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Posts Tagged ‘Temples’

Kathmandu Crazy

Kathmandu is an insanely chaotic, loud, smelly, and colorful city.  Navigating the town is a true feat; the narrow shop-lined streets are packed with people, piles of trash, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, and you’ll even spot an occasional cow or monkey meandering through traffic.  One evening our taxi turned down a one way street to come head-to-head with another car…neither of them budged but instead sat there honking their horns at one another for five minutes until finally our friend insisted that our driver move out of the way.  It’s amazing that anyone gets anywhere in this city.

 

Despite the craziness, Kelly and I enjoyed Kathmandu.  Thamel, where our guesthouse was located, is a touristy area in regards to restaurants and shops, but we didn’t actually SEE many tourists.  Sure, there was a handful, but after the backpacker madness of Thailand, we were thrilled to be walking around amongst so many locals.  One of our favorite ways to spend time would be to get lost wandering through the alleyways while admiring the multitude of temples, souvenir and thangka shops, and women in bright saris selling fruits, vegetables and flowers in the street squares. 

Selling veggies

Doug joined us in Kathmandu and we spent one afternoon visiting Durbar Square, as well as the Durbar Square in the nearby city of Patan.  Both were stunning, but we all preferred the temples of Patan. 

Temple in Durbar Square

Patan's Durbar Square

In Durbar Square

Another afternoon, Doug and I visited Swayambhunath, or ‘Monkey Temple’.  Yes, there are monkeys running around everywhere, but don’t go near them or they will totally swipe your camera and probably claw your face off.  Of course, the stupa was under repair, so my hopes of a photo with the beautiful golden stupa strung with Tibetian prayer flags were dashed. 

Stupa at Monkey Temple

View of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

 

Another entertaining afternoon would be spent at the local post office.  Kelly and I had a package that needed to be shipped home, but instead of taping up the box and slapping a label on it like most other countries, the Nepalese take their packaging to a whole new level.  One woman sits in the office tearing strips of fabric while another man measures your box and actually sews a pillow case from the cloth to stuff the package in.  Then another man with a candle melts a stick of wax and ‘seals’ your package by dotting the seams with globs of the wax.  Then you write your shipping address on the cloth with a marker.  Upon completion of the packaging, your box looks like cargo from a pirate ship.  It’s hilariously awesome.

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Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known as the cultural city of the country and amongst other activities, is a popular destination to undertake a trek to hill-tribe villages.   After all of the island hopping, Kelly and I settled down for a whole week here and really fell in love with the place. Despite the noise, traffic and smoggy air (due to all of the ‘slash and burning’ that goes on to cultivate the mountain slopes), the city has an extremely laid back atmosphere. The ‘Old City’ is surrounded by a moat and a brick wall (crumbling in some areas) that once served as a defense against attackers and is full of narrow cobblestone alleyways lined with cafes and restaurants.

The wall around the city center

Our first day in town, Kelly and I immediately signed up for a Thai cooking course.   There are dozens to choose from, but we settled on Thai Farm Cooking School, a class taught outside of the city on an organic farm.   They picked us up from our guesthouse early the following morning and stopped off at a local outdoor market where we were given the rundown of the key ingredients for Thai cooking and allowed some time to wander amongst the endless food stalls.

Upon arrival, we were given a tour of the farm, including an explanation of the produce that is grown there, before being shown to our cooking stations. In no time we were pounding mortars and pestles to make our own chili paste from scratch…it’s actually quite a workout! Every person chose five dishes to make…Kelly and I decided on green and red chicken curry, tom yam and tom ka soups, pad thai, chicken with basil, chicken with cashew nuts, and sticky rice with mango.

 

Mmmmmm

It was a great day and the food was fantastic…we went home with our bellies full (yes, you eat the food that you make) and doggy-bags in tow, along with a recipe book of all the yummy dishes we had made.   Kelly and I are super excited to cook authentic Thai food for our friends and family when we get back home!

Look what we made!

The next afternoon and evening was dedicated to the Sunday Walking Street Market, a market that blows all the other markets we‘ve seen away. Rachadamnoen Road, one of the main streets in the Old City, is closed off to traffic and the entire street is lined with row after row of vendor booths that sell clothing, jewelry, home décor, paintings, and other local crafts.   Singers, dancers, and other musicians perform in the middle of the road and tucked inside the temple yards are food stalls packed with diners feasting on pork dumplings, fried noodles and rice, meat skewers, and fresh fruit smoothies.   Kelly and I had another fine, cheap street food meal as we tried to navigate the shops that sprawled in every direction, but finally had to give up around 9 p.m.   After four hours, we probably only saw half the market…it is that huge.

Stalls at the Sunday market

The following day, Jeff K. from Canada arrived and the three of us took a taxi up to the Doi Suthep, one of the local Buddhist temples.   The temple was pretty, but unfortunately, was under construction…the big stupa was covered with tarps and scaffolding!

Wat Doi Suthep

 That evening, we all ticked another Thailand ‘must-see’ off of our list and attended a Muy Thai Boxing Fight.   Picturing a boxing match from the States, we thought we would be sitting in a crowded arena with hundreds of other fans, but were surprised when we arrived at a courtyard full of bars and were escorted to a small ring surrounded by benches and tables…much more up close and personal than we expected!

Muy Thai!

There were five rounds of boxing, the first couple between young Thai boys and teenagers, followed by a match between two Thai women boxers (awesome!), and then two international fighters against a local Thai.  These fighters don’t mess around and the sport looks absolutely exhausting.   After our fill of punches and kicks, syrupy-sweet cocktails and shirtless dancing lady-boys, we called it a night.

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Thailand…Whoa.

Most travellers we have met say the same thing about Bangkok….you either love it or you hate it.  After spending four or five days there, I can safely say that we are…undecided.

We were visiting Thailand smack-dab in the middle of  the tourist high season, so we expected there to be a lot of backpackers around, but were shocked at how many travelers we saw.  Our guesthouse was located in the infamous Koh San Road area, a street that is lined with backpacker guest houses, travel agencies, bars, clubs, t-shirt booths, and food carts. Other than the tuk-tuk drivers and food cart vendors, there were no Thai people in sight…just tourists.  I had heard that the ‘real’ Bangkok was more modern and filled with nice malls and shops, but after Hong Kong, Kelly and I had no desire to wander around another shopping complex.  

Koh San Road

Our first full day, we sorted out our bus tickets to get out of Bangkok and spent time exploring the Royal Palace and Wat Pho, home of the world’s biggest reclining Buddha statue.  The palace and temples were absolutely breathtaking, but the heat forced us to head back to our guesthouse soon afterwards for some A/C.

The Grand Palace

 

Reclining Buddha

The next couple of days were spent wandering around ‘The Old City’, looking at temples and strolling through street markets.  From our observations, Bangkok is noisy, polluted, smelly, and fairy difficult to navigate…the street signs are very confusing here, and although close to a lot of tourist sights, our part of town was pretty isolated from the main modes of public transport.  Needless to say, we were ready to get out of the city.

We did love one thing about Bangkok…the food, of course!  There are tons of street food vendors selling delicious pad-thai, barbecue meat sticks, fried rice, fresh fruit and other fried goodies for ridiculously cheap.  One night for dinner we scarfed down all of the above for the insane price of $3 TOTAL.

Meat Sticks!

We just couldn't bring ourselves to eat one

In all fairness, Kelly and I only saw a smidgen of the city, so we can’t really pass judgment.  We will say that it has not been our favorite place and leave it at that.

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we were looking forward to boarding a bus twelve hours south to Phuket, one of Thailand’s popular beach destinations.  Our plan was to check out the craziness of Patong Beach for a couple of days and then do some island hopping on the Andaman coast. 

Not surprisingly, Phuket turned out to not really be our cup of tea either.  Patong Beach was pretty, but super packed with endless rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a few old topless ladies.  At night we checked out the party street, Bangla Road, which is like an even tackier sixth street in Austin.  We saw our fair share of lady-boys and had about 30 different Thai guys approach us and ask if we wanted to see a ping-pong show.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, google ‘ping-pong show Thailand’.  Tempting, but…no.  There is also a lot of prostitution in Phuket and I can’t tell you how many older men in their sixties we saw with very young Thai women…pretty disgusting.  We were glad to only be spending a couple of days here. 

Patong Beach

At Sunset

Other than lying on the beach, we took a day tour out to Ko Tapu, otherwise known as James Bond Island…it’s where parts of ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ were filmed.  The island itself was lovely, but the amount of souvenir stalls covering the entire beach and  the boatloads of tourists really turned us off of the whole thing.  I realize that Kelly and I are tourists as well…I guess I just didn’t expect for there to be so many of us in one place at one time!  

This one's for you, Sarah H. - James Bond Island

Based on our experiences in Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand was not living up to the beautiful, relaxing paradise we had envisioned.  On top of that, Kelly and I were starting to feel a little travel fatigue.  I know it’s hard to believe, but living out of a backpack every day, constantly figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, finding a place to sleep, a place to eat…these simple tasks become quite tedious and can start to wear you down after awhile.   Poor us, right?

Hopefully our time on the island of  Ko Phi Phi would get us back on track…

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