A Travellerspoint blog

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra

Wow.

sunny 95 °F

On my first whole day in Bangkok, I knew I had to go see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra - the must see combo of the city. The Grand Palace is the old royal residence and Wat Phra the most sacred and beautiful temple in Bangkok. I took the new BTS sky train to the river and then took the river ferry from there. Some of the views from the ferry ride up the river:

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My ferry was not as speedy as the first boat, a longtail, or as pretty as the second old wood boat. Oh well, got me up the river for 15 baht! (50 cents)

The Grand Palace was closed to tourists so that Thais could come to pay their respects to the recently passed sister of the king. So I went ahead to see the temple. It was as promised, amazing and very impressive. The four walls around the temple had a long mural telling stories that I tried to follow. There were kings, wives, demons, monkeys and wars! I think you can imagine the drama:

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Parts of the mural were being restored and painted with fresh new golden paint.

The buildings and stupas were beautiful, all gleaming with gold paint and intricate mosaics. The emerald Buddha (actually jade) is housed in the main building. It is one of the most revered images of the Buddha and wars have been fought to capture it. I don't have a picture of it, but it was much smaller than I expected. I especially loved the statues of demons and monkeys and winged beasts.

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I stayed at the temples for hours basking in the beauty of it all.

More pics at Flickr.

Posted by hsustyle 08:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Sweating in Bangkok

Man, it is hotter than I expected here.

sunny 97 °F

Wow, this is winter in Bangkok and it was 97 degrees F today. And humid. I got in from the airport at around 11am and checked into my hostel. It's in the busy, modern Sukhumvit area, but is off a small road (Soi 11) and is quite a cool set up. It's in a small alley and there is a security guard that makes sure that you are coming into stay at the hostel or use the other facilities. As you walk in, there is a spa on the right and a restaurant on the left. All three buildings are made of dark wood really giving you an old Thai feeling, right in the heart of Bangkok. The hostel itself is four stories of long hallways where you walk over raised wooden decks. Every once in a while there is a small patio with a table and chairs, green plants, a bicycle tuk-tuk, a shrine or something interesting. After following the receptionist up stairs and through hallways, I was sure that I was going to get lost on the way back out. I was quite impressed and happy with the room. It's a decent sized room with air-conditioning (thank goodness) and a small toilet room. Outside there is a balcony that has an outdoor shower (shaded from the outside of course) and a sink and mirror. Everything is quite clean and I think it's quite a steal for 480 baht ($15).

Walked around a bit, met an Australian guy, had some lunch, exchanged some money, and made some tentative plans for the next few days. Took my time and tried to get to know the area a bit. Lunch was at the restaurant near the hostel. We sat Thai style on cushions on a raised wood floor and had papaya salad with shrimp, pad thai, lemonade and singha beer. I ordered the papaya salad medium, hoping that I would be able to handle it. At first, it was so good that I just started chowing into it, but then I felt the burn. That distinct Thai food burn that comes unexpectedly and won't go away... I am going to have to get better at eating hot food while I'm here. But I refuse to order anything mild that is supposed to be spicy. I think it just wouldn't be right or true to the food.

There is tons of street food, which I love! But I'm dissapointed that I have no one to explain it to me! My dad suggested that I take my time getting into the street food, to at least let my gut adjust to the local bacteria. I couldn't resist these little tasty delights:

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There was some language barrier, so I could only understand them with my taste buds as crispy mini sweet crepes folded to hold a bit of marshmallow creme and tangy salty shredded cheese (?). (If someone can correct me, I fully welcome it.) More street food to come, I'm sure.

Posted by hsustyle 04:20 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ultra-Portable Rice Ball

Unlike the new MacBook Air, edible and tasty.

Every culture has the portable food. The sandwich, the shawarma, the burrito (ok, not an original Mexican creation, I know). The portable food has to be dry on the outside while still containing moist tasty ingredients inside. Tricky, but can be done. In Taiwan, it is the ba tzang: sticky rice, peanuts, pork and cooked egg yolk wrapped in bamboo leaves to neatly form a pyramid of tastiness. Even though it's not warm, the glutinous rice stays moist and sticky, so the ba tzang doesn't have to be eaten hot (although its better that way).

Lucky enough for me, I got one for the road when I was off to the airport in Taipei. It made it all the way to Singapore, when at 4am, I decided to gnosh. Untie the string, unwrap the bamboo leaves and have at it. Delish!

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Posted by hsustyle 03:55 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Layovers

...are really not that bad in Singapore's Changi Airport

So I am currently at the Singapore airport waiting for my flight on to Bangkok. I arrived at 11pm last night from Taipei and my flight leaves at 7am, which is in about an hour. When I told people that I had an 8-hr layover, everyone thought I was crazy to book a ticket like that. Well, it ended up saving me $100 in flight fare and a night of hotel cost, so I don't mind so much. Plus, being a boarding school ARAMCO brat made me pretty used to passing time in airports waiting for connecting flights.

If I have to be laidover anywhere, Changi is a pretty damn nice place to be. Just for reference, it's huge, has a lot of shopping, is spanky clean and is rife with wireless laptop and free internet access computers. As for needing rest, it has a transit hotel, which I was tempted to get a room at. The budget rooms that have shared bathroom use are about $30 for 6 hours. In the end I decided I was too cheap and that I would scout out a dark quiet corner to curl up in for a couple hours. Luckily, I managed to sight a sign for a "Rest Area," which turned out to be much better than my original "corner plan." Off of the shopping area, 12 or so reclining chairs are set in a dark area and I started to get comfortable, when I realized I had no alarm to wake me up at 4am. Without one, I was worried I wouldn't wake up. So what's a girl to do? I decided that even though I was too cheap for a transit hotel room, I needed the peace of mind of an alarm clock. It was nearing 12am and shops were closing, so I quickly ran into an electronics store and grabbed the smallest alarm clock. Got back to the rest area and managed to catch about 3 hours of occasionally interrupted sleep (the man next to me seemed to have a strangely loud breathing/yawning/coughing habit).

Although I checked my bag all the way to Bangkok, when I got to the transfer desk here in Singapore, they told me that I had to exit the airport and claim my bag and then check in again. When I left Taipei, my brother told me not to lose my passport. I hadn't done that, but I have lost my baggage claim ticket... My bag was not at the baggage claim, not at the lost and found and the staff at the check in desk couldn't locate it without the baggage tag. My original plan was to carry-on my baggage with me on all flights, but it is proving to be too heavy (13.3 kg). They've reassured me that if it was tagged to Bangkok that it should get there. Hopefully they are right!

Posted by hsustyle 13:58 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

I ate a bee!

Luckily, it was not alive.

semi-overcast 73 °F

We stayed in Kaohsiong Friday night and on Saturday morning attended my uncle's company banquet. I am finding that some of the most interesting foods are appetizers. At this banquet, fried bees and cashews were served. A gentleman at the table explained that the bees are not actually fully-formed bees yet and are harvested before they are "born". They're deep-fried to a crisp and served with sauteed cashews. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but the cashews and the bees end up being the same curved crescent shape!

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Eat 'em up, yum!

I actually only had one, by the time I finished taking the pictures, the rest of the bees were all gone! It really didn't taste like much, just fried crunchiness. But I guess quite popular, at least at my table!

Also pictured is the caviar cake slice and green onion described in a previous post.

Oh, on a similar note, while the caviar appetizer is harvested from the female oh hee, a local large Pacific Ocean fish, a main dish was served later in the banquet that was the male reproductive organ from the same fish. It was explained as the fish's prostate, but I don't think fish have prostates... probably the testes? It came sauteed whole with vegetables in a thickened sauce. It looked like and had the texture of very soft tofu, but had a slightly fishy flavor. Wasn't that great, but wasn't all that bad either.

Hurrah for new foods! (Can't wait for Thailand. I hear there is a very pungent fermented crab papaya salad that I should try... wait and see!)

Posted by hsustyle 08:32 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Eastern coastline and Southern Taiwan

Mist, rain, sun and wind!

72 °F

On Thursday we continued to drive south along the east coast of the island, which provided more great scenic pictures:

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We passed through some small towns, but for the most part, easter Taiwan is pretty sparsely populated. More of the population on this side of the island are the native Taiwanese aborigines that are of the Malay descent. When the immigrants came from mainland China, the aborigines were driven from the western plains of the island up into the mountains. Although a minority in Taiwan, from what I observed and heard, the aborigines are increasingly having more equal political power and social services and becoming culturally more mixed with the Chinese Taiwanese.

We stayed the night in Taitung and on Friday continued down to the southern most point of Taiwan in the Kenting National Park. Views from the southern most tip, where the Erlanbi lighthouse is located:

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It had been raining on and off for our entire trip, but the upside is that we managed to catch a pretty nice rainbow!

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More pics at Flickr.

Posted by hsustyle 08:09 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Taroko Gorge

in North East Taiwan

rain 69 °F

On Wednesday, we headed south from Taipei along the north east coast of Taiwan. Most of the east coast of Taiwan rises up sharply from the Pacific to high mountain ranges. The drive was mostly on curvy, cliff-side roads, but it was so beautiful, that I spent most of the time hanging out the window.

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Amazingly bright turquoise water near the shore!

After a small fishing town, we turned inland to take the very old East-West Highway that crosses the island and also leads into the Taroko Gorge. The entire island of Taiwan is formed from the collision of the Phillipine and the Eurasia tectonic plates. This created the high mountain ranges and also formed large deposits of white marble in the mountains. As rain fell and a river eroded the marble over time, the Taroko Gorge formed. It is over 1,000 meters deep, dwarfing people, buses or trucks. As you walk along the pathway through it, you look up to see lush mountain vegetation and down to see white marble cliff faces and boulders. Definitely a humbling and beautiful experience.

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You can judge the size of the gorge by looking at the road cutting through the mountain and also the tiny little people near the center of the picture (red and white shirts).

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Interesting to see that the water that flowed from the marble was as bright turquoise as the water seen earlier along the coast. What makes water blue or turquoise? Even the omnicient Wikipedia didn't quite fully explain it.

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This guardian dog at the entrance of one of the bridges in Taroko Gorge is a product of the extensive white marble in the area.

More pics at Flickr.

We made it all the way to the small town at the end of the gorge area and turned back around to head out to the coast again. Checked into a motel in the city of Hualian and rested up for the next day of the Hsu Family Taiwan Roadtrip!

Posted by hsustyle 08:58 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Psst!

Word on the street is...

71 °F

That the recent election for Taiwan representatives was rigged! Actually, this isn't surprising gossip. Both my grandma and my aunt told me that in the past they've had campaigners come to their houses the night before the voting day to "buy votes." A good $100 dollars or so can be made as more than one candidate comes by the house. This year, no one came by my gramma's house, but people are saying that its still happening and is responsible for one party's overwhelming victories. The bribing doesn't happen in the bigger city, but is pretty common in the smaller towns.

I guess having elections does not necessarily mean that there is free choice.

Posted by hsustyle 08:46 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Tea, Caviar and Oyster Noodles

For afternoon meeting, dinner and breakfast, respectively.

overcast 71 °F

On Tuesday, we set off on our road trip around Taiwan. The first day involved mostly catching up with extended family; great-uncles slightly south of Taipei and an aunt and uncle in Taipei. At our first stop, we had tea with my great-uncles and their friends.

I found out that making tea is quite the process here, much different that popping a Lipton's tea bag in a mug of hot water. There is a special tray that holds the teapots and cups while also draining water or tea away from the table with a small tube. Only mountain water is boiled to brew the tea, as tap water "makes the tea taste awful." First, the boiled water is used to rinse off the first teapot. Then the tea leaves are put in the tea pot and water poured in to brew the tea. The brewed tea is poured into a second teapot to avoid brewing in the leaves too long. Then that tea is poured into all the teacups. But it's not served. The tea in each cup is poured into the next (the overflow drains away) until they are all empty. My great-uncle's friend explained that the tea from the first brew is no good and that you have to rinse all the teapots and cups w hot tea. Then a second brew is done in the same manner and this time the tea is served. If you're ever running low in your cup, tea is quickly brewed to refill it. I quite enjoyed watching it all; the rituals around food and drink fascinate me.

From there we drove into the crazy cement and neon maze of cars and scooters that is Taipei. It's a great city that has old parts full of tiny alleys, street vendors and neighborhood parks and then new parts with huge boulevards, sky scrapers and international fashion boutiques. We always stay with my mother's oldest sister that lives off of the old city's major avenue. She made dinner at the apartment and I helped her set up the appetizer. Dried caviar cakes with green onions and daikon. The sac of eggs is taken from a large ocean fish and dried whole to make one solid caviar "cake". Then its sliced thinly and served with a slices of a very spicy variety of green onion and slivers of daikon, both raw. Its an interesting combination of salty fishy caviar and spicy freshness of vegetables. Highlight of the meal for me. The meal and accompanying wine and brandy left me sleepy and I went to bed early dreaming of the next morning's breakfast...

Oyster noodles!! It's a favorite of mine when we're in Taipei. It probably sounds strange as a breakfast food to most people, but I guess it's quite a long-standing tradition. My aunt says that this one street vendor has been selling the noodles for more than 30 years. It's quite simple: tiny noodles are served in a slightly thickened broth with oysters and a hint of white pepper. That's all he sells, in either a big bowl or a small bowl. You can eat it plain or add more condiments. I always go for vinegar and hot sauce, maybe some more white pepper. Yum!

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My bowl: small. Bro's bowl: big. Both bowls: good.

Posted by hsustyle 08:02 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

A Tank

Not quite sure what else to say.

overcast 70 °F

On the freeway, we trailed a flatbed carrying a military tank. My brother was impressed and insisted that I take a picture -- so here it is: a tank on the Taiwan freeway.

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Posted by hsustyle 06:07 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

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