In this journal
I saw thousands of people weep to a picture;
I visited a temple that girls cannot go in;
and I went to Laos for 20 minutes.
As I detailed in the Seven Continents Plan, I was not ready to finish all my trips just yet after my return from the Voyage South. Thus, one last continent to go: Asia! Passing by in July was cheating, so I needed to properly travel to Asia to complete my challenge of 7 continents in 1 year.
Alas, just 4 days after returning from Chile, I embarked on a family trip to Thailand and Myanmar. It was the product of a cheap ANA ticket from Los Angeles to Thailand, then return from Shanghai to Vancouver. I then added extra legs on business class with Malaysia Airlines for the Myanmar part. The exact routing looks like this:
Bangkok: 3 days
Yangon: 3 days
Phuket: 3 days
Chiang Mai: 4 days
As a result, this trip is not as deep as other trips I have done such as Antarctica or Colombia, since my parents are not used to travelling into completely horrifying places. This trip journal will be rather succinct.
First stop for us was Bangkok. This is the gateway to southeast Asia, and notoriously touristic. However, it being my first time in Thailand, I was blown away by the hospitality our boutique hotel manager offered us. Every day, the breakfast was fabulously presented, and swiftly prepared as well.
day 2 breakfast
My parents wanted something warm and soupy for breakfast (a very common Chinese tradition), so they asked if they could get something like that for second day, and the Chinese speaking manager heartily agreed.
an altar for King Rama IX in Phuket Airport
The period we were in Thailand for was the beginning of peak season, so there were quite a few tourists hanging around the popular sights. However, the entire country was still mourning the loss of their beloved King Bhumibol the Great, or Rama IX. He is the longest ruling king to ever grace the Kingdom of Thailand, having reigned over seven decades.
the congregation of people near Sanam Luang, where King Rama IX was cremated
He was one of the best kings in history for the Thai people. From what I learned in Thai Pavilion in Expo Milano 2015 and Expo Astana 2017(that is mostly it), he reformed almost every sector of economy, and visited his people hundreds of times. The line outside the royal palace stretched literally miles, and the entire Sanam Luang was filled with people wearing black, waiting under dozens of enormous tents to see him goodbye. It was so crazy that there were dozens of charity organizations giving out different free food to all those who were hungry.
monks waiting eagerly to enter the crypt
All entertainment joints were ordered to shut down for a year, and everywhere we went, there were videos playing out his life accomplishments, his altar with thousands of flowers, or people just gathering and crying together. To achieve this level of reverence upon one’s death is truly an indication of his greatness.
Grand Palace lawn
The Grand Palace was a must-see, hundreds of golden towers surrounded any beholder who was brave enough to look up against the eye-blinding golden light rays coming from everywhere.
inside Grand Palace
Another famous site was the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the holiest sights in the city.
However, I came in disappointed about the size of the Buddha. To be honest, I had no idea how it should look like, and how important it could be. So I imagined it must be crafted from quite a large piece of jade in order to warrant such a high level of reputation. As a result, when I had to peek around the doorway into a giant pile of people for a Buddha the size of my life accomplishments, I was caught off guard. It was an unpleasant deja-vu of the first time I saw Mona Lisa in Le Louvre 10 years ago.
a Yak Wat Pho
Then we proceeded to the reclining buddha temple, Wat Pho. Yes, it is another buddha, welcome to Thailand. This one, however, was on the other side of the spectrum. It is ENORMOUS. Just the height of its toes are over a meter. The Yak Wat Pho’s surrounding the temple were not a walk in the park either. Each one of these temple gardians are over two stories tall, and occupies one cardinal direction each
the reclining buddha
Once inside the main hall, after taking off the shoes, one can truly understand the scale of the gold-plated buddha. Walking from one side to the other was like running across a football field. The hall was so big that many pillars were required to support the roof, making a full shot of the buddha nearly impossible. However, this is for sure: this buddha is the most majestic one I have ever seen in my life.
a kitten in the hundred-buddha hall
Another interesting place to see is the Chinatown of Bangkok, in an area called Samphanthawang District. Centered around Yaowarat street, the Chinatown is filled with immigrants generations deep. Markets and shops lined the sides, and of course, lots of good food gathered around as well.
After a few days in the capital of Thailand, it was time for us to visit the capital of its neighbor, Myanmar. It was mostly just for fun, and to take my parents for a little bit of fun in Business Class, so I will be brief and succinct. We thouroughly enjoyed the business class dim sum buffet in Cathay Pacific lounge in Bangkok, as well as the beautiful yet very empty Malaysia Airlines Business Lounge in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks to my Oneworld Emerald status, I could take my mom to first class lounge in Kuala Lumpur, where we dined till we dropped.
Cathay Pacific lounge, Bangkok
dim sum buffet
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Airlines business lounge
first class lounge, Kuala Lumpur
first class dining featuring lakhsa!
The flights were perfectly comfortable, even though those were just short haul flights operated by 737. The service were on point and warm, while my parents completely marveled at the fact that they were sitting ahead of the engine.”Oh I need to look back to see the wing!!!” my mom screamed.
business class meal
leogryphs at the entrance to Shwedagon
We entered Myanmar without much trouble, and it was a first time for all of us. Such a beautiful country with such a mysterious background! Of course, there is absolutely nothing that can top the famous Shwedagon, where Buddhism and bling-bling gold fuse together in an eye-blindingly marvelous fashion. This is the biggest Buddhist tower in the world, and you can practically see it from anywhere in the city.
Shwedagon at night
To make it even more impressive, the tower is located on the top of a hill. In order to access it, one has to take off the shoes, and climb over 100 steps of stairs to reach the top, where a massive religious compound resides. Thousands of towers surrounded the massive, 30-story-tall main tower, covered in glistening gold. It was truly a sight to behold. The determination of humans for the reasons such as religion is truly hard to comprehend.
Shwedagon central cluster
monks walking by
inscription on a bell
We spent the whole afternoon gaping at the astounding architecture. The top of the tower is an umbrella made of 5000+ diamonds and 1000+ rubies. The very tip, sitting at 105m above us, is made of a 76 carat diamond. Sadly, the center part is strictly off limits, otherwise I would definitely take a closer look to the dazzling tip.
dusk in Shwedagon
Anawratha night market
Another great place to hang out after nightfall is the street food district. After the sun had tucked its beams beneath the horizons, every day, the industrious shop owners of Anawratha and Mahabandoola streets spring into action. Miles of food line up by the sidewalk, spilling into the motor lanes, waiting for a hungry soul to pick it up. And thus, a night market is born.
Bogyoke Aung San Market
The other fun sight, at least to my mother, is the circular train going around the city. It is more of a carrier of chaos than a city commuter train. Firstly, the trains do not have doors, so you literally feel the natural air conditioning coming in from the four “doors” of the carriage. Safety is definitely a foreign idea here.
my mom enjoying the open air ride
stopping at a station
Secondly, all the trains, like all the cars, are retired from Japan. Most of them are so obvious because the writings of the original company in Japan still linger on. The problem, however, is that Myanmar drives on the right, while Japan drives on the left side, which is the wrong side. This results in very dangerous traffic conditions as we had to get to the middle of the roads in order to get into buses and taxis. Leaving them also requires extreme caution, or you may just have the door, and maybe your legs, sawed off by a speeding micro-bus.
clearly this train used to be a Kururi Line of Chiba Prefecture…
Thirdly, people brought all their businesses along with them on their commutes. Most of the farmers growing water spinach, likely THE most popular food here, to the central markets via the train. What ensues is that there are more bags of water spinach than passengers. It was a sight to behold, when the train stops at a small station for less than a minute, and hundreds of farmers started throwing bags of vegetables onto the carriages. While the train was in motion, all of them pulled out knives and started cutting the tough parts, throwing them off board.
chaos max, yet surprisingly calming
To be honest, Myanmar has always been a country that fascinates me. I wished I had more days here, which would allow me a few days outside the capital, where more interesting destinations await. However, due to restrictions, I could only write it down in my bucket list for next time.
delicious food, costing barely $5!
Up next was the flight to Phuket via Kuala Lumpur. The “beautiful” lounge in Yangon had some glass noodles, and some other barely edible food. However, it was rather quiet as we were the only people taking the business class on the flight! My parents absolutely savored the time of being the only passengers in a cabin, which was the whole point of riding in the front of the bus!
Yangon premium passenger lounge
There are too many “hip posts” written by some “professional instagram influencers” about Phuket, and I am just not that into showing off skin in my account to attract viewers, so I am going to be brief about this destination. It is helplessly touristy. It is uselessly modern. It is unnecessarily expensive, in Thailand standards. I did enjoy the afternoon breeze, but that is mostly it.
lunch by the beach
After 3 days, it was finally time to leave the hopelessly crowded island. A quick Air Asia flight brought us over to the culture-rich city of Chiang Mai.
durian, a public health hazard
Thailand: Chiang Mai
I suggested visiting the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, but my parents were too tired of temples outside town, so we ended up going to some temples within the city. First up was Wat Chedi Luang, an ancient temple smack in the center of town. It was constructed in 15th century, but an earthquake destroyed it during the 16th century. However, one can still catch a hint of its former glory, standing at 86 meters tall.
Wat Chedi Luang
no females are allowed because periods are considered sacrilegious (yep)
a tower which females will never see
There is also the major in-town temple, Wat Phra Singh. It housed the renowned Wihan Lai Kham, whose murals looked incredibly intricate. However, the famous Phra Singh Buddha statue’s head was allegedly stolen in 1922, so the one exhibited is actually a replacement.
Wat Phra Singh front
leogryph in Wat Phra Singh
However, a lot of theories are floating around. Two other places also claim that they house the real Buddha statue, which was brought in from India and possibly Sri Lanka. Thus, the entire thing may not be the real deal.
market in the yard
This temple is even older than Wat Chedi Luang. Built in 14th century, Wat Phra Singh is likely the most famous temple in the city.
overview of Wat Phra Singh
We also passed by Wat Phan Tao, a tiny temple with a marvelous overwater walkway. I do not know much about this small temple, but sure as hell it is lovely.
Wat Phan Tao
We also passed by many other sights, since a lot can be unpacked within the city walls. I will spare you the pain of history.
Three Kings Monument, for the kings that founded Chiang Mai
However, there is nothing about it when it comes to food here. It is insane. Cheap, clean, delicious food was available at every corner, and the portions were kept small so one can try multiple items in one sitting. I gained a solid 5 pounds during my stay, and I ain’t even mad!
curry chicken with rice
cold chicken with rice, trust me it is very, very good, and it costs $1!
And when night dawns on Sundays, the entire center city closes down to traffic, and the advent of a foodie’s heaven begins. THIS, IS THE SUNDAY MARKET IN PHUKET.
some extra colorful pescatarian circles
even more iridescently illuminated, multi-method fabricated sea creature round objects
a far greater multitude of numerously light-reflecting, ununilaterally tinted spherical items composed of solely of ocean-dwelling vertebrata
crab cakes, for less than a dollar
Just behold, the entire 5 block by 5 block area is littered with people, almost claustrophobic. It is difficult to decide what to eat, because there are literally thousands of options readily available. I wish I could be here every Sunday!
a bowl of noodle so delicious I regurgitated it a few times (involuntarily, but still worth it)
rice with sauced duck
and yeah, also, bugs, to eat
After filling myself up with all kinds of food, drinks, desserts, and burps, I decided that we needed to try something to burn the calories. A guided tour through the Chiang Rai region would do just that! This tour would take us to the famous White Temple and Black Temple, while taking us for a small dip into Cambodia, so my parents were rather excited.
Wat Rong Khun, known as White Temple by many others, is an infant compared to the other temples. Built just 20 years ago by an ambitious local Chiang Rai artist Chalermchai Kositpitat, who regarded this temple as his ultimate art project, this place is extremely unconventional.
hell in front of the temple
The color scheme, the themes used here, and the materials employed, all drastically differ from traditional Wat’s. It is a modern interpretation of Buddhism, spirituality, and religion in general.
Then there was the Black Temple, which was the colloquial name for Baan dam Museum, built by a student of Chalermchai named Thawan Dunchanee. It was more of a place to house his numerous animal skeleton collections than a place of worship. The grounds were covered in well-maintained grass, but beyond that it was rather unremarkable. Some houses exhibit Burmese ancient architecture, which appeared to be the real deal.
the major black temple
on the Mekong River
Then the tour took us close to the border of Laos, and we boarded a ship to sail across Mekong River. The other side, technically Laos, was owned by some rich Chinese dude. He developed this area into the Golden Delta Commercial Center, where one can enter without visa but can only buy goods. It was not really an attraction, but more of a tourist trap. Thus, I do not count that I have been in Laos, since the only things I saw were bottles of snake alcohol.
This brief, albeit hurried, tour, concluded our days in the southeastern Asia region. I know this is not much, but at least that is some kind of justification for the Asia part of my plan. After I insisted for an hour, we took a tuk-tuk to the airport, since my parents significantly overestimated the chance of dying on a speeding tricycle that was falling apart as we scraped the speedbumps. I needed to take a tuk-tuk before I leave Thailand, and my death wish was granted.
special area reserved for monks in Chiang Mai airport
The last leg of the journey was a red-eye on Spring Airline, a low cost airline, back to Shanghai, and god all mighty was that a trial for the senses. I was woken up by the sales pitch of their duty free products at least six times. None of us got any good sleep, and that definitely applied to everyone on the plane.
a jackfruit tree
I had to say this trip left a bit to be desired, since I did not get to do too much with exploring the local scene. However, this is a significant upgrade from my previous travels with my parents, as they are beginning to be influenced by my adventurous, down-to-earth approach, and were starting to accept new experiences. I am glad that I had some company, and I was not in the constant state of “if I die today who will notify my mom when my decomposed body is found two weeks later?”
by the Mekong River
We had a great deal to begin with our transpacific journey; we enjoyed the culture of Bangkok; my parents finally got the taste of sitting in front of the wing on an airplane; we had a blast in Shwedagon in Myanmar; we relaxed on the beaches of Phuket; and we ate the year’s share of food in Chiang Mai. Overall, it had been great fun, and nothing beats the quality time one can spend with his or her family, right?
This concludes the Seven Continents Plan, next trip chronologically is WeekendInMexicoCity, WeekendInCancun, then The Run 2017.
Why not check out some of my other posts of this brilliant journey? Bolivian sky mirror? African savannah? Antarctica? Take your pick!