Back to Bangkok!

Thailand’s capital city draws an estimated 45 million tourists yearly and several travel publications have deemed it one of the world’s best cities. It’s easy to see why travelers would gravitate here, with its colorful patchwork of Buddhist temples and ultra-modern hotels, gleaming temples and three-wheeled tuk-tuks.

Temple Offerings at Jim Thompson House and Garden[/caption]

Peak season is between November and March when tourism is particularly high. The months of March, April and May are the hottest. December to February: regarded as the ‘cold months’, the perfect time to explore Bangkok on foot. Visitors looking to participate in Bangkok’s festival season should visit from November through May.

[ The Temple of Dawn, Bangkok

My two visits in December coincided with a heatwave, one from a cold northern California winter shouldn’t complain, but 95 degrees combined with 95% humidity was challenging. Modify touring, visit Temples and shrines as soon as they open and add a long tail boat for a canal tour in the afternoon and sip gallons of freshly juiced pomegranates!

A long list of tours, besides the city Temple tours, Wat Pho, the glimmering golden reclining Buddha is breathtaking. Chinatown night tour with sidewalk snacking from street vendors – yes, I did this! My first evening out, my guide took me to a small hillside bar with a stunning illuminated view of the Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. An easy walk down the hill through the Pak Klong Talat market, one of Bangkok’s largest, liveliest and loveliest markets. A maze of wholesale and retail vendors selling flowers, vegetables, fruits, Pak Klong is truly a delight for the senses. Nighttime doesn’t limit activity, Bangkok never sleeps, in my case a behind the scene look at the flower vendors preparing for a National Holiday, florists were creating dozens and dozens of orange marigold wreaths to be laid on local altars. My favorite is the small jasmine bracelets, enchanting fragrant adornment for your pillow!

Wat Pho, Bangkok

 

[ Flower Market Bangkok

Bangkok is overflowing with ancient markets, easily reached by the long tail ferry boats – narrow down your choices and definitely include a few of the floating markets outside of the city. I love the vibrant market scene – similar to the souks of Marrakech, in that the markets are in small cavernous buildings, narrow foot traffic is interrupted by small scooters, workers dragging transport carts, a vibrant sea of activity. Booths and small permanent shops offering strange, sometimes useful, sometimes not so useful items. Clay handicrafts, wooden furniture, ceramic ware, local artists host small studios. 

Tha Kha floating market

Start in early morning to visit the local floating markets and the Mae Klong market where the train rolls through, vendors quickly move their tarps of fresh vegetables to allow the train to pass. Minutes later, they’ve unrolled their tarps of vegetables and the market continues. Saturday is a popular local day for the floating markets and less touristy. Dawn to dusk floating market tour at Tha Kha floating market, is one of the most authentic markets in Bangkok. Observe an age-old way of living, ancient ladies in their wooden rowboats selling meals, drinks, household objects, vegetable and fruit from their gardens. A long tail boat ride here offers a quiet glimpse of Thai living, their somewhat dated wooden homes along the river bank interrupted by deep green fields and local farms. My knowledgeable guide picked up greens from the rowboat ladies and we took to a local restaurant to enjoy with massive prawns – the restaurant was happy to steam the just picked greens.

Jim Thompson House, the Bangkok based American businessman who is still missing since 1967, is honored by the firm still running his silk business in maintaining his unique house and beautiful gardens. Thompson pieced together his small estate from six traditional Thai teak wood houses in order to house his growing collection of Southeast Asian art. A beautiful representation of authentic Thai design and a stunning inspiring garden set along the banks of the river. 
  Jim Thompson Home and Garden

 Jim Thompson Home and Garden

[ Amulet Market, Bangkok

One of my goals was to visit the amulet market, a rewarding afternoon combined with visiting a few Thai temples and hidden neighborhoods. My last day in Bangkok was spent at the amulet market, a mini sacred day outing. After my 10 days in Bhutan absorbing Buddhist culture this was the perfect end to my three-week Asia exploration. City tour of the spiritual and mystic side of Bangkok, with a focus on religious shrines, spiritual art and local worship ceremonies.  Talismans, some prized by collectors are sorted by type, vintage and provenance. Religious charms and traditional medicine can be discovered in one of Bangkok’s oldest markets, you may be bumping elbows with monks as well as men in dangerous occupations, looking for an amulet to ward off danger or to ensure long life. Bargaining is expected!

Visiting the Amulet Markets, Giant Swing, Wat Suthat, and the historic Bang Luang Mosque. One can learn a great deal about Thailand, its belief system, and the life of everyday Thais by looking beneath the surface of the city, in the spirit shrines, amulet markets, tattoo houses, and other symbols that connect the people and their faiths. From Chinese shrines to Brahmin deities, picturesque mosques and talismans galore, multi-faith Thailand offers fascinating windows into the diverse beliefs of the people.

Dining and Hotels to come, something intriguing for all tastes. Bangkok is overflowing with Michelin restaurants and authentic street food stalls – an exciting gamut of dining experiences.. 

Street Scenes Bangkok

Arrows & Alcohol in Bhutan

When passing through a Bhutanese village, say on a Saturday morning, do keep a look out for local villagers competing in field archery matches. Archers gather under a colorful flag draped canopy; half of each team shoots, while those not shooting, mingle and praise their teammates and boisterously jeer the opposing team. It’s an animated competition, players dressed in their traditional robes or Gho and knee-high black socks. The handsome archers bedecked in brilliantly tinted scarves attract admiration as the vibrant scarves denote their prowess and proficiency.

Archery is a traditional Saturday Bhutanese activity, enjoyed mostly by men at local archery clubs, situated in open fields flanked by tall trees. Dogs doze warmed by the sun and wait for delicacies. Conventional bamboo bows and arrows have been updated with carbon fiberglass bows. The brightly painted target is set low at a massive distance, close to one and a half football fields, I couldn’t even see the small target from the shooters line. Almost every village in Bhutan has a field dedicated to archery.

Archery or Dha, is the national sport of Bhutan and if you visit and stay at the highly regarded Amankora Lodges, you can definitely count on a few spirited matches with your guides and hotel staff.  We played with traditional bamboo bow and arrows and a much shorter target range. Archery is a calming sport, particularly improved by sipping small wooden cups of Ara, a potent distilled rice liquor.

Boisterous competitions are an age-old custom, with cheering and group dances performed every time an archer hits the wooden target. Archery is woven into the fabric of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom. Men gather at their small clubs to enjoy a Saturday of drinking and arrows and camaraderie. Competition is ferocious, and a very brilliantly festooned archer told me whiskey actually improves his aim. I asked if their wives care if they hang out at the filed all day, they responded with a cheer and a toast!

Decorated Bumthang Archer
Why yes, I would love to practice the ancient art – where is the target?
Gracious archers offered me a cup of Ara and a biscuit.
The archery field is within walking distance of Amankora Bumthang Lodge

I was offered a traditional drink, but not a bow, however, I was invited by the most decorated archer to photograph him during his turn. A gift in itself.

Target Size 476 feet away!
A lazy Bumthang Saturday at the Archery Field