Subject: Thailand Trip Part III (long)
Hi, once more! Here is the final part of my Thailand journal. Thank you for allowing me to share it .

Ruth Marie Colorado

December 1: Continuing south this morning we had our morning break at a textile museum. Beautiful ancient fabric of cotton woven with gold threads was displayed in glass cases. Some of the fabric was several hundred years old. Of course, there was a shop and here is where we bought a shirt for Jim, since I was the one who bought an indigo garment the day before. Jim is not a shopper and could walk through the Mall of the Americas without buying a thing. Like any good wife, I insist he get something whenever we travel...but only to help the local economy.

Stopping for lunch at a very upscale hotel, we were delighted to find that we were back in the territory of western toilets! Imagine our delight at not having to deal with the eastern kind any more!

Lunch was a spectacular buffet. The decorations on the huge buffet tables were all made of intricately carved melons - a sight to behold. Another new dish for me today. Note suggested we try the green papaya salad. Well, ripe orange papaya is one of my most favorite fruits so I was game. Each person's salad was made while you watched. The lady serving it mixed the dressing with a mortar and pestle. She began by squeezing limes into the vessel, then she put in peanuts, coconut sugar, onions, garlic, salt, dried shrimp and chilis - just a little for me, Note had about a tablespoon in his! After she crushed all of these things together, shredded green papaya was placed on a dish and the mixture spooned over it. It really was delicious! The remainder of the buffet held many wonderful dishes - too many to mention - but I must speak of one of the desserts which was pearl tapioca and salted corn in a coconut cream sauce.

This afternoon we headed to 13th century Sukothai, Thailand's largest collection of historic ruins and a World Heritage site. This is the place where the Thai nation was born: the kingdom's magical and spiritual center. With its cache of remarkably preserved columns, shrines, temples and palaces, it epitomizes old Siam. It is also home to the world famous statue of the walking Buddha considered the most beautiful Buddha ever carved.

The site is quite large so we boarded an open-air tram that carried us through the well-kept and attractive grounds to see the monuments and learn about its most famous king, Ramkamhaeng. Not only did this legendary ruler leave a great legacy of art and architecture, he also left stones inscribed with a chronicle of his achievement. King Ramkamhaeng is credited with inventing the Thai script - made up of 44 consonants and 26 vowels! He also is credited with amazing skill at hand-to-hand combat on elephant back, the spread of Theravada Buddhism and developing relations with China.

An hour's drive south of Sukothai brought us to the most famous Buddhist temple in the region: Phra Buddha Chinnaraja. It was Full Moon and when we arrived a festival was taking place. There were four venerable monks sitting under umbrellas at each corner of a square outside the temple. On two sides of this square were clay molds and at the center was a small blast furnace where bronze was being fired. Four young men dressed all in white were pouring the molten bronze into molds accompanied by chanting that was coming over a public address system. The chanting was actually taking place in the temple. The molds were triangular in shape and contained replicas of the sitting Buddha in that temple. It was a hot afternoon and the heat and roar from the blast furnace added to the intensity but the ceremony was fascinating, and we were glad that we happened on this festival.

Of course, there were both food and souvenir vendors and it was here that I bought the wooden croaker frogs for Jim and Sergio. We had seen them all over this area and Jim was fascinated by them so I bargained for two.

About another hour's drive in the coach and we were at our hotel for the evening (http://www.thailand.travelmall.com/travelmall/hotel/Northern+Thailand/Phitsanulok+Thani+Hotel) The Phitsanulok.

Another great dinner and this evening I had the good fortune to be seated next to Note so was able to chat with him a little. The staff brought him a few different dishes when they served our menu. He offered me a taste which I accepted because I didn't want to be rude, but just a small amount almost blew my eardrums out! I really don't see how they eat something that hot! Tomorrow is another traveling day as we head toward the River Kwai.

December 2: Very early breakfast followed by an early departure found us driving through rice-growing country to Utaithani where we visited a most unusual Buddhist temple, Wat Chantaram. The interior was completely covered with mirrors of various sizes, mostly one and two inch square mirrors which had been applied to the walls, ceilings, columns - everything!

Boarding a large traditional wooden rice barge gave us the opportunity to have lunch while cruising past peaceful scenes of river life. Our lunch consisted of various types of vegetables and giant Grourmi which is a delicious fish related to the little kissing grourmis that people often have in their tropical aquariums. After we disembarked from the boat we walked through the food market in the village. There were many unusual items: black crabs from the rice fields, live eels and fish, eviscerated frogs ready to be cooked and all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

We arrived in Kanchanaburi Province late in the afternoon. Our lodgings were at a lovely resort http://www.sawadee.com/kanchanaburi/legacy/details surrounded by forest and right on the river. It's like being in the jungle with modern conveniences. Note told us we were going to be staying in huts, but these are really duplex cabins that are very livable and even have air conditioning which is very welcomed because we are back in the heat and humidity. It's a very large complex with cabins all over the place. The grounds are lovely and well kept. They sent a little tram to pick us up and take us to the restaurant complex for dinner, but the evening was so pleasant and the moon so bright that we just walked back later in the evening. I know everyone is tired of hearing this, but the meal was spectacular, especially the Pad Thai. The desserts were pineapple and banana fritters with vanilla sauce - delicious!

We were really tired and all we had done was sit on the bus and sit on the barge. Tomorrow is a busy day and we depart for all the activities at 7:30 a.m. so it's early to bed!

December 3:After having an early breakfast, we were underway to the landing area to meet thevery narrow long tail boats (also known as James Bond boats after having been used in a Bond movie shot in Thailand - Man with the Golden Gun) for our ride up the River Kwai. What fun! Well, after you made a fool of yourself getting into the boat, it was fun. You sit on a cushion directly on the floor. The life preserver you must wear provides padding for the wooden board at your back. The boat throws an amazing spray when you go fast (is there any other way to go if you are in a James Bond boat?).

Reaching our destination, we extricated ourselves from the boats - almost as much fun as getting in! Climbing a hill, we again boarded the open air pickup trucks which took us to Hell Fire Pass. This is the area where the POWs chiseled through solid rock while building the Death Railroad for the Japanese Army during WWII. There is a great hiking trail and a small museum which is kept up by the Australian government because so many Aussies lost their lives in the Japanese forced labor camps. Tomorrow we will visit the memorial cemetery ;which is in Kanchaniburi.

>From there we went through the countryside to lunch at a local open-air restaurant. Note told us that the place had been inspected and that it was safe to eat there but he did not know how good the food would be. Well, it was - yes, delicious! The soup we started with was a sinus clearing experience and much too hot and spicy for some of our group but I enjoyed it. I think my tolerance for this seasoning is getting stronger.

The restaurant was located in the small settlement where we were to catch the train to experience a ride along the River Kwai, but it appeared the train was never on time. Sometime it is early, sometime late. During lunch, Note discovered that the train was running over an hour late so we hopped on the bus and visited a delightful waterfall not too far away. We were the only foreigners! There were several groups of school girls in their early teens, dressed in their uniforms and wading in the pool at the bottom of the fall. It was wonderful to watch them having fun. Small shallow streams ran from the major stream of the fall and several young children were building little dams and trying to catch minnows. Children are the same the world over. There were also a large number of lady food vendors cooking right at the base of the falls. It=s a good thing we had already eaten lunch because the smells were wonderful.

Back to the settlement to await the train which did finally arrive. The Thai schoolgirls from the falls were there to ride the train as well. There was only one adult with about 60 girls but he had a bull horn and gathered them up effectively when the train pulled in. It was a great ride. The cars had slatted wooden seats and an oscillating fan at each end. The windows went down and we bumped along laughing and talking as best we could with the locals who sat across from us. We did not stay on the train long enough to actually cross the river or the bridge made famous by the movie - that would have taken forever - but we did travel along the river on a very high trestle which was thrill enough. Tomorrow we will walk across the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Getting back on the air conditioned bus was a treat today as it is very humid and 95 degrees F - the hottest day we have had and for the first time my clothes are soaked with sweat! Back at the lodge there was time for a walk around the beautiful grounds before showering for dinner.

Tonight we were treated to an East/West combination dinner and the kitchen staff did themselves proud. Beginning with green curry with beef and eggplant, vegetarian curry, several rice dishes, my beloved pad thai for the noodle dish, vegetables, chicken and shrimp tempura cooked right before your eyes and ending with small fillets of beef being cooked to order served with small baked potatoes! The only time I remember potatoes in Thailand. Since I grew up in the southern United States with rice as the staple starch, I did not miss potatoes at all, but some in our group were missing them. They were delighted! The meal ended with ice cream which was being hand dipped at the dessert table as well as the wonderfully sweet pineapple slices we loved.

After dinner a few of us hung out at the open air bar where there was live music. Note sang for us again: ADreamy Eyes@ and AIt=s Now or Never.@ He, like most Thais, is an Elvis fan. The fellow playing the keyboard was good, too, and when he swung into some salsa beats, we could resist no longer. Although we were the only ones on the floor and we aren=t very good, Jim and I had a few enjoyable minutes dancing. We invited Note to join our table, bought him a drink and chatted with him about his life as a guide and what motivated him to choose this as a career. He is also fluent in Spanish having spent two years studying in Spain and when he isn=t working for OAT he leads Spanish-speaking groups from South America and Spain.

December 4: We had a breakfast buffet while floating on the river this morning. Lovely way to say good-by to this area.

Headed out to Kanchanaburi where we visited the JEATH War Museum which is located on the grounds of Wat Chaichumpol It was established in 1977 by the present abbot of the temple and is kept up by contributions. The museum was established to collect various items connected with the construction of the Death Railway by prisoners of war during the second world war. It is a realistic reconstruction of a prisoner of war hut and contains photos of prisoners, letters and sketches done by the prisoners as well as other artifacts having to do with the construction of the railway. JEATH is the abbreviation of the names of the six countries involved: Japan (J), England (E), America and Australia (A), Thailand (T) and Holland (H). The Japanese were the controllers of the railway project, Thailand was involved as the conquered country and the other four countries were involved as POWs on the actual construction of the 415 kilometer long Death Railway and the bridge over the River Kwai.

The Death Railway was a strategic railway built between Thailand and Burma. The Japanese intended to use the railroad to invade Burma which was to be a stepping stone into India. Construction was begun on September 16, 1942 in Thailand by approximately 30,000 prisoners of war from the afore mentioned countries and 200,000 impressed laborers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma and Thailand. Of these, more than 16,000 POWs and 100,000 impressed laborers died of disease, starvation and lack of medical care. It is said that the first survey by the Japanese engineers predicted that it would take at least five years to finish this railway line, but the Japanese army forced the prisoners to complete it in only sixteen months with the completion date of December 25, 1943.

The abbot had posted a letter at the beginning of the museum that reads as follows:

ADear Visitors, JEATH Museum has been constructed not for the maintenance of the hatred among human beings, especially among the Japanese and allied countries, but to warn and teach us the lesson of HOW TERRIBLE WAR IS!

MAY PEACE ALWAYS CONQUER VIOLENCE@

It began to lightly rain on us as we left the museum and headed for the English &Australian Cemetery. All the Americans who died working on the railway line were sent back to the United States to be buried, but there were so many English and Australians that it was decided to keep them in Kanchanaburi. The English Embassy in Bangkok keeps up the grounds of the cemetery which was donated by Thailand. It is a heart rendering and moving experience to walk up and down the rows of markers in the rain reading the inscriptions and the ages of the young men who lost their lives so that we are now able to live free. I was again moved to tears.

Finally we visited the actual bridge which has been reconstructed after it was blown up during the 40s. When there are no trains due, visitors are allowed to walk out onto the bridge. If you have seen the movie made in the late 50s you need to know that it was shot in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the actual river and bridge look quite different than in the movie.

We headed toward Bangkok in the rain (this was our first rain of the entire trip!), and stopped in a suburb at a delightful buffet. The traffic became horrific the closer we got to the city. Delivered back to the Regency Park Hotel, we felt right at home.

Tonight is our Farewell Dinner even though we do have one more night to spend in Bangkok - well, part of another night. At sundown we boarded a very large converted rice barge on the Chao Phraya River for a dinner cruise and show of ethnic dancing and music. The dinner was served rather than a buffet. This was a good thing because the wakes from other craft on the river made things a bit rocky at times. The waiters deal with this every night so it was better for them to bring us the food! The buildings on shore were all lit up as we passed the Palace/Temple complex and Wat Arun. Many high-rise office buildings were also lit because tomorrow is the King=s 74th birthday and this town will throw a celebration like none we have ever seen.

By 9:00 p.m. we were in bed and sound asleep. Another early day tomorrow.

December 5: Happy Birthday to King Bhumibol, Rama IX! http://www.escati.com/king_of_thailand.htm, http://bangkokpost.net/king2000/ These two web sites will give you pictures and a bit more information about the King. He is very much loved and revered by his people. For someone who was never supposed to be king he has done a magnificent job of bringing his people into the modern world. It is apparent that he sincerely cares about all of his people! Every home, every business we visited had a picture of the King and Queen displayed, not because it is required by the government, but because of the high regard in which he is held. King Bhumibol was actually born in the United States while his father was a medical student in Boston, MA. It was his uncle who was king. But when King Bhumibol was a young boy, his father died at an early age, then his uncle defected. The present monarch=s older brother became ruler when the brother was about 20 years old. The younger prince was at that time studying in Switzerland, which was where he became an accomplished jazz saxophonist as well. There was an unfortunate gun accident which killed the older brother and suddenly at age 18, he found himself King!

On the bus by 7:30 a.m. this morning we head out of Bangkok. Our destination is the only floating market left in the country (40 miles outside the city), with several stops along the way. Surprisingly, the traffic is lighter this morning. Note reminded us that it was the King=s birthday and everyone has the day off from work, except those in the tourist industry. It is a national holiday so there is no Abusiness traffic@ in the early morning. Later in the day the traffic will become totally snarled as the local population makes its way to the Palace/Temple complex for the celebration.

We traveled through an area where there were seafood processing plants and salt flats for the purpose of producing salt from seawater. This is the area where Chang and Eng Bunker were born. They were the famous Siamese twins who were joined at the breast bone/heart area. They came to live in the US in the early 1800s and were in the P.T. Barnum side shows that toured the world. Later they married American women, settled in Mt. Airy, NC and raised families. Between them, they fathered almost 20 children! We stopped at a small memorial museum which is being set up in their honor.

Further along the way we stopped at a coconut farm for an informative look at what all can be done with a coconut and its by-products. Did you know that there is such a thing as coconut sugar which is made from the sap gathered from the blossoms on a coconut palm? The sap is collected in a similar way to maple sap and then cooked down to make a product that tastes a lot like dark brown sugar.

The floating market was our next stop. It was here that we really felt for the first time the crush of tourism! There were many, many buses disgorging tourists who would then get in long tail boats and ride through the canals to the floating market. I felt like I was in a ADisney World stand-in-line situation.@ Eventually we boarded the boats and off we went flying low through the canals. The market is kept alive by tourism now and the locals do not come here to buy any longer. It was very interesting to see, but by far the most touristic area we visited.

Our final delicious buffet lunch; another green papaya salad for me! Back to the hotel for a free afternoon and we are on our own for dinner tonight. Jim and I had such a large lunch we will definitely have a light supper, if any at all.

Putting the video camera in the safe, we went out to walk with Jim unencumbered by the equipment for the only time in the whole trip. Our wanderings took us to a couple of bookstores looking for a CD of authentic music, but we were unsuccessful. It is difficult to find a CD of any sort in Thailand. According to Note, they are not yet readily available. There were no readily available cassette tapes of authentic Thai music either! We managed a walk through of Robinson's Department Store. It's always fun to see what is popular in the housewares and clothing sections in department stores all over the world. After that we crossed the street and headed to Times Square and the internet store to send final messages to friends and family. There were answers to the messages we had sent before leaving Bangkok so we sent quick replies.

Note had told us earlier that there would be a special celebration for the King's birthday in all the little parks around the city in addition to the big celebration at the Palace/Temple Complex. Not too far from our hotel was a very nice park so about 6:15 p.m. we left to walk to the park for the 7:00 p.m. celebration. Met up with 2 other couples in our group who had the same thing in mind. Arriving with a bit of time to spare, we strolled around stopping to watch some young men playing rattan ball. It is played similar to volley ball with one exception - you can use any part of your body except your hands to propel the ball. The ball is interestingly made from interlocking strips of rattan fiber so it is very light and the slightest hit sends it flying. These guys were good and we watched for several minutes. There was also a beginner's skateboard area with a small ramp and a place for spectators so we took that in as well.

With about 5 minutes to spare we walked to the area where a platform was set up with pictures of the King and Queen, draped bunting and bright lights completed the scene along with a few dignitaries. There were many local people there all holding yellow candles. Note had explained earlier that yellow is the King's official color. In Buddhism each day has a particular color attached to it. Your color is determined by which day you are born. One of the security guards approached and offered us each a candle which I thought was a very nice gesture. At 7:00 p.m. one of the dignitaries spoke for about five minutes, the candles were lit, and the King's songs were sung. Of course, we didn't understand a word, but we stood and held our candles like everyone else. It was a moving ceremony and afterwards several of the local people who were near us spoke to us, welcoming us to their country, asking our impressions, telling us about themselves. It was a very special end to what has been a wonderful trip.

Walking back to the hotel we realized that it was extremely hot and humid that evening. Rather than trying to find a place to get a bite to eat, we headed back to our room for showers, soft drinks from the minibar in the room and the last few granola bars we had brought along. Then it was time to get the suitcases packed and try to get a bit of sleep. We must get up at 2:00 a.m. for an early departure to the airport. Note has warned us that security is very tight and that even the luggage that we plan to check will be hand inspected as well as put through the x-ray machine. We tried to pack so that it would be easy for the inspectors to look through our things.

December 6: We were down in the lobby by 2:30 a.m. to turn in our keys, have a cup of tea and a crossiant. There are seven of us leaving. The other eight will leave later today for the post trip extension to Viet Nam.

We always seem to have difficulty leaving. If you have read the Costa Rica journal you will understand that statement. This time Note arrived 10 minutes ahead of time but there was no bus. He whipped out his cell phone and tried to call Preecha, the driver, but got no answer. After a 10 minute wait, he hailed three cabs that were parked in front of the hotel and we had a wild ride to the airport. The traffic was light so we sped onto the toll road. Note was in the first cab and the other two did a good job of keeping up with the leader. It only took 30 minutes whereas the first time we came into Bangkok to the hotel during the day, it had taken two hours!

True to form, we lined up for the United inspectors to go through our luggage. Each of us had one suitcase that was to be checked. We took off the locks and helped whenever they asked us to. After the hand inspection, the bags went through the x-ray machine and were strapped with some sort of fiber material. Then we proceeded to the question asking person. After she was satisfied with our answers we were allowed to proceed to check in. Finally our tickets and passports were accepted and we were given boarding passes for all three successive flights. By that time Note was back from helping the others get their departure papers and ready to help us. I handed him two 500 baht bills that he fed into a machine which spit out the departure tax receipt. He could go no further with us so we chatted a moment before handing him his tip and telling him good-by. It has been an excellent trip and quite different to any other travel we have experienced.

We would now go back across the International Date Line and gain back the day we lost on the way out. Flights home were uneventful which, in my opinion, are the best kind. Coming back to the Colorado cold did shock us just a bit, but 32 hours after we boarded the taxis at our hotel, we were unlocking our front door in Boulder.

Would I do it again? You bet I would!

Some background on the social values practiced by the people of Thailand: Buddhist teachings are at the root of the typical Thai's sincere consideration for others. A stranger visit a village or small town will rarely be seen as an intruder. The villagers will take him in, offer him food and treat him as a friend. Buddhism also lies behind the response when something unfortunate happens. Usually a Thai will gracefully submit to external forces beyond his control because it is his karma.

Although highly individualistic and resisting regimentation, Thais nevertheless realize that inner freedom is best preserved in an emotionally and physically stable environment. Therefore, they believe that social harmony is best maintained by avoiding any unnecessary friction in their contacts with others. From this has grown the strong Thai feeling of AKrengchai@ which means an extreme reluctance to impose on anyone or disturb his personal equilibrium by direct criticism, challenge or confrontation. In general, people will do their utmost to avoid personal conflict.

Outward expressions of anger are also regarded as dangerous to social harmony and as being obvious signs of ignorance, crudity and immaturity. Displays of dismay, despair, displeasure, or disapproval are frowned upon. Accordingly the person who is, or appears to be, serenely indifferent is respected for having what is considered an important virtue.

Within such a behavioral framework, Thais share very definite views on what constitutes friendship. Sincere friendship among Thais is extremely intense; The language is rich in expressions which reflect the degree of involvement and willing self-sacrifice. Such relationships are found particularly among men. A Aphuan tai@ (translation - death friend) is a companion for whom it would be an honor to die. Should a friend become involved in difficulties, his friend feels an obligation to help him regardless of the danger to himself because Aone must help one's friends.@ This requirement is a sensitive point of honor and explains many circumstances that often baffle outsiders.

Outward displays of affection are greatly frowned upon. You may see young people holding hands while strolling in a park, but you will never ever see anything more than that. If by chance you are on the street at night and observe close physical contact between a couple you can count on the female being a prostitute. A self-respecting Thai lady would never openly display affection in public. This is just not done. Again, this is an influence of Buddhist teachings.

A few general Words of Advice if you are planning a trip to Thailand:

1. When changing money, ;you will get the best rate using new $100 and $50 bills; a lesser rate for $20 and $10 bills. Changing travelers= checks will incur a fee. The change booths at the airport gave the best rate we could find. ATM machines frequently found in Bangkok gave the same rate. ATM machines are not very common in other parts of the country. Also carry a goodly number of crisp new $1.00 bills. They work well for tips and small items until you get larger bills changed.

2. When visiting temples; you will be required to remove your shoes. If you are wearing sandals be sure to have a pair of socks in your day pack to slip on so that you won=t burn your feet on hot stone steps. Wearing shoes that close with velcro straps instead of laces will make it easier to get them on and off during these visits.

3. Knees and upper arms must be covered when visiting temples. Bare midriffs and extremely tight jeans are also frowned upon.

4. Napkins in elegant restaurants are a work of art, often starched and folded into lovely shapes. Napkins in smaller, more basic restaurants are almost non-existent. They have the consistency of a sheet of our toilet paper and are about the same size. I recommend taking a cotton bandana in a sandwich size plastic bag in your day pack. If you get it dirty or greasy during a meal, you just slip it back in the bag and rinse it out that evening in your room. It will be ready to go the next day.

5. A second bandana is very useful to tie around your forehead to keep sweat out of your eyes or around your neck to absorb sweat on hikes.

6. Antiseptic gel for cleaning your hands is very useful, especially when you are eating in small places and want to be sure your hands are definitely clean.

7. Bottled water is a must. Every hotel we stayed in provided a liter per person per day. Everyone was also given a half liter each day on the bus, and if we needed another half liter on the days we were traveling great distances it was available for us. You should always have water with you, especially if you are out in the countryside.