In Part 1 of our amazing trip to Thailand, on our final day in Phuket we explored the island by scooter. The local kids we met on the beach had brought out their waterguns that day specially for the start of Songkran, the three-day Thai new year celebration. As we scootered back to our hotel that day, we witnessed the party really kick into gear. People from all over emerged on the streets, wielding all manner of water-propelling objects. During Songkran, the ritual of showering other people with water symbolises luck and renewal. No doubt this tradition began as simply sprinkling a little water on friends and loved ones, perhaps also to cool them off in the sweltering April heat. Today, Songkran has morphed into the mother of all water fights. Locals carry all kinds of water guns and super-soakers, waterballoons, and plain old buckets. They stand on the sides of roads wielding garden hoses and even giant rubbish bins filled with water that they chuck toward vehicles and pedestrians as they pass. There are even drive-by soakings by people riding in the back of pickup trucks! Day one of this jubilant festival was definitely the mildest of the three as everyone got into the spirit. In the heat we welcomed the water guns as we buzzed down the street on our scooters and cheered at the locals and egged them on. We did steer clear of the giant rubbish bins, however. That quantity of water just didn’t look safe for scooter-riders!
Then we were off to Bangkok! Day two of Songkran meant the festival was in full swing. We got used to the fact that we would be soaking wet within five minutes of leaving our accommodation. Every street was lined with grinning, water-logged groups of people standing outside their home or shop, staring down passersby with a look that said, “I’m gonna get you!” Songkran must be every Thai child’s favourite holiday. Think of what fun to have complete permission to soak anyone and everyone and make the biggest water mess possible. So many families participated together and you could tell they were all having a ball. But for us non-waterproof camera-toting tourists, the constant threat of soaking did make sightseeing more challenging. We started to plan our walks around town like a stealth mission, crossing streets at strategic points to avoid getting drenched. By day three, the locals were ruthless. Even my desperate plea, “I HAVE A CAMERA! PLEEASE!” was met with giggles and gallons chucked in our direction. It was quite an experience!
Bangkok definitely has the most colourful taxis on the planet. The city was also much more modernised that I was expecting. Here’s the view from where we stayed.
But the colourful taxis haven’t completely replaced Bangkok’s iconic tuk tuks, also painted in vibrant hues.
Signs of Bangkok’s cultural roots were also around every corner, mixed in with the modern skyscrapers. We visited Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which features the largest reclining Buddha in the world.
In Part 1 we mentioned eating from a street stall or two, and it’s a definite must on any visit to Thailand. The streets of Bangkok are covered with food stalls selling all kinds of various meals, snacks and drinks. Here is Jeff buying a serve of jackfruit.
And of course I had to gorge on the delicious Thai Iced Tea that was everywhere. A very long time ago, I blogged about this drink when we moved to Australia and it seemed unavailable in Sydney Thai restaurants and it had me wondering if it was in fact an American invention like “California Roll” sushi. We have of course since found it in many restaurants here (it seems many restaurants have recently added it to the menu) and it is indeed a very Thai drink. I’m sure it is terrible for you as it is loaded with sugar and sweetened condensed milk, but it is delicious, and also a wonderful accompaniment to spicy dishes. It was really fun to watch them make it the traditional way!
Like many tourists do, we also went to see a Kathoey cabaret show. Kathoeys are also known as “ladyboys”. In Buddhist Thai culture they are more accepted in society than their transgender counterparts in many Western and other Asian countries, although sadly they still face much societal and legal discrimination in Thailand. The show was good fun and their performances were impressive!
The most impressive performer was this Marilyn lookalike. Um, wow!
Once we heard about a cocktail bar called Sirocco on top of one of Bangkok’s tallest buildings, we knew we had to go check it out. The roof of this building also featured a fancy restaurant, all in the open air. We all felt very James Bond for about an hour or so. We were just missing the tuxedos and evening gown…
The next day we hired a driver to take us out to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets which made for a fantastic day. We floated around the canals, where we could shop directly from the boat! Of course there was no shortage of delicious food and exotic fruit to sample…
The boys insisted on posing with this giant snake. Eeeesh… I just took the photos. ;)
For another day trip, we headed inland to Kanchanaburi to visit the local wildlife. An elephant ride was on our must-do list! We felt a bit bad for the elephants though, since the day we were there the temperature had to have been about 50°C (that’s 120°F for you yanks reading).
After the elephants, we arrived at the main attraction for the day: the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist temple and animal sanctuary. Jeff found out about this place, and when he first told me about it, my reaction was “No way, we’re not going there, that’s crazy!” But sure enough the boys talked me into it, and in the end I am really glad that we went. The Tiger Temple started when some orphaned cubs were left with the monks, but has since grown to house a ton of tigers that you can get up close and personal with. Really up close and personal. The day began with the monks walking the tigers into the main viewing area. We had to stay behind the tiger and could only touch their back (not anywhere near their head). A bit scary, but there were SO many staff, who presumably would let themselves be eaten before the tourists! ;)
This gentle pre-teenage tiger lounged in the shade and acted in some ways like a gigantic playful house cat. She would bat at her caretaker occasionally in a playful way.
The bit of shade where we were in the photo below was a rare bit. There were actually hardly any trees around, and we were there on a 50°C day, right up there in heat-stroke territory. As such the big cats were verrrry sleepy in the height of the day. We did see them “exercising” later in the afternoon, which you can see below! Here we are with some sleepy teenagers:
Then came the really big cats. We had to choose who in the group would have the tiger’s head in their lap, and Chris won the game of rock-paper-scissors. I wasn’t too heartbroken that I lost. ;)
The absolute best part of the day, however, was a special afternoon session bottle feeding the BABIES! There were six cubs all together, two were only two months old and the other four were four months old. They were sooooo cute I didn’t know what to do with myself!
I mean, just look at that little face! I doubt you could get this close to tiger cubs anywhere else on the planet. It was pretty special. The cubs were so little, but their paws were the size of our adult hands. Their deep “baby” growling noises were adorable yet very worthy of respect.
Feeding them was not as easy as we thought it would be, but boy was it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The idea of picking up the cubs surprisingly never crossed my mind, or the minds of anyone else in our group for that matter. But as we were leaving, this boy didn’t think twice!
I definitely tried to delay leaving the baby enclosure as long as possible when they said time was up. But then we got to have a last glimpse of the big guys during their “exercise” period while the staff dangled toys on sticks in front of them, encouraging them to jump and play around in the water. We of course watched this portion through a fence!
Travelling around Thailand was definitely a trip we will always remember. Even though I may have griped a little bit as we waded through the intense heat and the buckets of water thrown upon us, I have to say that every travel adventure we’ve had with extremes has made it all the more memorable. Where on your travels have you experienced something “extreme” that you’ll always remember?