Hello to all! First, can I just say “PHEWWWWW!!!!” I have the honor of posting the last week’s blog along with Tamryn, and I can speak for the whole group when I say we are tired! The past week has been go, go, go. Let me give you a typical daily schedule: reluctantly wake up after two (or three) hotel wake-up calls, enjoy the most amazing breakfast probably in the world (after a month and a half of Asian noodles and rice for breakfast, waffles and croissants were a welcomed gift), hop on the bus and enjoy unique renditions of our favorite American songs, fall asleep on the bus (even if it was a five minute ride), tour something (anything), get back on the bus and fall asleep again, eat lunch, fall asleep on the bus, tour something else, get back on the bus, fall asleep in two hours of traffic, eat dinner, return to the hotel late at night, try to fulfill the promise of watching a movie with some friends, but then realize that you are exhausted, and then finally collapse in the comfortable bed! Even that sentence was not exhausting enough to compare to our final days in Bangkok. However, these have been some of the most amazing days of the trip.

Let me just reemphasize the Novotel Bangkok Hotel breakfast – basically, it saved every one of us! Not that a week of noodles, rice, and unidentifiable Asian food was not delicious, but I think all of us were ready for the pancakes, bacon, waffles, omelets, and vast display of baked goods. I am not sure if the cooks were ready for us though; I think they had to call in extra help to restock everything we devoured. Is it bad that we all had competitions to get to breakfast first (I was going to sleep outside the dining room, but hotel security stopped me).

Believe it or not, there were other amazing things about Bangkok besides the breakfast. On Friday, we attended a talk on Buddhism and politics in Thailand given by a Mahidol University International College (MUIC) professor. After the talk, we were given a short tour of the college and then visited Phra Pathom Chedi, and Buddhist temple. MUIC seems like a very nice university, but its size and uniform policy reminds me somewhat of high school. It had a very homey feel to it though – quite nice. If ever you need a self-esteem boost, go to Phra Pathom Chedi. It is not everyday that what seemed like thousands of children run up to you and ask for your autograph (I am pretty used to it though – just kidding). I kid you not though, when we were walking around the temple grounds, a group of around 100 Thai school children surrounded all of us and asked us to write our names on sheets of paper. We never even saw it coming. Rebekah and I were on our third lap around the temple before we were ambushed. I am sure that all of us looked like famous celebrities after hours in Thailand heat, but it was so funny to me that they all just wanted us to write our names on their paper. They were very polite as well; each one said “thank you very much” after each signing.

That temple visit was a mutually beneficial – those children seemed so delighted just to interact with us, and we were all on Cloud 9 after. It is amazing what being an American teenager means in Southeast Asia, or at least to those children. I would not be surprised if the children talk about that encounter for a while, plus they will always have our names. In a few years, they might be surprised to read that Beyonce Knowles, Janet Jackson, Jessica Simpson, and Michael Jordan were part of our group (it was too tempting for some of us not to sign our names as those people).

Are you ready for Saturday? Here goes. Saturday was a sixteen hour day. We had to meet at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am for the tour of the Royal Grand Palace, which was breathtaking! Imagine elaborate buildings and statues each decorated with tiny pieces of colorful glass – everywhere! The time is must have taken to construct and decorate the buildings on the grounds. Every inch of those buildings was meticulously decorated with glass, creating captivating designs. I think these building are some of the best examples of the country’s devotion to the Royal Family. The time and dedication that must have been put into those buildings truly reflects the Thai love for the monarchy – the people would only want the best for their King (he does not live in the Grand Palace anymore though).

Also on the grounds was an enormous reclining Buddha. It must have been 50 yards long and 15 yards tall. The size of this Buddha represents the role Buddhism plays in Thailand – it is huge! One of the defining aspects of Thailand is its religion. When we were driving or walking around the city, I would see random shrines in the middle of shopping centers and neighborhoods. Almost every single shop, whether in a mall or in a outdoor market, had a small shrine to a Buddha. Each shrine was decorated with fresh flowers, food, and beverages (Fanta was the beverage of choice). I saw people just go up to a shrine in the middle of the day and lay down a To-Go box of food. Buddhism plays a central role in the majority of Thai people’s lives, and religious practices take place at all times of the day and in every place possible.

After the Royal Grand Palace, we traveled to a famous temple, Wat Po, and received a tour from a monk (Patrick). He spoke English, as many of the monks do. It was pretty amazing to me how widespread English is. I would never have expected Buddhist monks in Thailand to speak English, and speak it so well. This trip has shown me just how much of an international language English is. Patrick, in his kindness, gave each of us a small Buddhist token and a good luck bracelet, and he also gathered us all around for a traditional sprinkling of holy water. It is pretty amazing to me that we were able to participate in such a personal interaction with a Buddhist monk.

After Wat Po, we toured the famous house of Rama V (the fifth King of Thailand), the Vimanmek Mansion, made completely of teak. The inside decorations and designs of the house were absolutely gorgeous! It used to be ONE of the King’s houses, not the only house, just one of them. I would not mind having a summer house like it either! Thailand treats the King and his family like royalty – oh wait, they are.

Next, and not even last, we traveled to the Suanlum Night Bazaar, a collection of small shops selling everything from Thai handicrafts to bean bag couches and pillow covers. Basically, the purpose of this was to prepare us for the JJ market on Sunday (I’ll get to that soon). We scoped the shops, seeing how low we could bargain prices, and enjoyed dinner before a puppet show. Joe Louise Theatre showcases traditional Thai puppetry accompanied by live music. The show was amazing! Three people operate one puppet, which is not like a typical puppet, for it is controlled by poles attached to the limbs. The three operators would move in unison and play off of the music (which was amazing by the way). Our group was well represented during the show as we had two students actively participate. Tom was asked on stage to take the place of one of the puppet operators, and Katie had her purse stolen by one of the puppets (she had to go on stage to retrieve it). I felt like a kid again because those puppets were cracking us all up! We all really enjoyed the puppet show, but we were definitely ready to make it back to the hotel afterwards. After a long and full day, we finally returned to the hotel and crashed. Friday was the fullest day in Bangkok, and the promise of free time on Sunday and Tuesday kept us going! Tune in next time for a recount of the final three days in Bangkok!