Merlion symbol of Singapore

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cycling in Thailand

Our latest adventure was a cycling trip to Thailand. A friend and I started out the trip on a Central Thailand outing with SpiceRoads, an Asian cycling tour company. We met up in Bangkok where our guide picked us up and we headed out to the floating markets. Here everything is sold on the water, even including food they have made on the boats. Although there seemed to be more tourists than locals, the sights and smells were unique. I sampled the coconut ice cream (my favorite) and here it came in a coconut shell with pieces of fresh coconut in the bottom. We boarded one of the long tail boats and cruised through the canals, along floating houses; kids bathing in the water and low hanging bridges. We got on our bikes and started riding through the countryside, lots of rice fields all around. The lunch stop was near a 200 year old temple that had been taken over by a Banyan Tree. Hoping back on the bikes we continued on our journey, discovering that part of the trail was actually a narrow sidewalk in front on the houses with the canal on the other side. Apart from a few scares with barking dogs, no one fell in. The hotel that evening was in Kanchanaburi and the pool was a welcoming sight.
Cycling path along the canal

200 year old temple

Temple covered in Banyan Tree roots

Bike path up and over the stairs

Coconut ice cream in a shell

Hotel pool

Floating market

Tourists at the floating market

Cooking on the boats

Houses along the canal

Lots of flowers along the canal

Day 2 was a visit to the war museum, cemetery and the “Bridge over the River Kwai.” We actually took the train along the tracks built by the POWs during WWII, beautiful scenery along the river with lots of flowers in bloom. It was an open air train, but the breeze kept it cool. The wooden seats did get hard after a while, but luckily the lunch stop arrived just in time. Lunch was along the river and then back on the bikes riding onto our next stop. We got into the hotel just before the lightning and thunder started, so much for swimming. We listened to the pouring rain and finally braved our way through the river that had formed in the parking lot to dinner.
Bridge over the River Kwai

Floating restaurants on River Kwai

Hotel on the River Kwai

Hanging out of the train taking photos

Temple in Khmer architecture style from Cambodia

The next morning’s ride started from the hotel and continued into the country side. We rode along dirt roads that were primarily rice fields, taro plants, banana trees and rubber plants. It was so peaceful to not have to worry about cars anywhere. We came upon two large Buddhas, hard to believe enough people would be in this area to see them. At the end of the ride the van picked us up and drove us to Ayutthaya, the early capital of Thailand where we spent the night. Dinner was at a great place on the river, hard to believe that only a few months earlier the river had been up over the roof of all the places along there.
Gold and Silver Buddhas

The next morning we got up early to go to the local market; food and flowers everywhere. The flowers are for temple offerings both at home and at the village temples. After a tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel, we rode through the town and toured numerous temples before going on to the summer palace of the king. The architecture is completely European as an earlier king had studied in England and brought back ideas from his time there. Some of the buildings are open to the public and you can tour the grounds. The king and royal family still use some of the residences to get away from Bangkok. It is cooler here and much less congestion and noise. That night they returned us to Bangkok and we met up with our husbands for our weekend tour. The hotel on the river was fantastic and we could have easily spent the weekend there, but the next morning we were picked up for our tour of the wine country.
Vegetables at the market

Flowers for temple offerings

Making temple offerings

Tuk-Tuk ride back from the market

Reclining Buddha

Buddhas around the temple grounds

Buddha face taken over by Banyan Tree

Largest gold Buddha in Thailand

Elephant topiary at summer palace

Building at the summer palace
Yes, it is true; two hours north of Bangkok is a wine country. They grow mostly Chenin Blanc and Syrah grapes, so it is warm, but drier than most of Thailand. The houses and terrain reminded me more of Napa than Thailand. Many wealthy people have second homes in the area, which are large and modern. The wine was actually very good, but not a bargain price wise as most of Thailand is. The winemakers are trained in Germany and New Zealand and they had all the latest equipment including wine barrels from France. It is similar to Napa in that the owners have made their money in other areas and then start a winery. We spent the weekend cycling through the area, tasting wine and touring temples. As with every trip we have to have a point at which Bob is sure I am trying to do him in. This trip was no exception as we climbed the 650 stairs up to the large Buddha. Once we got there he did agree the view was worth it, but in the heat it is slow process. All in all a great trip!
View from Bangkok hotel room on the river

Rooster temple

House in the wine country

More wine country houses

Cycling through the vineyards

Bob cycling to the winery

Khao Yai Winery

Lunch at the winery

Hiking up to a temple in a cave

Buddha on the hill

15 story tall Buddha

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Outside of the tooth relic temple
I recently visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown. Although it was only opened in 2007, it was built in the traditional Tang Dynasty style using no nails to hold the five storey building together. The temple is dedicated to the future incarnation of Buddha called Maitreya. The temple is interesting for the front and back both offer statues of Buddha for offering prayers. The front, central worship area is used primarily by the local monks and chanting can be heard most days. The back Buddha is for people to visit and bring offerings. There are many statues of Buddha all around the temple and most have been purchased by families to bring them luck and good fortune. The money raised was used to build the temple. There are also many gods to offer prayers to for different blessings. The tooth relic itself is located in a gold stupa on the top floor. Because the area is sacred, no photography is allowed and you must take your shoes off to enter. There is so much gold all around that it would be difficult to take pictures anyway as even the ones below are too bright. There is claimed to be over 400 kg of gold in the room. The tooth is so small you can't really see it, but they have monitors around the hall so you can get a closer look. It is brought out twice a year for the general public, otherwise only the monks can enter the room where it is kept. Glass windows allow you to see into the area. The tooth was found in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar and given to the monks in Singapore for safe keeping. They decided that a magnificent temple needed to be built to honor this relic. There are also two floors of museums with many other donations of Buddha artifacts.

Buddha statues decorating the walls of the temple

Main area where the monks perform chanting

There are gods for each of the Chinese horoscopes; this is year of the Monkey

A local making an offering to Buddha

Prayer wheel in the pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, they are all lining the walls

Rooftop garden and prayer wheel

Looking down on the main area

Friday, January 20, 2012


My friend Lydia came from California last week for a visit to Singapore and Bali. We did the standard sightseeing activities of Singapore; water taxi on the river, drinks at the top of the Marina Bay Sands, plus many museums looking at art and textiles. It was interesting to see the city through an artist's eyes. We were lucky to find the decorated elephants all lined up ready for auction the following week. There were 162 of them displayed first around Singapore and then all together in the Botanic Garden; what a sight. They ended up raising over $1million for the Save the Asian Elephants campaign. The one decorated like a durian fruit was a personal favorite.

From Singapore we flew to Bali for four days, staying in Ubud, the artist capital of Bali. We were able to visit artist studios, weaving shops, museums, do several hikes and walk on the beach. Although the Ubud area has grown immensely since my first visit 25 years ago, there are still a lot of quiet, agricultural areas and many temples. The Balinese are mainly Hindu and worship multiple gods; giving offerings daily. Every morning at our bungalow the staff would be out placing the small offerings not only at the temple area but along the walkways and on their vehicles. The people are so friendly, and beautiful, especially the kids.

As usual we had to have an adventure. Following the guide book for a hike between Kastala and Tenganan to see the ancient village and weaving there; our driver dropped us off as close as he could get to Kastala. Even getting there involved stopping to ask locals along the way, getting lots of advice and probably telling our driver we were crazy! We got to Kastala and were greeted by a family requesting a "donation" to get across the bamboo bridge to start the hike. We signed the register and paid our donation and were told we really needed a guide. As the price seemed high and the guidebook indicated it was a known trail we started down the hill. The guide continued telling us we needed help and dropped his price. He seemed knowledgeable and the price dropped to $5 for each of us so we hired him. What a life saver, we would never have found our way after getting across the bamboo bridge-which consisted of three large pieces of bamboo lashed together. The trail was mostly along a water canal to bring water to the rice fields and often was through the fields themselves. We came upon small villages and a school, but then would set off through the jungle again. In one village our guide found his buddies and we stopped for a drink of rice wine; one sip was plenty. We watched them thrashing rice by hand and sweeping it off the driveway into bags for market. Just as we came to the end the skies opened up and it started pouring. Our guide had us run to a home of some people he knew and they fed us pineapple, durian, bananas and showed us their basket weaving and cloth weaving as we waited out the storm. The rest of the walk then became wading through a stream that the trail had become to get from the village. In the end it was the best $5 we spent and we gave him a large tip for getting us through the rice fields and out of the rain.
To see Lydia's pictures of the trip go to:
More Save the Elephants statues, auctioned off to raise money for Asian Elephants

Save the Elephants Campaign, this one decorated to look like a Durian fruit
Shop in Celeluk, town known for silver work

Offerings at our bungalow
Local stonework

Home and artist studio and temple; all in one

11th century memorials to royalty
White herons in the trees, they look like flowers

Water temple, women are being blessed in the water

Rice terraces and worker

Yarn being dyed before putting on the loom
Lydia and I walking through the rice fields

Kids going down the water canal on a banana tree stalk