friendly, polite and modest. While they make allowances for tourists, women should not wear shorts in public. Generally dress is informal and only the fanciest hotels and restaurants require men to wear a jacket. Because of the heat and humidity of Thailand, loose clothes made of cotton and natural fabrics are best. Bring comfortable shoes. Local customs: Never touch a Thai¹s head or point your feet at them, this is considered extremely impolite. If someone “wai¹s” to you ( greets you with hands together while bending their head down) it is proper to return the gesture. Instead of saying Sawasdee for hello or goodbye, men should say Sawasdee krab and women should say Sawasdee Ka. It is a small gesture but infinitely more polite in a country that values such gestures. Proper behavior is especially important at temples. You must remove your shoes before entering a wat or building that contains a Buddha image. You can sit on the floor of the wat but with legs folded under you so as not to point your toes at anyone. Women must never enter the monks¹ quarters, nor hand anything to a monk. What To Wear/Local Customs