In doing some client research today I came across this video of Linda Kaplan Thaler giving a presentation to Walgreens employees. I think it is absolutely fantastic. I love to see companies getting it right.
The day after Chatuchak, Mary and I decided we needed things to be a bit more calm than bustling Bangkok (because busy Bangkok bodies blasting by bade better backpacking bloopers bussing by boundaries to Kanchanburi).
Kanchanburi is where the Bridge over the River Kwai (and, not coincidentally, the river kwai itself) rests, but also happens to be relatively close to Erawan National Park wherein lie some beautiful waterfalls. We also heard tale of elephant riding and river rafting adventures.
The bus ride was easy enough and took about 2 hours. Upon arrival we were bombarded by the typical riff-raff looking for baht to taxi us to our guest house. Luckily we were smart enough to know that a safe Saamlaw with benches and doors was no place for people who had been traveling for 7 whole days and knew better than to get ripped off by some jerk with seat-belts.
Caution just wouldn’t do, so for 50 baht instead of 100 baht we found a guy who had a motor bike, some rickety old boards, a half-broken lawn chair, duct tape, and a little engineering know-how (you get engineering know-how from Legos, right?). He was very nice, somehow stacked our backpacks on his contraption, and drove slow enough that I probably wouldn’t have been in the hospital for more than a few days if I fell off.
Arriving unscathed we checked into our bungalow at Sam’s House and were stoked. The room was small but clean with a decent bed and A/C. It sat in a row of bungalows set atop pillars jutting from the river and would make a cozy and convenient base-camp for our Kanchanburi activities.
Our first order of business was to find some food and on recommendation from Sam’s House, headed to a place called Thai-Thai. It was delicious and cheap, and had free wi-fi. Who could complain? We powered down our lunch then Mary caught site of place across the street offering fish massage.
I wasn’t quite sure where exactly Mary had gotten a fish, or why on earth she’d want to have someone massage it, but I followed along as the owner of the shop (who also happened to be the waitress and cashier where we just ate) excitedly ushered us in.
For those of you not in the know, a fish massage is a very ticklish activity involving hundreds of nemo-sized fish. You wash your feet, step up onto a bench, and then plunge your legs into their tank. They immediately swarm to your feet and begin testing your reflexes and bladder control as they nibble away at the dead skin.
I can’t say that when the fish were done doing their thing I noticed a huge difference in how my feet felt, but since it was just the prequel to an hour long foot massage I wasn’t going to complain. After 60 minutes of elderly Thai women treating our feet like two salamis in need of physical therapy, Mary and I decided to rent some bikes and pedal to the bridge to finish off our first day at Kanchanburi.
The bike ride was only a few minutes and on a fairly serene street. As we pulled up to the bridge the sun was lowering in the sky and making for some really nice scenery. After snapping some photos we set off to cross the bridge.
Nearly at the other side of the river we caught wind of some mumblings that a train was coming. I arrogantly told Mary “Please, there is no way that they still run trains across this thing!” TOOT TOOT. In fact, there it came. We scootched to one of the platforms on the side of the bridge and watched as the train came and went. It’s used only for tourist purposes these days, but it’s amazing to think that 60 years ago this was one of the main trade lines for the Japanese.
That night we headed a bit further past Thai-thai’s for dinner after returning our bikes and had some good old fashion pizza…made by a Swiss guy. Whatever. At this point we were a bit tired of Thai food and just wanted to change things up a bit. The food was quite good and we headed back to Sam’s House on full stomachs, and ready for a good night’s sleep after a great first day in Kanchanburi.
After spending the previous day looking at temples, and having not done any shopping, Mary’s bargain-bone started tickling her. We’d heard some really great things about the Chatuchak market and decided to check it out on Saturday afternoon.
We hopped on the skytrain and headed North. The commute was easy and uneventful even though we were slightly unsure of which way to turn upon exiting the train. This dilemma was quickly solved by the gaggle of people streaming down the sidewalks in our general direction. We walked upstream.
It was almost 2 pm by the time we officially decided we were in the right place, and also very hungry. Luckily the first street we turned down (sort of an artery into the main market area) offered a great little sidewalk cafe.
When I say sidewalk cafe I mean it in the most literal sense. These are found all over Thailand and consist of some cheap plastic chairs and tables on the sidewalk next to some sort of food cart, and in this case two portable stoves with huge steaming pots on them. Our decision to eat here was based largely on the population of the cafe gentry: Thai.
The food proved delicious – some sort of pork ball in a spicy soup broth that had me licking chops and chopsticks alike. This lot for both of us plus a couple of waters cost roughly $4.
On full bellies we headed into the market. Going into this situation I knew I was in for a lot of looking, waiting, and giving my opinion as Mary proclaimed each shop better than the last! I tried to remind her that we only had what space was left in our backpacks to which she happily replied that she noticed I had more than enough space in my pack should she run out of room.
Mary picked up a black dress and a pair of what I can only describe as ‘Hammer Pants with an apron sewn on the front,’ and I bought some rice cakes from a lady on the street. I thought they were going to be coconut. I can’t explain the disappointment in biting into something expecting a coconut taste and getting a rice taste, other than saying if it were my child it would have issues once it grew up. I left the extras somewhere in a vendor’s market stall.
A few hours had passed and after a quick restroom stop that would’ve put most US highway gas stations to shame, we started to make our way out of the market. Luckily, we passed another stall that caught Mary’s eye!
I told her I was going to head around the corner to browse on my own – grumpy partly that I had to wait for her again, but mostly because I hadn’t found anything to buy for myself.
Darting out of the stall I took a quick left and took maybe 5 steps when I instantly saw my treasure. Like a weathered fisherman spotting a lighthouse in the perfect storm, or a drunk guy spotting a Denny’s at the height of an all night drunk, it practically sang out to me.
Hanging from the tips of a shabby table umbrella was a white t-shirt, depicting Robocop. But not the disciplined and principled kill-machine Robocop you and I know. No, this Robocop is different. He’s obese and happily munching on a donut, coffee in his opposite hand, and smiling merrily as his waist-line heaves with the girth of his rotund belly. $1. I didn’t even bother to try to negotiate.
I can’t even remember what happened the rest of the day I was so excited! Mary got something else, not as cool as my shirt, and we took the train back, to our room for our last night in Bangkok.
Our hotel includes a free half-day tour of guest’s choice of 3 sights in Bangkok and we chose to go see the major temples – I tried haggling them into paying usto go on the tour since I read that everything is negotiable, but it fell on deaf on ears. Our guide Jean met us in front of the hotel and off we went.
The first stop was Temple of the Dawn – which I thought would be filled with dish-washing detergent since the outside of it is completely covered in broken dishes – but surprisingly it was just some hundred-year-old temple!
Apparently King Rama (don’t ask me which number) had a bunch of porcelain dishware imported from China and since bubble wrap hadn’t been invented yet, much of it broke. The king, in what must have been the first ever green initiative, decided to have a temple constructed and decorated with the shattered bits. Eat your heart out Al Gore.
It was very cool to see the designs up close, but also interesting to learn that the temple was about 120 years old. Initially I thought it would be much more ancient. It made the temple no less ornate, however, and the gradient of the steps made for a heart-pounding climb for more reasons than one!
This would be one of many times that Mary and I are happy we’re on our travels now. When we retire knees and ankles would fare no better than the porcelain shipped from China on climbs like this!
We moved on to Wat Pho where the reclining Buddah…reclines. He is truly massive! Covered in some ridiculous amount of gold leaf made from real gold, it was enough to make an old prospector bang his pots and pans with excitement! Not to mention the feet inlaid with mother of pearl.
Mostly I was taking pictures during this part of the tour so I wasn’t paying very close attention to the guide. The whole lot is very impressive and it was also interesting to see Buddhists paying their respects in traditional fashion. This involves kneeling with legs together and feet pointing away from the Buddah shrine, and then bowing from the waist to the floor.
I am convinced that if Americans had to do this activity it would put a large percentage of the larger ones in the hospital – it is no small flexible feat (it does however require flexible feet).
After Wat Pho we moved on to the final site which was a more modern temple constructed of marble rather than stone – keeping the temple much more cool in the heat and humidity of Thailand. Again a Buddah shrine was contained therein.
The temples offer a great opportunity to get away from the hustle of Bangkok and reflect on a very peaceful religion while taking in some beautifully ornate detail and history at the same time.
Once our tour was over we headed back to the hotel and, due to traffic it took a while. Late for the dinner we had schedule with Mark, his wife Boon, their son, and his wife’s mom, Mary and I arrived hungry.
They took us to a traditional Thai restaurant where Boon’s mom practically force fed us some delicious delicacies until we nearly popped! I’d blame Thailand’s very friendly and caring attitude towards visitors for my expanded belly, but I’d be lying if I told you I tried my hardest to refuse the second helpings.
Next on the agenda, the Chatuchak weekend market!
We got up early on November the 9th to overpay for a taxi in Cairo one last time and head to the airport. Ultimately that day we’d wind up in Abu Dhabi before heading to Bangkok the next morning.
Landing-gear down and back at Kaitlin’s apartment – me needing desperately to replace the shoes AND flip flops I brought, and Mary seeking to find a spot to get a henna tattoo – a trip to the mall was in order. It proved fruitless for me and a trip to the beauty parlor wound up in me getting chased out (what with all those ankles and knees showing) and back to the already exhausted mall.
Jet lag was murdering us – multiple time zone changes and fairly long flights over just a few days will do that, but I snuck in a quick CrossFit workout that night before bed.
There are a thousand things to do in Abu Dhabi but you can do about nine hundred and ninety-seven of them better in the U.S. – we were excited to head to Bangkok.
The next morning (November 10th) slightly rushed in grabbing our boarding passes, we cut a bunch of people in line (thanks Cairo for that trick). As she was printing our boarding passes the attendant took notice of our clothes. We were flying on a staff ticket (purchased by Kalani for us) and shorts and collar-less shirts with flip flops was not acceptable. Oops. Bathroom. Backpack. Boo-yah. Knees, elbows, ankles and toes covered, we strolled back out to get our boarding passes.
Boarding began shortly after our arrival to the gate and as I stepped on the plane I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and relaxation; like I just pooped out 700 years of oppression. I didn’t expect this feeling. The Middle East was definitely a neat place to see, but the clinging to old cultural traditions and it’s abundance got to me without even noticing it.
There is nothing divine about completely masking yourself to society or refusing anyone an education. A government blocking Skype or one that relies on brute force to keep the ‘peace’ is one that can only be modern superficially. It affects everyone. However, it’s how many choose to live and govern and my perspective stems from a different life based on different values. I am very glad for that difference. Thanks Uncle Sam.
The flight was a short 6 hours and a time zone change of 3, putting us a half day in the future of everyone back home. We didn’t even have to use our flux capacitor! Our friend Mark met us at the airport and was kind enough to get us swiftly to our hotel via taxi from the airport.
Our hotel street…well, let’s just say it was the antithesis of Abu Dhabi and Egypt. We’d later find that a spot just down the road from where we stayed was featured in our guide book as being a staple of the red light district. It was a bit of a shock, especially since we came from such a buttoned-up society. But if the Middle East was buttoned up, Bangkok’s buttons had been popped off in a drunken bout of hormonally driven passion for a lady-boy and then sold at a night market for 50 baht.
The hotel itself was clean, pretty big, and well located and despite the debauchery in our locality Bangkok felt safer and more welcoming. People in shorts and t-shirts and no one dressed up like a ninja (though now reconsidering, if Jesus told me to dress like a ninja, I just might do it) and machine-gun touting guards replaced with grilled-meat-on-a-stick-touting street vendors. It was already great.
We spent the next day (November 11th)…at a mall. I know, I know. But you see, my shoes were just SO uncomfortable! I snagged a pair of Sanuk’s to replace my flip flops and my sneakers have been in my backpack ever since.
That night we had dinner with Mark, his wife Boon, and their son Ben at the mall. By the time dinner finished we were both ready to get some fresh air and then head back for sleep – still adjusting a bit to the time difference.
The hotel offered a complimentary half-day tour of the temples of Bangkok which we scheduled for the next day (November 12th).
We had seen the pyramids, experienced the haggle-scam process a few times, ridden a camel, kissed the sphinx and were perched in our hotel room over-looking the river Nile at Intercontinental Semiramis on the morning of Nov. 8th. We got up early to partake in the large breakfast buffet in the lobby of our hotel and had plans to meet Mary’s friend Cassie for lunch. We spent a lot of the morning after breakfast in the hotel room being frustrated with internet speed and taking care of some last-minute travel plans.
We headed out to meet Cassie at noon and impressed each other with our improvement in aggressive street-crossing. This level of pedestrian is no joke; traffic flies by at roughly the speed of sound as one bravely power-walks into the middle of it. Taking a step back or to the side is often necessary giving the whole process an 8-bit familiarity as the Frogger theme runs through your head. In Cairo, the punch-line about the chicken might be “because of chronic depression and a penchant for masachism.”
Cassie was a tremendous lunch hostess taking us to a local restaurant for a bowl of kusherie. Kusherie is essentially the blending of the carbohydrates from all cultures doused with a tomato sauce, and served with a vinegary hot-sauce on the side. Delicious! My insulin spike was complimented nicely by a complete feeling of appetite satisfaction.
As our blood-sugar levels started to stabilize and before they plummeted we decided to head to the Egyptian Museum. After learning from Cassie at lunch that Egypt is under martial law, the 18 metal detectors we passed through made more sense logically but the casual attitude of the guards and lack of concern made them seem no more useful. Although being that the opposing party would be brandishing a machine-gun, who was I to argue it’s efficacy?
The museum was simply tremendous. Multiple levels of artifacts from thousands and thousands of years ago. Jewelry, pottery, and decorated sarcophogae so ornate that it makes Michelangelo look like a 9 year old girl with a be-dazzler. I was simply amazed by how intricate the drawings, carvings, and sculpture was compared to the early European art I’ve seen. The Egyptians were definitely an astutely esthetic population. We strolled around the museum for a bit and then made our way upstairs.
Mummies. Nothing about mummies is lame, let me state that right now. Fingernails, skin, hair, and teeth all incredibly preserved! Deciding what was cooler between how well the preservation worked versus how people who lived in such a primitive time could develop the science was only half the fun. The other half was grabbing Mary’s shoulders from behind and shouting “BLEEEEH!” moments after she said things like: “That one looks like it’s going to sit up and open it’s eyes at us any minute!” Once we’d taken in enough of the mummies to generate several bouts of un-dead nightmares we began to wander the second floor.
This was another real treat. As we moved through what seemed like endless displays of sarcophogae we eventually came upon a huge golden box – the entryway to King Tut’s tomb, smartly placed at the entryway to the hall containing the remnants of King Tut’s burial chamber. A huge, ornate, golden chariot, countless artifacts and offerings, and images of how the chamber looked when it was found give a profound testament to how much the people of Egypt loved King Tut. I hope that when I die people cram me into a room filled with trombones, Xbox 360 games, and a 2002 Land Rover Discovery. We wandered a bit more and then headed back to the hotel.
That night we were very excited to find there was a lebanese restaurant in the hotel. It was simply amazing. I can’t do the food justice with my description…mostly because I can’t remember the names of things (not that I could pronounce them in the first place). However it was delicious and a great way to say farewell to Cairo, and Cairo to us as the waiter tried to charge us for a whole bottle of wine instead of just the single glass that was ordered.
I also did my best to impersonate the mummies we saw earlier that day, what do you think? (picture coming soon!)
The next morning we’re up early again to take a taxi to the airport and head back to Abu Dhabi for one more evening before the meat of journey begins in Bangkok!