Soon after we embarked on our round the world trip James’ Mom (Mary) and her boyfriend Eric began planning a major trip of their own to China and Paris, with a stop in Bangkok to see us. To keep costs down we took an overnight train from south Thailand to Bangkok. Unfortunately our train was late. 12 hours late. So we wound up spending the night in the train station and when our train finally arrived, I had no problems falling fast asleep on my bunk bed.
The next night we were reunited with Mary and met Eric for the first time, just a few hours after their long flight from China. They had an extraordinary time in China visiting the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, Tiananmen Square, the Yangtze river and more! It was great to see Mary and Eric in Bangkok, not to mention the whirlwind tour they were coming off of. I think the thrill of seeing James on the other side of the planet refueled Mary’s energy cause we all stayed up pretty late and they must have been exhausted.
Eric has traveled to Bangkok several times for business so he had a few places in mind that he was excited to share with us. It was really nice to relax and have a plan, without doing the research! Our first day together was spent relaxing at the hotel pool, enjoying Tiger beers and chicken satay (ok everyone else enjoyed that). Mary and I were each outfitted in our own brilliant white, fluffy bathrobes to go the "adult" pool. Turned out that the entire area and adult pool were closed for a wedding. Figuring this out and getting to the open 'family' pool involved a lot of walking around AND we still had to walk past the wedding party. I felt ridiculous in the robe but it was fun to share that moment with Mary!
We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel which is right on the river, so the first outing we made was a longboat tour up river and through a village canal system. We got into a beautiful wooden longboat with a motor surprisingly tough enough for very strong currents. We passed the colorful Wat Arun temple and turned up a small canal. Here we passed by homes lining the canal and caught a glimpse of what their lives are like. Beautiful green plants and flowers decorated the front (back?) of many homes, clothes drying on laundry lines and grandmothers keeping a watchful eye on their grandchildren. Many homes are built with open rooms facing the canal, so it felt like a very intimate view right into their homes. We passed a few temples where small groups of monks were sitting out front talking to one another. Towards the late afternoon all of the families were gathered, throwing food into the river to attract the massive schools of large black fish were jumping out of the water. Seemed like an easy way to fish! For Eric and Mary who had been on rigorous walking tours in China, it was a nice change of pace to sightsee from the boat.
All of us wanted to visit the Royal Palace but the initial entry was more overwhelming than we’d expected. The dress code of long pants and covered shoulders is strictly enforced, so at the entrance enterprising folks rent clothing to tourists. James wound up in tiger pants, OMG they were totally Joey Buttafuoco! The royal palace consists of numerous temples that were some of the most ornate and bejeweled that we’ve seen in SE Asia so far. They had elaborate mosaics and golden statues, like Faberge eggs turned into buildings. The degree of workmanship and labor that it took to build them (from the late 1700’s until 1920’s) was painful to contemplate.
Eric is a big fan of seafood, so we had two special Thai seafood dinners in Bangkok. The first was at the very unusual Seafood Market Restaurant where diners walk through a cafeteria style market picking out fresh seafood and ingredients (vegetables, spices). You receive a shopping cart and a hostess accompanies you through the market helping you to pick out enough food and answering questions. The selection of live shellfish and fish was unbelievable. After purchasing raw ingredients from the ‘market’, you are seated at a table where a waiter collects your selections and confirms how you’d like the dishes prepared. 10 minutes later dishes start arriving at the table and pretty much didn’t stop until we were stuffed. If you are in the mood for wine there is even a wine shop to pick out a bottle!
The other restaurant was on the river in a more traditional setting and was highly recommended for seafood. We ordered up a ton of dishes (better to sample!) and some very fruity cocktails. Our waitress was so protective of us that when a table opened up right on the water she grabbed it for us (without our asking), going so far as to shoo away some other folks with the same idea. It was a lovely experience and the perfect dinner to end a memorable week.
We discovered a croissant shop just behind our hotel that was a relaxing and tasty place to start the day. Mary and Eric were happy to sleep in, meeting us at “brunch” for strong ice coffees and sandwiches. I think Mary most enjoyed these leisurely mornings where the only agenda was to catch up with James and learn more about our experiences on the road. Having just had such an eye-opening trip of her own in China our observations were very relatable to her.
It was hard to say goodbye… thankfully Eric and Mary were off to Paris for the final leg of their adventure and we would be leaving for much-anticipated Cambodia.