April 09, 2013

Trip to Thailand post #1- The Ancient City

A dragon in the Ancient City

My husband has a working relationship with a University in Thailand, and over the years he's been hosting Thai students in the U.S. for several months as they work on their PhD degrees. The payment for his work comes in the form of two trips to Thailand — one to visit the student's research site to provide consultation, and one attend the doctoral defense of the student he's been working with. He's been to Thailand twice in the past, but for the last few years has not used his trips, even though he has continued to mentor students. This year, when his latest student defended, we both traveled to Thailand, and spent a week hosted by the professor and her students, both current and former, who are involved in the program. The Thai people are very kind and generous, and although we did sneak out a couple of times on our own, nearly everything we did was orchestrated by our hosts. In addition to masterminding a week of activities, they also made sure we were served vegan food.

Breakfast soup at our hotel in Bangkok

In Thailand, at least where we were in Bangkok and Phitsanulok, vegetarianism is very unusual. In fact, though we were sometimes offered a spectacular vegan feast, none of our Thai friends would even try any of the dishes, preferring to eat their meat-based ones. I don't know if they were being polite, or if they really didn't want to eat vegan food. At our hotels, without the aid of English-speaking Thai friends, we had difficulty ordering food without meat. At our first hotel, another guest intervened on our behalf when she heard us trying to order breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We were ordering the menu item of boiled rice with vegetables, which came as a soup, and it was necessary to have specially prepared vegetarian stock. At least I hope it was vegetarian. Sometimes you just have to trust. It sure tasted good.

One of the re-created buildings at the Ancient City

The flight to Thailand was in two segments — Seattle to Tokyo took about 10-1/2 hours, and the Tokyo to Bangkok segment took about 5-1/2 hours. (I'll talk about the flight in another post.) We arrived in Bangkok at midnight, were picked up and taken to our guest house where we slept very little, then picked up the early the next morning to start our adventure at the Ancient City.

The professor and her student buying crispy rice crackers at the Ancient City.

I want to mention that the temperature outside during our stay was hovering around 105˚F with high humidity; if you tried to convince me that the humidity was 150%, I probably would have believed you. I like heat, and did very well, but it was seriously hot, and every so often I was ready to plotz (the only word I can think of that truly conveys what I mean).

A small section of the floating market at the Ancient City.

The Ancient City is "one of the world’s largest outdoor museums featuring a 200-acre city with 109 scaled-down copies of Thailand’s most famous monuments and architectural attractions." It's laid out in the shape of Thailand so you can learn about the historical architecture and lifestyle of the entire country in a day. Except for a couple of actual buildings that were disassembled, transported to the site and reconstructed in immaculate detail, the structures are all 1/3 actual size.In some cases, it's hard to believe the real structures are 2/3 larger.

Ceiling detail at the Ancient City.


Every detail has been precisely executed to exact historical correctness. Walls have been hand-painted exactly as they would have been when they were first built. I know this because it so happens that the site was founded by the grandfather of our host, the professor who collaborates with my husband. The site is administered by a foundation that continues to expand and build, as well as provide workshops and educational programs for children. The foundation is run  by our host's brother and nephew, and her nephew has also built a small hotel and restaurant to accommodate guests to the museum. Lest you think we walked around the 200 acres in 105˚ heat, don't worry. We rode golf carts. That's what happens when you are friends of the owner.


We had lunch at the hotel, and though I had read about the excess of food guests in Thailand are served, it was still overwhelming to experience it first hand.


In Thailand, you're supposed to always leave some food on your plate so your hosts know you've had enough to eat, otherwise they will bring more.


We were seriously overfed, to the point I was afraid our host would think we didn't like the food because we just couldn't eat any more. We loved the food — it was fabulous, though you are on your own to figure out what it is.


As I mentioned before, our Thai companions did not share any of the vegan food with us. It's true they had ample omni-choices of their own, but our food was so good I really wanted them to try it.



Remember, all the food I just showed you was prepared for just two people. There was also white rice.


The one thing I wasn't so fond of in Thailand was dessert. Some of the desserts we were served were so weird I had trouble getting past their appearance to taste them — green worm-like things in white liquid or starchy fruits mixed with ice. Most were also extremely sweet. A bigger problem was how stuffed I was by the time dessert came along. This dessert was chunks of ice that get eaten along with taro root and other fruit I couldn't identify.I didn't like it much, but after the meal we had just eaten, it hardly mattered.

26 comments:

  1. i LOVE thai food, i would love to travel there one day :)

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    1. I hope you have the opportunity. Maybe someday in the future vegan food will become more popular in Thailand.

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  2. I'm with you; I was drooling all through your post until you got to the dessert. Taro on ice? Thanks but no thanks! Thanks for taking us on this trip with you; it's terrific that people were so accomodating once they understood what you needed. It would be interesting to find out though, if they really were opposed to the vegan food? We all know people like that.

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    1. Interesting, but I'll probably never know. In a later post you'll see that everyone ate vegan food at a Chinese Buddhist temple (alluded to in an earlier post) but it was the only food at the table. As far as desserts, this one was probably the least weird.

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  3. This was a fascinating post! In part because I know so little about Thailand, but mostly because of your detailed and interesting narration and photos. Thanks for making me feel like I was there, but without the 16 hours of flying (which would put me in a life-threatening coma), the 105º "muggeh" heat (which would finish off what the flight started), and the food challenges (which I would no longer be alive to experience!) :-) The dragon in the first photo provides perfect foreshadowing - I'd be green with bugged out eyes and a lolling tongue after all that sauna heat and all that food too! :-)

    It's funny that in such a relatively small country populated with what I think of as rather petite people, things are done on such a grand scale. The Ancient City is a marvel that I've never heard of. How painstaking that project must be! And just from these photos, I too am agog that these buildings are only 1/3 the size of the originals! That ceiling is amazing.

    I'm surprised and disappointed to hear about the meat-centric Thai diet and difficulty finding vegan food. Good of your hosts to ensure you got more than enough (they sound like my Italian relatives, lol) but how baffling that they refused to try any! The most appetizing-looking dishes to me are the beans, peas and carrots (I like how they cut the carrots like flowers) and the one just beneath it, which I'm guessing is a tofu dish. Looks spicy and yummy! The soup just beneath that would look inviting except that these days I'm put off by culinary oil slicks, and am nonplussed by those odd white things in it that look like plastic ties that come with large refuse bags or, dare I say it, hugely mutant, straight-tailed spermatozoa! :-)

    I'm equally perplexed by the dessert offerings. I'd think in heat like that there would be citrusy icy desserts (like sorbets) that would be refreshing rather than overly sweet (or am I the only one who loses desire for sweets when it's oppressively hot?)

    Anyway, once again I'm in jeopardy of leaving a comment longer than your post, but I really enjoyed this and look forward to the rest! :-)

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    1. As I write the posts I worry that they might be boring or get monotonous, so thanks for the affirmation. I thought the flight would do me in but I stayed very calm and didn't get antsy like I do on a 3-hour flight. More about the flight later.

      About the diet — I was under a misconception that Buddhists were mostly vegetarians, so I expected more vegetarian options. At every place we went, special accommodation had to be requested. Our hosts were omnivores and did not take us to veg restaurants, though there are a few in Bangkok. (North, in Chaing Mai, there are a lot.) We let them handle the ordering and explaining and sometimes we got a plate of veggies and rice and sometimes a feast.

      The white things in the soup are enoki mushrooms. Like you, I was put off by the globules, but I had to at least eat some of it so as not to be rude. Plus, it was only a week, I figured I'd survive.

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    2. BW calls Buddhists who eat meat "Burger Buddhists." I wonder if there's ever been a study to find out how many Buddhists follow the Buddha's teaching about eschewing meat. I was always under the impression that at least about half of them do - or did, before McDonald's and KFC polluted the world.

      Here's another good reason for eating vegan Thai food! (Gotta listen to the very end). :-)

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    3. There are different Buddhist schools of thought about whether the Buddha was vegetarian or required his monks, nuns and followers to be vegetarian. Here's a link to a one explanation: http://bit.ly/xNk6c0

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  4. Exciting! Ryan and I were just talking about wanting to visit Thailand after watching a documentary. Okay, it wasn't a documentary...it was The Bachelor; why am I so much less cooler than you? I'm surprised, though, about the vegan-ness of T. I would have assumed a great availability. That dessert is the oddest dish I've ever seen.

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    1. You're probably way cooler than me. :D

      There are tons of fruits and veggies available but little interest in making vegan food with them. There's lots of pork and fish sauce. Did you know the woman the bachelor picked is from Seattle and considers herself an "opportunistic vegan" whatever that is.

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  5. I loved reading this post and seeing the pictures of the Ancient City. So, so pretty! It's amazing how they re-created it. I can't imagine how long it took to paint it by hand.

    All of the food started my stomach growling. Every dish looks fantastic! The dessert is a bit strange looking, though. It's really too bad that their diets are based on meat so much. Thai food has such great vegan potential. They don't know what they're missing!

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    1. You brought a smile to my face with your comment. I love what you said about Thai food having great vegan potential. That is the truth!

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  6. Wow, that's amazing - all of it - the sights, sounds, tastes, conversations! I loved reading it but I think I should have been with you to experience it a little more fully :)

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    1. Well Claire, this is but a tiny fraction of it. There's more to come — maybe too much more but I can't stop now. And if you think we should take an exciting vacation together, I'm in. I remember looking at your China photos and hanging on every one. Right now we're thinking of going to Haiti for a wedding.

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  7. How wonderful to have been able to spend some time in Thailand! I've always wondered how vegan-friendly it would be. It's so nice that you had considerate hosts that ensured that you had vegan food to eat. Love this post!

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    1. The more I think about it, the more I want to go back! There's so much to see that a week isn't enough. Bangkok isn't especially vegan friendly unless you know how to ask for what you want. Chaing Mai, I've read, is very vegan friendly. There's a Vegetarian Festival every year in Thailand when everyone eats veg. That would be the perfect time to visit!

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  8. Wow! you were looked after so well - what a beautiful place. I can't believe that your hosts weren't getting involved in the food - I'd have had a hard time holding back!

    I love travel posts like these - it's like a tiny window into somewhere somewhere way more interesting! Looking forward to the next post!

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    1. Yes, our hosts were very generous and took good care of us. I hope you really do like travel posts because I have a lot more to say about Thailand. :D

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  9. SO jealous but so happy for you. Amazing sights and flavors. Thailand is on my short-list of must-see places. I may be hitting you up for info soon.

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    1. We compressed so much into a short visit that I was having trouble remembering it all. The photos help, but I'll be relieved when I get it all down on the blog so I'll have a reference if I want to make a photo album. I hope you get to visit Thailand — and more of the country than we were able to see.

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  10. Holy moly.. You're so brave, ha ha. That looks like the perfect amount of food for two, though ;). We'd be happy. Glad to see and read you're having a nice time - the sights look magnificent. You're very lucky!

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    1. We had a great time and I hope to return to Thailand one day.

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  11. For some reason, I thought Thailand would have more vegan food or at least vegetarian food. The food you got looks awesome! My family is the same as your host, they refuse to eat any of the vegan food if there's other meaty food around. The thinking is it doesn't taste as good as food with meat in it. I usually do an eye roll and shrug.

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    1. Some places do have more from what I understand, but Bangkok is not very veg-friendly. There are a couple of veg restaurants but I doubt our hosts know they exist.

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  12. Oh wow, what amazing photos. I've never been anywhere exotic. It's strange that they wouldn't eat your vegan food, but as you say, they might have thought is was impolite. What a feast! It all looks scrummy, but I agree...the desserts don't sound too appetizing.

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    1. Hi Rose! Where have you been? I keep hoping you'll post something some day.

      The food was definitely great — not so sure about the healthy part, but who cares on a trip like this. Thailand is such a riotously colorful place — even the taxis are bright pink. Exotic, yes!

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