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.

[unordered_list style=”green-dot”]

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

[/unordered_list][divider_flat]

[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]

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.45.40 AM

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.

[divider_flat]

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 Four: Food Tours and Palaces

This is the fourth day of our trip to Thailand. If you haven’t read them yet, I encourage you to read day one, two, and three.

Nicole and I got up early again today, just like our Railroad market day. Nicole booked a Travel Zoo food tour around central Bangkok for us. We met up at the Skytrain stop/ferry port nearest to our apartment. Our Thai guide led our group of 10 around Bangkok and we spent the morning in different restaurants trying traditional Thai foods as well as popular foods in Bangkok from different cultures such as China and India.

Our First Stop: Roast Duck in Chinatown

Our first stop was in a Chinese part of Bangkok at a little restaurant called Chareon Wieng Pochana. It was run by an old Chinese man who owned the restaurant for over 50 years. He’s too old to cook anymore but he still sits out front and greets customers as they come inside. We ate traditional roasted duck served on rice. The meal was served with peppers on the side, and I foolishly applied the peppers liberally to my dish: bad idea. Aside from the peppers being too spicy, the meal was awesome.

Our Second Stop: Curry Noodles at a Muslim Cafe

At our second stop, we visited a small muslim cafe and ate curry noodle soup. There were condiments on the table to season the soup as we wished. I believe this is the same soup Nicole and I had been enjoying for the past several days.

Our Third Stop: Catfish and Est Cola

After our second stop we took a boat across the Chao Phraya river to a small cafe  called Yum Rod Sab at the end of a narrow alley. Inside of the cafe we ate Yum Pla Dook Foo, crispy catfish with a green mango salad and a refreshing Est Cola, Thailand’s own version of Coca Cola. It tasted like a cross between Pepsi and Coke.

Our Fourth Stop: Pan Lee Bakery

All of our stops so far had been lunch foods and more of the savory persuasion. So our next stop at the Pan Lee Bakery was a welcomed pit stop on our food tour. The cafe was like any coffee shop/bakery in the states. There was a corner for sitting and a chalkboard menu with various caffeinated drinks. On the right side of the cafe were a variety of cookies and pastries. Nicole and I each picked up a few bags to bring back to our coworkers for helping to cover our classes while we were away.

Our tour group sat at the cafe and ate delicious Thai-style Green Custard Buns, BBQ Pork Buns and Thai Iced Tea. I really liked the buns, the pork bun was like a slightly sweeter version of Korean Mandoo while the Green Custard Bun tasted more like a fruit danish. I couldn’t have any of the Thai Iced Tea since it was made with milk, but Nicole liked it.

[box type=”info”]This was also our only bathroom stop on the tour. Our guide explained that the polite euphemism for going to the bathroom was “shoot a rabbit” for boys and “pick some flowers” for girls, as in, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to shoot a rabbit.”[/box]

Our Last Stop: Thai Curry and Ice Cream

Our last stop of the tour was at a cafe called Kallaprapruek. We ate traditional Thai Curry served on Roti and Thai-style Coconut Ice-cream. This was our fanciest stop so far. The restaurant was very modern. There were business people enjoying fine foods in a classy establishment. It was the polar opposite of everywhere we’d been up until this point.

After this meal, our guide brought us back to the skytrain stop/ferry port near our apartment where we’d started. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and hopped on another ferry to visit the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is centrally located in Bangkok, alongside the Chao Phraya river. The king and his royal government lived there from 1782 to 1925, after which absolute monarchy was abolished and the king moved to a different palace.

Nicole and I wandered the 2 million square feet of palace grounds and looked at the many different buildings and temples. A large part of the complex is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The complex is really interesting because there are buildings from almost every single era of Thai architecture.

It was nice to see a different style of temple from what we were accustomed to in Korea. These temples were far more ornate and almost every surface of them was covered in gold. They were a site to behold. The Korean temples are detailed in their own way, but made of wood and, I would say, simpler in design, perhaps less gaudy as well.

Wat Pho

After the Grand Palace, Nicole and I walked down the street to Wat Pho, one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. Also home to a great massage school. However, Nicole and I didn’t get a massage there. One of the biggest attractions at Wat Pho is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, a massive Buddha reclining on its side. We were beat from viewing so many majestic temples so we headed over to the neighborhood we’d visited two nights before for fish and chips to have a different international meal.

Tapas

Wine and Tapas
Wine and Tapas

It’s been awhile since I’ve had patatas bravas, or “brave potatoes”. They were one of my favorite foods at my hometown tapas restaurant, Ceviche. Nicole and I used to go on Tuesday for their tapas specials. In Bangkok, Nicole found a tapas restaurant for us to dine at. The two of us split a ton of delicious tapas and some wine before heading back to the apartment.

This was our fourth day in Thailand and a really enjoyable day at that. After a few days away from work I was feeling refreshed. Its easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your 9 to 5, or in my case 1 to 9:40. Getting a chance to step away from work for a few days and relax really changes everything.