April 12, 2013

Thailand post#2: Jim Thompson House, tuk tuks, Grand Palace, Hot Pot


On the second day of our trip, Ken was scheduled to attend his student's doctoral defense in the early afternoon, but we had a couple of hours before lunch at the university, so we decided to walk to the Jim Thompson House which was not too far from our hotel. The walk involved dodging traffic (pedestrians travel at their own risk!) and crossing the very high, sky train tracks, but was only about a 10-minute walk.



Jim Thompson was an American architect who, after WWII, decided to move to Bangkok. He bought six Thai houses and had them constructed together using traditional Thai methods, into one extraordinary teak dwelling. He was an avid art collector and filled the house with a beautiful collection of pieces. He also founded the Thai Silk Company. According to the Web site;
In late 1948, Thompson established the Thai Silk Company Limited. It was important to him that the controlling interest in the company was held by Thai nationals. When the company was incorporated, selling 500 shares at $50 each raised an initial registered capital of $25,000. Out of the shares sold, 51% were owned by Thai citizens and the remaining 49% owned by foreigners. By 1967, the company's turnover was approximately $ 1.5 million.
According to Thompson's Chinese horoscope, he was warned to be careful during his 62nd year, and strangely enough, during a vacation with friends in Malaysia, Jim Thompson disappeared on a walk at the age of 61. There are theories as to what may have happened to him, but no definitive answers as to why he mysteriously disappeared into thin air.


 We really enjoyed our visit to the Jim Thompson house and gardens.



A couple of things caught my eye on our walk there and back, as well, like a detailed fence ...


And an urban garden.

After our morning exploits, we were transported to the University where we had lunch. For us vegans, it was a simple dish of rice and veggies — no tofu or anything unusual, and I failed to photograph it. After lunch Ken was headed to the defense and I was to be escorted by two grad students to The Grand Palace. When I had been asked earlier by our host what I'd like to do, I said I wanted to visit wats, or Buddhist temples, and The Grand Palace was the plan.


The students asked my preference for transport — (air conditioned) taxi, tuk tuk or boat. Everything I'd read before coming to Thailand advised to avoid the tuk tuks, which are basically three-wheeled motorcycles with a rear bench seat and a canopy. They travel and weave at fast speeds through polluted air, and have a tendency to tip. (When my husband first went to Thailand I made him promise not to ride in one.) So what did I choose? I wanted to experience a typical Thai method of transport so yes, I chose the tuk tuk. Most of the tuk tuk drivers wear face masks to protect them from pollution, and now I know why.


Driving in Bangkok is not for the timid. Although I was assured there were indeed speed limits and other rules of the road, it was hard to tell that as we sped along, weaving in and out of long lines of traffic. It was exciting, to say the least. One thing I found particularly unnerving was seeing the motorcycles, of which there were legions, driving between the lanes of crazy car traffic. Pedestrians are basically on their own as traffic signals don't seem to have the same impact they do in the U.S. I saw no accidents which seemed like a small miracle.



I found a youtube video that will give you a little taste of what riding in a tuk tuk is like.

The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha

We arrived safely at The Grand Palace and signed on to a tour in English. It was a mere 105˚F, bright sun, high humidity and no air conditioning, but inside the buildings it was surprisingly tolerable. I noticed this everywhere we went — the buildings seemed to capture cool breezes even when there weren't any on the street — sometimes with the help of fans, but sometimes mysteriously.


The Grand Palace complex was built in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne and was the royal residence and center of government. In addition to all the residences and government buildings,  The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha is also located there.



The royal family lived in the complex until 1925. The complex is approximately 218,400 sq. meters and is surrounded by four high walls.


Every building and piece of sculpture within the complex is spectacular — colorful, shimmering, mesmerizing, awe inspiring.


I wish I could remember all the information given to us by our guide but the tour was long and it was so hot, my brain was threatening to melt.


When we arrived at the last building on the tour and I realized we had already been inside before the tour began, I decided to skip the presentation. You must remove your shoes before entering Thai buildings and I was too wiped out to remove my shoes one more time. Wimp.




We attempted to take the boat taxi back to campus but after two boats filled before we could board, made the decision to take a taxi instead. None of the taxis would take us so we ended up taking a tuk tuk. Had I known we wouldn't be able to take the boat back, I would have opted to take it there, so I could experience both types of transport. (On our walk to the boat we passed many colorful shops, and this one caught my eye.)


Back at the University we learned that the doctoral defense had been successful and the newly minted PhD, second from left, was all smiles. The students on the far right and far left were the ones who had accompanied me to The Grand Palace.


Later that evening, a group of us went to a Hot Pot restaurant for dinner. We vegans were given a quantity of raw vegetables and tofu to cook in a large pot of what appeared to be water but was probably broth. Everyone else had vegetables and meat.


This was another one of our simple but tasty meals.


On our way back to the hotel we passed what appeared to be an outdoor gym with a lot of people working out. Although it was early evening, it was still ghastly hot and humid, and I can't imagine exercising in such heat.

Read Thailand part 1, here.

22 comments:

  1. I am loving your posts: part history lesson, part trip-recap, all beautiful (ok, maybe not the pollution). It was so cold and windy in London, but I think that's preferable to the heat you were experiencing.

    It sounds like your level of vegan accomodation was directly related to your hosts; what a treasure!

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    1. Thanks. I'm really trying to write it all down so I can look back on it and be reminded of the trip. I may never get back there again.

      The weather was cold, windy and rainy when I visited England, too. It was in November. I didn't mind though because it was less cold and windy than Wisconsin! And so beautiful. I didn't mind the heat in Thailand, either, most of the time, even though it was REALLY hot. And, yes, our hosts took very good care of us and made sure we had whatever we needed.

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  2. The photos are beautiful! I really love all the gold and statuettes, but maybe not the tuk tuk. Interesting story about the disappearance, too.

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    1. Thanks! Thailand is a very colorful place and I can get into that — bright pink taxis, gold and glittery decoration. The disappearance gives me a little chill. He was warned to be especially careful during the year he was 61, and look what happened.

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  3. I'm enjoying these posts so much! Everything is just gorgeous there (well, except for the pollution, of course). I would love to ride in a tuk yuk, and think it would be fun to drive my scooter in that kind of traffic. :)

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    1. What? No, you don't want to drive your scooter there. Did you know, they drive on the left? That would make it even more exciting.

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  4. Being short on time and wanting to savor this post, I'm going to visit and comment in increments. :-)

    Wow, I'm glad you had some free time to visit the Jim Thompson House! That looks like a lovely oasis in the city and a wonderful place to visit - the dangers involved in getting there appear to have been worth it (I'm left marveling at how you managed to cross "very high sky train tracks!")

    Love those beautiful floating lotus flowers, drops my blood pressure several points just gazing at them. And that garden looks so shady and inviting, love the critter statue! That fence is beautiful! And tall! Wish I had that around OUR house. The green would clash, though, as would we with the HOA. LOL

    What an intriguing story about Thompson's horoscope and disappearance! I haven't yet looked at the theories surrounding it, but have one of my own: the silk worms got him. Vast herds of silk worms descended from the Malaysian trees during his walk, wrapped him in a silk cocoon and hid his silk-enshrouded body, all the while crying, "Vengeance for our Thai brothers and sisters!" in silky little voices. Karma, baby! ;-)

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    1. BW and I just got back from walking the girls, and on our walk I was telling him about the Jim Thompson House. When I told him how Thompson had bought 6 Thai houses and had them built together with traditional Thai methods, Mr. Smarty Pants said, "So you're saying he THAI'ED them together?" I hate it when he upstages me. :-D

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    2. The Jim Thompson House really IS a quiet oasis in a beehive of a city. Steep staircases and escalators on both sides of the tracks are the way to cross. :)

      I wish I had better photos of the inside of the house so you could see the wonderful architecture and artwork. I'd love to live in a house like that. Your theory as to Mr. Thompson's demise may be as slippery as silk, but possibly as plausible as the others. (I do have photos of the live silkworms on display at the house, but opted to not share them.)

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    3. HA! I wish I'd thought of that! I have a friend who always comes up with clever puns and comments and this would have been right up his ally.

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  5. Well, I applaud your undaunted courage and sense of adventure - risk of outright death, bloody mangling or lung cancer be damned! - as demonstrated by your willingness to take the tuk tuk! Did Ken express dismay at the guilt-free ease with which you broke the very rule you had imposed upon him once? :-)

    The video was great! Driving a tuk tuk looks like a dream job for your average teenage male. The speeds they attain in such congested streets are audacious, to say the least! And I thought driving in Boston was bad! Though it bears some similarity, hurtling through the chaotic streets of Bankok in a tuk tuk is definitely more treacherous. Plus the hand gestures used when another driver honks at you are slightly different. ;-)

    I thought the two tuk tuk drivers were challenging each other to a drag race there at the end!

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    1. Ken was mildly surprised, but I suppose he is used to this form of reasoning by now. The tuk tuk drivers do tend to be young males, however, young females and older males all seem to drive with the same determination and abandon. There were merging situations that would have left me on the side of the road. People do not queue, whether on foot or in vehicles.

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  6. Having spent a fair amount of time in Bangkok, while we worked and lived next door, in Cambodia, for seven years not long ago, I can say that the "Bangkok" style of driving is somewhat organized. But, thankfully, we mammals are highly adaptable, and if you need to drive, you soon learn to throw all you were taught about driving rules out the window and do as the local folk do. That's how you get by (not without a great deal of stress, though). Ouf! PS: Then you have to remember, when you are back for a visit in Europe or the states, that you must, once again, follow the rules.

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    1. So you're saying driving in Cambodia is even more crazy than Bangkok? I'll have to take your word for that. I think I would have to rely on public transport, rather than drive myself.

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  7. Such a beautiful bunch of photos - what a trip! I love those glittering gold statues - I bet they take your breath away in full Thai sunshine!

    I've been on a couple of similar tuk tuk rides in India - I really enjoyed them but I remember being fairly grateful to get off at the end!

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    1. Thank you. The golden Buddhas are awe-inspiring for sure, and being inside the wats is a very grounding and spiritual experience.

      The tuk tuk ride was a lot longer than I was expecting, and I wasn't entirely sorry to see it end. :)

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  8. I would have gone for the tuk tuk too...seems nice and rickety. Wow, what fun to see and read a bit about Thailand. It looks beautiful! The food looks simple and healthy too!

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    1. Our host was very dismayed to hear I'd been on a tuk tuk, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I really want to try the boat, though. I wonder if I'll ever be in Thailand again?

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  9. Oh my goodness, talk about timing! Now I feel like such a hack posting about Thailand, since I've never been. It's one of my dreams though... Definitely reinforced by your stunning photos. It seems like such an incredible experience, and I can only hope I'll get to see it in person someday, too.

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    1. Perfect timing from my point of view! I loved reading your post and being reminded of the water festival, which I was so wishing for when I was in Thailand. The soup recipe sounds great, too.

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  10. I'm getting behind, so here's the third installment on my comment...

    I love the fact there are cool, mysterious breezes inside the buildings! It's good you were able to find some relief from that humid heat. I'm sitting here looking at it snow outside, and it's hard not to start perspiring just from reading your blog! :-)

    WOW! Those statues and shoes are all so glittery and bejeweled, the bright-colors-and-sparkly-things lover in me is all agog! That first sculpture and the group that appears to be holding up the wall look like they're cloisonné. They're all gorgeous. I think I'd have been tempted to remove my shoes and then "accidently" taken the wrong pair when it was time to put them back on. I'd like to think my honesty would prevent such petty theft, but probably it would more likely be the fact that none of those sandals are likely vegan!

    I'm glad the main purpose for your trip had a happy outcome! Congratulations to the new PhD and to Ken for the part he played in her success! She really is beaming. :-)

    The food looks good - light and fresh, perfect for that climate. It's just baffling that with all the plant foods that grow there, the potential influence of the Buddha, and the heat and humidity, that anyone would want a heavy, meat-based meal, or one that required much cooking. Raw and lightly steamed plant foods would just be so much more appealing!

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    1. Ken just came back from Denver and said they got 9-1/2 inches. He was worried his flight would be cancelled.

      If you like glitter and color, you would love Thailand. But, when I think about it, I don't remember glittery sandals in front of the temple buildings. You know, there were even some stops that required us to remove our shoes.

      The PhD met her husband while she was working on her degree in Seattle and he still lives here while she lives (for now) in Thailand. She here visiting him right now and they will be coming for dinner this weekend. I hope I can make something they will like. Meat is pretty central to the Thai diet.

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