Bangkok is GRRRRRrrrreat!

On the way back from the floating market, our drive suggested a stop at a tiger sanctuary. Well, we were planning on going to one when we arrived in Chiang Mai, so we thought that going now would actually free us up for something else later in the week when we did make it to Chiang Mai. But now, we ended up at Damnoen Saduak Tiger Zoo.

All four of us decided to go with the package that involved playing with cubs and feeding them a bottle. We were taken back to the area they housed the tigers in*. Through the fence, you could see the cute adorable little things. Okay, maybe they weren’t that small. The youngest cubs they had were four months old. But they were still adorable. As instructed, we took our shoes off.IMG_1560

Seriously...look how cute he is.

Seriously…look how cute he is.

My new pet

My new pet

The lady, or caretaker, and a young man walked into the pen with us. In this pen, one cub walked around. One at a time, we were shown where to sit. We were given the bottle—and bam! We had a tiger in our laps! The little guy was hungry! She sucked and sucked that milk out of the bottle, making slurping sounds. Each of us had a chance to pose with the fella and spend time with him.

Next, it was off to the big tigers. The only smart one in our traveling group was Sunia. She opted to stay out of the big pen because that’s where a HUGE tiger waited for us.

Outside his pen, we took our shoes back off and anything that could distract the tiger. We followed four men into the enclosure, making sure to stay behind them. I went first. One man got the tiger’s attention with—I kid you not—a stuffed panda on the end of a stick stuck up in the air. Another man showed me where to crouch next to the tiger. Now, he did say I could kneel, however if I had knelt and needed to make a quick escape, I would have been tiger meat. So, hence the crouching. He pointed to the tiger’s back. He made a patting gesture. I assume he wanted me to pet the tiger, but that’s sort of an intimidating idea. This thing could rip me to shreds with one swipe of his claws (and yes, the claws were still intact). I was starting to understand why Sunia had decided to pass this one up. I gently placed my hand on the tiger’s back. I could tell, even though my touch was light, that this cat was full of power and muscle.

Then he started to move and one of the men directed me to go stand behind them. I didn’t ask questions, I just went. The two boys took their turns to pose with the tiger. I thought we were done, but I was wrong. There was another pose for us to try…the tiger lay down and I was told to lie down behind it. At this point, I knew I would be a goner if the tiger decided he was hungry. But I posed next to the beast anyway, praying that he wouldn’t notice me there.

There is a lot of work that goes behind the scenes of posing with a tiger. Who knew?

There is a lot of work that goes behind the scenes of posing with a tiger. Who knew?

IMG_1628Luckily, the tiger didn’t seem to mind us too much and we all got out of the cage in the same condition we entered it. The day had already been filled to the brim with activity and excitement but our day wasn’t over yet…we still had cooking class to attend.

The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Sailing through the Floating Market

Sailing through the Floating Market

One morning while still in Bangkok, the gang woke up early to head off to the Grand Palace. I met a tuk-tuk driver out in the alley near our hotel and he shared that his brother ran a trip out to a local floating market. I’ll admit, I was excited. I had wanted to try a floating market ever since I saw one on TV ages ago. Well, I had accepted the fact that I would probably not be able to see one on this trip because of all the other exciting things we had planned (and I know I’ll find myself in Bangkok again, so no big deal). Lucky for me I was travelling with a great group of people because they were fine with adjusting the plans a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe driver drove for about one or two hours out of Bangkok to a little hut area. At this area, we jumped into a long boat that would take us to the actual floating market area. The ride was peaceful. I sat in the front with Vince, and Sunia was in the back near the driver (or captain?) and with Joseph. As we cruised the waterways, buildings were lined up on each side upon the shore (again, pardon my lack of technical terms—I don’t know what they would be called). At one place, they were cooking up some pad Thai, so we hopped out and split some. It was fun to watch the people sail by in their boats, looking at us out of ours chowing on the local delicacy. Once are mini feast was done, we jumped back into the boat to continue our “expedition”. We sailed by shops where workers tried to sell their wares. The boys seemed to enjoy shopping much more than us girls, which I found quite entertaining. You could haggle with these stalls so I tried my hand at it. I actually was able to knock a price down from like 400 baht to 200 baht. I was proud of myself. I found a few things here and there that I wanted to purchase. For example, I bought a horse marionette, whistle, and a fabulous hat.

Modeling my new hat and enjoying a fresh spring roll!

Modeling my new hat and enjoying a fresh spring roll!

At one hut, we got out to walk around a large shop. If you took interest in anything, a person would descend upon you and all of a sudden you were “friends”. The person would not leave you alone until you agreed on a price. I found this whole process tedious, but again, it worked to my advantage since I was able to get the prices down. There was a local man putting globs of some strange substance out on a board. I waved me over, and ever curious, I went. He handed me a small glob of the stuff. So, naturally, I put the substance into my mouth. When in Rome, right? It was heavenly. I didn’t know what it was, but I brought the other three over to taste it as well. I went on a search to try to find it in the store. The brown glob was actually coconut sugar! I bought a bag for the low price of 50 baht! It was delicious. If you ever see any coconut sugar around, you must try some. The only thing you’ll regret is the fact that you’ll eat too much.

Enjoying a fresh beverage while sailing down the river.

Enjoying a fresh beverage while sailing down the river.

After a few hours of sailing around, trying food prepared on the sides of the river and shopping, it was time to head back to our vehicle. There are multiple floating markets in and around Bangkok. If you find yourself in the area and you have time (there really is a million things to do here), a floating market is a great way to relax and try new things.

Shopping and Cruising

On our second day in Bangkok, we headed (via that great BTS skytrain) towards the local weekend market, Chatuchak Market. It was hot, and at 9:30, sweat was already dripping down my back. But, I was told that the market sometimes has a few illegal animals for sale on the black market (I was looking for a baby panda—just kidding!). I’ve never seen anything like that so I wanted to explore the market in case what I had heard was true.

Just about 10 stores out of the 9,000 this market has.

Just about 10 stores out of the 9,000 this market has.

This market has 9,000 shops (in the form of stalls). Not 90; not 900, but 9,000! One can easily get lost inside. Anyway, I was on the hunt for the black market. Well, after searching for the “creature” stalls for over an hour, we came upon them…dogs and sugar gliders. Yep. I’m a dog lover and am a sucker for whining pups. I had to get out of there fast before I brought back a souvinier in the form of a puppy (my mother would kill me). I was sorely disappointed in the fact that there were no animals on the market that one would call exotic. Okay, that just makes me sound horrible. Let me rephrase this so I don’t sound like a cruel, uncaring person or future criminal: I’ve read about the black market where exotic animals are sold. Yes, I feel sorry for those animals and wish they could live a fulfilling life out in the wild; however, this doesn’t change the fact that they are illegally sold. It is something I would like to view so I can better understand the mentality of the whole thing. (I hope this sounds better.) I was later told that the police had broken up a ring earlier in the month so they were probably just being more cautious and staying out of sight for now.

The market was crowded and sold everything from shoes to soap to clothes to purses…to whatever you could ever dream of having. The market is only open on the weekends from 9am to 6pm, I think.

The market was interesting, but my poor hair has suffered greatly since moving to China. It was in desperate need of some TLC at an Aveda salon. Bangkok has two salons that use Aveda products, and lucky me! There was one right on the BTS line we were mostly using. I took myself, leaving the others at the market, to Moga Salon in Central Embassy for some pampering. It was heaven to have decent looking hair again, even though it was just for a brief time. Afterwards, I treated myself to high tea at Harrods (they had a little café a few floors below the salon). Tea was charming and peaceful; one would never suspect a bustling city outside the mall’s high end walls (high end as in Valentino, Christian Louboutin, Gucci just to name a few).

Tea at Harrods in Central Embassy

Tea at Harrods in Central Embassy

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To top off the evening, we decided to take a dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya River. We were seated on the inside upper level, close to the “stage”. As our boat sailed by the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and many more magnificent views, we dined. The buffet included many Thai dishes: pad thai (not as good as the previous night’s) and tom yum soup, for example. I ordered a drink called a White Orchid while we watched the show.

Refreshing...

Refreshing…

White Orchid Dinner Cruise

White Orchid Dinner Cruise

The show cracked me up. I’m 99% sure the three performers were ladyboys. Ladyboys, for those who are not up on their transgender education, are Thai men that dress as women and perform. Usually, it’s very difficult to tell the man is a woman. The ladyboys on the boat lip synced to songs and danced. The first dancer was in a leotard that had studs across the bust area; he (she?) danced provocatively as well. I was quite entertained by it all! The second performer was dressed traditionally and lip synced very badly to some song. All I can remember from his (her?) performance was that he (she?) reprimanded a boy for being on his phone during the show. By reprimand, I mean the ladyboy went over during the show and tapped the kid’s phone with his (her?) fan during the dance. The final performer was a throwback to the thirties and forties eras. At the end of the show, guests could take photos with the ladyboys. I did not miss that opportunity! If you’re looking for a relaxed, but fun touristy thing to do while in Bangkok one evening, taking a river boat cruise (one that includes dinner of course) is a great option.

I almost wore the same outfit.

I almost wore the same outfit.

Coming up in other blog entries: the floating market, tigers!!, cooking class (yes, I can cook, I just chose not to), temples galore, and elephants!

We Have Arrived…so let us EAT!

A group of friends (Sunia, Joseph, and Vince) and I decided to travel to Thailand for our Mid-Autumn Festival Break (in an IMG_1467attempt to get away from the abundance of mooncakes…just kidding…sort of). Four days in Bangkok and three days in Chiang Mai. Our plans were made! We flew Thai Airways from Hong Kong to Bangkok…this airline was amazing! For our two hour flight, we were served an actual meal. Back home in the States, you are lucky to score a cup of water without paying for it. This airline knew how to treat its customers. We took a taxi to our hotel…The Residence Rajtavee was an obscure hotel. Most of the drivers we used during the week didn’t really know where it was without a map the hotel provided on a back of a card. The front desk staff was nice and helpful, however the spa was under renovation, and Sunia and I had a magnificent view of a building’s wall of a/c units. Our days were jammed packed with fun and discovery so the view from the room didn’t really matter!

I know when I write about my trips, I usually break it down as one entry equals a day, but I think I’m going to do it differently this time. This time, I’m going to do one entry per activity (or at least I’m going to try!). We did so many fantastic things that I want to make sure the people we trusted as guides get their due.

The first thing we did was take a Midnight Food by Tuk Tuk Tour of Bangkok. The tour was given by Bangkok Food Tours, but I was able to book it through Expedia without a hitch. We met Mang (I believe this is how one would spell his name—in fact, I apologize for future misspellings because I’m sure there will be many) a few BTS (skytrain system, which is super easy to navigate and use) stops over from our hotel’s area. Each tuk-tuk* would be able to hold two people in it so Vince and I paired up.

Vince and I in our cozy tuk-tuk!

Vince and I in our tuk-tuk!

Our first stop was at a local place (Khao Mungai Pratunam) that specialized in chicken and rice. Sure, sounds simple, but it was full of flavor and delicious. Basically, it’s chicken (I prefer it with skin) served over rice. Two sauces were given to us along with our dish: a clear broth and one with a bit more kick that had some chili in it. Also, a small piece of congealed chicken blood was served; it was almost like a thick, set pudding. This is supposedly healthy; I’m not sold on the health benefits of it, but I will say it wasn’t too bad…bland, but not disgusting. Mang also gave us a longan juice made with brown sugar. Talk about sweet! I’d definitely order that again. For dessert, we got the traditional mango with sticky rice and crispy mung beans. But that was only our first place…

The first stop...

The first stop…

The gang waiting for the arrival of our first dish.

The gang waiting for the arrival of our first dish.

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Bon appetite! Chicken and rice…with some chicken blood pudding.

Stop number two (Ann Guay Tiew Kua Gai) was a short tuk-tuk ride away (I really need to get one of those things) at a place known for their crispy noodle dishes. I went with the special: ham, squid, and I think it also had some chicken. This dish was okay. Not sure if I’d order it again. But, the restaurant allowed us to go into their “kitchen” (which was in an alley behind the restaurant, but I’ve found that the best places prepare their food this way; in fact, when I go home in December for Christmas, I think I’ll just cook a dish up in the driveway for my parents) to see how they prepare the food. It was pretty cool actually. A few men each had a station with the ingredients and supplies. A can, resembling a metal garbage can, had a fire blazing underneath a wok/pan. The “chef” sauted and twirled the noodles and ingredients together. The actual process is fairly quick and neat to watch.

The "chef" frying some noodles up!

The “chef” frying some noodles up!

The "chef" frying up some food for us.

Up next was a walk through the flower market. It was overwhelming! Mang told me it was considered the largest flower market in the world—I really don’t see where anyone could argue against that. It was HUGE! Vendor after vendor with an array of flowers in various colors, sizes, shapes…orchids, peonies, marigolds, lilies…was trying to sell their goods. Some people were creating bouquets while some were working on offerings for Buddha (to be offered at shrines and temples). A long time ago, I watched an episode Samantha Brown (a travel journalist that had a ton of shows on the Travel Channel…when I was in my twenties, I wanted to be Samantha Brown, and trust me, you’ll hear about her again in my blog) did in Thailand. In one of the segments, she went to the flower market and was allowed to help make a “ribbon” of flowers she would use for an offering when she went to the temple. Well, I had my mind set on trying it out like she did. I eventually found my mark, an older woman working on threading marigolds together on a ribbon. I stood there for a minute smiling at her (Thailand is suppose to be the land of smiles); she smiled back and I knew I had her. I used my phenomenal pantomiming skills to ask if I could try. She nodded, held out a long needle, and tossed some marigold heads up. I have to say, I did pretty well. I think next time I’m ready for a more intricate design. While continuing our stroll through the garden of stalls, Mang stopped and asked if anyone would be willing to try some insects. I thought about it for a minute and decided to try one. Heck, I ate a silkworm before. Why not an insect? A small cart was selling grasshoppers, tiny frogs, and worms, all fried and ready for our consumption. I opted for the worm (Did you really thing I would eat a frog when I can’t stand being near a live one?). It wasn’t too bad. Crunchy, but it didn’t leave that burnt aftertaste in your mouth like the silkworm had. Would I eat another one? Eh, I tried it once; that’s enough.

Mmmm....grasshoppers, worms, and baby frogs!

Mmmm….grasshoppers, worms, and baby frogs!

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Orchids

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Roses

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More flowers!

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And even more flowers!

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Lotus

Our tuk-tuks (this time, I decided to mix up some and ride with Sunia) met us at the end of the market and whisked us away to our fourth location: Wat Pho. Wat Pho has a few claims to fame. First of all, it’s where the impressive Reclining Buddha resides. Secondly, it is the home of the Thai massage (or so I’m told). Since it was about 10pm at this point, the Buddha and massage school were closed, but we were given permission to walk around the surrounding area to look at the stupas and buildings within the walls of Wat Pho. First of all, we were the only ones there—no other tourists or visitors. The sky was clear and a full moon shone above us. It was almost magical. The porcelain tiles on the Chinese stupas glistened, looming over us. The buildings proudly stood with their Thai architecture sparkling.

Sunia and I tuk-tuking along

Sunia and I tuk-tuking along

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Stupas reaching into the night sky.

Stupas reaching into the night sky.

The fifth location was a surprise to us. In fact, the brochure we were given in the beginning of the tour said “Secret Place”. It was actually a bed and breakfast that had a rooftop bar, Eagle’s Nest. We climbed about four flights of stairs, but it was totally worth the effort. On one side, we could see Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn); and in the opposite direction, we saw the Grand Palace and Wat Pho lit up in all their glory. We were also served a beverage. What could be better than sipping on a cool beverage while gazing at a magnificent view?

View of the Grand Palace from the Eagle's Nest

View of the Grand Palace from the Eagle’s Nest

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The "chef" preparing Pad Thai

The “chef” preparing Pad Thai

Allow me to answer that question. Pad Thai cooked on the streets of Bangkok is better. My mouth is watering as I type this (I may have to take a break from writing so I can go order some) just thinking of pad thai. Now, those that know me well know that I go to bed relatively early…like, 9ish. The time was now just past midnight, but I wasn’t going to let a little thing like sleepiness get in the way of eating pad thai. This restaurant (Thip Samai Pad Thai) did not disappoint. The noodles and shrimp were cooked to perfection and served inside egg (almost like an omelet). I ate everything on my plate even though I was stuffed from all the meals we were given on this tour. As a final dessert, Mang brought us something that looked like a miniature taco. Inside a thin crispy shell, there was shredded egg. It was actually pretty good.

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It was delicious!

It was delicious!

Our dessert taco

Our dessert taco

Sadly, our night was over after this last stop and our tuk-tuks drove us to our hotel.

If you ever find yourself in Bangkok, I highly recommend this tour. It gives a great tour of the city while feeding you fabulous food. I don’t share cost of vacation-related things very often, but this tour costs about $53USD for each person and believe me when I say it was worth every penny.

*Seriously, tuk-tuks are super fun. Some go faster than others, but you can still feel the wind in your hair as your driver steers the little vehicle through the streets of Bangkok.