Bangkok – Day 2

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We woke up naturally at 5:30 AM since our body clocks were so out of whack. That actually worked out perfectly because we had enough time to visit the hotel’s breakfast buffet for a fantastic breakfast before we met Kiwi for our 7 AM tour pick up time.Breakfast at the So Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok Thailand

We hopped into the Jeep with our guide and driver and it took about an hour for us to turn off the highway for our first stop. Our nerves heightened as we drove under the highway, past some very sketchy looking food stands, to basically a small wooden train station dock. The area was so sparse and the train ride was not on our itinerary so Ryan and I were a bit worried as we got out of the car, but we trusted Kiwi and she promised that the experience we were about to have was worth it. Apparently, our driver was the lead coordinator of transportation for Tour with Tong and he suggested we make the extra stop since we had time. He was super nice to do so because the tour service usually charged extra for the train market tour stop. Anyways, we waited for about 15 minutes for the train to come and Kiwi directed us to the very end cart. She talked with the conductor and we got to sit in the conductor booth at the very end of the train. We thought we did that just for pictures, but it was for something much cooler!

The Maeklong Train Market is literally a market on the train tracks. All of the tents fold back to make way for the train that comes through every 30 minutes, and then immediately go back into place for the sellers to keep selling their produce which literally sits in the train tracks! We got such a cool view of the train speeding by the market and all of the tents going back into place by sitting at the back of the train!

We ended up getting off of the train at the market so we could walk through. You could buy almost any type of meat, seafood, vegetable, or fruit imaginable in the market. The market was basically a single file line in each direction since it was so narrow and Ryan almost got pick pocketed being in such close proximity to all of the people around! He was also way too tall and had to duck. We only walked about a block within the market before it became to claustrophobic for us to go through anymore. Still a really neat thing to experience!

We walked through the streets, found our driver, and took off to Damnoen Saduak floating market. It was about another 30 minutes in the car before we arrived and we parked within the market. Kiwi knew tons of people at the locations we stopped at, and brought us to a certain market stand where we would get the best prices on merchandise. The lady who owned the shop said she had been working with Tong from our tour service for over 20 years and encouraged us to go see if we found better prices on the river for anything she sold. We decided to do so and walked down to our market boat.

We had a little old lady as our paddler but boy was she strong – we had some serious speed going through the market! Both sides of the market were lined with shops and there were tons of boats selling all types of food. Kiwi knew all of the best tasting food vendors and encouraged us to try spring rolls, coconut ice cream, and mango sticky rice. The spring rolls were delicious and the ice cream was so decadent! We saved the rice for the next car ride and keep floating through. I was super glad both of us had hats as the sun was very strong and it was hot and muggy. We paddled through a bunch of canals and saw one with some interesting art. After quite a bit of haggling on my part, Ryan and I ended up buying a very pretty canvas painting of an elephant for our apartment. Kiwi was impressed (?) by my haggling skills and kept laughing as I tried to drive the price lower. While the guy would go to my “highest price” of 1,100 BHT, I ended up caving at 1,200 BTH – a whole $3 difference! He rolled up the painting so we could travel home with it and we took off through the market for some more browsing.

We didn’t end up seeing anything better than what was at Kiwi’s friend’s booth, so we stopped there to get some tea cups and a tank top. They gave us a very fair price and were really nice. With our goodies in hand, we hopped back in the car and indulged in our sticky rice on the way to the speed boat that was to take us to see the monkeys. Let me tell you, mango sticky rice is AMAZING! It is basically like a desert and I could have eaten bowls and bowls of it. We also stopped off got some Thai Tea at Kiwi’s insistence which was also delicious. I wish we had more of these things in the States!

We made one last stop before getting to the speed boat for some fruit for the monkeys. The bananas at the fruit stand were too ripe, so we got 4 huge bags of this potato looking fruit that the shop owner hacked up into pieces for us. Our driver also got us some coconuts to drink, one was a raw coconut and the other had been grilled. The grilled coconut milk was much sweeter and we both like the raw milk a bit more.

Anyways, we finally arrived at this very colorful housing area to transfer to our boat and use the loo. For most places in Thailand, you have to bring your own toilet paper and the majority of toilets, especially for men, are just holes in the ground. While I was able to find actual toilets to use, it made for an interesting experience for Ryan….

We hopped in the boat and took off to down the river. The description of the tour was not very robust online (literally just said “monkey island”) so we did not know what to expect. We saw some very large water monitors right off the bat and thousands of crabs lining all of the beaches. It was low-tide so there were mudskippers cruising through the muddy beaches and some were 6-inches long. We left the inlet into the ocean and all of the beaches were lined with sticks which indicated each cockle shell farmer’s land. The farmers also had these really high huts to sleep in at night to watch their property and make sure no other farmer infringed on their shells.

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We stopped at one of the high huts to drop off our lunch and then headed out further into the ocean. The lines of stick fences went on for miles and we eventually got to a section of higher sticks that held oysters. It was super cool! There were mini crabs all over the oysters during the low tide and we held some that really tickled!

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Our next stop was to an inlet to find some monkeys. As soon as we started driving into the small river inlet, Kiwi and our boat driver made us start howling to call out the monkeys. It was so weird and I felt awkward making those noises until hordes of monkeys started to line the shores! There were lots of mom monkeys with babies on their back, medium monkeys, and then the big alpha-males that were quite aggressive if another went for their food. We threw the potato-like fruit out to them and then closer in the water to draw them nearer. Eventually, we set the fruit right on the side of the boat and the monkeys would hop up next to us on the boat! I even handed them fruit! The monkeys were super muddy and they would jump off the boat quickly and their tails flung mud all over us. I was covered! It was so gross but we were having too much fun to stop. At one point, an alpha-male monkey jumped on the boat and tried to take off with Ryan’s bag of fruit, Ryan tried to grab it back and the monkey almost tried to fight him! Eekk! We let him have it, he hopped off, and our driver used a stick to ward off the bigger monkeys from jumping on board and causing trouble. From then on, a lot of mom and baby monkeys hung out with us on the boat – so cute! Eventually, we ran out of food and had to leave, but it was by far one of the best experiences of my life.

We got out of the jetty and headed back to the hut to eat lunch. After washing up, we had quite a spread of grilled crab, curry, baked fish, veggies, and more. It was quite a delicious lunch with an outstanding view! We didn’t eat too much since we had a large dinner coming our way and so the staff ate the rest of what we didn’t touch.

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After lunch it was sadly time to head back. We had about a 1.5-hour drive back to Bangkok and it was a good time to rest up before the night’s activities. We stopped at an ATM to pay Kiwi and our driver and I almost left my debit card in the ATM – ahh! Thankfully Kiwi alerted me and I grabbed it. We said our good-byes at the hotel and headed up for a much shower. I have to say, we could not have booked with a better service than with Tour with Tong and our guide Kiwi!

Due to the monkey mud, it was time for a much needed shower before our dinner at Gaggan! I first heard about Gaggan through an episode of Chef’s Table, a Netflix original series that documents top chefs throughout the world. Gaggan and his restaurant were voted the best in Asian in 2015 and his elevated take on Indian food was not to be missed while we were staying in Bangkok, especially since it was right across the park from our hotel! We headed off to our 6 PM reservation and were surprised to be taken upstairs under the atrium to a mini-kitchen. We were picked at random with some other diners from all over the world to test Gaggan’s new concept where the sous chef and team prep the dishes in front of us! What a treat and so unexpected! We started the night with a delicious Thai-jito and got to know some of the chefs. One was an American from Miami and was so delighted to talk football with a fellow American football fanatic, Ryan. We had a great banter back and forth as the 18 courses started to flow.

The first 1o courses came out in a rapid fire style, one quickly after another, and the Indian flavor profiles exploded onto the scene almost immediately after each item was placed in our mouths. Not only that, but the plating was amazing.

The wine started to flow as we got into the main courses, consisting of increadable flavors, textures, and the most tender lamb chop I have ever eaten ….

During the desert courses, Gaggan himself joined us upstairs and let us try this new dish he was preparing for his new menu that replaced what we had in the very next week! We tried this amazing chicken stock soup type cracker that was out of this world. Gaggan talked with all of the guests and was quite a character, just like his fellow chefs.

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After we had our fill, we said goodbye to our new chef friends and some of the other diners we made friends with throughout the experience. This definitely went down as one of the best dinners I have ever had!

We went back to the hotel and, while I had every intention of visiting another night market, sleep called my name and our 6 AM wake up for our flight to Chiang Mai the next morning dictated that some Zzz’s were in order.

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Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

For the first time on this trip, I got to sleep in… to 9:30 AM. I was ready to go by 10, but the other girls were a little more slow-moving as they tried to wake up. We finally left our secluded cabin around 11:30 to walk into Antigua for a traditional breakfast. We sat at a quaint little restaurant that had a big garden that was under construction so we were surrounded by equipment, but that didn’t matter. The food was scrumptious and there was tons of it with bread and oatmeal to start and sausage, plantains, black beans, eggs, and coffee to keep us going for the day. Almost all meals in Guatemala come with black beans and they are SO delicious! I must have had them at almost every meal.

We decided to walk off breakfast with a stroll through the market and main squares. We bought Guatemala’s version of M&Ms from a little girl who was selling them out of a basket on the side of the street but, in retrospect, shouldn’t have. Guatemala is full of kids and women selling trinkets and snacks, but you should only buy from the adults as buying from kids will keep propelling adults to use kids as sales vehicles instead of sending them to schools and the like. The income inequality in Guatemala is astonishingly apparent and it makes you feel very lucky to be in your situation instead of theirs.

A little girl selling candy on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala

After a few hours of buying gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home that we could think of and haggling prices like pros, we walked to a large, ornate, open wooden door. Again, Guatemala’s streets are lined with high, concrete walls so you never know what is awaiting behind each wall’s doors. Unbeknownst to my fellow USA traveler’s and I, the door Cass led us through took us to a small slice of paradise; a hotel called Santo Domingo in which Cass has her heart set on getting married in one day.

The hotel was beautiful with huge gardens full of rainforest type foliage and gorgeous parakeets and macaws. In the main outside square of the hotel, there is a river walk with over 3K candles lining the path that leads to a ruined Cathedral in the back of the hotel. It is huge and probably one of the most romantic settings I have entered in my entire life. I totally get the appeal of having that as a venue!

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After touring the hotel, we walked to a coffee shop and went to its rooftop for a drink and the view. Almost all of the restaurants and bars in Antigua have views like the below and it’s the place to be to watch the sun set over the volcanos.

A few of the girls decided to go to Mass, so Cass’s friend Isa and I walked down the street to a rooftop bar and had micheladas, basically a love child of beer and a Bloody Mary, while talking about Guatemala and watching the Fuego volcano erupt in the distance. Seriously, it was an evening out of the movies and it was so surreal watching lava slide down a mountainside!

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After the girls were done at Mass, we said our goodbyes to our new friend Isa and took off back to Guatemala City for a delicious home-cooked Pad Thai dinner at Cass’s casa and much-needed sleep before our trip to El Salvador the next day!

Antigua Tips:

  • Try micheladas – such a yummy and refreshing drink! (And you get your daily serving of veggies through the tomato juice.. right?)
  • Watch the sun set on a rooftop bar and stay until dark to watch the Fuego volcano erupt
  • Haggle in the markets for some great deals on trinkets
  • Do not buy from children selling goods in the markets

 

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

The girls and I recovered from our Volcano hike in the car ride back to Antigua, Guatemala. We had a full day planned post-hike, including a birthday party and dancing for one of Cass’s friends. We stopped at a local grocery store for party supplies once we got back to town. They had everything you could imagine there and it was packed with people. Once we finished gat the store, Isa (one of Cass’s Guatemalan friends who hiked with us) took us around town, through the main square, to the markets for shopping (which we did plenty of since the USA dollar is so strong in Guatemala), to an ice-cream store to get a mid-day snack, to a Guatemalan candy store to try out the local sweets, and then to her parent’s house to see what the house architecture in Antigua is like since 8 – 1o foot walls line the streets making house visibility impossible. Boy are the houses uniquely beautiful. Traditionally, there is a big, open garden in the center of the house. The rooms all surround the garden and the second story is a big patio with volcano views. Talk about a private paradise! The gardens as well-kept with beautiful flower and vine overhangs and lots of candles.

After that, we all piled into the Jeep and rode to the birthday’ girls house right on the outskirts of the city. When Cass told me we were going to be staying at her friend’s house and then her aunt’s house later on, I told her I would prefer a hotel with a bed, but boy was I wrong and glad Cass ignored me! We drove into the b-day girl’s house and wound up taking a drive up the mountain at the back of her property to their guest house. It had another amazing view of the city, nestled in the woods, and was our own little paradise! We had some very deserved and needed showers and got ready for the celebratory b-day dinner. We did a little pre-gaming in the main house and met loads of very nice people. I actually had mutual friends with some of the people I met as there is a large Guatemalan population at TCU – small world, huh?!

About 15 of us took off on foot to a rooftop bar and resultant for dinner. We had some delicious pizza and I tried very hard to stay awake. Sitting and eating after loads of travel and a long hike will make one very tired. Thankfully, we headed to an Irish pub called Riley’s that was not Irish in the slightest – more Spanish with cool murals and a huge dance floor with great Latin music – that brought the energy back. We had some drinks, danced, and people watched until the lights came on! It was only midnight but apparently cops with dogs were going to raid the bar! We left in a hurry and walked to a different club called Lucky Rabbit down the street that had a very “American, hostel-hopping, young tourist” vibe and more groovy music. I was getting tired and a little cranky, so thankfully, we left before the break of dawn and headed back to the guest house. Our “Core Four” of girls tried to walk back together but the guys in our group wouldn’t let us. Apparently, while the streets of Antigua seem safe, there is a lot of kidnapping all over Guatemala and girls should travel in groups of 6 of more, preferably with at least one guy.

Anyways Janine and Cass stayed at the main house to continue socializing while Kim, Isa, and I went to bed. I slept extremely well, with the startling exception of some loud screaming in the night as Janine and Cass discovered a clementine sized spider hanging in their bed when they got home. Those bugs in Guatemala are BIG!

Antigua Tips:

  • Travel with a group
  • Make sure you have plenty of room in your suitcase for market goods and bring cash for lots of shopping
  • Don’t forget potent bug spray