Guest Post: Temples and TukTuks

There are six of me. No really, I have five sisters (and two brothers!) that are just as travel obsessed as I am. Here is a guest post by my sister Lenore who took her three children to Thailand.

A major thrust of elementary education is ethnic heritage as an attempt to connect children who live in small childlike worlds to the greater world.  They're frequently asked to bring in outfits or food from their ancestral home, which, once you get to second and third generations immigrants, is a bit of a stretch.  But now my kids have been there and experienced the culture.  Though they're little, they understand a little bit more about who they are.  And experiencing that was magical.

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Thailand has the exotic animals and the jungles, but it also has a rich culture of religion and mysticism.  There is something absolutely magical about the architecture both in the temples and outside every shop and home.  There's the Buddhist influence of over 4,000 temples peaking out around every corner, the folklore represented at nearly every home, the large Muslim population, and the historical Khmer Hindu-Buddhist ruins.  That's a ton of religious history.

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The official religion of Thailand is Buddhism and the most important temple is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is on the same premises as the Grand Palace.  The Grand Palace is the current resting place of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last October 2016.  There were great lines of Thai people in black waiting to pay their respects.  The entire country is covered with shrines to this great king (it's a constitutional monarchy) who served for 70 years.  On the anniversary of his death in October 2017 there will be a giant giant giant party.  Nearly every Thai person we saw wore an image of the late King around their necks and he is worshiped nearly like a deity.  His son, however, is not.  It's forbidden to speak ill of the leaders but you can tell the Thai people think the new king is a bit of a turd with poor morals.  So the previous king's visage is every where.  I had no idea that amount of black drapery existed in the entire world.  Likewise, and less magically, I had no idea the amount of black wiring that existed in the world.  Most of it is in Thailand.  They have some wiring problems and it takes a walk of about one block to be reminded that Thailand is very much a second world in the city, third world in the country type of place.  But for all their faults, they loved their king.

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The Palace grounds and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha left my eyes spinning with glorious mosaic beauty.  I have never seen anywhere more beautiful that the buildings and temples there and at Wat Pho.  To think of the labor and artistic precision it must have taken to create these structures boggles the mind.  Every tiny little tile and golden adornment, layers upon layers, buildings and buildings.  Man, these people can make some serious decor.  All of the roof swirlies (I'm sure they have names) and the mythological creatures all decked out in tiny tiling are sights to behold.  Go to Thailand to witness the artistry alone.

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Nonetheless, we enjoyed explaining the worship of a statue which seems in opposition with LDS teachings about worshipping idols.    We got into a long discussion about idolatry that resulted in the general agreement that anything that leads you to God and peace is good.  I love the overlap of religious activities.  For example, before entering the temples there is a station for symbolic washing.  You cannot go in without your shoulders and legs being covered and you must remove your shoes.  You assume a posture of reverence, specifically including not pointing your feet directly at the Buddha.  And to worship you kneel.  There were special places where only Thai people were allowed to kneel before the Buddha and my children felt special and honored to be included in that opportunity.  They said they prayed for me.  Thanks, dudes.  I need it.

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After our visit to the ornate Emerald Buddha (who, by the way, gets his clothes changed by the King seasonally) we found our first tuktuk and headed for food.  I love tuktuks.  I want one so badly.  They're the perfect form of transportation.  You tell the driver what you want and he tells you how much and you pretend to walk away and he drops his price and you all pile in (yes, all six of us in one) and zooming away you go.  They're a fraternity and since the tuktuks are open air the drivers often talk to each other and ask directions.  There are few things more exhilarating than zooming around in tuktuks.  I found their prices were usually totally fair because sometimes things are far and they have to navigate around a ton of traffic.  To this guy we said "we need delicious food" and ten minutes later we were stuffing our faces.

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Ok, next to Wat Pho.  We went to Wat Pho because it's the birthplace of Thai massage, but it more famously houses the biggest Buddha in the world (? Idk if it's the biggest, but it's hella big) called the reclining Buddha.  A Buddha after my own heart.  Napping Buddha.

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We signed in to the massage school and right as a downpour started all six of us lay down for our massages.  The best.  Anybody who knows me knows I am a Thai massage believer.  In Thailand they only cost $7.  I probably know where the good one is in your city if you deserve a treat.

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Jude fell asleep.  The rest of my crew was entirely converted and thus began our nearly every day Thai massage routine.

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Thailand: Elephant Bath

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The second part of our Tour with Tong was a visit to the elephants.  As soon as we got there we pulled up to little bamboo huts one of which served as a little home for a baby elephant.  We paid our $30 and up sauntered three giant elephants.


By the way, I am not an animal person.  In fact, I'm a little afraid of all animals.  But here I am with all these little kids around me and I have to pretend that I think this is a totally normal and comfortable thing to do: climb up and sit on a twenty foot tall beast who could kill me.  I turned to the Hippie with tears in my eyes and begged him not to make me go and then promptly turned to my boys and forced them crying onto the elephants.  It all happened rather quickly and soon all six of us were marching toward the River Kwai on elephants and I was shaking in fear and pretending for my kids that everything was going to be fine.  I've never been so scared in my life and not three hours before I'd been bitten by a tiger.  

Down the steepest hill we went, crashing into the water, and then guess what the stinking' elephant's favorite thing to do is?  Dive of course.  And so scuba diving we went as the elephants fully submerged themselves.  Surprisingly, once we were in the water we were all a lot less scared.  They didn't seem quite so big because so much of their bodies were underwater.  They were not aggressive and the guides who rode with us didn't use any kind of force to get them to do activities with us.  The people running the place were very affectionate with the animals and the energy I got from everybody involved was that, though certainly these are wild animals made tame, the people loved being with the elephants and treated them like horses or dogs that they loved and enjoyed.  I obviously do not know the psychology of elephants but they seemed to be having a lovely time lounging about in the water and spraying us.

Kids in Thailand

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There are six of me. No really, I have five sisters (and two brothers!) that are also addicted to traveling and love to write. Here is my sister Lenore’s experience in Thailand.

There are two activities that cause me to bolt out of bed in the morning. The first is in-utero baby appointments, the second is international flights for adventures.  We ubered from Danville to SFO where we met up with the rest of our travel party. They caught one flight and we caught another, both to Tokyo but to DIFFERENT AIRPORTS. Ha. Check your airports friends.

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The vans in Bangkok are my second dream vans. Toyota makes these fancy 9 or more passenger vans with tricked out interiors. I wish they were available in America because all moms would drive them.

The next morning we arranged a killer tour through a company we found on Trip Advisor: Tours with Tong.  The guide Lily spoke pretty good English and was totally accommodating to our needs for snacks and bathrooms.  There was a tour guide and a 9 passenger van driver which cost about 4000 baht for the day.  That's about $120 American.  Cash is king in Thailand so if you go show up with about $300 in baht.  Every couple of days I took out another $300 which we used to pay drivers, take tuk tuks, pay for food, pay for everything.  For the 6 of us combined I'd budget about $100/day maybe for everything?  Our hotel for all 6 of us was about $50/night in Bangkok and our AirBnB in Phuket was about $100/night.  Here are the links of where we stayed, in case you're planning.  I would ABSOLUTELY stay at the AirBnB in Phuket again.  I want to buy it. Here's Urban House and here's the magical AirBnB: Rawai

Our first stop was about an hour and 30 outside of Bangkok so we saw the countryside before we saw the city. Every other block had a glamorous Buddhist temple with the golden curly and ornate detailing. Thailand feels magical because of these gorgeous buildings looming around every corner resplendent with mirrored tiled mosaics.  The monks really outdo themselves. Each home dwelling also has a spirit home shrine in front of them which look like mini temples. We learned that the Thai people believe strongly in folklore and mythology so you see a lot of sparkly guys with masks and magical animals.  More on that at the Siam Niramit show.

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Destination 1 was one of the main motivations of this trip: my kids wanted to see animals.  There's a zoo in Kanchanaburi where they keep the baby animals separate so that guests can interact with them.  For $15 you can go into the cages one by one and feed these baby animals bottles.  They are not sedated but they are chosen because of their age and temperament.  Each animal has a cat nanny who works with it daily and goes in there with you.  You feel at risk for scratches but the animals are babies for the most part or, in the case of the the lion Jude hung out with, it is just a really mellow beast that has never scratched nor bit anyone ever.

Not so with the tigers.

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In went Jude to the young lion's cage. He was appropriately nervous because feeding animals with bottles is different from his extensive experience feeding babies. They eat aggressively. And they're thicker than house cats so you have to pet roughly. It started out apprehensive but then became snuggle time.

Next up went Blake and Silas into the baby lion cage. There were two snuggly lions who were like teddy bears. One of them latched on to Blake's hand but didn't break the skin.  They were both brave and they loved it.

Then Mimi went in with the leopard. She put on Jude's shirt in case they crawled on her shoulders, which they did. Beautiful animals, leopards. She spent a lot of time playing with them.

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It was my turn. I chose the tigers. I am an idiot.

There were four 4 month old tigers prowling around their cage.  They were active. They were hungry. I threw caution to the wind and went in.

Of course when they told me to sit down over on the bench the tigers were milling around I thought "I should definitely not sit down on the bench the tigers are milling around." But I did it anyway because I am both brave and stupid. And one crawled on my back like Philo does every day and sunk his fangs into my shoulder. The guide happened to be filming and caught it on tape. I quickly pulled the tiger off and left the cage. When I took my hand away it was a bloody mess but in the chaos we didn't get a good picture of my bloody shoulder before the cat nanny pounced on me with iodine and bandaids. True to form, I could not stop laughing. It's my fear and pain coping mechanism and many of my babies have come into the world to the sound of my cackling.

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After the incident everybody bullied me into feeding the nice lion that Jude fed. I did it and I didn't like it. I'm done feeding jungle cats.

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