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by Kathy Slamp 3 years ago in asia
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A Country of Contrasts and Smiles

Visiting Thailand, I quickly understood why it is called “The Land of Smiles.” Everyone is friendly and eager to please!

A single visit to any country never makes one an expert, but our visit to Thailand began to open up to us the brand new world of the Far East! Thailand is a gorgeous, tropical country, and its people are extremely friendly. Thailand is indeed a “Land of Smiles.” It is a Southeast Asian kingdom that has survived for generations which for many years the world knew as Siam. Its lush jungle atmosphere provides Thailand's visitor with beautiful vistas beyond explanation. Beware, though, the humidity is staggering! Staggering!!

Thailand: The Land of Buddah:

Beyond the weather and Thailand’s lush tropical environment, the first and most prominent thing that is noticeable is the omni-present Buddha. Buddha is everywhere in the form of statues, icons, and monasteries. It was our privilege to visit several Buddhist monasteries and even visit with several monks. Possibly the most memorable of the Buddhists shines for us was the Brahman Shrine near Hat Yai. We will never forget that visit.

Brahman Shrine of the Pink Elephant:

Located on the top of a small mountain, the Brahman Shrine near Hat Yai is dominated by a huge statue of a three-headed "pink" Elephant. If you choose to visit, there is a cable car to the shrine, or you can drive up the mountain and park. The cost for the cable car is approximately 200 Baht, or about $6.00.

We spent a good part of one afternoon there, and during the entire visit, firecrackers were being fired continually. The incessant noise was deafening! In reality, the firecrackers are fired all day long. We were told that the belief is that the constant noise keeps evil spirits away.

The large, pink elephant wasn't the only elephant on top of that mountain; rather the dominant giant, pink elephant was surrounded by dozens of elephant statues. Not only were people continually shooting firecrackers, but they were purchasing dozen of marigold garlands to wrap around the heads of the shrine’s many elephants. The standard of living is relatively low in Thailand, yet we watched people spend a full week's wages either for the firecrackers or the marigold garlands.

Pattaya & the Sanctuary of Truth:

After a week in the southern section of Thailand, near Hat Yai on the Malayasian border with its abundance of rubber trees and villages, we flew north to the huge city of Bangkok. From there, we took public transportation to the City of Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand. The beaches were beautiful to see, but we didn’t find them particularly clean. Here, the humidity was even more intense than it had been in the southern part of the country.

Instead of the rural setting we experienced in the south, we now found ourselves in a major city by the sea. It was quite simple to get around in the local “taxi cabs” once we understood the system. The taxi cabs are simply converted pickup trucks. Once the truck stops, you hop on to some benches in the back; then when you want to leave, you pull a cord similar to an old street car cord, and the taxi stops. You pay when you get off, and the drivers are quick and keen to collect their small fees. In this new urban setting, with its modern malls and busy streets, we especially enjoyed the Sanctuary of Truth.

The Sanctuary of Truth:

The “Sanctuary of Truth” is situated on the Gulf of Thailand in the city of Pattaya. It is quite large and completely constructed of wood and all hand-carved. The different sides represent both Buddhism and Hinduism from several Southeast Asian countries—Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. To say the sanctuary is impressive is an understatement.

Touring the sanctuary itself is most educational, and truly a must. In addition, the grounds of the Sanctuary site offers several tourist options that could ultimately fill an entire day. Cultural dances, elephant rides, tours of the Sanctuary craftsmen, and boat rides on the Gulf of Thailand are all offered for reasonable costs. Since, when you visit a foreign site, you never know if you will ever return, my husband and I chose to ignore the stifling heat and humidity, and rather take advantage of all the Sanctuary had to offer—all of it!

Even though the elephant ride was thrill of a lifetime and the boat ride on the river was exciting, nothing compared to the cultural dancers we saw that particular day at the Sanctuary of Truth. The young dancers were gorgeous, their costumes were colorful, and their dancing skills were unparalleled. They were an absolute delight!

A Day Trip into History: The River Kwai

Early one morning during our visit to Pattaya, we boarded a small van and began one of the most interesting days of our Thai journey. This day trip took us north to the historic World War II site of the building of the Bridge over the River Kwai.

David Lean’s classic 1957 World War II movie Bridge on the River Kwai immortalized the horrors endured by Allied prisoners of war who were forced to build the Thailand-Burma railway by the Japanese Imperial Army. This railroad became known as the "Railroad of Death" since the prisoners were literally forced to work under unbearable circumstances until hundreds of them died.

Perhaps the most sobering part of the day was visiting the cemetery that is the final resting place to hundreds of young men from England and Australia. (Remains of American GIs have all been returned to the USA). As we walked through the well-groomed burial grounds with its neatly organized headstones, we saw no names of men over 22 years of age—just hundreds of young men who were tortured to death in this distant jungle!

Thanks to the film, the Bridge, situated in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi approximately two hours drive from Bangkok, is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist attractions. What a solemn adventure to actually visit the site where so many Allied prisoners of war gave their lives to “help” the Japanese build a bridge from Burma to the sea.

Thailand's Famous Floating Markets:

Even before we reached the site of the bridge, we had another “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity when we visited a real Thai floating market. We were expecting a Disneyland type tourist experience, but instead we saw the "real thing." Our boat was thin and carved from a log with a special motor and rudder at the back. It worked its way through the market with shops on either side and shopkeepers hawking their goods as we motored through stop lights and actual street corner turns. We even floated by several restaurants where locals stop to eat the fresh fish. The floating market, too, was amazing and I highly recommend the entire experience. When you visit Thailand, please do your best to visit and experience one of these traditional and fully functioning floating markets.

Visiting Thailand—The Land of Smiles

Obviously, a two week visit to any country is merely a cursory introduction, but our two weeks in this beautiful land was enough to encourage us to return one day, especially to visit the Northern area of Chang Mai. We were captivated by the people of Thailand, the lush countrysides, the food, the flora and fauna, and the constant hospitality.


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Kathy Slamp

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