Here are some of our favorite photos from the trip (each photo is a thumbnail linked to a higher quality picture.):
1) We arrived in Bangkok one day before the start of our tour with Intrepid so we hired Elana, a Bangkok based tour guide, to lead us on a sightseeing walk around the city. The highlight of the tour was one of our first stops - a walk through the Thewet fresh market. Stalls and tables were covered with exotic fruits, alien vegetables, fresh fish, butchered meat, raw tea and loads more.
2) In the market we found a family selling baby turtles. Buddhists buy the turtles and then release them into the canal beside the market to gain merit. We paid around $.50 to purchase two so we could set them free.
3) Next we joined the locals to traverse the city by boarding a water taxi in order travel down the Chao Phraya River to the southern part of the old city.
4) We exited the water taxi on the edge of Bangkok's Chinatown. June was the beginning of durian season and one of the first sights (and smells) we encountered in Chinatown was a table piled high with the fragrant fruit.
5) We wandered the narrow, frenetic streets and alleys of Chinatown where seemingly everything is for sale. From pink Hello Kitty umbrellas to fresh rice noodles to cell phones and everything else imaginable. A single photo can't capture the diversity of commerce but it also can't convey the feeling. The temperature was well into the 90s and humidity was around 90% - it was like walking through a steam room!
6) While in Chinatown we also visited the temple of Wat Traimit - The Temple of the Golden Buddha. Inside is a 10 foot tall, 5 ton statue of the Buddha made entirely of gold!
7) From Chinatown we took a taxi to the center of the downtown business district to see the Erawan Shrine. This is a Hindu shrine where Thai dancers are hired by worshippers to perform traditional Thai dances as an offering to Lord Brahma. It was fascinating to see the contrast of this shrine surrounded by giant office buildings and hotels. It was also fascinating to see the seamless mingling of Buddhist and Hindu religious practices.
8) After lunch we took another taxi to the Golden Mount, a man made hill in the center of Bangkok which houses the temple Wat Saket. We climbed up the hill to see the temple but also to enjoy the panoramic view out over all of Bangkok. We could see the temples and palaces of the old town, the gleaming skyscrappers of the modern financial district, the hotels and malls in the commerical district and the expanse of suburbs extending out to the horizon.
9) An artsy shot of a Royal Orchid in a water filled pot at Wat Saket.
10) The golden tile roof of Wat Saket was being renovated but we still used it as a backdrop for a family photo.
11) Our next stop was a taxi ride to Pak Klong flower market. This sprawling market, which filled multiple warehouses and spilled out onto the surrounding streets, was packed with every type of flower imaginable. In addition to potted and cut flowers there were also artisans sculpting flowers into beautiful arrangements. The smell was glorious but best of all was that it was cool inside!
12) Day two was the start of our tour with Intrepid and our introduction to our guide (and friend) for the next three weeks - Nok! After a breakfast of street food we boarded a bus for the six hour ride north to the city of Sukhothai - Nok's home town. June is the start of the rainy season in Thailand and rain bucketed down while we were on the bus. However, the timing was perfect as it stopped just as we rolled into Sukhothai. From the bus station she hired a songthaew (a pick-up truck taxi) to bring us to our hotel just outside the Sukhothai Historical Park.
13) Our hotel in Sukhothai was the idyllic Le Charme Sukhothai Resort . Jonna and Rosie immediately went to the spa for the first of many Thai massages they would enjoy on this trip.
14) Meanwhile, Alan enjoyed the tranquil lily ponds that snake through the resort.
15) The next day we were back out in the sauna, this time for a four hour bicycle tour of the Sukhothai Historical Park. Here Jonna and Rosie start out on their Turbo mounts.
16) The city of Sukhothai was the capital of the 800 year old Sukhothai kingdom - one of the first "Thai" kingdoms. (Prior to the formation of the Sukhothai kingdom this area was part of the Khmer Empire based in what is modern day Cambodia). The Sukhothai Historical Park is home to nearly 200 temples, stupas, palaces and other ruins. The largest of the temples is Wat Mahathat which we were able to walk through and explore. In addition to Wat Mahathat we visited many of the other Buddhist and Hindu temples spread throughout the park.
17) The highlight of temples we visited were the ruins at Wat Si Chum. In addition to housing this incredible Buddha statue the temple was particularly special to our guide Nok since this is where she had recently gotten married!
18) Our final stop before lunch was at the temple of Wat Chang Lom. The main stupa at this temple complex was built upon the backs of these stone elephants. After an incredible lunch at Nok's friend Naa's Cooking School we continued the bicycle tour. Our luck with the monsoon rains continued as it just started to sprinkle as we were finishing the tour.
19) After a visit with Nok's family we left Sukhothai the next day in a rented van to travel further north. Along the way we stopped at Friends Of The Asian Elephant Hospital in Lampang. This hospital was created to care for injured Asian elephants and had about a dozen elephants in its care when we visited. Most of the elephant patients had lost legs to land mines along the Thai-Myanmar border and were having specially made prosthetic legs fitted. It was sad to learn of these tragic circumstances but also heartwarming to see these devoted animal lovers who were trying to help.
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