Little truck tales: Discover Thainess festival

Bangkok is amazing. It feels weird saying this as just a few months ago we had the opposite opinion of any big city. Of course, there is traffic, noise and pollution, but somehow they’re nicely balanced by beautiful urban things like architecture, green spaces, and fun things to do.

We live on a quiet street with predominantly working-class Thai families with kids, therefore this makes our experience so much more interesting. Observing the kids playing outside, witnessing the impressive triple-parking system, or just exploring the local market seems like enough of Bangkok for new residents with busy schedules.

I felt quite embarrassed telling somebody that we live in Bangkok and we haven’t seen anything touristy yet. Bear in mind though, that for months we were looking for a decent place, job hunting, sorting all the paperwork, visa-runs, bank accounts, etc. But now we’re able to find some time to explore the surrounding areas.

Discover Thainess festival
Two kittens and two boxes.

Discover Thainess festival

Saturday. As always, first things first, we were discussing how many coffees to buy. After my dental check-up at Thong Lo we bought 3 coffees for the two of us and sat next to some shop on the street. Coffee at 7-11 is surprisingly good, and for 25 baht (50 pence) per cup you don’t really mind sitting outside a random shop! We also had some biscuits, but they weren’t enough to quiet Auste’s rumbling stomach. Next stop was some grilled sweet potatoes from a wandering street vendor, but they had some living things in them (since when do worms like potatoes??), so I knew Auste wouldn’t think of anything but food anytime soon.

We got off at BTS Chidlom and somehow by accident (or faith?) ended up at the Central Food Hall. 3 massive sections of cheese, a huge quality bakery, several deli bars with plenty of tasty choices… We were like two kids in a candy shop. We wanted to buy EVERYTHING. You see, we love food. We love good food. We left with a bag full of freshly baked bread and all sorts of other goodness. Nibbling the bread bite after bite, walking past various posh hotels, we followed the BTS Silom line all the way PAST Lumphini park without a single coffee shop in sight, until we reached Sala Deng. More coffee, and MORE FOOD. We walked back to the park and stopped by the gate. Of course there were loads of street vendors with surprisingly low prices, so… we got fried egg with rice. MORE FOOD.

Can you believe we were finally AT the park, and not at another food shop? But it wasn’t an ordinary day at the park. We came to explore the Discover Thainess festival organised by Tourism authority of Thailand. As soon as we walked through the main entrance… we decided to find a green patch of space for a picnic. Now I know it sounds silly, but just laying down on the grass in the park with our feast of food was the best part of the day!

Discover Thainess festival

And then we went to explore the festival. There were women spinning silk and weaving linen next to stands of beautiful scarves and traditional Thai clothes to purchase. There were others carving wood or even using popped rice to make all sorts of beautiful things.

Discover Thainess festivalDiscover Thainess festival

It reminded me of a similar festival in Lithuania – where you have all sorts of craftsmen dressed up in traditional costumes demonstrating how tools and things worked in the past. Then there were performances – even more beautiful Thai costumes and traditional dancing.

Discover Thainess festivalDiscover Thainess festivalDiscover Thainess festival

Everyone, even the food vendors were dressed in traditional Thai clothes. And there were tons of food… we even found some nice vegetarian options!  I couldn’t resist the coconut ice-cream served in a coconut, with fresh coconut shavings – one of the very few Thai sweets that we both like.

Discover Thainess festivalDiscover Thainess festival

Everywhere we looked there were so many vibrant colours and sounds, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was also strange (and nice at the same time) seeing so many Thai people and very few foreigners, even though it was a tourism-related festival.

You can find more photos from the festival on our Flickr page here.

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Choices

 

Everyday we get up, get ready, and leave for work. When we reach the end of the street, I go to the left and she goes to the right. She goes up the escalator and gets on the beauty of engineering that is called Skytrain, and smoothly rides into the city overlooking the infamous Bangkok traffic. I catch a bus with wooden floors, get a window seat for a much needed breeze, and patiently observe motorbikes cutting through hundreds of cars in the horizon.
She teaches well-behaved classes of 25 at an all-girls Catholic school, and I teach cramped classrooms of 50 rowdy kids at a school with no air-con. And you know what? Even though our circumstances couldn’t be more different, we both enjoy our time here – because we choose to.
We make choices. Sometimes these choices are conscious, well-planned, and when something happens we know it’s because of our decision and nobody else’s. On the other hand, sometimes things just happen, usually when you least expect them, leaving us either pleasantly surprised or somewhat disappointed. However spontaneous our choices may seem, we probably decided on something a long time ago, and over time those experiences slowly make their way into our reality.
Auste and I have been very busy and sleep deprived for months, and now for the past few days we’ve had an absolute lounging experience – we barely left our apartment, ate lots of food, and stared at the computer screen all day. We’ve been relaxing and ‘wasting’ time to such extent that deep inside it felt as if we were committing a crime! But those two or three days have given enough time to think, recharge and get back into planning. I think if you stop doing all the things you want to experience and do nothing for more than 3 days, you would naturally get attacked by all the things you don’t want to experience.
This unproductive lazy experience was nothing but our choice. It wasn’t planned, nor was it very conscious – it just happened. It didn’t bring much excitement or help us tick things off our “to-do” list, yet it left us pleasantly surprised when we sat down and planned a trip we’ve been longing to do. Travel – that was the choice we made before we left our home six months ago. Since then we have settled and got back into the domestic mentality. We decided on it a long time ago, discovered it, abandoned it, forgot about it, and without much thought our choice made it back into our reality.

I can only contemplate why we stopped travelling, searching and exploring in the first place. Perhaps our life would have turned into a short holiday rather than a more in-depth cultural adventure. We stopped because we need a home, even when we’re on the road. I believe we all need a place where we could recharge mentally, emotionally and spiritually. People go to ends of the world to find their hope in sacred places – temples, churches, mosques. Why not make your home a sacred place? A home is where you can wake up with good intentions every morning, have an exceptional day every day, and go to sleep with thankful thoughts every night. It is your choice.
We need to expose ourselves to external influences and experiences, so they could interrupt our own thought patterns, as much as we need to expose ourselves to different cultures and languages to appreciate our own – all in search for a better, more peaceful self. The world is made up of individuals. They make up communities, cities, countries, and the world. If I cannot find peace within, yet wish for world peace, I am taking one step forward and two steps back. Make a choice, and the rest will fall into place.

Thailand Tourism festival, Bangkok

 

Little truck tales: Chaophraya river and Dusit Zoo

We finally decided to visit some temples as we’ve lived in Bangkok for 2 months already. It’s not something you’d normally do if you live and work here, as you have other things to do. We don’t consider ourselves tourists anymore (phew!), however, with a lovely day to spare we thought we’d start with Wat Arun early in the morning and then decide where we go next.

Chaophraya River sunrise, Bangkok

We left early. It was still dark when we got off the BTS in Siam, but then a few moments later it was already sunny. The fun started when we walked to the pier in Saphan Taxin and after glancing at the sign showing the tourist boat at the pier on the left took a split second decision to jump on the ferry which had just arrived at the pier on the right. All excited we realised the 20-or-so minute boat ride to Wat Arun felt suspiciously quick. So after a very smooth and quick boat ride we ended up all the way… across the river.

Yep. We jumped on a 3-baht ferry to the other side of the river. After walking around for a couple of minutes with no sight of the usual coloured flag boats we decided to get back on the ferry and come back to the pier on the other side. Except this time when we jumped on, the driver tried to show us to get off. He was pointing to the shore on this side where we just got in from, and we were pointing to the other side of the river trying to show him that’s where we need to go. It was funny when he also tried to tell the young Thai woman to get off and she pointed to the other side of the river as well. As the woman refused to get off and just stayed in her seat waiting, we did the same. You know how the saying goes – when in Rome… And about 10min later we started moving and came back to our starting point. This time we waited quite a while, but finally hopped on the boat going along the river towards Wat Arun.

Chaophraya River, Bangkok

I love the boats on Chaophraya. For 15 baht you can travel the whole route (which is an insane distance!), along the way enjoying the view of temples, bridges, and locals living on the banks of the
river. With the morning sun on my face and the breeze so chilly, for a moment I felt just like by the seaside in Lithuania. We were enjoying the ride and couldn’t decide where it’s best to get off. When we saw Wat Arun on the other side of the river, and the distance to the closest bridge, we decided we’ll visit it some other time…:) So we just stayed on the boat, gazing at the shores and a few stops later we got off near a random bridge thinking it would lead us somewhere towards the city.

Chaophraya River, Bangkok
By the way, this is not Wat Arun, but some other temple that looked really pretty from the water

 

We got really cold on the boat with all the wind, so we were super excited when we found a big 7/11 with proper coffee and a bakery! We didn’t really know where we were, but we had nice coffee and
something warm to eat. There was a gentle breeze as we were strolling across the bridge and we could feel the warmth of the sun. I had actually forgotten what it’s like to be missing the sun!

Chaophraya River, Bangkok

We looked at google maps and saw a park quite close to where we were – so we decided to make it our destination. Because that’s what we often do in life: just look at where we are, and where we
can get to 😀 The streets were incredibly quiet and surprisingly tidy. We kept walking, turn after turn, taking pictures, and then… we reached a palace. We wanted to just come closer, take a couple of
pictures and keep walking, but something caught my eye. There was a small toy truck, slightly (editor’s note: more than slightly) burnt, but so cute, just left alone by the road. We took a few pictures with the truck and it was just so cute that we decided to keep it. Then, when we looked at the map again, we realised we ended up near the Dusit Zoo!

Dusit Zoo, BangkokDusit Zoo, Bangkok

If you’re a relatively savvy couple, what’s the first thing you do? Look at the price list! At least that’s what we did. We have our own system of saving while having fun and concepts of what’s value for
money and what’s not. Paying loads to see animals in cages didn’t feel like an investment, but it wasn’t steep at all, so we gave it a go.

Dusit Zoo, Bangkok

The first thing we saw when we walked in was the huge beautiful lake. We can’t say it was a pond, because I don’t think ponds have pedal boats for rent. Using a confusing zoo map we made our way
to the first exhibit – monkeys. They looked very cute and energetic while jumping and swinging all over their cages. Some were reaching their long arms out through the fence and looking at you, as if saying ‘give me my food’. Further on there were vendors selling big loaves of bread for fish feeding. I thought why would they sell loaves this big to feed small fishies, until we saw the giant predators enjoying the carb feast!

Dusit Zoo, Bangkok

The highlight of the zoo was the Meercats. As cute as kittens. And what happens when a girl sees a bunch of cute little kittens? I checked all possible things on Facebook, Line, Instagram, etc, yet she
was still taking photos of them.

Dusit Zoo, BangkokDusit Zoo, Bangkok

It was fun visiting the zoo for the first time since I was 6 years old. However, there is a big BUT.

Dusit Zoo, Bangkok

Seeing all these wild animals locked in cages felt really depressing and I can’t find a nicer word to describe it. There was a sad hippo rubbing his head against the wall with another hippo separated on the other side. You could go up to an observation platform where the giraffes come close to say hello. They don’t actually say hello, duh, they just come very close so you can touch them! There were two hungry hippos in a drained-pool type of area with kids throwing long-beans and other foods into their mouths. There were beautiful exotic birds locked in tiniest cages, tropical cold-blooded creatures isolated in the smallest imitations of their natural habitats. There was a Malaysian Black bear going crazy and rocking back and forth in one circle because of the Thai pop music playing just outside its cage.

Dusit Zoo, Bangkok

On a side note: we spent over 4 hours at the zoo, walked around town for ages, couldn’t find vegetarian food anywhere (surprise surprise), took the BTS towards home, and we ended up eating
McDonald’s fries in the car park outside Tesco with a persistently friendly cockroach trying to join our company!

Laos: Exploring Vientiane in a day

Laos is a big country with a small capital of Vientiane. You can quickly feel a different pace of life if you’re travelling from Bangkok: no metro, no skytrain, no tourist-friendly shopping malls or huge western stores. Even though it is a quiet city, it has lots of green spaces, and that is why I liked it so much.

There is also another reason why I may have felt such affection for it. I came to Laos with a sole purpose of extending my Thai visa. Basically I had an expectation of wandering around my hotel for 24 hours until I collect my passport, and I ended up having an amazing time. In those 24 hours I explored nearly the whole city, which oddly left me with a sense of achievement!

Since I came to Laos in a van full of ‘long-term tourists’, we had to cross the Thai border on foot, and wait for a bus to take us across the bridge to the Laotian border. I never thought I’d say this, but sitting on a bus full of immigrants and looking at the sunrise over the Friendship Bridge connecting Thailand and Laos feels somewhat spectacular.

visa run Laos

My first impression of Laos wasn’t the greatest as we drove past lonely gas stations and village-like shrubby landscapes that reminded me of Cambodia – almost a sister country with a relatively sad history. I knew that Laos was under a French rule at some point in history, but there weren’t many things French, as I imagined. I did see, however, a few nice-looking baguette vendors and wine shops. Most of the vendors and shops display prices in kip and Thai baht, and you can pay using either currency. Do note, however, that the vendors may quote you a higher price if you use a foreign currency.

A tuktuk into town should cost about a 100 baht for 2 people. The driving style was even worse than in Thailand, and it seemed as if the drivers didn’t really grasp the concept of a two-way street. I walked my way around town during daytime though, and without breaking much sweat!

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos

So I arrived at my hotel at around noon and had about 24 hours to spend…

12.00 – I went to the dentist! I just found one while wandering the streets. It cost me 40 baht (an equivalent of a cost of half a packet of crisps in the UK) for a check-up, removal of stiches, and a salt-water mouthwash. Just so you know, I had some teeth problems at the time, as I wouldn’t normally seek a dental adventure in a foreign country.

13.15 – I walked to town, and noticed that there weren’t many convenience stores, or chocolate to be more precise, like there is in Thailand. In half an hour I was already exploring the temples. Pretty hot walk that was though. Most travellers take tuktuks, but in Vientiane they rip you off like there’s no tomorrow!
[tuk tuks]

14.00 – Sisaket museum – entry 5,000 kip (20 baht). Definitely worth it, especially for a variety of beautiful Buddha sculptures, and the main temple, where you cannot take any photos, but it’s very pretty inside. You can also give a donation and light a candle in front of the Buddha sculpture, perhaps say a prayer or two.

Vientiane Sisaket museum, Laos
Vientiane Sisaket museum, Laos
Vientiane, Laos

14.30 – I went to the city centre, just taking everything in: the pretty architecture, the colourful temples, the greetings from locals, also overhearing the word ‘farang’ here and there – the language sounded similar to Thai. I walked to the Chao Anouvong statue, situated in the park by the river. The park was pretty, clean, and had lots of exercise equipment scattered around. Then I walked west-wards to the hotel and restaurant area – it had lots of construction going on, no street vendors, and not many tourists – it looked like whenever one place shuts down, a new one is built rather than re-established. Also if you walk to the park, you reach the main road, and you can see there’s nothing beyond it…

Vientiane, Laos

15.20 – I felt like a right retard when I wanted to exchange money: as the cashier was counting thousands of dollars, I approached the exchange booth with my important query of exchanging 100 baht (2 GBP) for the day. Then I randomly met a fun Dutch guy at a bar and we talked about our travels. We had some right cheap Namkong beers for 5,000 kip (20 baht) and that was a fancy bar – how is that price even possible? I’ve heard many people say if you want to feel like a millionaire, come to Laos. But you’d have to spend at least a few days to spend 80 quid (120 USD) here, unless you go to the French shops!

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16.30 – I went to explore the Talat Sao mall but it was closed at around 5 PM, the market next to it was also closing, so I headed back to the hotel. I had some food, chatted to the guys I met on the bus and we decided to go to the night market.

19.30 – A few groups of us went to the night market to check the overpriced goods. Yep, that’s right – most of the stuff for sale was the typical stuff you see everywhere – scarves, belts, perfume, t-shirts – all with ‘special’ prices for tourists. But only you are the lucky one, because they ‘give you best price’! To be fair, there were some original items we regretted we hadn’t bought, such as very pretty and original paintings of monks or elephants, which I haven’t seen in Thailand. I suppose you could find something similar at the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street. The market was BIG. It took us two hours to surf through the tents lined by the river, we didn’t stop for a meal or anything!

22.00 – We all got back to the hotel and paid the insistent driver for the ever-increasing travel cost. Basically during the day we offered the hotel staff to pay 20 baht each for a return journey, which only takes 20 minutes on foot – 10 people equals 200 baht. Before we left the price magically doubled. And when we actually got into the van, the driver managed to “bargain up” to 50 baht per person, so the journey totals to 500 baht. OK. Guess what? We get picked up, transferred back to the hotel just to pay 60 baht each. I am not sure if it’s a Laotian thing, or just an individual, but that’s something to bear in mind.

23.00 bed time. I wish I had remembered to visit the sculpture park and the rooftop bar, as both of these should not be missed. I could have easily visited the park in the morning, but I just love to sleep. So hopefully next time! The city had a tranquil ambience and the people were welcoming, there wasn’t much traffic, and everything was cheap. If you like all these things, I recommend you pay a visit to Vientiane.

I have to say, if it wasn’t for the super basic map that Auste printed for herself when she went to Laos, I would have probably wasted the beautiful day at the hotel. Thank you!

P.S. more photos on our Flickr page here.