Mosquito heaven at the home of the silk empire

This morning we got up early again and everyone got ready for our outing.  Carol was feeling better, so she joined us too.

We took off around 8:30am after we caught a taxi from our hotel.  We paid 200 Baht for a ride over to the Jim Thompson house.  Mr. Thompson was born in Delaware in the early 1900’s, spent time in Southeast Asia towards the end of WWII while working for the US government, and is the main person that supposedly kept the Thai silk industry from complete collapse after introducing the products to the US.

I had wanted to visit the Jim Thompson house back in 2009 when I was in Bangkok, but I didn’t make the effort, so I wanted to make sure to check it out on this visit.  We bought our tickets (children are free, and I think it was 150 Baht for each adult); the ticket includes a guided tour so we waited for about 5 minutes while our group gathered, then we were led around the garden and through his home over the next 40 minutes.

The entire complex was absolutely gorgeous.  He apparently purchased several traditional Thai homes and had them interconnected together with Western additions.  Traditional Thai homes are on stilts to avoid flooding, so the living space was all raised on a second level.  There was a little canal about 20 feet from the home and the tour guide said that there was a small dock there from Mr. Thompson’s day.

The first portion of the tour was through the gardens, which were tropical — lots of lush vegetation and about a billion mosquitoes.  I was attacked like never before.  I really hope they weren’t carrying dengue or malaria because I have about 20 bites on my legs.  Amazingly the girls only got a total of 4-5 bites.  I wish I had used some spray, but we shall see what happens over the next week or two – hopefully no hospitalizations.  I miss the days from my youth in Florida when mosquito bites were just itchy instead of a possible path to a deadly disease.

After we left the garden we stopped so everyone could take off their shoes and lockup their bags in lockers, then we went inside.  The tour guide said that one of the “Western” additions to the home was the staircase that’s inside the house, leading to the second floor.  She said traditional Thai homes never have stairs inside, as they’re always external to the house.  She showed us all the key items in Mr. Thompson’s art collection, from a 400 year old teak Buddha statue to a 200 year old map showing the land that was all part of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand).

We made our way upstairs and into several rooms.  The doorways between each room had a 12-14 inch wooden partition at the bottom that Logan had a difficult time climbing over.  One of the ladies on the tour asked why they were so high and the tour guide said that they give support to the overall structure and that they had them this way to keep babies inside of certain rooms so they wouldn’t wander out and fall to the ground level.

The house was like a poor man’s version of the Gamble House in Pasadena.  It really reminded me of my previous visits to the Gamble House, and not only because they don’t allow photos inside.  Everything is made of wood and has a high level of detail, all handmade from artisans.  I love the smooth look and feel of the wood; the hardwoods are exceptional – he used teak in many areas.

When we got to the dining room the tour guide pointed out that traditionally Thais eat on the floor on top of mats but that Jim Thompson chose to skip that and instead focused on the comfort of his guests because he had an old ornately carved Chinese dining table put in there.  Other tables in that room had impressive pearl inlay work.

In the main salon the room was wide open and felt incredible.  It was exceptional and I can only imagine how nice it would have been to have lived in such a nice place along a little canal in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The final note about Western additions that our tour guide mentioned was that Mr. Thompson had a toilet installed inside between the guest bedroom and his bedroom, whereas traditional Thai homes always had outdoor facilities.  She did point out the chamber pots for boys and girls.

My favorite decoration in the home was the “mouse house”, which also impressed Zoe and Logan.  It was a box with a glass front that had several levels of a “maze” for mice to go through.  The guide said it was used for entertainment and also for gambling, where several different colored mice would be dropped inside and wagers made on which would get to the end first.

After we finished the tour we went inside their shop for a little bit.  Carolyn picked up a something for the girls and a silk scarf for herself, then we took their complimentary tuk-tuk service to the main road and caught a taxi back to our hotel.

We ate lunch at our hotel’s restaurant.  The girls spent quite a while looking out the window at the different boats passing by on the Chao Phraya River.  Zoe had to lift Logan up so she could see out the window and point to all the boats.

After lunch I went to the room with Zoe and we relaxed while Carolyn and Logan caught a taxi to a huge mall here in Bangkok, Siam Paragon.  Carol said she’d be gone for 4 hours, but 6 hours later when Zoe and I were literally outside our room’s door and closing it to head down into the streets for some fruit drinks we heard footsteps coming up the stairs and saw Carol and Loggie.  Carol said she enjoyed the mall, which was obvious based on the two handfuls of bags she was carrying.

It’s not quite 8pm yet, but we’re getting all packed up because we’re leaving Bangkok early to fly back to KL.  We had fun, but the trip wasn’t long enough.  If we’d had another 2 full days in Bangkok it would have been perfect, but we should have some other opportunities to return in the future.  Bangkok is a pretty neat city, with lots to see and do, and the people are mostly really friendly.  It was hot and we were sweaty when we walked around outside for more than an hour, but it actually was much cooler than JB.  There was a good breeze most of the time and the humidity felt much lower for some reason.

Here are the photos from today, but first, here’s another quick tidbit about Jim Thompson: he mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while out for a short hike in the mountains while he was staying with a friend in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.  He never returned from his walk and nobody knows what ultimately became of him, but his legacy is that the Thai silk industry took off and still exists today, in part because of his work.

Early morning Buddha with my Zobug

This morning we woke up around 6:45am.  We had stayed up past midnight, but the shower quickly cleared the cobwebs.  Carolyn got Zoe ready and by 7:45am we were off, just Zobug and I.  Carolyn didn’t feel like venturing out because the pregnancy had her feeling not so wonderful, so I took Zoe out to explore while Carol and Logan relaxed at the hotel.

Zoe and I walked a couple of blocks down and found Wat Pho, which was one of my favorite temples from the time Carolyn and I visited Bangkok together.  It has a gigantic reclining Buddha inside on of the buildings, which I thought Zoe would like to see.  He’s pretty impressive…

We got there before they opened, but the guy at the ticket booth sold me a ticket (100 Baht — $3) and said hello to Zoe and told me she was free.  We went to a little table where a guy gave us both a free small bottle of ice cold water and then we poked around the main courtyard for about 30 minutes until the Reclining Buddha building opened up at 8:30am.

Zoe was impressed with the Buddha, but she enjoyed dropping the coins into the offering bowls on the backside of the big Buddha even more.  The coin thing reminds me of one of the early episodes of The Amazing Race where they did the same thing…

Zoe is really into counting.  She is constantly counting and asks about numbers non-stop.  She has been counting to 100 for the past week, so you can imagine how happy a 4 year old bean counter would be to drop 1 coin into 100+ bowls.  She meticulously counted each and every coin, and she was taking so much time that a guy caught up to her and we had to back up and let him play through.  🙂

After the coin dropping we put our shoes back on and continued checking out the temple complex.  The complex is gigantic, but most of it was completely empty.  The Reclining Buddha gets all the visitors while the rest of the place is basically for local worshippers and the grounds crew.  We were checking out this lineup of Buddha statues and I told Zobug to touch his hands for good luck, and just as I snapped the photo we had one of the grounds crew ladies start screaming at us to stop.  We wouldn’t have done it if we’d known it was verboten, but I apologized as best as I could while she frowned and mumbled.  We scurried out of there and into another area of the complex to continue checking it out.

To a 4 year old it looks like a magnificent palace.  Zoe asked me more than once which princess lived there…

Eventually we headed back to the hotel, stopping for breakfast at a little cafe first.  When we finally got back we found Carolyn and Logan sitting alone in the restaurant having breakfast together.  Logan smiled and pointed to the river and yelled “Da-da, boat!”

The rest of the day was spent being lazy.  It stormed like crazy for about an hour, we all 4 took a brief walk around the neighborhood, and we had some good Thai food for a late lunch.  Tomorrow I plan on taking Zoe somewhere in the morning before it gets too hot and steamy, then we head home on Sunday morning.

Here are the photos from our exploration of Wat Pho this morning:

Watching Wat Arun light up

On Wednesday afternoon once I left work we packed up the car and headed up to KLIA.  We stayed at the Concorde Inn, near to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), and it reminded me of a motel in Florida — all the rooms had access from outside walkways, palm trees everywhere, and so on.  I told Carolyn that the good news was that the fire evacuation plan wasn’t too complicated/

We got into our hotel room around 10:30pm, and within 30 minutes we decided that Logan felt pretty got and we forgot to bring any children’s panadol, so we drove over to the KLIA Terminal to search for some.  We made it in time, just before they closed for the night, but we ended up never using any because she wasn’t hot by the time we got back to the room.

We woke up around 7am, got ready and had breakfast at the hotel, then we drove over to KLIA2, the new low cost carrier terminal.  I dropped Carolyn and Zoe off at the Departure area and went with Logan to park the car.  We met up at the check-in counter and then made our way to our gate.  After nearly 2 hours of waiting we boarded our flight for Bangkok.  It blows me away how rude some people are though; a group of about 15 middle aged (45-60) Chinese guys all pushed towards the door to board first even though the pregnant woman with a 1 year old and a 4 year old, sitting in row 1, was clearly as high on the list as you can get for priority boarding.  These assholes basically ran Carol and Zoe over as we made our way to the plane.  The one who walked on right in front of me showed the stewardess his ticket and he was in row 26…  They had clearly announced that the first to board was rows 1-5 — we were in row 1.

A little over two hours later we landed in Bangkok.  Logan did really well on the flight but Zoe cried for the 10 minute descent because her ears were hurting.

We got through immigration quickly and our 1 suitcase was already on the belt, so we headed into the arrival terminal.  We hit an ATM and got some Thai Baht, then we headed down to the taxi queue to catch a metered taxi, but the line was ridiculous, like an hour wait, so we went to a prepaid taxi booth and coughed up 800 Baht (about $24) for the ride to our hotel.  I’d gladly pay $24 and arrive at the hotel in 40 minutes instead of taking a metered taxi and possibly paying $15 but waiting in line for an hour and then taking another 40-60 minutes to get to the hotel.

When we got to our hotel’s area the driver did the same thing our taxi driver did the very first time Carolyn and I visited Bangkok 8 years ago, he stopped and asked for directions.  We were within a block of the street our hotel was on and according to the driver he couldn’t take us to the front door because cars aren’t allowed on that street (there were plenty on it), so we got out and walked the block to our hotel.  We checked in and climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our room, which overlooks the Chao Phraya River, directly across from Wat Arun.

Our hotel room has a private balcony that looks out over the river and we are literally right in front of Wat Arun.  Unfortunately it appears that they’re doing some restoration to it because most of it is covered in scaffolding.

We cooled down in our room for about 15 minutes, but we were hungry since it was about 5pm and we hadn’t had anything since breakfast at 10am.  We went downstairs and ate at the hotel’s restaurant that sits right on the river.  The girls enjoyed watching all the boats passing by.  We tried some Thai dishes, like a papaya salad with a prawn that had some crazy looking claws sitting on top, and the prawn spring rolls were excellent.  We had some virgin cocktails, like Shirley Temples and a Mojito.  Zoe is new a mojito fan.

Carolyn wasn’t feeling too well by the end of dinner so she headed back upstairs with Loggie while Zoe and I walked around the neighborhood some.  We eventually found a 7-11 and bought some drinks, including a few Singhas for me.  We went back to our room and I spent the next 3-4 hours on the balcony with Zoe (and sometimes Logan), watching Wat Arun light up and change colors.  The sunset was neat to see and all the passing boats were interesting.  Maybe we will come back to Bangkok again in the future and take a dinner cruise when our kids are older.

Here’s the photos from yesterday:

Wat a dangerous drive that was…

  Hello from Bangkok! We arrived last night around 1am at the airport, and after running past everyone as they got off the plane, we hurried through customs and immigration and into the maelstrom that was waiting outside the terminal. The Lonely Planet book we’d purchased for Bangkok, as well as the website for our hotel, warned us about taking a taxi from the touts instead of from the licensed taxi stand. We knew we had to find the stand and knew that it was on the first floor, and this helped us fend off many offers of “you want taxi?” and “where you go?”. We arrived unscathed at the prepaid taxi stand and showed the guy at the desk the address for our hotel written in Thai (printed off of their website of course). He filled out a sheet and handed it to a driver and we got in…

  I started getting a little nervous about 5 minutes into the drive when I realized the driver was between two lanes, and he was speeding. We started looking for our seatbelts, but there were none. As a side note, we’ve now been in three taxis in Bangkok and none of them have seatbelts for the passengers. The driver kept speeding up until we were doing between 90-100mph, and every time we’d go over these large bumps in the road it felt like the car was flying. Luckily it was getting close to 2am and nobody was really on the road. After a few lane changes to avoid cars quickly approaching us, the driver put his seatbelt on, and that’s when Jean and I got really nervous. If this nut thought he needed a seatbelt then we were in trouble. The next surprise came when he turned around and started saying “65 baht – 65 baht”.. Baht is the Thai currency, and since I didn’t want him facing us while he was doing 100mph, I started pulling out the money, and then we realized it was for the tollbooths coming up. We gave him 70 baht (made sure I had small bills when I exchanged money at the airport) and he paid the tolls and gave us the change. Eventually we got into the metro area and once we were close to our hotel he pulled over and studied the printed out map I had given him, and then he pulled up to two guys sitting in a tuk-tuk (small three wheeler deal that is like a cheap local taxi), and they guided him to our hotel.

  We checked in without any problems and once we got to the room we basically passed out. The beds felt like they were made of jelly compared to the rock slabs we’ve been sleeping on in China. The room did have a little false advertisement since our private balcony opens up beautifully to a concrete wall. I will try to post a picture because the wall is literally 2 inches from the opening of the balcony and you can’t see any light.

  This morning we got up later than usual, and Jean went downstairs to get us a little breakfast. This hotel has the best breakfast yet, and that’s compared to 4 others so far. We then got ready and headed out to see some temples, or “Wats” as they’re called in Thai. We took a taxi to Wat Po, and it was awesome! The stupas are really ornamental, and this one had the reclining Buddha. This Wat is shown in season 1 of Amazing race where they’re dropping coins into the little buckets, and the gay couple beats the mother and daughter.

  After Wat Po we took a ferry across to Wat Arun and we climbed up it a little ways and took some pictures. Next we haggled a bit with a tour hawker until she agreed to a private longboat tour of the river and “khlongs” (canals) for 1 hour for $15. We finally paid and took off, but not before we both almost fell in the river trying to board that badboy. They also asked me to sit in front of Jean because I almost capsized their boat. 🙂 You should have seen the dread in the captain’s eyes when I stepped on board and the entire thing listed to one side. We loved the tour though! There were some ramshackle places with mangy dogs and guys squatting down fishing, and there were some beautiful homes with very lush gardens that could be seen from the little canals. The only part of the trip I didn’t care for was when the driver pulled up to a dock and three ladies in silk dresses came running out and grabbed our boat trying to convince us to get off to see Thai boxing or buy silk from them. I’m sure the driver would have made a healthy commission off of this, but we refused to get off and away we went.

  This internet connection isn’t working too well, but hopefully I’ll get some pictures posted to the Bangkok area.

Adios,

Matt and Jean

Seoul Man (and Lady)

We are at the airport in Seoul, South Korea once again.. We’ve got the steps for going through the “Transfers” area down pat here. Our flight for Bangkok leaves in about 2.5 hours.

I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the family we were staying with in Causeway Bay, but if any of you travel to HK, I can recommend a hostel where you’ll get to experience it for yourself. The “Yes Inn!”, where we stayed in Fortress Hill last night, was great except the bed mattresses felt like they were made of wood. The rooms were pretty big, the staff spoke English, the rooms were clean, the A/C worked well, they had free internet, a refrigerator in the room, and the front desk guy gave us some “New Year’s treats” his mother made. The treats were pretty good (one was basically a casserole with prawns and the other tasted kinda like a pancake). Jean even tried both of them!

Yesterday evening we went into Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui for the big Chinese New Year’s Parade. The parade supposedly started at 8pm, and when we got off the train there were thousands of people. We walked up to what we thought was a place along the parade route, but after waiting there for about 5 minutes we realized we were at some barricades with another three sets beyond where we were. We walked back one street and saw lots of people jumping over a barricade and going down a little alley between some buildings, so we followed. This brought us up to only two barricades in front of us. We decided not to go forward any further because the guy in front of us was in a yelling match with a cop for what appeared to be him trying to jump forward into the next section. We waited up against this barricade for almost 2 hours and only saw 1 float (Cathay Pacific Airlines). We did see thousands of people banging plastic bats together, and we fended off our spot up front against hundreds of slippery little men – some with children trying to weasel in front of us so they could hoist their kids up to block our view. At one point, I turned around to confront this guy who was resting both of his hands on me, and I heard a “hey, what’s going on?”.. I looked over a few heads and saw somebody smiling at me, who appeared to be an American. Once I pushed the little guy behind me away I noticed he had on an Alabama Crimson Tide shirt! You’ll find Bama fans just about everywhere.. He said he thought he’d seen a Bama hat in the crowd and just wanted to say hello. He was from Birmingham, but had gone to college at Furman and was now teaching English in mainland China with his Chinese wife.

After seeing only one float, sweating continually for 2 hours, and fighting off 1.3 billion Chinese citizens for a third row seat to nothing, we gave up and headed back to the hotel. The highlight of my night was seeing another Bama fan.. Roll Tide!

Jean is pretty happy our hotel did her laundry for $4 without shrinking anything, and I’m happy she’s smelling much better. 🙂

The other highlight of my day yesterday was when we were walking around trying to find something to eat, we saw one of the “pirate” vendors you hear about.. Hong Kong is supposedly notorious for selling pirated movies and games, and we happened across one squirrely little guy with a table setup on the street and a small crowd around him. He had about 50 movies on DVD and about 50-70 video games (for all the new systems). He couldn’t answer my question about whether the format of the movies was PAL or NTSC, so I’m hoping either they’re NTSC of our DVD player will show PAL. I bought the Borat movie for $2, and we almost bought Dreamgirls and Night at the Museum for another $4 but decided they may not work.

Off to Bangkok!

Matt and Jean