After wandering around Banglamphu for a while, we returned to our room, caught a short nap, woke, showered, and went downstairsto check-out. Lamphu House gladly stowed our backpacks, and we decided to do some sightseeing. Road traffic in Bangkok has earned some notoriety, and rightfully so, the city seems to caught in the grip of an eternal traffic jam. Luckily, there are several excellent mass transit options in the city. One of which is by boat. We were within easy walking distance of Phra Athit, and it was just a short boat ride to our destination Tha Chang.
The experience was an interesting one. The most amazing thing to me was how the young lady kept track of who had gotten on the ferry at each stop.
She would march up and down the boat, shaking her fare container, automatically stopping at every new customer.
Two stops later we had arrived at our destination. And wouldn't you know it, we stepped off the dock...into a rather large and busy "food court". And the fragrances made us realize it was time for breakfast.
From this shop.....
I ordered the Roast Duck Red Curry (35 Baht - about $1):
The curry was mildly spicy, and as seasoned well. The duck was pretty tender, and the flavor was on the "wild" side, which kinda freaked the Missus out. The Missus loves gamey flavors in most meats, but is of the opinion that all duck must taste of 5 spice. Needless to say, I enjoyed it much more than She did.
The Missus ordered Her "breakfast" from this booth:
It was a very tasty plate of deep fried fish with basil (40 baht):
The crosscut slices of fish had been, as the Missus put it, "fried to death, in a good way" and had the texture of a salty-peppery-savory jerky.
As a little bonus, the Missus had been curious about another dish. When She inquired about it, She was told it was "minced bird", and was given a little sample.
It was quite spicy, and on the chewy side, but very good nonetheless. All in all, a very nice breakfast.
The Missus, always the curious one, actually followed the soldiers across the street. As they sat down to breakfast......She started with the questions, as only the Missus can. Stuff like, "what are you here for, is there a parade?" I finally pulled Her away when, poking at their guns, She asked, "is this real?" It's amazing what She can get away with....had I gone down the same road, I'd probably be singing my own version of "One Night in Bangkok".
While we sat and waited for the venue to open, a very well dressed gentleman walked up to us, and informed us that the Grand Palace was closed for a Holiday, but never fear, he'd arrange to have us taken on a "special" tuk-tuk tour of some little known Wats. We almost felt honored to have been selected for the classic "Grand Palace is closed" scam! Of course the Grand Palace wasn't closed, and we saw students in school uniforms, so it obviously wasn't a holiday!
After paying the almost $10 entrance fee, we made our way into Wat Phra Kaew. I really loved the outline of the Stupa and various Temples against the Bangkok sky.
After walking along the grounds of the Wat for a while it struck me......Wat Phra Kaew was Bangkok in microcosm. Things seemed to be really packed in, a bit cramped, and crowded, but colorful and vibrant...full of life. The famed Emerald Buddha is quite tiny, and sits on a stand that is quite high, and so somewhat hard to see.
The Grand Palace itself seemed a bit anti-climatic.
We left, skirting the Palace walls, and made our way to Wat Pho(Temple of the Reclining Buddha). After paying the 50 Baht admission, we entered the main building. Prepared to be underwhelmed, I turned to the Missus and said, "ok, where's the reclining Buddha?" To which the Missus replied, "just turn around stupid....." I turned, and my jaw hit the floor....
It was a pretty impressive sight........150 feet long, and 50 feet high.
The grounds of Wat Pho is less cluttered, and much more relaxing than Wat Phra Kaew. It is also the oldest Wat in Bangkok.
After wandering the grounds of Wat Pho for a while, we noticed it was getting a bit late, and we went on our way.
On our way back to Tha Chang, the Missus and I detected a scent that rose above the usual cooking smells of Bangkok. Curious, we ventured down an alleyway.
And our noses led us to this:
A quantity of seafood in various levels of fermentation, and barrels of dried shrimp, fish, and squid.
Quite an impressive array......
A few minutes later we were on our back to the Guest House to pick up our gear.
And headed back off to the Airport. As fate would have it, we found out our flight had been delayed, "for maybe 2 hours...." OK, so what to do at Suvarnabhumi Airport? We found that seating is rather scarce, and the Airport crowded, and the best option to find someplace to sit was at one of the fast-foodish restaurants. And there was one that I found a bit intriguing.
It is called 'R Burger', and is a Roppongi based Japanese-style "burger joint". If you are used to American burgers......the term burger is used in a rather loose context here. "Chicken burger garnished with Shiso and Ume dressing" anyone? How about a salad "stick".....basically a Japanese riff on a Vietnamese spring roll. The burgers were pork, chicken, maguro....and announcing the newest addition to the R Burger line-up...the novel concept of a beef burger! (Looks like they are made from one-eyed cows, huh?)
And most importantly.....you just can't go without that special added ingredient....collagen ?!!!??!
It seems that the buns at R Burger are processed with Marine Collagen....I guess they inject their buns...to smooth out our "buns". In fact, you see the words "collagen", "healthy" and "smooth" strategically placed throughout the restaurant. Personally, I find that "Hot Dog", "Fried Potato Wedges", "collagen", and "healthy" a bit confusing. What was even more confusing was the "Avocado Salad Dog".....which has no "Dog" and was basically a bun (don't forget the collagen), served with "hydroponic vegetable".....to put it in overly blunt American terms...this was avocado, tomato, and lettuce, in a bun. All slathered with that most healthy of toppings; wasabi mayo.....hey, if the collagen doesn't smooth you out, the mayo surely will, right?
I purchased an R Dog "combo" which came with potato wedges and a drink. I chose a Green Tea drink.....which in a direct contradiction to everything else on the menu was exactly that, cold green tea.....nothing else.
The potato wedges were fried nicely, and if you're used to American portions, you'll be in for a shock...there were 7 wedges, served in a rather large paper sack.
Soon enough my 'R Dog' arrived.
It was a pretty large dog, long and thin, with a natural casing, but very little flavor....add to that the fact that I still can't get behind the idea of ketchup on a Hot Dog...though the Missus likes Her dog that way. What I really enjoyed was the bun....it was light, the crust was crisp, the bread a bit sweeter, but not too sweet....must be that collagen magic at work! And since we all know that collagen is the "glue which holds our body together" I had the added satisfaction of knowing that none of my limbs, or other body parts for that matter, would suddenly decided to take leave...my mind on the other hand, well, that's another story.
Finally, after what seemed forever.......our flight left for Udon Thani. One quick note on AirAsia, the flights are cheap, but as with any budget carrier, they will try to squeeze every Baht they possibly can from you...from charging for water (10 Baht), to charging for checking luggage. Luckily, the Missus and I were traveling light.....only carry on for us. The original plan was to arrive in Udon Thani at arround 4pm; catch a Tuk Tuk to the Bus Depot, and catch the bus to Nong Khai, which resides on the Thailand - Laos border. This way we'd make it into Nong Khai before dark. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed, and night falls like a dark, black curtain in this part of the world. We arrived to darkness, and the Missus was feeling a tad uncomfortable.....after a brief discussion I made an executive decision; we'd catch the shuttle from the airport to Nong Khai, and take our chances. Most of the folks getting on the shuttle were headed straight for the Friendship Bridge...the Lao border. We decided to get a good night's sleep.....in need of a destination, I muttered the only Guest House I knew of in Nong Khai....they very popular Mut Mee. We arrived to a driveway in almost pitch black darkness....but the really nice driver pointed down the pitch-black driveway, and smilingly said, "Mut Mee...down there". And, yes it was. We could hear the muttering of voices as well approached the end of the drive way....we made a turn, and arrived at a little desk fronting a kitchen area. A fellow with a British accent (Harps) greeted us with, "you are pretty late....." And went one about the scarcity of rooms.....call it good timing if you will, but we arrived during the Bun Fai Phaya Naga, the Naga Fireball Festival. During the full moon of the 11th month, a mysterious event occurs in Nong Khai....mysterious fireballs arise out of the Mekong River...legend has it that mythical serpents create the fireballs. So, would we be able to get a room? Harps looked at us and apologetically said: "I'm sorry.....but it has been very busy....thousands of people. Even one of the Princesses visited! So the only thing we have is Julian and Pao's suite...and it is rather expensive...660 Baht a night." Are you kidding me? Less than 20 bucks a night...sold! Harps guided us over to the "suite"....and we freshened up.....(more on Mut Mee in a future post). Harps had also mentioned the festival, telling us it was about a 20 minute walk along the Mekong...and we could hear music playing. And soon enough we saw this from our front window:
Which only served the purpose of making us hurry even more.....plus we were pretty darn hungry. The banks of the Mekong in this area is paved, and well served with a walkway....which made things quite easy for us. Most of the restaurants alongside the Mekong were closed, the bars were of course open! And many of the businesses were releasing lanterns into the air:
This one had the unlucky fate of landing on the balcony of an abandoned building...starting a small fire.....it was handled with much good natured giggling......
As we approached the festival it slowly got more and more crowded.....and the every present fragrance of food was as intense as the music was loud. As we found throughout Thailand and Laos, everyone is up for a good time!
Along with the entertainment on a stage at one end of the festival:
Was this affair on another stage.....
Some kind of couples pageant....don't ask me to explain, I haven't a clue. I can say, that there was a speaking portion....but it looked like all the good looking young pairs from the area were involved....
Regardless, the Missus found this to be "really cute and charming" and stayed to watch for a while.
But eventually hunger trumped any desire to see who won the contest, and we walked pass all the food booths. As would be expected for a city along the banks of the Mekong; seafood was in abundant display.
Alongside the usual "meat on a stick", sweets, there were several Oyster Omelete booths.
And what Festival would be complete without a insect booth?
In the end, the Missus and I settled for some pretty basic stuff.
I went with some Pad Thai from this Father and Son team.
The Missus went with a Papaya Salad from the smiling young man to the right. Quite pungent, with a bunch of fermented fish paste, it met the expectations of fair food. Nothing outstanding, but it quelled our hunger.
For dessert, I had some fried duck:
Tough, but with decent flavor......
The Missus went for a frozen popsicle like treat.
We hadn't seen any fireballs rising out of the Mekong....but had a fun time anyway. We walked back to our room, grabbed a beer and some water from the fridge at reception (Mut Mee works on a "honor system"....you grab stuff from the fridge, write down what you took in a book up front, and pay for it a check-out....I love it)., sat on the porch overlooking the Mekong, and along with counting the geckos on the ceiling, we counted our blessings as well.......hard to believe we'd only been in Thailand for a bit over 48 hours.
I know this has been a long post......but I thought you might enjoy it! Thanks for hanging in there!