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Alexander’s Birthday during Songkran —water fights, hug connections, Buddhist customs.

April 15th 2019

Today my only child turns 29!!! It’s so wonderful to be in Bangkok, Thailand to celebrate Alexander’s birthday with him this year. His girlfriend, Benz and my husband, Mark together with Alexander and I had a full day planned. In addition, it’s the Thai New Year which is a 4 day long National holiday here!

Last night we ventured out to the hot spot of Bangkok to participate in the massive water fight occurring in Silom area. The entire 5km street is a water combat zone where locals and tourists don super soakers, hoses, enormous buckets of icy or warm water and happily soak any and all people!!!

We purchased our mini water guns, bought water for 5 or 10 Baht depending on the size of the water canister, and headed into the masses! It was tons of fun and getting drenched felt fabulous after suffering the 40 degree temperatures.

It was a playful time for all and brought out a new side of our personalities 🥴😉

This morning Alexander and Benz stopped by our hotel to open their cards and gifts, then we were off to meet Benz’s mother for the first time!

Although we do not share a mutual language, culture, or religion… we shared our lunch together and met for the first time. After eating together I had Benz translate whether it might be appropriate for me to give her mom a hug.

Hugs really do transcend language, religious, or cultural barriers and as we hugged for several long minutes we established a connection and understanding that touched my heart deeply and left tears in more than just my eyes…

Our next adventure was to drive to วัดกระทุ่มเสือปลา Wat Krathum Suea Pla which is the Wat (Temple) where Benz and her mother regularly attend. Benz was going to introduce us all to traditional Thai Buddhist customs practiced during Songkran.

We learned about our Buddha for the day of the week we were born. We bought baskets of food and items (like umbrellas) to present to the monk after chanting sessions ended. We poured water from kettles into cups during the ceremony. We lit candles, poured oil, lit incense, placed flowers, and attached small gold foils on the Buddhas.

There were so many different ways to show appreciation and each different type of blessing also required (suggested) a monetary contribution. Benz also explained the story of Buddha and answered many of our questions. I created a slide show video showing the story of our day… from our arrival at Wat Krathum Suea Pla to our departure after we experienced more icy water down our backs and people applied white powder to our faces for Songkran!

Learning about Thai Buddhist Customs during Songkran

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Bangkok—Muang Boran Thailand’s Enormous Ancient City

April 13th 2019

Muang Boran just outside Bangkok, is an outdoor museum in Samut Prakan covering 96 hectares or 240 acres with scaled models or replicas of ancient city ruins and historical monuments from various parts of Thailand.

Here is my slide show video of some of the intriguing wats and sculptures we discovered during our intensely hot 40 degrees day there 🥵.

photos.app.goo.gl/d1P7sPb9MwicfyjaA

Remember the site is vast and the replicas are so amazing they are well worth investigating! The main types of transportation available are walking, cycling (free bikes) or renting a golf cart at 350 Baht for the first hour and slightly less per hour after that.

As the temperature reached over 40 degrees plus 80 % humidity… We voted for the covered golf cart option! (plus hats, 50 sunscreen, fans, and lots of water!). Many female tourists also carried sun umbrellas. The water buffalo had it right… They hid in the moat! Thankfully it was Songkran and we were squirted with water several times. 😉

To locate the Ancient City, we drove south from Bangkok 40 km which took nearly an hour each direction. The entrance price is fairly expensive for Thai attractions at 700Baht for each foreigner and 200 Baht for each Thai person. Plus 350 Baht/hour for the golf cart. Bring lots of cash because the credit card machines can’t be counted on… But this attraction shouldn’t be missed!

We recognized Wats from different locations around Thailand and had a new porthole into Thai culture and history.

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Bangkok—Preparation for Songkran!

April 12th and 13th, 2019

Benz joins our group! We are incredibly grateful that due to the Thai National Songkran holiday, my son’s girlfriend has now joined us. She is both Buddhist and Thai so we benefit from her positive disposition, translating skills, explanation of Thai culture, and knowledge of the Buddhist traditions and beliefs. Welcome Benz! 😘

Benz and I—Ancient City after getting soaked!

While many Thai people travel to their home provinces to be with family and celebrate Buddhist tradition during Songkran, the Thai New Year also marks a massive commercial venture where tourists and locals experience a 3 + day window of opportunity to dress up and don massive super soakers (or squirt guns), or even buckets of ice water, and soak strangers! We had water thrown or squirted at us in multiple locations from April 12th to April 15th! (There will be blog posts following this one profiling more water action).

Preparing for Songkran

The first meal shared together with Benz was at MK in Union mall. The procedure is that you order your ingredients for your soup using your touch screen at the booth. The huge pot is ready for action sitting on your cooking surface in the center of your table. You select the veggies, meats, and options you desire for your collaborative soup creation.

At MK making a huge soup!

Soon after servers start delivering bowls and plates to your booth. You place the ingredients in the bowling water … and create your collaborative soup.

The servers seemed quite shocked by the amount of meat Benz and Alexander ordered!! But it was all eaten 😉. Mark and I were introduced to a new veggie tonight—morning glory. Back in Canada I pull out these weeds… here it is a delectable green veggie. Is it the same species I wonder?

Learning about water on Buddha ceremony

After dinner Benz introduced us to the first of many Songkran traditions practiced over Thai New Year. There are different statues of Buddha representing each day of the week. You conduct your water or oil ceremony with the Buddha which matches the day of the week you were born on. As Mark and I were each born on a Friday … We carried out our ceremony on the same Buddha figure who was standing up with hands in a praying position.

Different poses of Buddha

The Songkran Festival is a period when the Thai people cleanse and pour water mixed with Thai fragrance on Buddha images. We saw these Buddha images located in many locations from shopping malls, to hotel lobbies and gas stations. This process is believed to bring good luck to them.

During the Songkran festival we visited several Wats (temples) and were introduced to many aspects of this religious festival in addition to participating in the city water fights!

We also experimented with Thai meals. One local restaurant near our accommodation had a lengthy and intriguing menu. It also had this unusual large, playful fish in an aquarium. After researching I discovered it was a flower horn fish. The fish was at least 25 cm long and moved following your finger. It even swam upside down! I couldn’t resist creating this animation. 🥴

GIF of a Flower Horn Fish

The next few blog posts will contain lots of photos about Songkran in Bangkok!

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Koh Chang to Bangkok via van!

April 11th 2019

The question is… Where is the best location to experience Songkran in Thailand? Well… There are merits to experiencing a more culturally accurate Songkran in rural locations, but we decided to experience the Thai New Year in the huge metropolis of Bangkok!

According to population statistics sources, in 2018 the closest estimate for Bangkok population was 9.59 Million people! As there are a considerable number of unregistered people in Bangkok, it is impossible to establish a more accurate figure. Whatever the population… in April it’s hot and humid!

Bangkok weather during Songkran

Today we travelled by Koh Chang Taxi from Tranquility Bay to Bangkok. The van was pre-booked, but this experience was not as pleasant as our previous experience with this company. The van was older. The driver understood very little English. And he argued with us about previously agreed upon destination points. We had to contact the owner of the company by phone several times during the 7 hour trip northwest to Bangkok.

But… each day is an adventure and here are a few really neat things I observed and found fascinating …

Ferry from Koh Chang to Trat

We traveled from Koh Chang to Trat on a larger ferry this time. It was packed with a diverse population of travellers. Although language and cultural diversity was evident, we all shared the seats, squat toilets, and lines for fresh fruit smoothies!

Interesting wares and ways of Life

It is fascinating to observe how people adapt to the intense heat and humidity here.

Thailand has some amazing artists and their talents are expressed on many types of medium including buses! Here are several buses I was able to capture as our van zipped along the highway. Check out the Michelin men attached to the buses! They are popular here 🥴

Colourful buses and Michelin men

The wider highways, endless taxis and motorcycles, noise and exhaust, architecturally interesting skyscrapers, and endless power lines were a give away that we were back in busy Bangkok! Lovely Apartelle Jatujak Hotel was our home base for the next 6 days and during Songkran.

Bangkok! Home base at Apartelle Jatujak

Our Soi (alley) was narrow but filled with activity and small businesses. We were only a motor cycle taxi ride from Union Mall (12 Baht) each. We ate decadent ice cream with Alexander prior to his return to his apartment Century House near us. Check out the little cutie Thai girl who was practicing her English (Hello and goodbye) with us!

Little cutie at Union Mall

Mark and I picked up a few groceries at nearby Tesco, then returned to our Bangkok home base. Let Songkran begin!

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Koh Chang— Motorcycles, Massages, Moonlight & Monkeys!

April 9th—11th, 2019

Koh Chang is an island of variety and freedom within the wilds of a humid jungle setting surrounded by the Bay of Thailand.

After staying on Koh Chang for a week we have experienced the following: many different beaches, warm oceans and pools, some wonderful places to eat, deep massages for 300 Baht/hour, birds and monkeys, tropical plants and vegetation, daily fresh fruit, seafood, friendly locals, temperatures in the high 30’s with humidity, taxi rides on curvy roads, and endless motorcycles/scooters!

Motorcycles everywhere! Safety?

More of our favorite places to eat… (Buddha View was listed in a previous blog post). Another awesome outdoor restaurant with ambiance is El Greco on the Bang Bao pier. The menu includes Greek, Thai, and Korean food choices. A local fisherman paddled by beside our table, with his daily catch visible in his tiny boat.

El Graco—Bang Bao pier

Another pleasant spot for coffee or breakfast is Arabica Cafe opposite the Bang Bao pier 7-11 store.

Road to pier & Arabica Cafe

If you travel to Lonely Beach area we really enjoyed Ka Chapura Restaurant. The service was great and the Thai food was really delicious —especially the crab according to the rest of my travel partners.

Lonely Beach— Koh Chang

Also in Lonely Beach our bodies were submitted to a second experience with deep and effective massage! For only 300 Baht an hour all 3 of us could enter and exit together departing renewed and revitalized. Afterward we were given tea and a banana. My masseuse even wanted to have a photo taken together before I departed the shop!

Lonely Beach —Talented masseuses!

Returning to the southern end of Koh Chang in the open backed covered trucks they call (taxis), we regularly spotted Macaques monkeys playing on power lines as we zipped past on the curvy, bumpy, narrow roads.

Macaques Monkeys at Tranquility Bay

We were quite surprised to discover a favorite location for some of these monkeys was on the roof of a building directly across from Tranquility Bay resort. We watched the adults and baby Macaques monkeys swing on the power lines and run across the road near our condo. We often heard their calls in the mornings too. Although fascinating… we knew to keep our distance!

Tranquility Bay Coconuts

We truly enjoyed our week at Koh Chang staying at Tranquility Bay resort. The grounds here are glorious and treated so lovingly by the gardeners. When the gardener was removing coconuts from a palm tree near our condo I was watching in fascination. He offered me two beauties but without the tools… we couldn’t crack them open! 🥴

Goodbye Koh Chang!

Our week is over at Koh Chang. It’s time to get back in the van en route to Trat via the ferry, then northward to Bangkok. Our next adventure is to experience Thai New Year—Song Kran— in Bangkok!

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Koh Chang—4 Islands Snorkeling Day Trip to Koh Rang National Marine Park

April 8th, 2019

50 Waterproof Sunscreen (check). Hats (check). Water (check). Swimsuits (check). Rash shirts (check). Watershoes (check). Underwater camera (check). Change of clothes & travel towel (Check). Tickets & Cash (check). We’re off for another adventure exploring and snorkeling around 4 islands in Koh Rang National Marine Park!

4 Islands Snorkling Trip Koh Chang

We pre-purchased our tickets at the Bang Bao pier for the Sattra 4 islands day trip. The Price was 650 Baht each (plus 200 Baht each for Government marine park fee). This price included pick up and drop off at Tranquility Bay, lunch and snorkeling gear. We were informed that Monday in “off season” should be a smaller group… but it wasn’t!

We arrived to discover a packed vessel —both floors were full to the 100 person capacity and people quickly claimed their seats and life jackets! We started up top but discovered the available seating was lacking sufficient airflow, and the heat and humidity resulted in 3 wilting tourists!

Slide show video of 4 Islands Snorkling Trip

Downstairs we discovered 3 seats immediately behind the stairs. The view wasn’t fabulous but it was cooler! This was our base for the 10:30–4:00 pm trip on the Gulf of Thailand (Siam). From this location we received our masks and snorkels (fins were an extra 100 Baht we discovered), and our afternoon food (skewers of bbq chicken, pineapple, and peppers) and trays of fresh watermelon and pineapple. Lunch was a line up buffet style. We also used this vantage point to conveniently drop over the side of the vessel into the ocean for each of the 4 snorkeling or swimming locations!

We saw some amazing different types of coral in 2 locations, abundant supplies of black Sea urchins, and lots of colourful tropical fish in 2 of the 4 locations. But… after snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef we have been spoiled with the abundant variety and colors found elsewhere in this amazing planet of ours! Underwater photos from our waterproof camera will be added after we return to Canada!

Can’t wait to get back into the water!

However, the ocean temperature was like a warm bath and the visibility was mostly good. The 4 locations we visited on our tour were too busy for our liking—with multiple tour boats at the same locations. The tranquility of observing fish in their coral habitat was regularly interrupted by someone’s flippers or arms. But we love new experiences and seeing new areas, so we are grateful for spending this day on the ocean.

We thought we were well protected from the sun and UV rays, but clearly the sun is extremely powerful here and the intense sun burns we received only showed their true colors later in the day! It’s been a daily ritual of aloe vera treatment since then 🥵 Next blog post… Monkeys!

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Koh Chang—Klong Kloi Beach & Tranquility Bay!

April 6th, 2019

Heading East over the hill and down to the ocean we explored a new area. Only 1km east from Bang Bao pier is Klong Kloi beach. It’s a pretty area starting to be discovered for its beauty, yet still far enough from the bustle of Lonely beach closer to the ferry terminal.

Klong Kloi Beach near Tranquility Bay

Some of the road had been eroded during a recent storm (also eliminating our internet for the first few days). We passed bungalows tucked into jungle by the beaches… several offered yoga or smoothie bars! Then came the beach front massage locations.

The road between the two areas

Once we hit the sand we continued walking past beach bars and a lengthy row of beach chairs. Around the corner was more private and less congested. We located a fancy outdoor bar with swings and chairs. This was our base for several hours. The ocean was refreshing yet warm with such high salt content that we all floated carelessly bobbing on the waves.

Klong Kloi Beach bar!

After returning to our Hotel we opted for swimming pool water and relaxing under umbrellas at our beautiful resort. When the temperature is 30 plus 80+ humidity it feels close to 40 degrees!! Regular quick intervals of immersion in the water then hiding under shade with lots of sun protection was a perfect fit.

Tranquility Bay resort pool & view

The grounds at Tranquility Bay resort are stunning and every day during this intense heat male gardeners were busy maintaining their beauty. From bamboo hedges and palm trees to multiple species of local flowers this flora enticed a wide variety of bugs, amphibians, reptiles (we didn’t see any snakes there), Song birds, and Macaques monkeys!

Beauty around Tranquility Bay resort

We really were on the edge of a jungle here.

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Koh Chang —From Busy Bang Bao Pier to White Sand Beach & Buddha View

Early April 2019

Hot and Humid with a little taste of storm (Lightning/Thunder) is today’s reality! But the storm passed quickly and we were off exploring. Today’s plan is to further explore Bang Bao pier (about 1km walk); take a taxi (covered back of a truck with bench seats) to Big C store in White Sand beach area; then embrace the end of our light with a sunset dinner at lovely Buddha View Open restaurant.

Taxi ride north to White Sand Beach

We caught a taxi to White Sand beach to get groceries. It’s a lengthy ride north back towards the ferry terminal which is augmented by the discomfort of being bounced around in the back bench seat of a truck as it swerved around tight hairpin corners barely missing other vehicles and scooters, while breathing in the exhaust fumes right below you! Clearly not my favorite mode of transit!

Price for the taxi ride is negotiated by you and the driver prior to you jumping into the back. Prices varied with different drivers. This section was 150 Baht/person.

Lunch, massages, groceries at Big C

We decided to grab lunch and have a massage prior to getting groceries at Big C. There are many lovely spots to enjoy Thai food off the main roads. Toilets aren’t always available though, so watch for them as you travel. A toilet facility was near to our lunch location. The price was 10 Baht each for a few squares of toilet paper and the use of a public toilet.

There are so many massage locations in Koh Chang and the prices are pretty compatible… but the expertise of the “women” (haven’t seen a male yet) varies. We hit a home run in White Sand beach! All 3 of us had 1 hour massages with oil, then tea. The 3 women were amazing and so strong and effective. The total price was 850 Baht which equates to less than $40 Canadian!!! After getting groceries we took another taxi back to our home base.

Bang Bao pier area

Off we walked past the Wat (mediation center) toward the pier. We’re getting familiar with all the landmarks—scooter rental locations, our favorite fresh fruit stand where the lady will slice up any fruit in front of you, (Mango, limes, papaya, bananas, dragon fruit, coconut, mangosteens, lychee, etc), the only drug mart, massage shops, the laundry shop (40 baht for 1kg of dirty laundry), and the ever popular 7–11 store and taxi base.

As you approach the wooden pier you encounter the Rasta stand, gelato stand, coffee shops, then the souvenirs, colourful clothing, fresh fish and seafood, Thai food, and endless small souvenirs shops!

Bang Bao Pier

Everyone heading for a boat excursion must walk down the lengthy pier to the waiting vessels. The pathway is narrow and packed with endless tiny shops, fresh food, and little cafes on both sides of the path. In addition to locals and tourists walking through this covered path, watch out for the constant stream of scooters, motorcycles, and metal carts filled with wares! (Especially early morning and after 4 pm).

Buddha View restaurant in pm

At the end of the covered section of the pier you will discover open space and a more relaxed setting with a few delightful restaurants. Buddha View is well worth locating and quite delightful! There are a few areas where you can sit on pillows at a low tables and let your legs dangle over the open water.

Back again! Buddha View for dinner!

The Thai food was wonderful and the sunset sublime. This was an awesome way to end another full day at Koh Chang with my 2 favorite guys! 😉

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Koh Chang—Bob Marley, Mornings and Ways to Explore!

April 4th to 10th, 2019

Our week on Koh Chang was apparently a quiet time to visit the island. This was the week prior to Song Kran (Thai New Year) and after Spring Break period for overseas tourists. It was the hot and “dry” season here.

Tranquility Bay Resort—Koh Chang

Bob Marley has a strong presence on this island. Directed at tourists? We didn’t see many locals sporting his colourful red, yellow, and green apparel, hairbag, or dreds. Yet, there were numerous shops sporting his colours and selling souvenirs as well as “Hippy shack” and “Rasta” promotion. In fact, ironically the elaborate Tranquility Bay resort complex was nestled between Rasta colours and lower cost “hippy” huts.

We ate our first dinner at Rastaview located beside our resort sitting on cushions on the floor overlooking the jungle as dogs and cats wandered around and lay beside you or on the tables. Hygiene wasn’t a priority and although the location was unique, and had a definite following, it wasn’t our scene.

RastaView —Koh Chang

Our Airbnb at the Tranquility Bay Resort was large (2 bedrooms 2 bathrooms), self contained, and had a magnificent view from the main area and master bedroom. My son’s cooking skills were revisited after a lengthy hiatus! We enjoyed our breakfasts on the deck listening to the birds, monkeys, and local geckos and lizards.

There were 2 geckos living inside the condo that made chirping sounds periodically. I never saw them, but the guys did on rare occasions. They didn’t bother us and we figured they were consuming unwanted bugs!

Breakfasts with Geckos/lizards

In terms of transportation… Taxis ran constantly and usually had room (truck with open back, covered roof, and bench seats), and rental scooters were available in every beach area and most accommodation locations.

Booking boat tours to nearby islands or to go fishing was also painless. Booking agents were available in all the major beach areas and tours supplied taxis to pick up from your accommodations. Weekends were more popular than weekdays, but we had no trouble accessing availability for tours. Another blog post will follow dedicated to our day snorkelling and exploring islands.

Getting around Koh Chang

You can also book vans for longer trips. We booked vans to transport us from Bangkok to Koh Chang and return. However, in spite of the heat… our choice as the main means of transportation for distances of a few kilometres was walking.

We experienced the sites and sounds of the surrounding jungle; and we saw enough scooter accidents on the narrow, windy, eroded roads to avoid that mode of transport here. While walking we were immersed in the sounds of tropical birds, frogs, insects (especially cicadas), and monkeys— as well as vehicle motors! Road kill victims were mainly large squashed frogs/toads, geckos, and 1 snake! There is much to experience here on hot and humid Koh Chang.

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Thailand—From Bangkok to Koh Chang

April 4th 2019

This morning I finally got to reunite with my son Alexander! He’s been working at Western Digital and living in Bangkok for over 5 years now. Our last visit was nearly a year ago in Canada. I miss him so much it pains my heart— I’m sure any mother would understand this emotion if their only child was half way across the globe! But I understand his draw to this lush, beautiful country and it’s amicable, caring citizens. When the van arrived at our hotel I didn’t want our embrace to end!

Reunion between mom & son in Bangkok

April is hot and humid in Thailand! Thai Travel websites list late April and May as the hottest months in most of Thailand… but apparently it’s also the dry season. What we’ve discovered so far, is that the humidity and heat combined will take some adjustment for our N. American bodies.

An unexpected surprise is there isn’t an over abundance of tourists at this time and it’s school break in Thailand, so we get to interact with Thai families. The young children are so cute!

Reunion & Bangkok road trip

We prebooked a transport company Taxi Koh Chang Asia in Koh Chang to pick up Alexander at his apartment then us at our Bangkok AT Suvarnabhumi Residence airport hotel in a private air conditioned van then drive us all the way to our next residence Tranquility Bay on the island of Koh Chang in the province of Trat.

Koh Chang is the 2nd largest island in Thailand on the Eastern coast with a population of about 6,000. We were staying at Bang Bao near the south of the island.

Bangkok to Trat Road Trip

The trip in the van was very interesting and comfortable . Our driver chose to avoid some of the traffic by taking an inner highway route instead of the coastal road.

Once we arrived at the Trat ferry terminal another man from the taxi company collected the 5,000 Baht cash fee for the van service door to door from Bangkok locations to our next residence at Koh Chang. Thank goodness for air conditioning! Most of the staff working at the ferry terminal wore hats, sunglasses, neck guards, long sleeved shirts, and either long pants or long skirts (females).

Ferry from Trat to Koh Chang

The ferry ride was a 45 minute crossing and quite pleasant. The scenery was lovely and you could sit or stand to observe the views. There was even a small snack shop on board the vessel. When we arrived at Tranquility Bay resort we unpacked then explored…