While the beaches of Cambodia were absolutely stunning, we were ready to get back to our new found love, Thailand. Ahead of us lay a festival, additional escapades with our good friend, Tom, a few days on a gorgeous island, and finally, the wrap-up in Bangkok.
But first, the longest bus ride ever and another reminder that long term travel is many things…but never glamorous. We learned quickly that the cheaper local bus in most places will take forever while the tourist bus will be more expensive, but more expeditious. We forgot however, the rule that rules were meant to be broken. Enter, the tourist bus from Sihanoukville to Bangkok. What was supposed to be a 16 hour door to door ride included two bus changes on the Cambodian side, one musical chair game with the bus conductor at midnight, approximately a dozen pit stops for people to pee on the side of the road, a four hour foot border crossing, and one last mini bus ride over to Bangkok. All in a short 26 hours. Oy.
The nicest thing to be said is, we got there. So Bon Voyage to Cambodia and helllooooo Bangkok and our much anticipated first Loi Krathong festival (we reworked our last few weeks just to make it).
Loi Krathong is something like Jewish Yom Kippur in sentiment and Christian Christmas decorating, all razzle dazzled with Buddhist serenity and the Thai’s ability to turn anything into a party. There are a few different explanations behind the festival; some say that the festival’s purpose is to thank the river goddess for the successful rice harvest while apologizing for polluting her waters and others take the viewpoint of cleansing one’s self of negative feelings for the upcoming year (see, like Yom Kippur, but without the soul crushing fasting). Long story short, the night is full of lights, little hand crafted rafts set afloat on any available body of water, and fireworks.
We made sure to get in a full day of wandering around (our favorite way to explore Bangkok) before the main event that evening.
Saw a sign for dim sum and had to give it a try! The sweet corn bun stole the show.
Kate asked to take a picture after watching the King’s Guard 20th Cavalry get ready for the day… instead of getting a picture of the group, we got one with them. So much cooler.
These are the floats used in the Loi Krathong festival. Legend says that if your float stays lit down the river until it goes out of view, your wish will be granted.
The view from our first pit stop of the festival. During Loi Krathong there are tons of parties all along the river hosting float making contests, concerts, and beauty pageants. It’s quite common to just party hop throughout the evening.
Grant & I unknowingly snuck into a VIP section of one of the parties… but they had awesome floats on display and great free food!
After a great first Loi Krathong we headed south deep into the Thai peninsula. We arrived in Phuket just in time for something much more familiar to most of our reader base. The wonderful American holiday of Thanksgiving…which of course is about as well known as Chris LeDoux in Thailand. Now, we haven’t been “home” for Thanksgiving since 2008. While in Los Angeles we cooked and hosted our own gatherings for a few years before being adopted by one of our multiple “California Mom & Dad” duos, the extraordinary Mr. & Mrs. Simms. It was a hard day to be away from both our “home” families and our California family. Neither of us are overly sentimental but we do place a lot of emphasis on our families and holidays. Determined to celebrate in spirit, we made sure to get as close to a Thanksgiving feast as possible when you’re in Phuket, Thailand.
Without further ado, Grant and Kate’s Thanksgiving, Southern Thailand Edition:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a roasted chicken, curried rice, corn on the cob, fried pork, a coconut shake, AND a bottle of wine. We ate well, we communed with our inner fat kids, and we even watched football! Though, that was the next morning…
With just under two weeks left in Southeast Asia, we’d packed our schedule with all of our favorite things. Beach time with friends, quiet island life, and a few days back in Bangkok. First up, off to see Tom (you remember, the only person we know more geographically confused than we are? From foggy England, met in Myanmar, teaches in Thailand). So it was off to Khao Lak, Thailand, for more shenanigans with our buddy.
Ever the proper Brit and as such the consummate host…Tom set us up at a place with awesome towel origami. He’s also a pretty good tour guide. Unfortunate as it is, much of Khao Lak’s recent history revolves around the 2004 tsunami. Deadly and nearly unprecedented in the developed world the government has done a commendable job of memorializing the lives lost. Over two days we visited two memorials, the blue angel and red devil (explanation below), a few different beaches, and finished off with a bbq on Tom’s state of the art grill.
The picture two above is of the “Blue Angel”. During the tsunami the captain of the boat was able to steer it well enough to pick up people in its path, saving countless lives. The picture below is of the “Red Devil”, which unfortunately killed many in its path while drifting aimlessly. Both were found over a kilometer inland following the tsunami.
Meet Laura, Tom’s very good friend, cultural educator, grill master extraordinaire, and judge of sweeping. Laura is….a character; after showing up the boys on how to effectively start a fire in Tom’s brand spankin’ new state of the art grill, she proceeded to give us all a very down to earth lesson on Thai culture. Kate was pretty much in love with her until she gave Laura a demonstration of her super cool sweeping skills… Laura was less than impressed. Apparently there’s a “way” to sweep in Thailand. Still not sure how you do it… But fun was had by all as we helped Tom christen his new apartment with a proper bbq & cold beer.
Time flew by and we were quickly saying our goodbyes and headed across the island for a boat to paradise. The plan was not to be however. After only 24 hours in Thailand’s exquisite waters Grant got a phone call for a family emergency and we had to hightail it back to Bangkok for his flight back to the US the next day. It was an unexpected end to his part of the journey, but Koh Yao Noi and the story book surrounding Phang Nga Bay were paradises worthy of being his final chapter in a country so special to us both.
A floating village on our way to Koh Yao Noi. Can you make out the golden mosque in the distance?
After renting a motorbike for our stay on the island we came across this sign and a bunch of gorgeous stand alone bungalows. We thought they’d be WAY out of our budget but figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask…
… and asking was worth it because this the view from our bungalow! The papaya tree was a great addition. We enjoyed our one night on the island and were quickly back on our way to Bangkok via Phuket.
From here on forward everything is from Kate’s point of view. Typically you see lots of “we, us, together”, but since Grant was in Missouri, you have the pleasure of Kate and her shenanigans for the remainder of Bangkok. They aren’t nearly as educational as Grant’s wisdom, consider yourself warned.
With a return flight for the following week already paid for and a booked AirBnB, I stayed in Bangkok to finish the task of eating all the dumplings and buns, go Christmas shopping crazy, and drink way too much Thai tea in gorgeous parks. Actually that last part is false, it’s impossible to drink too much Thai tea.
First up, an eight floor mall. EIGHT FLOORS. I was pretty lucky here, a combination of “western style” stores where I could actually fit into clothes and quite a few interesting “Thai style” stores where I couldn’t get my jeans past my knees. Seriously, I went into a Levi’s store and the biggest size I could find was a 28 (whatever that means). Tried them on. Correction: I attempted to pull them past my knees, no go. When I asked the woman if they had larger sizes she looked me over and laughed. Thank you Thai Levi’s, thank you.
And look! Christmas decorations!
While the Central World mall was both useful and fun, the Emporium was like walking into your grandmother’s formal sitting room while covered in tomato sauce (but like the fanciest sitting room you’ve ever seen in your life). I was honestly afraid I’d be fined for scuffing the floors. It was that nice. And expensive. Ohmygosh so so so expensive. But let’s be real, I don’t walk into those places on purpose, it was an accident. I was lost. Again*.
*Let me explain for those that don’t know me well . I don’t do directions. At all. Some people say they have a bad sense of direction… that’s cute, I wasn’t born with one. I couldn’t keep the freeways straight when I first moved to Los Angeles, to the point where Grant thought I was faking it (there’s no way someone could be that bad, right?). When he finally realized that I’m not that good of an actress we sat down with a giant map and had a very long study session. Thank God for the rise of Google Maps, because before that it was just drive towards the setting sun and when you hit the beach, turn right! Beach living perks…
Before I found my intended location I also checked out the park next door (thinking my spot was in the park. It wasn’t). However it was a lovely park filled with exercise machines (that lots of people were actually using) sepak takraw courts, a temporary art sculpture display, and some gorgeous green space. All in the middle of high rise Bangkok.
The park entrance next to the Emporium. Yes, this is JUST the entrance.
Above and below, Lumphini park, one of my favorites.
Look guys! I finally found what I was looking for! It’s called Art Box and it contains an Etsy-esque environment for people to support their local designers and artists—all in modified shipping containers.
Art Box also had some amazing food. Here, panko fried chicken drenched in ketchup.
While it’s wonderful going to parks and spending the days shopping at huge malls and small markets alike, there’s a reason I love Bangkok so much. Down in China Town there’s a well kept secret from the tourists… there’s a man and his buns…pork buns that is.
Grant and I had a conversation recently regarding this man. If we had won the crazy lottery I would have imported him to cook these for me full time. No joke.
Not the best picture, but you get the jist of it.
We wrote about Bun’s Story in Thailand: Part I because we loved it so much, but we were a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to a second sitting. I am happy to report we were scared for nothing. Even though Grant couldn’t join me on my afternoon rendezvous, I went back twice during my five days there and took back enough food the second time to feed myself for the rest of my visit. Needless to say, I’m obsessed.
If you’re heading to Bangkok and would like to know the location, please drop us a note. I couldn’t find it on any map and it has zero online presence. We already sent two friends over to Bun’s Story and they agree, you can’t describe how amazing it is. Andplusalso China Town is lovely to wander around. So you should go.
After 5 days of bonding with my new love affair of a city, I got on a jet plane and headed back to the good ol’ US of A. I will be forever grateful for the people of Thailand, as they have a happiness and ease we could all learn from.
Thailand, I will hopefully see you again soon. Up next: USA for the holidays, then Mexico!
ขอบคุณและลาก่อน (Thank you & good bye!)