Sunday, February 18, 2018

Big Buddha and Monkeys

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Thailand's third largest island, Ko Samui. has been attracting international travelers for less than half a century. Before then, this island in the Gulf of Thailand was noted for its coconut plantations and rubber production. Today, Ko Samui's premier charms are its powdery white beaches, its Buddhist temples or wats, and its crystalline waters.

Temple of the Big Buddha

For our final stop in Thailand, we selected the most popular shore excursion, the Temple of the Big Buddha & Monkey Demonstration. The temple is located on the small, rocky Fan Island. This wat or temple has become a major meditation center for both local residents and foreign visitors. Erected in 1972, the temple's centerpiece is a massive seated Buddha that stands 39-feet high.

Unlike most temples in Thailand, it wasn't necessary to remove our shoes before ascending the staircase to the large Buddha statue.   There is a magnificent 360 degree view of the surrounding area from on top.  After taking some pictures, we headed back down the staircase. 

Since we had two more stops on this tour, we used the restrooms at the temple.  They were like port a potties back home except that they didn't have traditional toilets, but Asian style instead.  As typical in Asia, you need to have your own toilet paper with you.

We had time to browse the local gift stalls before continuing on to Wat Plai Laem.


Wat Plai Laem

Once part of the Temple of the Big Buddha, Wat Plai Laem is home to a superb statue of Kwan Yin or "Guanjin," the 18-armed Buddhist avatar of Mercy.This is a relatively new temple but the art techniques used in its creation are centuries-old and based on ancient beliefs. We especially liked our visit here as it was set on a lake which afforded some great photo opportunities.


Monkey University

After a short drive from the temple, we arrived at a local venue where we watched a demonstration of how monkeys are utilized in the agricultural production on the island. For centuries, monkeys have been trained to harvest the ripe fruit in Samui's coconut plantations. The agile monkeys are able to quickly climb the tall, slender trunks of the coconut palms and pluck the coconuts for their handlers.

We were there with another tour bus. One of the guides assisted in a coconut splitting demonstration. They explained and showed how they harvest the coconut milk and meat.  We had some time to browse their gift store before boarding the motorcoach for the return trip to the ship.



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Related Album:

Wat Phrayai
Wat Plai Laem
Monkey Demonstration



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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Thailand Beauty and Culture

Nong Nooch Gardens & Cultural PerformanceTour Code: LC1205A



Finally on our motorcoach, we had a picturesque drive to this popular attraction off the beaten path. Nong Nooch Gardens is a privately owned, 250-acre village set against lush green hills. When arriving at the gardens, we had 30 minutes to explore the pottery garden.  

Modern restrooms were there as well.  Note that you need to bring your own toilet paper.

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Our guide led us to Thai Village Theater, where we had assigned seating.  Along the way we passed several stands selling prepared Thai food items.  Several souvenir shops were also in the complex.  









As we waited for the performance to begin, a man was speaking on stage. We couldn't understand the announcements or what was written on the sign created before the show, but everyone clapped at the conclusion.   Subtitles would have been helpful, but we doubted they could have kept up with the pace of his speaking anyway.

The show consisted of several colorful cultural performances of Thai folk songs and ceremonies. We saw folk dances from various regions in Thailand and thrilled to a demonstration of Thai boxing and sword fighting. 

Another highlight of our visit was the charming elephant show. Before the show began it was possible to get up close to the elephants and have them lift you.   There was the typical elephant parade as well as elephants showing their skills.   Elephants painted t-shirts, which could be purchased in the shops.   There were soccer and basketball games, twirling of hula-hoops, bowling, and stepping over volunteers, to name a few of the skills shown.

We had 30 minutes free time following the elephant show.  Unfortunately our guide hadn't made the schedule clear ahead of time, so we didn't have as much time to explore the grounds as we would have liked.

Final stop on our tour was for shopping at a company mandated local reputable gift shop in Pattaya. We had gotten a couple items at the gardens, so we just stayed on the bus.



This was an enjoyable tour, but a bit rushed. We would have loved more time to explore the beautiful gardens. 


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Related Album:

Nong Nooch Pottery
Nong Nooch Theatre
Thailand Culture
Elephant Show
Nong Nooch Gardens


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Welcome to Laem Chabang Thailand

Immigration Thailand

Local Thai officials decided that all passengers would need to go through a face-to-face immigration process in Laem Chabang.   Our passports were delivered to our cabin by our steward around 9 pm Tuesday, after dinner and the show.   Princess Cruises had completed landing cards and included them with the passports.  We just needed to sign the cards and complete the questions on the reverse side of the landing cards prior to meeting in the morning.

Passengers were assigned meeting times based on their shore excursion schedule or independent plans.  Instructions were also in our cabins the night before.

Our scheduled time to meet at Wheelhouse Lounge was 7:20 am.  When we arrived there, it was packed with passengers.  Princess Theater, which is the tour staging area, was also full.   The staff released passengers from the theater, and our tour was the next called.  We waited until it was time to be escorted to the gangway.  

On the pier, a tented area was setup with several lines. Thai immigration officials were sitting at tables, processing passengers.  We were directed to the first line.  When it wasn't moving, we moved over one, which turned out to be a mistake.   Finally we got to the front, our passports and landing cards were checked and stamped.  They were once again retained by the ship staff, who filed them in bins according to deck.  

We had a short walk to the motor coaches.  Since we'd taken so long, we had to take seats in the very last row, along with another gentleman and his son.   Our view was blocked by emergency sign on the window.   It wasn't the most comfortable ride in the last row on this particular bus. We will talk more about the tour in another post.


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Taste of Vietnam

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Cu Chi Tunnels

If you are looking for a tour Off The Beaten Path, Cu Chi Tunnels & Countryside shore excursion is for you. Unless you were in Vietnam during the war, we doubt you could begin to imagine what this tunnel system was like. It was incredible to see how the tunnels were constructed and how this underground world was so instrumental during the war.

Our Gateway to Ho Chi Minh post details our visit to Cu Chi Tunnels, as well as the other sights featured on that shore excursion.   Since it was an all day tour, it included lunch. 

Ad Ben Nay Restaurant

After a short drive from the tunnels we arrived at Ad Ben Nay Restaurant for lunch. It is as an open air restaurant located along the banks along a stream. It was quite a lovely setting with gentle breezes blowing through as we enjoyed our meal.

There was a set menu served family style. It consisted of grilled chicken (which was brought just as we were leaving), spring rolls, fried Basa filet fish with tomato sauce, braised pork in clay pot, seafood hot pot with noodles, steamed rice, and flan for dessert.   The meal included one beverage so everyone at our table opted for Saigon beer.


We walked around the grounds a bit and then boarded our motor-coach for the long trip back to Phu My.  Once again we made our way through the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh city.  

Some passengers wanted to stop for shopping, but since everyone didn't want to stop, we stuck to the schedule, making a brief bathroom stop and returned to the pier right on schedule. There were a few vendors selling souvenirs at the pier for those interested.

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Related Album:

Ho Chi Minh
Cu Chi Tunnels
Saigon Lunch

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