I know it's been a few days since I last posted anything. I guess I was disheartened when I accidently deleted a whole long post I had written about my weekend. In any event, this past weekend I decided to stay close to Bangkok, but explore some of the surrounding areas a bit more. (Some may think I'm crazy, but one of the reasons I wanted to stay close was so I could catch the Patriots game on Monday morning -- bright and early at 4:30 AM! Unless you are living under a rock, you know that I was definitely rewarded with another solid thrashing of Mr. Manning and the Colts. "Cut that meat!")
On Saturday, I headed to Samut Prakan which is a small city about 30 km southeast (?) of Bangkok - for those of you in Boston, it's sort of like Bangkok's Lynn (i.e. "Boston without the good parts."). I took a bus out there and quickly learned that as soon as you leave Bangkok city limits all Roman script is gone and the street signs are only in Thai scrawl. Needless to say, that makes getting around (and especially knowning when to get off your bus a bit of a challenge!). With a little help from the bus driver (due to the fact that I probably looked completely helpless), I managed to end up in central Samut Prakan, an area called Pak Nam. After wandering the streets for a little while, I found a sawngthaew (basically a pickup truck with two rows of seats in the bed) to take me out to Muang Boran, or "The Ancient City."
Muang Boran was the main purpose of my trip. It is a 300 acre museum/park that is roughly in the shape of the country of Thailand. It contains scaled-down copies of most of the kingdom's most famous temples, buldings, statues, etc. I thought it would be an interesting way to introduce myself to everything Thailand had to offer beyond the confines of Bangkok. And it was. I rented a bike and spent most of the day riding all throughout the park. There were no barriers or gates, so you could ride everywhere and walk around and climb all the buildings. The buildings themselves were quite large (in general), although I imagine the originals are even more magnificnet. All in all, it was a nice experience, but one I would probably skip if my time in Thailand was limited. After all, seeing the temples at Muang Boran is a bit like going to Las Vegas and saying that you have seen the Eiffel Tower!
After Muang Boran, I had a couple hours left in the day, so I decided to hit Samut Prakan's other main attraction: the "world's largest" crocodile farm. It was basically a zoo with a strong focus on crocodiles. Overall, crocodiles are pretty boring creatures - they mostly lie around with their mouths open (to regulate their body temperature). However, things get a bit more exciting when someone throws a piece of raw chicken into the pond (and for 20Baht you could do just that!) As with most things here in Thailand, they run their zoos a bit differently. In the States, there are signs all over the place that say "please don't feed the animals" - here, they have booths set up so you can buy food! I got a kick out of the chimps, who have become as good at begging as anyone on the streets of Bangkok. I actually watched one guy throw his plastic water bottle into the cage, the chimp caught it, UNSCREWED THE CAP, drank the water, and tossed the bottle! They also let you get a lot closer to the cages (which themselves seemed a bit flimsy) than I remember at any other zoo I have been too... All in all, its another skippable experience, but not a bad add-on if you are already out checking Muang Boran.
The Chatuchak Market
On Sunday, I headed out to the Weekend or Chatuchak Market. This is the largest market in Thailand (boasting over 15,000 stalls) and it seems to go on for ever. They sell everything here ... and I mean EVERYTHING: from used jeans to fine silks to live snakes to guns to electronics to DVDs to pottery to Bon Jovi t-shirts (yep, I found them!) to various traditional crafts to flowers (both fake and real) to ... It was pretty incredible to see - I basically just got lost in the market for about 4 hours (with a good hour of that time just trying to figure out how to get out!) (I should point out that on Monday, I found an excellent illustrated map of Bangkok created by Nancy Chandler, that actually contains a pretty detailed map of the market and points out where some of the good stuff is. The map is a MUST have if you are coming to Bangkok, but you can definitely pick it up cheap once you are here - 160Baht.)
While most of the stuff is definitely junk, it was clear that there were some areas that had nicer art, pottery and silks. I have no idea how one would know whether or not the stuff is "quality," but it certainly looked nicer. I made a few small purchases, picking up a sarong and 5 DVDs (King Arthur, I, Robot, The Incredibles, Shrek 2, and The Terminal) for 100 Baht (~$2.50) each. Typically, the rule of thumb with the DVDs is that you can expect 1/2 of them to not work or be of poor quality. I was actually amazed at the ones I picked up - not only did all of them work, but the quality was incredible - much higher than the DVDs I had picked up in Beijing last May. No wonder I read an article saying Disney had decided to drop the price of its DVDs in Thailand to under $10.
Tomorrow, I am leaving for Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan, two islands in the Gulf of Thailand (i.e. the Pacific Ocean side). Ko Pha-Ngan is the home of the famous (actually "infamous" is probably more accurate) Full Moon Party and this Monday is the full moon. We will be out on the islands from Friday until Wednesday morning. I'll try to check in while I'm out there - if not, expect some stories and pictures when I return!