Once in a Lifetime Experience ~ A Visit to the Royal Crematorium

Venturing out on a clear, beautiful, almost-cool Saturday night in Bangkok, Brad and I thought we’d just “walk by” the Royal Crematorium built for the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej and snap a few pictures, from the street. The crematorium took over a year to build with artisans from the Traditional Arts Office creating all the intricate details. You can find a detailed account of the history and construction here. The crematorium is scheduled to be dismantled at the end of this month.

So dressed in shorts and a tank top – because we were just going to snap a few pictures, from the street (not sure why I thought this was a possibility) – we hopped out of our car leaving my purse inside. We strolled past blocks and blocks and blocks of people queuing to get inside – because we were just going to snap a few pictures, from the street. As we neared the crematorium, we began to realize our mistake. Oops.


Just a small section of the very long line, waiting so patiently.

Not wanting to jump the queue (again), we found a much shorter line and joined it. Pretty sure it was an “official groups” line since the 30 people ahead of us were in matching pink polos, but being foreigners you sometimes get away with things. At the first checkpoint we hit a snag. Inappropriately dressed. (Of course, I knew this, but again we were just going to snap a few pictures!) They directed us to the astute entrepreneurs across the street. A Thai tunic imprinted with elephants and two pairs of elephant pants later (the guy convinced Brad he needed a pair even though Brad was certain his shorts were fine), we rejoined the now longer short line.

Checkpoint #2 – You needed to hold up your identification at the security camera. My purse is in the car. (see above) But lo and behold, Brad has our passports on his phone! He shows his and waltzes in. I just follow, unidentified.

Checkpoint #3 – Brad gets flagged, and we once again have to step out of line while he puts on his pants. Now appropriately dressed Brad plows ahead. I can hear “Murmur, murmur farang. Murmur, murmur farang.” (white foreigner) Me: “Brad. Brad. BRAD!” Brad flashed his most innocent smile, which always endears him to others, and all was forgiven as we were allowed into the line. (Of course they were unaware of our previous line-jumping transgressions.)


Brad’s first pair of elephant pants. Look at the look on that little boy’s face!

Checkpoint #4 – We have to sign in as foreigners then ease ourselves back into line. From here we’re ushered into one of thousands of white, plastic chairs – musical chair style. At this point I’m just plain confused. But there was means to their madness, and after a short wait, we were up and moving onto the crematorium grounds.

It was worth the wait. Now, finding our driver again was another story. First world problems.


The Royal Crematorium



Wat Phra Kaew across the street

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Peace, Tranquility, and Crazy Tuk-tuks

Words don’t come close to describing the warmth in my chest, flutter in my stomach, as I lounge by the pool in our villa taking in my surroundings. The peace, tranquility, intricately carved posts, teakwood slats. The rushing water from the brook nearby, gurgling from a makeshift waterfall, dappled sunlight dancing on the greens, fuschias, and violets. As I did with the view of the Japanese Alps in Hakuba, I want to bottle up this scenery, this peace, and shelve it away to be called upon when I need a moment of respite. If you can’t find me, I’ve run away to the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.


Rice fields of the Four Seasons



Brad lounging by our pool


Sights and Sounds of Chiang Mai


Found this sweet, little coffee shop when we ventured down the road.



A mid-afternoon break

Falling under the category of Things You Tell Your Children Not to Do ~ Taking a tuk-tuk, bejeweled with iridescent dragons, 45 minutes to our destination, half of it on the expressway, with semi-drunk passengers (I say semi because one of us was drunk and the other was fairly coherent but strangely comfortable with the dangerous situation). Adding to the precariousness of the situation, our driver stopped for gas to “make sure we had enough for the drive” and then attached the bag of fireworks he just bought to the side of the vehicle – “For good luck! Chases away the bad spirits.” Speeding down the expressway, he would honk at the stray dogs that were wandering onto the desolate road. It was so cold – not winter-in-Chicago cold, but more like I-dressed-for-tropical-Thailand-and-it’s-now-cool-season, the wind blasting in my face due to the who-knew-a-tuk-tuk-could-go-this-fast speed. (Way too many hyphens, I’m aware. See semi-drunk above.)


Our Tuk-tuk taking a short cut down a sketchy alley! I can touch that wall.

We went to Chiang Mai for the Yee Peng Lantern Festival. This site explains it all beautifully. I’ll just let the pictures tell the story.


Getting ready for the lantern festival. We would be seated way up front in the VIP section! Later in the evening, we joined the other VIPs in a procession of lanterns. “Paparazzi” on the perimeter got right in our faces snapping photos. I think they thought we were famous and not just someone who paid way too much for tickets!


Novices preparing for the ceremony





Our final lantern of the weekend

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A Biking Adventure

I have friends who bike. Several days. For fun. The last time I was on a bike was a troublesome outing to Tama HIlls for a cross country meet in 2011. (My seat fell off, and Brad gallantly rode my bike the rest of the way. No seat. Only a post. Picture that.) The time before that was a countryside tour in New Zealand, complete with sheep, in 2004. I don’t bike. And yet we thought it would be a good idea to rent bikes and ride to the temples of Angkor.

Brad had researched this and had found a good bike shop, but the concierge at our hotel recommended a bike shop across the street. Unfortunately his bike shop was not only closed, it was a pile of rubble. (It was across the street! And this was the Hyatt!) His second-choice bike shop had 4 bikes. Four. Only one which was small enough for me. (If I wanted to ride comfortably, I had to steer with my fingertips.)  Their parting comment, “If the tires go flat, you fix.” Oh, and no helmets.

We were off. For the first couple of kilometers I was preoccupied with the fact that I didn’t have a helmet and that I could topple at any moment, hit my head, and well – die. This was about the time Brad’s bike chain came off. After watching us struggle, a kind gentleman crossed the street and helped Brad get his bike in working order. Brad tipped him. (We realized we were going to need a lot more dollars.) We were off again.


Bike chain mishap # 3

As we were beginning to get our rhythm back, we were stopped by the Temple Ticket Control. Now, our friendly concierge assured us we didn’t need tickets until we actually reached the temples. (Beginning to think we over-tipped him.) The Temple Ticket Control no longer sold tickets. You could see the abandoned ticket windows. Now you had to go to the shiny new government center 5 km up the road. (Oh, I don’t think so.) But for $8 (bargained down to $5) they would provide us a tuk-tuk ride and watch our bikes. I was certain we were never going to see our bikes again. But all was on the up and up. We got our 3-day passes and returned to find our bikes.


The rest of the journey consisted of four more bike chain mishaps, one near collision when Brad stopped suddenly to read a sign, several rehydration stops (rehydrating was easy – water was sold everywhere, “unhydrating” not so much), and temple visits (see pretty pictures below). Oh, and the shirtless, 20-something American male (trust me, you need that visual!) who shouted the words I had been longing to hear – “Go Cubs!” Then in quick succession, two more shout-outs. (I was wearing my Cubs’ shirt and wondered where all the international Cubs’ fans were. Apparently they hang out at Neak Pean.)


Not critical to this post, but THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!! When you can’t be in Chicago, you #flythew wherever you can!

As we were nearing our final temple, hot, sweaty, tired, hungry (I was existing on an omelette and a cup of tea), and a little bike-chain weary, Brad uttered the next words I was longing to hear, “We’re hiring a tuk-tuk back.” Thank God! The only problem was, when you’re at a lesser-known – although now one of my favorite – temples, there are no tuk-tuks for hire. When our search proved futile, Brad called the hotel. After 25 minutes two tuk-tuks arrived – one for me and my bike, one for Brad and his.


My tuk-tuk ride!

I’d like to say I saw unique sights visiting the temples by bike, but to be honest, I was so focused on the road in front of me – loose rocks, the sandy shoulder, scooters coming at me on the wrong side of the road, buses hurtling past, and Brad’s bike chain (I thought that if I concentrated hard enough on it, I could will it to stay on.), that I really took in way more on the tuk-tuk ride. So much wildlife – dogs, monkeys, snakes, elephants, cows, rooster. No cats, Not a single cat.

Tomorrow we’ve hired a tuk-tuk for the day.

Angkor Thom and Bayon




Preah Khan



Photographer Brad


Getting a much needed blessing


Neak Pean




Angkor Wat


“Morning rise” at Angkor Wat. Such a different experience to be able to explore Angkor Wat with virtually no other people.


One more #flythew!




This horse was just hanging out.


Getting ready for Christmas?

Ta Som




Banteay Kdei




This is Brad’s favorite temple.

Ta Phrom


Still my favorite temple



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Adventures in Dentistry

Today I cracked my tooth. Half of it actually fell out of my mouth. (Damn those Welch’s Fruit Snacks!) I needed to make an emergency trip to a dentist – in Bangkok. It was an…. unusual experience.

Once diagnosed, x-rayed, and then settled in my chair, the doctor placed a cloth over my face which covered my eyes but had a hole for my nose and mouth. She injected me with Novocain and left the room – for 20 minutes! I couldn’t see anything (cloth on face), I twiddled my thumbs, longed for my phone, and then I started to get anxious. Was she ever coming back? She did. (I kind of wish she hadn’t.)

I’m not sure what she did (cloth on face), but there was drilling, grinding, a lot of “Open your mouth wider please. Wider.” (My nose kept getting caught in the hole in the cloth preventing my mouth from opening wider.) Also, I was convinced her assistant was trying to kill me, vigorously spraying water down my throat then following that up by jamming the drying thingy down my throat, choking me. I proceeded to try to bite down on her dental tools to save my life. “Open your mouth wider please.” Finally she placed some metal contraption in my mouth (couldn’t see what it was…) to either clamp down the temporary cement she placed on my tooth or to keep my mouth open wider.

At the end of the day, I’m not finished! What used to be my tooth is now just a blob of cement. I’ve been advised not to eat on the left side of my mouth until I can see her again – which isn’t for two weeks. (due to a trip I have planned)

I stopped by Wine Connection on the way home to pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. This day hadn’t gone as planned, and wine was the answer. (Let’s be honest. I rarely have a plan to my day, but if I did, this wouldn’t have been on it.)

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Another Walking Adventure in Bangkok

I spent all sunny morning inside while a handyman replaced the valve and hose that were apparently the cause of the leak in my bathroom only to determine that the second valve was broken (I found this suspect), so after a quick workout, I spent the last of the sunniness inside waiting for my bathroom to be leak free.

Finally. I had errands to run. I needed to get rice because, despite having already been to the grocery store this weekend, the bag of rice I held in my hand then was crawling with bugs. It freaked me out so much that I refused to get another one. But tonight’s recipe called for rice, and enough time had passed that I felt I could give it another try. I ventured outside. A quick glance to my right revealed a threatening sky, but the sky threatens often. I needed rice. I ventured on.

Now there comes a moment when you need to make a decision. That moment was probably when the clouds continued to roll in and the wind started whipping up. But I was beyond the point of no return, so I ventured on, still hopeful. I got my rice, some chicken, and Ziploc bags. The cashier said something to me in Thai and then the word “storm”. Yep, probably going to get wet.

It didn’t take long. First a little drizzle, then a steady torrent. I passed a few farangs (foreigners) who were also without umbrellas. We just smiled as we passed. (The Thais all had umbrellas.) I was thankful that I didn’t wear my nice sandals, was wearing my floating market dress, and no makeup. I was only sad that I didn’t have my cute, little rain boots bought just for this purpose. Once I was drenched, I just enjoyed it. It beats the 100-degree heat.

There are no lessons to be learned. When we bring our umbrellas, it never rains.

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Celebrating New Year’s – the Thai Way

Despite making all the necessary preparations for our first, much anticipated Songkran – we bought water guns, dry bags for our clothes, dry bags for our phones – we were caught totally unprepared. Songkran is celebrated on April 13-15 every year, so of course we thought we were perfectly safe when we set out to explore Patong, Phuket on the night of April 12th. The unbearably long ride into town should have been our first clue, but there was no denying it once we drew close. Water everywhere – not just wimpy squirt guns (which we did not have because it was the 12th!) but buckets and hoses!

I was wearing a new cotton dress, my “dress” sandals, and carrying my new Sop Moei purse. As we exited the protection of the van, we made a beeline for the nearest vendor and bought yet another dry bag and these fabulous flip-flops. Then we headed down the street.IMG_2511

Lessons learned:

  • If someone smiles and asks, “Okay?” (meaning, “is it ok to squirt you?”), don’t say yes. Once you’re wet, you’re fair game.
  • Don’t wear cotton dresses. They’re clingy when wet. And uncomfortable.
  • Pee beforehand because getting squirted with cold water doesn’t help the situation.


The Real Songkran, Day 1 – A Dry Day

We were to meet friends at our favorite haunt, Whisgars. For 300 baht a person they promised a T-shirt, a drink, live entertainment – the blues band, Cotton Mouth – and a dry environment (which I can see might be appealing to someone who’s experienced many Songkrans). Check all water guns at the entrance. We were kind and sent our driver to pick up our friends, so now the trick was getting to Whisgars dry. It was like a video game – dashing across the street to avoid our neighborhood hostel, watching out for drive-bys, evading hoses lurking around corners, jumping behind trees as we neared our last obstacle – the pub across the street with its drunken line of protection. Let’s just say I was more successful than Brad.

Songkran, Day 2 – A Wet Day

Armed with our giant squirt guns, dry bags, tank tops and shorts, and our cheap flip-flops, we headed for Silom Road, one of two main streets closed off for the celebration. We thought we were prepared, but can you really be prepared for a no-holds barred water-fight with thousands of your newest friends? As you walk down the street, ice-cold water surprises you from behind, buckets and hoses assault you from the sides as people lie in wait. And the children! They were often the most fierce. (This would include Melissa and Brad!) As we finished our parade up one side and down the other, we positioned ourselves at the entrance and welcomed the “dry shirts”, a phrase someone delighted in yelling again and again. (Tip for next year: bring lots of small change as it costs 5 baht to refill, and we refilled A LOT.)



The onslaught


We’re ready!

Ready to leave, we once again sent our friends in our car. We wrapped ourselves in towels and jumped into a tuk-tuk – you know, an open-air vehicle. Smart, right? Safely on the highway, far from the melee, we relax, enjoy the ride. Then a little boy rolls down his window and starts spraying us. Nowhere is safe. Brad returns the favor – in their car. Traffic inches forward, but our driver doesn’t move. (He’s enjoying this way too much!) As we enter Soi 23, a narrow street filled with revelers just getting ready for the evening, we are sitting ducks. Buckets, hoses 2 feet away and us with nowhere to go as our driver, once again, inches down the street. Our towels, us – drenched. Our driver – not a drop on him!


Day 3 – A Cultural Songkran

Songkran is steeped in tradition. Water represents purification, washing away bad luck to begin the year anew. Families visit local temples and cleanse the Buddha statues. Mornings begin with merit-making, food is offered to monks. As our friends and Melissa had a limited time in Bangkok, we wanted them to experience more than water, so we headed to the temples.

As we approached Wat Pho, panic quickly swept in. So. Many. People. And so hot! (There’s a reason a huge water festival is held during the hottest month.) Surprisingly the crowd thinned once we entered the temple (where did they all go?). The usually serene temple was alive with tradition – music, dancing, sandcastles, and hanging money.


After a much needed, air-conditioned lunch break, we headed for Wat Phra Kaew and were greeted by this:


Apparently the Royal Family was worshipping there, so we detoured to Wat Saket, Temple of the Golden Mount. It was a pleasant surprise complete with Wifi at the summit and a blessing by a monk.



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Color and Contrast ~ Chennai

Chennai is a city of color and contrast. I took a quick trip to visit our friends, C and L. Wonderful hosts, we did the usual – visited their local market, toured the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site, Mahabalipuram, dined alfresco at the beautiful Upper Deck overlooking the Bay of Bengal, and shopped at a local arts and crafts fair. But by far my favorite was our early morning walk with their dogs through the village enroute to the beach.

Color was everywhere from the surprising azure blue of the sky and the white, pink, and fuchsia of the delicate bougainvillea blooms to the vibrant lime green and purple buildings and the vivid array of saris.

Our walk to the village took us through a posh neighborhood – manicured lawns, flowering trees, formidable entrances, and an etched-in-stone street sign. Turn the corner and the manicured lawns become piles of dirt and litter, goats roaming the streets. Such a contradiction.

The beach was a confusion of activity. It extended for miles and miles, fishing nets strewn about, women filleting fish right there on the beach (can’t get any fresher than that!), boys playing cricket, dogs showing their interest, and annoyance, with our two labradors, and people just milling about, not seeming to have a care in the world.

Mahabalipuram, although magnificent, was nothing compared to the festivities happening on the beach. As we walked down the street, the energy and sheer number of people surprised even my hosts. They avoided the weekend so that we could have an uninterrupted, quiet experience, however, we seemed to arrive in the middle of a still unknown Hindu festival. The beach reminded me of a holiday weekend at the Indiana Dunes, though the beach umbrellas were replaced with saris fashioned as havens, coolers and picnic lunches replaced with bundles of wood for open-air fires. And thousands of people.

The Incredible People of India


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