The Thai that binds

Thailand has been a favourite destination for budget travellers for decades.  I think it’s the perfect combination of friendly people, stunning natural beauty, idyllic tropical beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, and bargain prices.  It’s hard to beat.  It’s what ties people here and keeps them coming back.

Having been in Thailand three times, I certainly haven’t tired of it.  I remember wondering to myself years ago, when I was here, why Thailand isn’t chosen by Manitobans as a winter holiday destination instead of the well-trodden beaches of Mexico and the Caribbean where, as sometimes happens, you might run into a neighbour from back home.  Emily-Ann expressed the same question a few days ago.  We concluded that the lengthy flight and the time zone adjustments are the main things that counter the many benefits of coming here for a winter getaway.  I also think that coming to Southeast Asia simply isn’t in the minds of travel agents and most sun seekers back home.  Too bad because it’s certainly worth the trip.

Pictured below are: (1) Emily-Ann and Madeleine with their Thai masseurs after foot massages in Bangkok; (2) Mary-Anna and our kids together with Olivia on our last night in Bangkok, and (3) the double-decker bus we took from Bangkok to the Cambodian border in southeast Thailand.  Goodbye Thailand!

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At Olivia’s

After months of reasonable to mediocre to pretty nasty accommodations, we had a wonderful time visiting Olivia’s beautiful apartment in Bangkok.  In spite of the 2 1/2 hours it took to get to her place from our hostel by walking, sky train, and taxi, it was well worth the effort.  We swam in the pool and enjoyed the home environment of her place.  Thanks so much Olivia for your enthusiastic welcome and your warm hospitality!

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Thai blues

Together with some of Olivia’s friends from Lertlah School, we went out to eat a an outdoor Thai restaurant.  We had great food and conversation along with fantastic music.  A perfect night out!

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Thai cuisine

Thailand is known for its absolutely delicious food.  Anyone who has eaten this pad thai or other Thai dishes knows this is true.  Here are some foods we had during our stay in Thailand.  Yum!

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On our last evening with Olivia, we went to a restaurant which brings raw meat and vegetables to the table for you to cook over and in a grill/pot located in the middle of the table.  Great fun, especially when we didn’t know what exactly we were ordering or eating.

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There seems to be a 7-11 convenience store on every other corner in Bangkok.  The stores, including grocery stores feature pretty much everything we’d have back home.

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Here’s an aisle sign in a Bangkok grocery store.  Really, who needs to shop the other aisles?  Smile

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Olivia and Lertlah

Last winter, I attended a teacher recruitment fair at the University of Manitoba, representing the school division in which I work.  At this fair, I met a teacher who said she had completed her teaching practicum in Thailand but through her U of M program.  When we decided to travel to Thailand, I wanted to make sure we checked out this school and its connections with Manitoba.  I then found out that one of my nieces from Oregon, Olivia Peters, is teaching there this year.  What an amazing coincidence!  We were super excited to see her!

Lertlah School is affiliated with the University of Manitoba, providing an international environment for the teaching practicum.  Lertlah is considered one of the best schools in Thailand for Early Years education.  Parents are eager to have their children attend here.  Amenities at the school include a swimming pool, a music room equipped with a class set of electric keyboards, a ball room (like at Ikea) for the youngest kids, computer labs, a beautiful garden in front of the school, and large covered outdoor areas to play in during the rainy season.  Students spend part of the day with their Thai teachers and part of the day in the foreign language program with the teacher candidates from U of M and other foreign teachers working at the school.

Olivia teaches Kindergarten children.  We had a wonderful time with her and at her Lertlah.

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The school also includes features you wouldn’t see in Manitoba schools.  This includes a viewing room in which parents can watch the ongoings in all classrooms via cameras in each room being fed to a bank of television screens in the viewing room.  The students also have an Ethics class in which they receive instruction in Buddhist philosophy.  This classroom includes a statue of Buddha.

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We lucked out by coming to Lertlah on the birthday of the King of Thailand.  This king is very much revered and loved throughout the country.  As he is the symbolic father of the country, Father’s Day is celebrated on this day as well.  We sat in an assembly held at Lertlah which celebrated the King as well as all fathers.

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Since we spent the day at the school, the principal let us use a meeting room to relax in when we weren’t touring the school or with Olivia in her class. We were treated as very special guests.DSCN7794 (Medium)

Our time in Olivia’s classroom was very special.  Her students are so sweet!  They sang a song for us and posed for a class picture.  They had a great time watching Aaron’s t-shirt which lights up with every noise made near it.

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It was great to see Lertlah School and its work with teacher candidates from the University of Manitoba.  The highlight, of course, was our time with Olivia.

Of impermanence, compassion, wisdom, and blessings

Bangkok is a city of more than 14 million people (all of Canada has about 34 million).  Buddhism is the religion practiced by 96% of the population.  Of the two major branches of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, it’s Theravada which is present in Southeast Asia.  (Mahayana Buddhism is largely found in India, Nepal, and Tibet.)  While in Bangkok, we visited in several Buddhist temples, known here as wats.

Wat Traimit houses the world’s largest golden seated Buddha, measuring nearly five metres in height.  In the past, artisans crafted the Buddhas in gold and disguised them from invading armies by a covering of stucco and plaster.  The Buddha at Wat Traimit was discovered by accident when it was accidentally dropped as it was being moved, revealing, under a casing of plaster, a beautiful solid gold Sukhothai style Buddha.

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Theravada Buddhists go to temples in order to worship, meditate, and/or provide offerings.  The focus of worship is on the Buddha’s teachings and their application to one’s life.  As part of worship, a candle is lit and incense is burned.  Both of these are intended to remind the worshipper of their impermanence and to focus their mind, thereby focussing their worship.  Offerings of flowers or fruit are made in order to honour the Buddha and his teachings.  Since Buddhism is accepting of all faiths, it has been described as not so much a religion but rather a way to live.  At its heart is the message of wisdom and compassion.  We witnessed many people worshipping at the temples we visited.

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At the temple, we received a blessing from a monk. As a symbol of this blessing, he sprinkled us with water then tied a white string on each of our wrists.

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Another temple, Wat Pho, is the largest temple in Bangkok and famed for its huge and majestic reclining Buddha measured 46 metres long and covered in gold leaf. The Buddha’s feet are 3 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations.

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Much like churches, Buddhist temples were once the ‘schools’ for the community.  At Wat Pho, some formal education of youngsters still takes place.

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Temples are vibrant and colourful places of worship, art, and education.  We were fortunate to be witness to these important aspects of Thai daily life and culture.

Thailand: land of smiles

Thai people are famously known to be friendly, polite, and gracious. As a result, Thailand is often referred to as ‘the land of smiles’. Given the natural beauty, perfect beaches, and warmth of the people, it’s hard not to fall in love with this country.

Originally, we had intended to spend some time on at least one of the island paradises in Thailand’s gulf. However, having heard from travellers coming from Cambodia that beaches there were as gorgeous and less expensive, we decided to save the beaching for that country. Besides, we had to apply for our Vietnamese visas while in Bangkok so that would take a few days. We found a great hostel, recently built and furnished throughout with IKEA furnishings.  Our stay in Thailand’s capital was going to be great!