World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
Life has been a whirlwind since arriving in Bangkok over a week ago, but Neda and I are having a wonderful time. Bangkok is a bustling city full of sensory stimuli. The streets are lined with food cart stalls selling everything from cut up fresh fruit to a variety of noodle soups, crispy pork, curry, and a bunch of foods we can't even identify. The wats (Thai temples) are extravagant affairs covered in gold, jade, and garlands. Thai's gather at Wats and shrines set up on the street to offer incense, lotus flowers, and food to both the Buddha and other spirits remaining from Thailand's animist past.

The cultural and spiritual ideas that merge here in Thailand are fascinating. While a Buddhist country, Thais are still deeply superstitious and believe in appeasing spirits to prevent bad luck from falling on the themselves and their families. Every home has a tiny model temple in the northeast side of its property called a "spirit house" which is a place where offerings can be made to appease the local spirits of the house. It is not uncommon to see a spirit house with incense offerings, drinks, and food in front (though some locals have told us that after 10 minutes some of that food might be eaten...guess its not like the spirits are actually eating, so why not? For full pics of Bangkok click here: 
http://flic.kr/s/aHsjxTr864
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Posing with the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho - Bangkok
From Bangkok we headed slightly off the beaten path to a town called Mueang Ratchaburi in the Ratchaburi province. With no English speakers at all, we pointed and gestured our way to a local Thai hotel and managed to communicate with a driver to take us out to the ruins at Khao Ngu (snake mountain) where some of the oldest images of the Buddha were carved into the walls in bas-relief, remnants of the Dvaravati civilization of 6th-13th century. We also experienced our first Thai style BBQ where you get an unlimited amount of veggies, fresh seafood, and marinated meats to either cook over charcoal or in the surrounding boiling broth of the contraption they use. Think of it as a combo of Korean BBQ and shabu-shabu, or as I like to put it: an all-you-can eat, do-it-yourself buffet for about $3. Nice. Other highlights included the Angkor styled Wat Mahatat, complete with a two sided Buddha said to protect the city in all directions. Full pics of Ratchaburi click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7kaNx 
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Feeding the monkeys by Khao Ngu Mountain
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Phra Nakhon Khiri
Next we headed to Phetchaburi, where we hiked up to the summer palace Phra Nakhon Khiri, built by Rama IV in 1860. It is a fascinating mix of Thai and European architecture, including an astronomy observatory (Rama IV was an avid amateur astronomer) and a beautiful Wat (temple). Towering above the town were the prangs (spires) of another Wat Mahatat with many locals giving offerings to the 3 Buddha's in the main hall (Wihan). We also got a taste of our first truly terrible guesthouse, complete with swarming mosquitoes and a room connected to the communal bathroom where the noises of the drunk guy across the hall were the soundtrack for the evening. Just breath, just breath, just breath...ouch did I just get bit again? :) Full pics of Phetchaburi are here: 
http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7A8QR 

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Our route so far...from A. Bangkok B. Ratchaburi C. Petchaburi D. Baan Krut E. Chumphon to F. Ko Phangan tomorrow!
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Neda slacklining
After just one night in that guesthouse we called it quits in Phetchaburi and headed down the cost on a 4 hour train trip to a little town called Baan Krut. We had connected with a guy named Chris through couchsurfing.org and he was generous enough to host us for 3 days in the wonderful village on the sea. Chris is a peace corp volunteer who speaks fluent Thai and he gave us some great information on Thai culture, language, and food. The first night we went to "kids night" at the Wat where kids performed a variety of dances while the community cooked up tons of delicious food for all to eat. Think handpressed coconut milk ice cream, minced duck with basil and chili peppers, roast pork on jasmine rice with hoi sin sauce...I am diggin' Wat culture for sure :) 

Baan Krut also had a beautiful Wat on the mountainside and nice beaches where we practiced "slacklining" with Chris for the first time. Great fun to practice walking on a tightrope between coconut trees in paradise! We also rented a motorbike (the roads were straight and basically no traffic in case you were worried parents) and headed out the beautiful hidden cove where I recovered from a stomach bug drinking coconut water and enjoying the view. Full pics of Baan Krut here:  http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7EE3V

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The beautiful hidden cove
Our next stop was going to be Ko Phangan island off the coast with a stopover in Chumphon, but my stomach flu necessitated us staying here an extra night to recover ($10 hotel rooms make that easy :). But as with many unexpected things, when you stay open to the possibilities, Chumphon ended up being lots of fun. We met a couple in our lobby, Brett & Christie, who are also traveling around Southeast Asia for an extended time. They just came from the islands and gave us great tips. Together we strolled through the night market of Chumphon sampling grilled banana kebabs with coconut sauce, the infamous durian fruit, and yes roasted bugs. We limited it just to grasshoppers for our first time, but ya know, they really weren't that bad - and high in protein! Check out Brett and Christie's blog Culture Cats here. And see our full pics of Chumphon here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7HPSn

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Yeah...she ate that. So did I!
So tomorrow morning we're up early and headed to the islands! Sorry for the post being so long, but internet has been intermittent (try saying that 5x straight). We'll post more as we can and love to hear from you all on facebook and on the blog comments!



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