Thailand Day Nine: Returing home to Gwangju, South Korea

This concludes my journey to Thailand for Lunar New Year. Its been a blast I’ve seen temples, ancient cities, monkeys, Grand Palaces, and shopped at markets. For anyone looking for a fun and inexpensive trip in Asia, I’d recommend visiting Thailand.

A Cab to the Airport

Nicole and I wanted to save some money and we both had a long day of travel ahead of us so we booked an early flight home. This meant waking up at 4am and getting a cab to the airport. The cab was only 3 dollars for a 20 minutes trip across town, talk about cheap. We tipped him another dollar for the early cab ride and for getting us there so quickly. Inside the airport we breezed through check-in and walked to our gate with plenty of time. It was surprising the number of people who were at the airport at 5am, but it wasn’t overly crowded.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The flight was smooth and the movies were pretty much the same as when we left with only a few changes. Both Nicole and I were incredibly exhausted so we slept for most of the trip anyways.

We landed in Incheon International Airport about 5 hours later at 1pm Korea time. It felt surreal returning to Incheon Airport. During our Japan trip we flew in and out of Busan so this was our first flight through Incheon after arriving in Korea.

Inchen Introspection

I think #psy is on my #flight., It was interesting to compare the experience arriving this time with our first arrival to Korea 8 months before. This time Nicole and I were traveling together and we knew how to get a bus to Gwangju, what the buses would be like, and how to get a cab from the bus station to my apartment. We knew all the little details and what to expect in Korea.

The first time I arrived in Korea, I was alone. It was my first time flying to Korea and I had no idea what to expect. I had some many thoughts.

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  • What would the airport be like?
  • How would Korea compare with America?
  • Would it be easy to communicate with other people?

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[box type=”info”]Short Answers to all these questions: Korea is a developed country with nice airports and many English speakers. You have nothing to worry about.[/box]

Arriving in Incheon all over again brought all of these comparisons back to me and it was funny to think about how concerned I was then compared with how calm I was now. To anyone thinking about coming to Korea to teach English. I say do your research and find a good job, then go for it. Teaching in Korea is a blast and its given me a lot of time to travel and grow as a person. I highly recommend the experience.

Incheon to Gwangju, South Korea

The first time I arrived in Korea I was alone and unsure of which bus to take or how to get to Gwangju.

[box type=”info”]There are two Gwangjus: one is just south of Seoul and a very short/cheap bus ride. The other one is in South South Korea and a much longer more expensive bus ride. [/box]

#korea here I come!!, This time Nicole and I were traveling together and it was nice to have her as company on a 5 hours bus ride across the Korean Peninsula. When we finally arrived in Gwangju at the bus terminal, we hailed a cab back to my apartment and dropped off our heavy bags before grabbing a pizza from Dominos just up the road.

Like I said, Korea is a developed country where globalization has, for better or worse, reached its monopolous hand and sprinkled the seeds of international business all over Korea.

There are parts of home here in Korea like fast food and international clothing stores. However there are also parts of Korea that are completely alien and unique like temples, Noribangs, and Jinjabongs. Nicole and I try to strike a balance of the two every time we travel or do anything really.

[divider_flat]This concludes the Lunar New Year trip. If you want to read the previous days. Here they are, Day OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSeven, and Eight.

 

Thailand Day Eight: Our Last Day in Thailand

This is my seventh day in Bangkok as part of my Lunar New Year vacation in Thailand. Follow the links here to Day OneTwoThreeFourFive, Six, or Seven.

Our Last Day in Thailand

Paella in the Weekend Market

This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market
This portly chef danced and made chicken at the weekend market

We got up at a leisurley time, a rarity for our vacations since we try to pack in as much as we can. Since this was our last day in Thailand, we decided to revisit a few places. We returned to the weekend market that we visited on our second day to purchase a few more souvenirs and enjoy some food from the dancing fat man who makes Paella. The chef makes it in a giant pan the size of a poker table and dances around the pan sprinkling spices and various herbs into the pan. Its a site to behold.

Nicole and I shared a serving of it before walking around the market. We bought a few more postcards to send home and I bought some more soap for my apartment.[divider_flat]

[box type=”info”]Thai soap is fantastic.[/box]

After the market, Nicole and I went back to our apartment to lay by the pool and do nothing. Neither of us had been swimming since our beach day in Korea last summer.

Nicole laying by the pool in Bangkok Thailand

The Last Thai Supper

After our relaxing afternoon by the pool, Nicole and I went out for one last night on the town before our vacation ended. We dressed up and walked down to the restaurant we ate at on our first night in Thailand. However, we could not find it. The walk from our apartment to Asiatique is a straight shot and we knew exactly where the restaurant was. Every time we walked by, it just didn’t seem to exist. There was either a boarded up store front, or a shop that was open, but was definitely not a restaurant (i.e. a scooter rental place).

Unable to find the restaurant, we continued to Asiatique, our old stomping ground, at least for this vacation. We finished off our final night with a nice dinner of spicy shrimp for me, and mashed potatoes for Nicole before getting a massage.

Thai Massages: How I became a Noodle

On our 8 days of vacation so far, we’d had two massages and Nicole wanted another one to complete the hat trick. I must say I was warming up to them. They felt really nice and for a few dollars, they were well worth it. We stopped into one of the massage places that the Dr. Fish people had given us a coupon for. An old Thai woman led us up a set of stairs so steep they would have given Wat Arun a run for their money. At the top of the stairs was a very small room with a low ceiling that smelled like Eucalyptus. It was very dark and lined with soft mattresses on the ground on either side of a narrow walkway. The masseuse led us each to a mattress and instructed us to change out of our clothes and into a pair of loose-fitting scrubs like what a doctor would wear. This was a similar process to our first massage in Thailand and similar to what Nicole has told me of massages in Korea. The idea of getting naked, aside from a towel, for a massage seems like a very western construct.

inflatable arm tube man

The woman then pulled a curtain closed around each of our mattresses and we changed. A few minutes later another two Thai women came in a gave us each an hour-long full body massage. For being so small the ladies were really strong. Just about every joint in my body that could crack, did crack at some point during that massage. At the end of the massage I felt like a wet noodle, or a wacky waving inflatable arm tube man.

We changed back into our clothes and walked back to the apartment to pack and get ready to return to Korea. It had been a great trip, but now it was coming to an end and we had to return to Korea and our jobs educating the youth of a nation in the fine art of speaking English, a skill I likely butcher every time I write a new entry in my blog.

 

 

Thailand Day Seven: Lopburi and Monkeys

This is my seventh day in Bangkok as part of my Lunar New Year vacation in Thailand. Follow the links here to Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, or Six.

The Majesty of Rail Travel

train from Bangkok to Lopburi Thailand

Today, Nicole and I woke up early and headed to the train station in Bangkok. We decided to visit Lopburi, a small city overrun with monkeys. It’s also home to many temples and easily accessed by train.

Not wanting to deal with a potential van scam, we decided to take the train instead. Let me tell you, its a much easier experience and I highly recommend it. Just ask Harry Potter, traveling by train is a great way to travel, and the only way to get to Hogwarts.

We took a cab to the train station and booked a ticket leaving in another 45 minutes. We didn’t have to visit a million different windows and we weren’t led to a sketchy van around back. Instead we got our tickets and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the train station before boarding our train for Lopburi.[divider_flat]

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The seats were pretty comfortable, about as nice as Eastern Europe and nowhere near as nice as Western Europe or South Korea (more on that later). I was glad we booked second class tickets instead of third class. The third class seats were stiff boards that were completely vertical and if our train hit an iceberg, I don’t think those in third class would make it to the lifeboats in time.

One of the best and least expected parts of the ride was the food. Everyone got sardines, rice, and soup. It was decent. I liked it. Nicole did not, so I got to eat hers. Tale as old as time, couple gets a meal, boy likes it, girl doesn’t, boy gets double serving: just one of the many perks of having a girlfriend.[divider_flat]

Lopburi: Monkey Town

 Lop Buri

We arrived in Lopburi a few hours after boarding the train. It was a very small place. If it weren’t for the monkeys and temples, I don’t think anyone would ever visit. Nicole and I bought an Est Cola, like a hamster eating its young and developing a thirst for blood, we’d developed a thirst for Est Cola, it also appeared to be the only refreshment around.

Visiting temples in Lopburi is incredibly easy, especially from the train station. Immediately across the street from the station is a temple, also next to it is another temple and next to that another temple. The part of Lopburi we were in probably had more buildings that were temples than buildings that were not temples.

The ruins and temples we saw in Lopburi were much better preserved than the ones we’d seen in Ayutthaya. I was able to capture a few great shots of the ruins before we moved along in search of monkeys.

Just up the road we came across one monkey, then another, and another. Soon we were surrounded by monkeys. I felt like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes (in my head that joke worked, but I imagine its not really that funny). They seem unfazed by us and just did their thing, walk around, look at their toes, climb on powerlines.

At the center of Lopburi, and possibly its largest intersection, is a temple where most of the monkeys hang out. There’s a little gate out front and a guard who takes your $2 and lets you into the temple. You can also purchase monkey food to entice the monkeys to come closer. This seemed superfluous as the monkeys inside the temple grounds were already very interested in people. I’m guessing the monkeys didn’t know who paid for food and who didn’t so they were willing to take the gamble and greet anyone in the hopes that they might have food.

The monkeys, while they were allowed to roam the temple grounds, were not allowed to go inside the temple. This rule was enforced by the guard collecting tickets and his trusty slingshot. If a monkey got close to the entrance to the temple the guard would shoot a pebble at the monkey. The one time I saw a monkey try to make a break for it, the guard fired a warning shot near them, or perhaps he missed them, and the monkeys scattered.

Nicole and I visiting Lopburi and Monkeys

Nicole and I explored the inside of the temple first, knowing that the monkeys would always be waiting for us outside, like a swarm of eager reporters. Inside the temple was quite bare. We were able to see the faint outlines of murals that had long since faded. The halls were laid out in a simple cross with windows on the left and right every 10 feet or so. Each window was barred to keep the monkeys out. Most of the monkeys opted to hang out right on the other side of the barred window since it provided shade and Thailand, even in winter, is still absurdly hot. I took a few photos of the monkeys and temple interior before my camera died. From here on out on my trip, all my photos are from my cell phone.

I regretted going inside the temple first and wasting my last little bit of battery on the stone work. It meant I missed out on some quality monkey shots. Outside the monkeys laid about like tourists at a Sandals resort in the Caribbean. They picked bugs off each other and practiced hugging. I had to get pretty close to the monkeys to get some of my photos and I got close enough to a few of the monkeys that that jumped on me. Unfortunately, Nicole wasn’t able to get a photo in time, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Hostel: Part Lunch

Lunch at a local Hostel in Lopburi ThailandWe stopped at a nearby hostel to get a bite to eat. The food was pretty good. Not as good as the food we’d eaten in Bangkok, but still better than most of the food I’ve had in Korea. The hostel seemed like a pretty neat place to stay. There were a few ads for buses to other cities nearby, some ads for snorkeling and scuba diving trips. It made Lopburi seem like the sort of place vagabonds travel through on their epic year long travels.  After our lunch Nicole and I checked out one last temple near the train station before heading home.

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Midnight train to Bankok

We didn’t actually catch the midnight train, as there was no midnight train. We did however, take the last train of the night leaving Lopburi and it was about an hour late. The upside to traveling by train is its fast and they feed you, the downside is its often very late and not at all reliable in Thailand.

On our train ride back to Bangkok, we had a simpler meal of snacks and buns left out on the seat. I’m not sure if they were given to us or if someone just left them but we ate them and they were decent. One of the snacks was a sweet green paste bun like the one we had on the food tour, but instead of coming from a bakery it was a prepackaged alternative. Even though it wasn’t very good it was interesting to try a manufactured version of a culturally specific food.

The Londoner

If you haven’t picked up on this yet, Nicole and I are really into fish and chips. After the train arrived in Bangkok, we took the skytrain to the pub district we’d visited on one of our first days to try the Londoner, one of Bangkok’s best pubs and one of only a few that brew their own beer in-house. We had their fish and chips and a pint of their two best ales. I highly recommend it.

 

Thailand Day Six: The Bro Out

This is Day Six of my Thailand trip. If you havent read the other days yet, read Day One, Two, Three, Four, and Five first. That’s right, there’s homework involved in this blog post. Just kidding. You don’t need to read any old posts. However, if you’re interested, there are some neat adventures about grand palaces, floating markets, ancient cities, and delicious food.

Wat Arun

Today Nicole and I visited Wat Arun, a temple along the river Chao Phraya. The temple is one of Bangkok’s most recognizable and memorable locations. Its easily accessed by ferry, there’s a stop right at the temple, and admission is only a few dollars.

[box type=”info”]Side Note: They had some of the nicest and cleanest bathrooms in Bangkok[/box]

Although the spires of Wat Arun, were built in the 19th century, the temple itself has existed in some form as far back as the 17th century.

Nicole and I walked around the temple and admired the intricate tile work and the temple guardians. We climbed the very steep steps to the top of the temple and looked out over the Chao Phraya. Today felt hotter than previous days, and upon checking my phone, I discovered I was right. It was so hot out that both my phone and Nicole’s phone turned off automatically due to overheating.

[box type=”alert”]I apologize for the picture quality. I didn’t bring my camera with me since I forgot my charger and my battery was running low. All of these photos were taken with my Nexus 5.[/box]

The Bangkok National Museum

Nicole and I visited Bangkok’s museum of history and explored its depths and various collections like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum. It was a nice museum and pretty inexpensive, like the rest of Thailand. If you find yourself in in Bangkok with a free afternoon, I recommend a visit. There was a lot of information about the royal family and about Thailand’s history. Nicole and I learned a lot about Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand that we visited yesterday.

Foreigner Town

Lunch in Foreigner Town
Lunch in Foreigner Town

After the museum, Nicole and I headed to Kao San road to eat Israeli food at a restaurant called Shoshana, hebrew for “rose”. We never found the restaurant, but we did manage to find Kao San road.

Kao San road is a street in Bangkok filled with foreigners. It’s a very bro-tastic place with lots of tank tops and wayfarers. There are carts and vendors along both sides of the street and many restaurants and guesthouses.

Nicole and I stopped for a bite to eat at a little cafe before heading across the street to enjoy a foot massage. It was awesome, and the second massage I’ve ever received. My masseuse was a guy and he was much stronger than the lady masseuse I had several nights previous.

Nicole on Kao San road aka Foreigner Town
Nicole on Kao San road aka Foreigner Town

After our massages, Nicole and I bought some cheap souvenirs. I bought some sandals and shorts. She bought a bathing suit and some tank tops.[divider_flat]

Asiatique and Dr. Fish

Asiatique

Dr. Fish Foot Massage
Dr. Fish Foot Massage

For dinner we found ourselves back in Asiatique, the warehouse-turned-market plaza near our apartment. We had delicious pizza and Dr. Fish feet massages. Not massages from fishes’ feet, but massages of our feet by fish. You put your feet in small fish tanks and the little fish eat the dead skin cells on your legs. Its supposed to make your legs feel smoother. The fish tickled a lot and I can’t say my legs felt noticeably smoother after the fish massage but it was an interesting experience.

 

 

Thailand Day Five: Ayutthaya, Banana Pancakes, and Elephants

This is the fifth day of my trip to Thailand during Lunar New Year. If you missed the previous entries, check them out below

This morning, Nicole and I slept in a bit before heading to the bus station for adventures. Today we were visiting Ayutthaya, once the largest city in the world, now a bunch of neat ruins.

On our way to the Skytrain stop, we got delicious street spring rolls. We’d purchased them a few times on previous days. They cost little more than a nickel and they come with a sweet sauce similar to Tijuana Flats Sweet Chili sauce, which I also recommend if you’re ever in the South Eastern US.

We took the Sky train to the bus station. It was located right behind the Weekend Market where we’d gotten all of our awesome souvenirs on day two.

The Bus Station, aka David Bowie’s Labyrinth

The bus station is insane. There are literally hundreds of windows each going to different locations and none of them are properly labeled. Nicole and I went from counter to counter, each time being told “this is the wrong counter, go to counter x.” It was maddening. At our last counter, a man asked for cash only and, after we paid, he left his counter and walked with us to a van out back. Bear in mind we’re at the bus station, not the van station (there is no van station). We hopped in the van and the counter attendant handed some money through the window to the driver. If this was a Liam Neeson movie, this is the part where we would have been kidnapped. Luckily this was not a Liam Neeson movie, and unfortunately I still do not have an IMDB page.

The van was no bigger than a standard church van, similar in size to the bus we took when we visited the floating market days prior. There were a handful of Thai people in the van just traveling around, possibly home, possibly to work, point being, we were the only tourists and very out of place. The van didn’t have a set itinerary per se, and by that I mean it stopped randomly and people got on and got off. About two hours later, when I was wondering if we were going to have our organs harvested, we arrived at Ayutthaya.

Thai-Mexican Standoff

Sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. Sometimes you have to say no several times to a Thai van driver before he drives you to the bike shop instead of the Tuk Tuk depot. A common scam in Ayutthaya, as the internet told me, is to try and drop foreigners off at the Tuk Tuk depot on the outskirts of town instead of in the center of town. Tourists are then forced to get a ride into town from a Tuk Tuk driver and pay money for no apparent reason. It also forces you to spend the day taking Tuk Tuks everywhere because you never make it to the bike shop.

This happened to us. The van stopped in front of a bunch of Tuk Tuks outside of town and the van driver told us to get out. A bunch of Tuk Tuk drivers smelling fresh meat approached the van and in their worst English tried to coerce us out of the van, like some sort of reverse pedophiles.

It was pretty obvious that this was not our stop because literally no one else in our crowded van was getting out. I argued with him a bit until a Thai lady in the back seat told him very sternly, and in Thai, to stop hassling us and drop us off in town.

He grumbled and so did the Tuk Tuk drivers and closed the van door. Begrudgingly, he drove us to the main stop and the nice Thai lady and her friend walked us to the nearest bike shop. We rented some wheels for about $5 and headed off to explore the ruins

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was at one point in time the largest city on Earth and a major trade port in Southeast Asia as it was in the Chao Phraya River valley. The city was rumored to have a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants in the 1700s. However, shortly after the height of its growth, it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. The only ruins that survived were the stone structures such as temples and monasteries.

The remaining temples and monasteries are located anywhere from directly adjacent to one another to several blocks away. The ancient city can be explored in a day with a handy tourist map and a pair of bicycles. Nicole and I rode from one site to another, taking photographs and walking amongst the ruins. It’s remarkable how accessible everything in Thailand has been so far. You can literally walk through the ruins and climb the steps up to these ancient monuments. Nothing was off limits and each attraction was $1-3.

Riding back to Bangkok

Nicole and I, not wanting to brave the van all over again, decided to find a bus instead. Luckily we passed one on the way to return our bikes. Getting a bus in Thailand (outside of the Bangkok bus station) is surprisingly easy. We walked up to a small kiosk, bought our ticket and hopped on the bus. I actually ended up making money on this bus transaction. Our tickets were about $2 and I received a 2 euro coin in change, so I made close to a nickel. It was way better than the ride there.

I can’t quit you fish and chips

Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips

Back in Bangkok, Nicole and I got some delicious fish and chips at a New Zealand restaurant. This may sound strange, so bare with me, but I think the staff thought either I was famous or Nicole was famous. When we arrived at the restaurant, several of the wait staff came over to greet us. When we sat down, one of the waiters came over and gave us a complimentary appetizer and called me “Boss” a few times. Now this might just sound like great service, and maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion, but no one else at neighboring tables was getting free appetizers or nearly as much attention from the staff. At the time, I thought it was a bit odd, but maybe the restaurant just had great customer service.

Nicole and I ordered some fish and chips and fish bites. They were both incredibly delicious. I think the fish and chips might have been the best fish and chips I’ve ever had outside of the UK.

After dinner, we’re getting ready to pay and the waiter comes back with a complimentary shot for each of us. He talks to us for a few minutes and then asks Nicole where she’s from. She tells him America and he says “oh, I thought you were Australian”. Maybe he thought Nicole was some famous Australian or maybe the restaurant just had great service and I’m reading too far into it. The world will never know.

Today was such an exciting day. We took some sort of off-the-books van service to Ayutthaya. We got to explore ruins by bike, and we enjoyed delicious fish and chips and free food. There were ups and downs, but it was fun in the end.

I’ve had a great time in Thailand so far. I’ve explored weekend markets, railroad markets, and visited palaces.