Monday, April 30, 2012

Thaibodia Day 8 – Wat Phra Kaew, The Grand Palace & Not Much Else

In the Lonely Plant Guide that I’d borrowed from a friend, there was a suggested walking tour with an estimated time of 3 hours. It encompassed many different temples, markets, interesting streets and the Grand Palace. It sounded like a great idea so after breakfast we made our way by tuk-tuk to the starting point.

We breezed past the first two items and then made our way to Wat Phra Kaew, an ornate temple adjacent to the Grand Palace and within its grounds. There were so many people here it was unbelievable. I was also insanely hot here and little shade. We paid to get in and attempted to push the stroller through the hoards of people.
All the buildings on the grounds were just spectacularly beautiful. Terryn thought the giant guardians were scary and awesome.
To get into the temple of the Emerald Buddha you had to take off your shoes and we had to ditch the stroller. We basically just got a walk through because both kids were being noisy and you’re supposed to be quiet in the temple. The Emerald Buddha was a tiny thing amidst tons of other decorative Buddhas and religious items. I actually though the building itself was cooler than all the statues.
I managed to get a picture of Jayce climbing the back stairs of the temple.
After the temple we wandered around the other various buildings in the complex. I loved the stuppa carried by the colorful guardians.
There was even a stone replica of Angkor Wat.
Once we were finished looking at the Wat, we went over to the Grand Palace. We took a little break to recover from the heat and the mash of people. We’d already been hit with parasols, pushed, barricaded and baby Jayce continued to be a magnet for all Asian ladies wanting to pinch his chubby legs.
We took a brief walk around the Grand Palace. We saw some marching soldiers, and elephant dock and Terryn and Sean got to have their picture taken with one of the stoic guards. After that we left the main premises and headed for the outer gate. We managed to snap a few final pictures in the outer courtyard.
After chasing Terryn around for basically the whole tour of the temple and Jayce being whiny from being hungry and hot, we ditched the reach of our Lonley Planet walking tour. It had already taken us about 2 hours for the Wat and the Grand Palace. I don’t know how anyone would do their suggested tour in 3 hours. No way! There was however a place for lunch that they suggested and we went on our way to find it.

We eventually did and ordered a lemongrass omelet and crunchy noodles with prawns. This restaurant supposedly uses recipes from the Thai Prince’s old chef. The food was pretty good. We were now hot, tired and ready to go back to the hotel.

We got the kids ready for naptime and then Sean left to go to a tailor to get a suit made. He was gone for about 3 hours. I was wondering where the heck he was because he was gone for a long time. I come to find out that he got suckered by one of those tuk-tuk deals. They offer you a cheap fare in return for stopping off at their sponsor. This tuk-tuk sponsor happened to be a tailor. Sean was interested in what he saw and ended up ordering a suit from them. Then we also went to the tailor he was originally going to see. This tailor was recommended by a friend and apparently they make a lot of suits for the missionaries and mission presidents. He even made a suit for President Gordon B. Hinckley!

When he got back we went swimming and then spent some time on Kaosan Road. This is the backpacker’s area and has lots of cheap shops with souveniry stuff and cheap, good food.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to bed. We were going to have to wake up early for our tour the next day.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thaibodia Day 7- Goodbye Siem Reap, Hello Bangkok

Last night our guide set up for us to do a balloon ride in the morning. We couldn't do it the day before because it was too windy and there was that menacing cloud that crept into the vicinity. We had to get ready a littler earlier and we thought that would be no problem. Of course with kids everything takes FOREVER. Terryn kept dinking around instead of eating, they forgot to bring Sean his breakfast and we didn't get out of the room in time because we got sucked into a TV show. It didn't really matter too much though because we only left about 15 minutes late.
We got to the balloon place and had to wait about 15 minutes to see if any other people were going to come. Four other people showed up and then it was up we went. The big balloon is connected by a cable to the ground. A big pulley system raises or lowers the balloon. Terryn was SO excited to go on the balloon ride. He was pretty bummed out yesterday when we didn't get to go.
You can barely see Angkor Wat in the background.
Unfortunately it was kind of hazy so we didn't the most spectacular view, but it was still pretty cool. Terryn was just tall enough to see out of the balloon. He was SO excited to go on it. You could see how flat Cambodia was from our high vantage point. The only hill had an ancient temple on top. In the distance Angkor Wat dominated the view to the East.
After the balloon ride it was off to the airport. We made it in plenty of time. WE even saw some tourists that we’d run into the day before. They were a nice couple from Alabama. The plane ride into Thailand was pretty quick. They served us a snack box of sandwiches, fruit, a muffin, juice and water. Before we were even finished with it the crew was preparing for landing. It was a good flight. The Bangkok Airport was huge. We decided we’d take the train into downtown in our attempt to save a bit of cash. In all honesty, I had no idea where our hotel was so we took the Express Airport Link all the way to the end. From there we took a taxi to our hotel. Terryn had fun on the train. He ran around playing chase with Daddy. I think he liked being able to press the ‘open door’ buttons.

We arrived at our hotel and it was huge. Our room had a separate living room area. Sweet! Now we can put Terryn on the couch and Jayce in the crib out there. The little stinkers have been waking us up for the last few nights and we’re exhausted. It’ll be nice to have our own space for a few days.

After we got into our room, Sean decided it was naptime for the kiddos. I ran out to find us food and stock up on a few things. I realized at the airport that they drive on the other side of the road here. Weird…. Didn’t know that before. I found a 7-11 and tried to buy some phone cards, yogurt and food. When I went to pay I realized I left the baht in our hotel room. Darn it! Luckily their banks were open today so I exchanged some money. Then I bought the stuff. When I got back to the room everyone was basically asleep.

When the kids woke up we decided to find the backpackers area. I kind of guessed where it was based on the Lonely Planet travel book that I borrowed from a friend. It was on Kaosan Rd. We got there and I booked us a couple tours. I’m REALLY excited for one of them. We’ll get to ride elephants, go on a raft and go to the tiger temple. Yeah!
We walked all up and down the road. We ate some food and now I can say I had Pad Thai in Thailand. It was only like $3 too. We bought a few things for ourselves like clothing and ice cream. Terryn had fun looking at the different things for sale. Sean had fun talking to random people as usual.
I thought it was interesting to see people holding signs advertising that they will sell alcohol to minors. There were also numerous stands offering to make make IDs, certificates or diplomas.

At around 7:30 it was time to go back to the hotel. I went to 7-11 again and bought some more water. We all took showers and the boys played for a little bit and then we went to bed. We have plans to see the Royal Palace and maybe take a boat ride.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thaibodia Day 6 – Angkor Wat

We started our tour today at 8:00am. We went back to the Archaeological Park and saw a smaller temple that was made mostly of brick with accents in sandstone and stucco. The stucco was made from palm sugar, tamarinds and some other organic ingredient that I can’t remember. Some of the original stucco is still intact. Terryn was being horrible and would have rather throw rocks than look at the temples.
Right from the start Terryn was being a little terror. He wouldn't listen or he’d do exactly the opposite of what you’d ask him to do. We asked ourselves again, “Why did we think this vacation was a good idea with kids?” He got to play chase with Sean for a bit and that made him happy.
Our guide told us more about the symbolism of the snakes. He said that the snake represents the Khmer Queen. The lion represents the Hindu King. The Khmer people are taught to be like snakes. He said they are taught to walk slow, in a smooth manner, like that of a snake.
 Across the street from this temple was a place where they make stone carvings. There were little children doing some of the carvings and they were very talented. We were pretty impressed. Terryn thought using the chiseling tools looked like fun.
The next temple we saw was close by. It was a bit bigger and on the same property was a Buddhist pagoda. We saw many monks making their way to the pagoda. This temple was a mountain-looking temple. I think it was originally a Hindu temple. There were elephant statues and lion statues that overlooked the corners and sides of the different levels of the temple. Again, the day was very hot. We tried staying in the shade as much as possible, but it was pretty sunny. I guess that’s what we get for coming at the hottest time of the year.
 After this temple we drove back out to the town and had lunch. We decided since we were going to see Angkor Wat in the afternoon that we’d go back to the hotel and let the kids take naps. That turned out to be an excellent idea. They both slept for about 2 hours. I think the heat and all the walking we've done has pooped them out. It’s always nice when they can get a proper nap. Sean got some work done and I took a nap too. Then it was off to see Angkor Wat.
We actually tried to do the balloon thing they have at the park, but there was a big cloud in the sky and the wind was picking up and so we missed doing it by like 30 minutes. Oh well. Our guide told us that we should try to do it in the morning on our way to airport. The airport is very close to the Park.
Then we head off to see Angkor Wat. There were quite a lot of people here. I suppose it’s no surprise since it is the main attraction of the park. We crossed the bridge and headed into the West Entrance. One of the towers of the gate was collapsed and our guide told us it was the Cham people who had destroyed it long ago. Once we entered through the gate, I was a little disappointed to see that there were these huge green restoration tents covering a portion of the front of the temple. It made it a lot less photogenic. It seems that these temples are under constant restoration.
As we continued walking toward the main features of the temples, dark clouds were brewing to the west. I even saw some lightning in the distance. Uh oh. Hopefully we wouldn't get caught in the rain. Our guide told us that that it was about a 1000 m walk from the bridge all the way to the East exit. So our walk from the gate to the actual temple took awhile. You combine the distance with Terryn’s extraordinary powers of distraction and slowness and it seemed to take forever. By the time we made it inside of the temple I was feeling a few raindrops.
We knew that they started kicking people off the grounds at 5:30pm so we didn't have tons of time to dawdle about. There were so many intricate carvings on the walls of the demon and god wars, the monkey solders, Apsara dancers and Hindu gods. There were old, empty water basins, statues, super steep stairs and people hawking Angkor Wat paintings and lots of broken pieces of sandstone that once formed a part of the temple.
Terryn had fun climbing on the rocks. I listened to the stories our guide told us and Sean either chased Terryn about or made friends with all the other random tourists. Angkor Wat was pretty amazing. It was also huge. I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have hoped. This was due to how dark the sky had gotten, how hot and tired I was, the fact that Terryn kept running around everywhere, how many other people were about and the bright green restoration tents that obscured the view. I know Sean would have wanted to be able to go into the top of the temple, but it was closed for to cleaning. Oh well. I did really enjoy seeing all the carvings of the different Hindu stories. They were awesome. Our guide told us that there were like 6,000 artisans that worked on the temple. It took 37 years to build, but was never completed.
Before we left the temple grounds, Sean and Terryn stood on the steps and pretended to be stone lion statues. It was pretty darn funny. They had a little audience too. The guide kept telling Terryn he should get on his hands and knees like the real statues. It took him awhile to figure it out.

After we exited the temple on the East side, the rain started to come down again. There was an occasional boom of thunder. We walked down a pathway and waited for our car to come get us. As we waited we saw monkeys climbing up and down the trees. The rain started coming down a little harder and we went and stood under the canopy of the forest to shield us from the hammering of raindrops. Terryn kept wanting to go up to the monkeys, but he was a little scared. I was glad. I don’t trust monkeys.
After we left Angkor Wat we headed back to the hotel, grabbed the stroller and then had dinner. The restaurant was near the night market, but we were tired and we have to get up early in the morning so we didn’t spend time looking around. Our driver is going to show up at 7:00am to take us to the balloon ride and then the airport.

Overall we’ve enjoyed our time here. All the temples were amazing and I feel lucky to have been able to experience them. It was very hot here, we walked a lot and our kids drove us crazy at times, but I’m so glad we came.