Guiyang is truly a city of extremes. Just yesterday, the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius, and I had the windows in my classroom open so I could enjoy the cool breeze and the sun’s rays. Today, the view that lies before me as I blog at our favorite hang out (I’ll give you 3 guesses…) couldn’t be more different. People are bundled up, with the arms around themselves trying to stay warm. There was a 20 degree drop over night and Guiyang is once more overcast and dreary. I’m grateful for the little bit of sun we did get, but I am a tad mournful that our two nicest days were the days that I spend inside, teaching back to back classes.
Here are some pictures from our lovely weekend:
And Guiyang now…
But whether isn’t the only way Guiyang likes to shock us with its extremes. For example:
Nope…not even close…
To be fair, the area isn’t usually THIS bad, but one of the businesses in the building is renovating and decided to dump all their garbage outside the back doors. I’m terrified a rat is going to jump out the garbage heap and attack me.
And if garbage heaps aren’t enough for you, there are also these open gutters to scare the bajeepers out of you. The local noodle place and many other little businesses (as well as pedestrians) throw their garbage in here and it’s developing quite the collection. This could be solved by putting a metal grate over the gutter, but that would probably be too much work, so instead I have to hop over this to get to the school daily. I’m not going to lie…the first time I saw it I gagged a little lol. Scooters sometimes drive over it and splash people as they walk by….when that happens, you have to walk around smelling like garbage water all day. Not fun…
But not all of Guiyang is open sewers and garbage piles…if you drive for 10 minutes to HuaGuoYuan, then you get this view:
Or 5 minutes away from the school, this area is also quite new and shiny:
So yes, Guiyang is the city of contrast. But I suppose I should get on to writing about a place that has no contrast at all. The Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand has one mode: Go Grand, or Go Home!!!
The Grand Palace has been home to Thailand’s Royalty since 1782. Today, the grounds are more of a tourist attraction than anything, but Royal ceremonies and State functions are still held there several times a year.
I was surprised to learn that The Grand Palace is not a singular giant structure, but really a large number of small buildings that vary in a great deal of ways. In the 200 years that the Palace has sat in Bangkok, pavilions, chapels and halls were erected, all reflecting the time period in which they were built. The resulting diversity within the grounds is fascinating.
Also worth noting is the sheer size of the Grand Palace. At 2,351,000 sq feet, it would take several hours to view the whole Palace, a feat neither Dave or myself were ready to take on. We arrived on February 19th, under a scorching Bangkok sun. Between the heat, the tourists and our long pants and shirts (there is a strict dress code at The Grand Palace), we weren’t up for seeing the grounds in their entirety. So we hit up the major attractions and took lots of breaks in any shaded areas we could find.
But if I were to tell you that the diversity of the buildings or the size of the place were the most remarkable things about The Grand Palace, I would be doing it a great disservice. No amount of photography could possible capture the elaborate detail here. Every inch of every building was designed to be beautiful and ornate. It was so Grand that if you didn’t stop and actually look at it, you might not even notice the level of detail at all. It is all THAT detailed!!!
We walked around for about an hour, taking pictures of different halls and structures. We went into a few buildings as well, although we weren’t allowed having our cameras out in them. I understand the reasoning, to an extent. Having cameras flashing while Buddhists try and pray in front of the sacred Emerald Buddha would be incredibly disrespectful. Still, as a non-Buddhist I was a little sad I couldn’t get a shot or two in while in Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha). I did manage to get one decent shot from outside the building though, and I found a picture online of the different robes he wears, depending on the season.
We also saw some of the Throwns that former Kings used while living in the Grand Palace, which was sort of neat. We also weren’t able to take pictures in those buildings, but one of them had a massive fan where I was able to cool down! It was a highlight of the day for me!! haha!!
There are actual guards at the Palace too. Just like you’d see at Buckingham Palace, tourists were making faces and taking pictures with the guards, as they solemnly stood guard to some of the more important buildings on the grounds.
So that is The Grand Palace. I’m not disappointed that we went, but I can hardly say that it was the highlight of our Bangkok experience. I suppose Dave and I tend to not like the really ‘touristy’ stuff, so that could be why I didn’t enjoy it more. But on the other hand, the history lover in me LOVED seeing the different buildings. It’s definitely worth a stop while you’re in Bangkok!!
My next post is going to be about night life in Thailand! I’ll be writing about the famous Bangla Road in Phuket, Kao San Road in Bangkok and of course, the famed Thai Lady-Boys!!
Well, my second semester at Interlingua is now in full swing and I have to admit it is off to a much better start than the first semester! It’s always difficult taking over another teacher’s classes, but when that teacher is loved by students, management and colleagues alike, it’s a little hard to match up. Somehow I persevered and have proven my abilities.
Since our return from Thailand, I’ve had several parents come to the school specifically asking for me to teach their children. Mostly these parents are referrals from parents whose children I already teach. I’ve also had great feedback from management at the school, who appreciate my organizational skills and diligent lesson planning. I’ve been asked to extend my contract here and even the other teachers have begun to ask for my help when they are having difficulty with particularly shy students. I feel like super-teacher again!! I can’t even explain how great that feels!!!
But none of that can top how valued my students make me feel. My kindergarten students in particular are sweet, affectionate and love coming to my classes. This week I’ve been teaching them family member vocabulary (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother, Grandma, Grandpa…) and then also teaching them phrases that they can use this vocabulary with (Mommy is happy, I have 2 sisters). On Sunday I taught them a new phrase: “I love my ______”. I play a game with them where they have to throw my fuzzy dice at the black board and whichever drawing they hit, they have to make a sentence with it. So if they throw the die and it hits my drawing of ‘mommy’ they have to say ‘I love my mommy’. Of course, I always draw myself on the blackboard as well, so they have a reference as to how these bubble drawings are related to me, and before I knew it, they made it a game of throwing the die at MY picture, so that they could say ‘I love my Marie!!!!’. It was so sweet I could have scooped them all up and hugged ’em forever!!!
But I suppose I’ve gushed enough now. (If you hadn’t caught on yet…I love my job)
BACK TO THAILAND!!!
Ayutthaya was founded in 1350AD by a King trying to escape a small pox epidemic. It became the capital of Thailand or Siam, as it was known at the time. Fast forward to 1767, when the Burmese army invaded and burnt the city to the ground. What’s left today are the stone structures that survived the sack of Ayutthaya…
We took the train down to the old city, which was apparently the cheapest way to get there but provided the best views. It cost us a total of 40 Bhat to get there and only 30 Bhat to return ($1.54 and $1.16 respectively), so we definitely didn’t break the bank on the trip. Also, it’s a fairly popular destination, so it was no problem to get help at the train station, even though many of the staff didn’t speak much English.
I had done a bit of reading ahead of time, so when we arrived in the ancient city, we knew our best option for getting around was by scooter. I would have never been brave enough to drive myself (in Thailand, they drive on the opposite side of the road), but Dave is brave that way, and before long we were cruising around the city, in search of some lunch.
We found a tiny little restaurant (we weren’t even sure if it was a restaurant at first!) before too long, and the woman who greeted us quickly set off to cook us something we hadn’t yet ordered. This was probably for the best, as we know basically none of the Thai language and wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway. What she brought us was delicious 🙂
Next we set off to find us some ruins…
We found 3 different sites, and each was unique in its own way. Three happens to be the perfect number of items to have on a list such as this, so I shall continue this post in list form. Also, I can’t remember the actual name for each site, so I’ve dubbed them by their defining features instead.
Sight #1: Wat Maheyong
I saw the very first elephant I’ve seen in my life as we drove up to this site. It was being ridden, which wasn’t ideal, but it was still there…He was an enormous male, with long tusks. He had 2 people in the chair and a mahout riding his neck. Before long we saw many more elephants, all being ridden around a beautiful scene of burnt stone and open fields.
We didn’t know it at the time, but these were actually the most plain ruins that we saw the whole day…we were still impressed!!
Before long, we decided to see what else Ayutthaya had to offer, so we began to head back to the scooter. That’s when the rain started…
You know what they say though…February shows, allow Marie to make new friends??? We ran inside where there was shelter. Nobody likes scooting in the rain!!! That’s where I met this lovely lady.
I didn’t want to ride the elephants, but I had no problem feeding her so that’s where we spent our Bhat instead. Elephants are SUCH cool eaters!!! Their trunks are absolutely amazing!!!
When we ran out of bananas, we bid the sweet girl farewell and wandered over through the market for a while. There wasn’t much to see, but we did run into some tigers that were quite obviously drugged for picture taking purposes. I won’t go into too much detail here (I’m planning a whole post on how to be an Eco-conscious tourist in the near future), but neither of us were disappointed when we couldn’t get pictures of the sleepy animal. Instead, we went and visited some more elephants, who weren’t drugged. They were mostly just curious of us (and hoping we had bananas for them!!)
After a run in with some sales people claiming to sell ivory jewellery (see my post: Thailand an Overview Part 1 for more details on that little adventure…), the rain cleared and we left in search of some more ruins. What we found…was more elephants!! (and some INCREDIBLE ruins!!)
Sight #2 – Wat Phra Kam
It wasn’t long after we left Wat Maheyong that we started spotting more elephants. We figured there were probably ruins nearby, so we turned in and found a place to park the scooter.
There was an entrance fee to this set of ruins, but it was well worth the 50bhat ($1.91) we paid to get in. I’ll let the photos do the explaining…
When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya, they didn’t just burn the city to the ground. The plan was to annihilate the population; nothing was safe. Their buildings were burnt and their culture was destroyed. Not even their sacred places were spared. When I was in Inner Mongolia, years ago, I witnessed the same sort of defilement. When the Japanese army had invaded China during WW2, they destroyed many temples. One particular temple stood out to me…the temple itself is still in Baotou, but every single Buddha that had been carved into the stone (there were hundreds!) had had its nose chipped off. Desecration of religious space is common in times of war.
Sight #3: Wat Barom Buddha Ram
There are so many sights to see in Ayutthaya. Although I’d read online that it was a cool place to visit, I hadn’t realized just HOW cool, so we’d only scheduled a half day to see it all. As a result, we missed out on many of the neat things there were to see. With our tight schedule, we had to pick and choose where we would stop, so after visiting Wat Phra Ram, we quickly zipped over to the most famous sight in Ayutthaya: Wat Barom Buddha Ram. You’ll see why it’s famous in the pictures below.
So that was Ayutthaya! If you’re ever out near Bangkok, I HIGHLY recommend taking the day trip! Especially if you’re a history nut, like me! It’s a neat city and we didn’t even see half of what there was to see! I guess that just means we’ll have to go back…
I’ll be away until next week (I won’t be popular this weekend…it’s test time!!!), but when I return, I’ll be blogging about The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand!
Starbucks has become an integral part of of our lives here in Guiyang. We sometimes go to other cafes, because they are closer to home or because they have cats to keep us company, but nothing really compares to the atmosphere at Starbucks. The Baristas now all know us by name and we’re always welcomed warmly when we visit. It’s nice being somewhere that not only has indoor heating, but where the customer service is good and the coffee is always fresh. Signs like these are an added bonus:
But Starbucks isn’t just a place to relax. I do most of my blogging and journaling here as of late, and Dave has been working hard to complete is TEFL certification, so that he can do some teaching if he so desires. Teaching is an excellent way to meet people, after all, and the extra income means we can take more trips, so there are really no downsides 🙂
Onto Bangkok, Ayutthya and Chiang Mai!!
The Best of Bangkok First, I must state how much I LOVED Bangkok! There was something about that city that I can’t exactly explain. It’s modernity, liveliness and history all combine to provide the experience of a lifetime. It’s actually very difficult for me to summarize the best things quickly, but I will do my best to try.
As is often the case, the food was a highlight for us. Our first dinner in Bangkok was an incredible array of seafood that was about half the price of the cheapest food we’d eaten in Phuket (where we never actually had a seafood dinner because the prices were so high!). The best meal we had though was at a western style bakery near our hostel. I was actually able to order a smoked salmon sandwich (with capers, REAL mayonnaise and everything!!!) on a toasted EVERYTHING bagel!! They also had cream of broccoli soup, which I hadn’t even dared to hope for in Asia. Once more, this may not be exciting for all of you back home…but good bread is enough to get me excited…never mind a proper smoked salmon bagel!!! And as though the food wasn’t enough, I also found A&W root beer at 7-11! I sipped it and savored every drop!!
But there is so much more to Bangkok than good food! There is a great deal of culture there, and in the markets you can find everything from clothing and souvenirs, to flower offerings and seafood.
The most adventurous thing we did in Bangkok happened our last night there, on Kao San Road (it’s the backpacker’s party road). Although culturally irrelevant, Bangkok has become known for it’s ‘deep fried bugs’. Just as Cuba is known for their wooden carvings (although they are not popular within the culture itself…just among tourists), people flock to Kao San Road to try deep fried scorpion, tarantula, cockroach and grasshopper. The Thais we met thought it was quite funny that tourists will pay to try to these things, but we figured we may as well give the fried critters a try!
The Worst of Bangkok
I actually had to ask Dave what the worst of Bangkok was, because I couldn’t really think of anything myself. In Phuket our options for getting around were to use the shuttle bus (which stopped running at 8pm every day), hop in a tuk tuk, or hop in a taxi. The taxis and tuk tuks there all refused to use meters, and instead just charged a flat rate that they’d all agreed on at some point, so you couldn’t get a better deal from using one over the other. But in Bangkok, taxi drivers are far more honest. They will sometimes try to use a flat rate, but if you request that they use the meter, they do. As a result, the tuk tuk drivers can’t get away with being as greedy, so the prices are generally a lot better.
The only exception is at the Grand Palace. There, the tuk tuk drivers run several scams that involve getting tourists to go with them to jewelry stores and clothing shops, where they are given a cut of your purchase by the shop owners. They’re quite sneaky with this scheme as well…they tell tourists that the grand palace is closed until *x*pm, but that they (the generous tuk tuk driver) will drive you around the city for a nominal fee until the palace is open again. It’s gotten so bad that there are actually announcements played outside the palace, warning tourists of the scams. We had one guy try it with us, but I’d read about it ahead of time so we just walked right by him, but one of the teachers I work with, who also visited Bangkok, did not get off so lucky. He was taken to several stores before he caught on and nearly had to get into a fight with the driver before he finally agreed to drive them back to the palace.
The Grand Palace was also a bit of a downer. Although it’s incredibly beautiful and unbelievable ornate, the crowds are ridiculous, and in the heat of Bangkok in February, it was a little too much for me to handle. Add on the fact that you have to be wearing a long skirt or pants and that your arms can’t be showing, and I was ready to pass out from the heat. We didn’t spend much time there, but I did get quite a few amazing pictures that I’ll be sharing in a future post 🙂
The Best of Ayutthya
Although we only spent 1 short day in Ayutthya, it gets a spot in my ‘overview’ post due to its sheer awesomeness. I encourage anyone who visits Bangkok to take the 1 hour train ride (that only costs 40bhat round trip!!!) to the old city to see the sights. We loved our day there and I wish we’d been able to spend the night. The best part of the city was definitely its ruins. It was once Thailand’s capital city, before the Burmese burnt it to the ground, and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. We got so many beautiful pictures there!! Plus, we rented a motorbike, so we had a lot of freedom, going where we wanted when we wanted, which was a nice change after all the tours we’d done in Phuket.
The Worst of Ayutthya
I never thought I’d consider seeing elephants and tigers as being the worst thing about a city, but in this case it was. The elephants weren’t terribly abused (from what we saw), but the Mahoots did have long hooks out, ready to hit the elephants in the head with them if they misbehaved. The little shops there also sold toy Mahoot hooks for children, which, to me at least, is horrifying. Teaching children from a young age that it’s appropriate to hit an animal in the face with a sharp hook is not something I think should be done. But it is…
Worse yet, we saw several jewelry shops that were selling curious white rings and necklaces. I went over at one point and tried to look interested. A woman approached me and said ‘Elephant bone. Very beautiful’. I asked ‘oh, they aren’t ivory?’. She replied ‘no, but THESE are ivory!!!’. Dave pulled me away before I could tear her apart too badly, but she did get an earful, and at the very least, she knew that I was NOT impressed. I have a feeling that they weren’t legit ivory, because if they were, they wouldn’t be sold out in the open that way, but just the advertisement that they ARE ivory, perpetuates the trade, and that is not something I can stomach or tolerate.
The Best of Chiang Mai
Anyone who knows me at all, knows where this is going! We probably wouldn’t have visited Thailand’s second largest city if it hadn’t been for Elephant Nature Park. When we decided to go to Thailand for Spring Festival, Dave knew that it would kill me if we went and I didn’t get to spend some time with elephants, so we started doing some research. We are both very against cruelty against animals, and consider the use of animals for human entertainment to be a form of cruelty (I’ll be discussing why I feel this way in an upcoming post), so we were very picky on where we would be spending our money in Thailand (the best thing an individual can do to stop injustice is to vote with their dollar. It’s also why I don’t support companies like Apple and Nike, who have been proven to use child labor in their factories). After a great deal of reading, we found Elephant Nature Park. Instead of riding the elephants and watching them paint pictures (which may seem harmless, but the training they are given to do such things is unspeakably cruel), you get to watch them BE ELEPHANTS. We signed up to stay the night and had the experience of a lifetime. Please believe me when I say I have pictures and stories to share that will be worth reading!!
But the elephants weren’t the only perk to staying at Elephant Nature Park. We were surrounded by animals our whole stay there! We even had a ‘pet’ dog who stayed at our cabin. When we came back in the evening to grab some bug repellent, he ran down the road to greet us…thoroughly happy to see us back! ENP truly cares about animals. They’ve rescued over 40 elephants, 400 dogs, 100 cats and even 70 water buffalo! It was so nice to see animals that were well cared for and who are being given good homes and learning that not all humans are cruel.
The Worst Of Chiang Mai
Like Bangkok, I had do some thinking to think of a bad part of our time in Chiang Mai. We both enjoyed ourselves so much during our stay at ENP, as well as during our time IN Chiang Mai, that it’s hard to think of a negative thing to say. We did have one rather irritating experience though…
We rented a scooter so that we could visit a waterfall near Chiang Mai. About 20 minutes into a trip, we were pulled over by a police officer who asked to see our licenses. We were both wearing helmets and in China, you don’ t need a license to drive these scooters (nor do you in Thailand…we saw many many foreigners riding them and I can’t imagine any of them having international drivers licences). We told him that we had Canadian drivers licenses, but that they were at the hotel (we make a point of never traveling with all our ID in the same place. We had our passports with us, so we left our drivers licenses at home, thinking they wouldn’t be needed).
It turns out the cop only wanted a bribe. He told us we’d have to leave my passport with him, go to the police station and pay a 1000bhat fee for a license. I was not about to leave my passport with anyone I didn’t know (I learned my lesson in China. All of a sudden they don’t know which passport you’re talking about, but if you give them some money, it might help them remember…), so instead we offered to pay him. We knew that’s what he was getting at anyway.
We didn’t have a whole lot of cash left, as it was the last day of our holiday, and he made fun of us for being ‘broke foreigners’. It took everything in me not to tell him off for taking advantage of his position as cop. I wanted to tell him that he should be ashamed for robbing people and leaving us with such a bad impression of a country we’d otherwise really loved. But instead, I shut my mouth and we went on our way. I’ve learned through my travels that lipping off to authority is almost never in your best interest…
So that concludes my overview of our stay in Thailand. There will be much more detailed posts to come, with stories about our Snorkeling Tours (the bad…), our time in Ayutthya (the good) and our day in the James Bond Hongs and at Elephant Nature Park (THE AWESOME!!)
My apologies for the delay in this post. I’ve actually had it done for days, but haven’t had the internet to post it (or to add the last couple of pictures). I had originally planned on posting a lot more this week…but fate seems to be working against me. Or at least the Chinese internet companies seem to be working against me…