Monday, August 19, 2013

8/9/13-8/19/13: Guangzhou, China

Though we were here in China for about 12 days - I have little to comment on as there was not really much to do in Guangzhou...I liken it to visiting a city like...Cincinnati - Its a city so there's alot of business going on, some nice parks, shops and malls etc...but nothing that makes it stand out as a tourist attracting place like New York or Singapore.

So first, let me talk about the hotel we were at...The Ocean Hotel.  Fairly nice rooms, though it seems like they are slowly renovating the place so every single floor has a different look and none of the rooms are exactly the same so you really don't know what you're going to get.  Also, the maids that work there must be under some sort of Chinese Nazi-like regime.  No matter if you put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door AND the Do Not Disturb light was lit outside of your room ALONG WITH the Im In The Bathroom Don't Bother Me light - they will still knock and bang on your door insistently throughout the day as if there is a fire in the building and if you don't answer soon enough, will come into your room to ask if you want it cleaned.  If you say no - they will come back later and repeat and demand that you let them clean the next day.  If you put the latch on the door to keep them from coming in on their own, after the banging and ringing, the phone will ring and someone will try to ask you in Chinese to open the door and the banging and ringing will resume.  If you use your Do Not Disturb sign too much, they will take it away from you.  If you move anything around in the room they will go berserk on you - one afternoon I came in from a sweaty outing and grabbed a hand towel to dry my face and left it on the desk.  Later when the maid came in and decided to clean the bathroom since we were still in bed, she came out with one towel in her had screaming...SCREAMING 'There Were Two! There Were Two!' until I handed her the towel.  Apparently the room service staff is no better (though I didn't order myself, I heard stories) with the staff rolling their eyes and being nasty to our company when they asked questions and tried to pay for their meals instead of charging them to the room.  My suggestion is to not stay there...Oh, their pool...If you can find it (its hidden on the 5th floor and only available via one unmarked elevator) - is not chlorinated (don't drink the water) and the trees around it are FULL of yeah...don't stay at the Ocean Hotel.....

If fact, if you can help it...don't go to China. Of course, I really only got to see the one city, but as home-country sick as I am - thats enough.

I did have a few good times though (lol - its not all gloom and doom).  The first full day there I spent in the hotel but that evening we went out to a little river cruise on the Pearl River to see Guangzhou by night.  They do have a really nice skyline and some very prettily lit up buildings - like the Canton Tower, which is also the largest building in all of China.

Another day, a foursome of us went out to Pan Xi - a Dim Sum restaurant and had a really good meal - and even tried some of the local delicacy...Chicken Claws.  They are not as gross as you'd think.  If you can get over the fact that you're eating a chicken foot...its really mostly skin and very little meat.  But hey, I tried it.  Next to the restaurant was a really nice park that we walked around in for a while.  While it was too hot out to really enjoy being there, it was very pretty and relaxing.

The shows here were the most surprising part of China for me.  I was totally expecting crickets the entire time - as no one here speaks English almost at all.  But the translations must have been excellent - as some of our audiences were louder than the ones back home.  That made me happy.  

But after our time here, I'm ready to move on to our last stop: Macau.  Because that means we are so much closer to being home.  Tour life is hard for long stints...most tours END around 6-7 months and during that time you usually get a few breaks.  We've been out for 8 months with no break - and if  you add my previous tour in (since I had no break at all between shows)....I've been out 11 months without a real break - and I've gone a little crazy over it.  So come on Macau, lets do this!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

7/29/2013-8/8/2013: Bangkok, Thailand Layoff

And I'm back...

For the past 10 days I've been holed up in Bangkok - and man do I have some stories to tell.  Bangkok is a city of extremes - the highs are incredibly high...and conversely the lows are incredibly low.

What follows is mix of both...

First off, Thailand is the first country I've been to where English was not one of the national languages. Most people speak a tiny bit - but almost all signage is Thai.  So when I arrived at the airport to find that my hotel HADN'T sent someone to pick me (as I had requested of them 3 times via email), it was an ordeal to find the taxis and try to explain where I was going.  By some miracle of pre-organization I had printed out a sheet from the hotel's website with driving directions in Thai that I was able to pass along to the driver.  At this point, about 45 minutes after landing, I was already in major culture shock since I had chosen to travel alone and had no one to commiserate in English with - so when the taxi driver, who was about 65 and screamed instead of speaking - but really was a friendly guy, started screaming the few English words he knew at me in triplet (i.e..  Toll! Toll! Toll! when the tolls came and Happy! Happy Happy! Trip! Trip! Trip! randomly as a welcome to Thailand I guess - among other things every 10 minutes or so) I started to question whether I had made a mistake in coming to Bangkok.  But after reaching my hotel and getting up to my room I had calmed myself a bit - and started to get ready to meet my fellow cast-mate, Aaron, and his brother, Shane.  We had decided to introduce Bangkok to us with a diner cruise down the Chao Phraya River (the main waterway in the center of Bangkok).
The cruise we booked was the absolute best one we could have picked (The Apsara Diner Cruise by Banyan Tree if you're interested) since it a)wasn't overcrowded like most of the cruises we saw leaving, b)was served in courses by waiters who explained each course to us as opposed to buffet style, c)was quiet, candlelit and had soft romantic music playing in the background as we cruised along as opposed to the other cruises which featured loud music and dancing during and after the meal.  It was a great way to meet the city as many of the major cultural landmarks are along the river and lit up at night.  The  Grand Palace and Wat Arun in particular are just stunning at night.  The meal itself was also stunning - giving us a taste of some traditional and new age Thai style cooking (the soft shell crab in tamarin sauce was incredible!).  After disembarking, we made our way over to Silom Soi 4, which is the 'gay bar' district.  A tiny side street with about 10 gay bars...and we were happy to find that drinks here (take note Singapore) were dirt cheap!  We ordered a liter of beer (basically just shy of a gallon) and payed about $13 for it...After drinking and people watching for a while, we made it a couple streets down to Silom Soi 2, which is the 'gay club' area - a tiny street with about 5 different themed gay clubs either with no cover or a dirt cheap cover that included a really strong drink...

Next morning, I ventured out into Bangkok by day and braved the BTS (their elevated train system) and the Chao Phraya Tourist boat to make it to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  This was where I had my first run in with the scam artists that all of my tour books had warned me about.  As I was walking through the street market to the Grand Palace (everywhere you go in Bangkok requires you to walk through at least one street market), a man approached me (because I was obviously a tourist) and told me promptly that the Grand Palace was closed today and maybe he could take me somewhere else instead on his TukTuk.  Knowing that was a lie, I moved on and found the entrance to the palace grounds.  Now to walk through the Grand Palace and any of the Wats (Wat means temple), they enforce a strict dress code that requires you to be in long pants that cover your ankles and a mid-length cut shirt that doesn't show any midriff or shoulders.  Seeing how it is about 10,000 degrees in Thailand with humidity in the 20,000s....its not practical to leave your house like that - so they all provide some sort of coverings that you can wear while walking around the grounds - usually for a 200 baht ($6) deposit that they give back to you when you return the items.  There's even a sign that states this outside the main entrance, where my 2nd scam artist was trying to tell me that they don't have my size pants inside and I should buy his for just 100 baht right there.  I walk passed and rented my pants from within and started walking around.

Looking back, I should have hired a guide to show me around (there are licensed tourist guides that you can hire for about 200 Baht just standing around the entrances - but after my 2 scams in a row, I was leery) - but I had my 2 guide books and the pamphlet they give you with some bare bones info to walk around with.  So I didn't get a complete history of the place but I did get to see many visually striking things inside.  First off, inscribed on the walls all around the temple area is the Hindu creation story.  I found out later that you see this in many Buddhist temples - because Buddhism derived itself from Hinduism, so the Hindu story acts as a protective barrier around the holy places - usually somewhere in or on the temple itself will be the story of Buddha's life from birth to enlightenment as well.  After leaving the murals, I walked around the grounds of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and was really just struck with the beauty of it.  So many gorgeous gold statues and intricate details are everywhere.  Everything seems to sparkle.  I did learn that th
e Emerald Buddha is actually made of Jade - though when it was first discovered, the monk couldn't tell the difference.  100s of years later, it was tested and proved to be Jade - not emerald, but by then its name had definitely been established.  Whats so cool about visiting the Wats is that they are not just historical sights - they are historical sights that are still used practically as temples everyday.  People make daily visits or lifetime pilgrimages to see these different Buddhas and pay their respects and ask for blessings - so to be there amongst all that was truly enlightening.
The Grand Palace section was mostly closed off to the public, aside from the grounds (being the palace and all...) but just walking through the grounds was magnificent as well.  Truly a highlight of my trip was seeing these two places.  Of course, on my way back to the boat to head back to my hotel to change for the evening, I ran into scam #3.  A man at of the market stalls I was looking at on the way back started talking with me.  He seemed very nice and asked if I'd been to the palace - which I had - and where I was going - back to my hotel for a bit - But first you should go see the standing Buddha, as its not to far from here...This is where he pulled out a map and marked it for me - he said its only open certain times of the year and there is a national holiday this week so you can get a blessing there...very special (then it turns) like suits?  I have a friend who makes very good suits not too far from there - here my friend will take you to both places if you like - (and he starts to walk me to the Tuk Tuk driver who'd been inching his way towards us since the map came out)...No thanks I said and walked to the boat....

That's seriously one of the lows about Thailand - at least Bangkok - after spending 10 days there, I've come away thinking that almost everyone you meet is trying to screw you somehow - they are most certainly lying to you and trying to trick you out of your $$....  Not everyone...but MOST EVERYONE... It got to be not only tiresome - but tiring...about 7 days in I had to spend a whole day to myself in my room - well, almost a whole day- just to be away from the scam artists and merchants and massage parlor workers and tuk-tuk and taxi drivers who all scream as loud as they can at you to get your attention as you walk down the was a little "much" for someone on their own....but in the end it was only a minor annoyance...

That night I met up with Aaron and Shane again along with our fellow cast-mate Blair and our Musical Director Nolan at an out of the way gem called Harmonique.  The food was delightful and cheap - and because it was basically in an alleyway off the main road, it was very peaceful - After diner we made our way over the the Asiatique market complex by boat to catch the famous Calypso cabaret (aka Thai Ladyboy show).  It was a blast - the ladyboys were beautiful and fun to watch.  The numbers were very eclectic, ranging from traditional Chinese songs featuring girls in Chinese gowns and fans to Vaudevillian style numbers with girls dressed like ostriches to classy ballads with girls done up in their best glamorous sequined dress.  Lots of fun.

Next morning I had booked myself a spot in a cooking class at the Blue Elephant Bangkok restaurant.  The Blue Elephant is known worldwide for their Royal Thai cuisine and has branches in all of the very posh worldly cities (except New York...they are not in the USA at all actually) like London, France, Dubai, etc.  But the one here in Bangkok is the original - we got to meet the owner (randomly) and his wife (who is the head chef) and had a wonderful experience learning about Thai cooking.  It started with a trip to the outdoor wet market to get a hands on look at some of the ingredients we'd be using for the recipes.  We got a look at some fruits popular to SE Asia like the Mangosteen and some for the herbs that are popular in Thai cooking, like Thai Basil and Lemongrass and Galanga, which looks almost identical to ginger but actually has a very lemony taste/scent to it.  After the market trip, it was back to the restaurant and upstairs to the classroom.
The class was set up so that we would watch a dish being prepared from start to finish, taste the one that the instructor had prepared, then move to the test kitchen and cook our own.  We did this for all 4 dishes: Tod Mann Plaa (Thai Fish Cake),  Tom Som* Plaa Kra-Pong (Sour Soup with Sea Bass), Nua Phad Prik Horapah (Stir Fried Beef with Sweet Basil and Chilies) and Laab Kai (Thai Spicy Chicken Salad).  *I also learned that Thai dishes that use the word Som mean they are sour - probably using Sour Tamarin as a base, where Yum means spicy - a more chili base.  I think my favorite of the 4 was the Laab Kai - and I can't wait to get home and make a (mild) version of it.  The experience was excellent - and they gave us an apron to keep and a certificate and a little red chili curry making kit to take back home.  Absolutely would recommend taking a class if you are in Bangkok - or just stopping by to eat there.  They teach/serve Royal Thai style food (the kind most found in the US btw) - there are 4 styles of cooking in Thailand and since Bangkok was home to the kings, the royal style is what you find mostly in that area.

After the cooking class, I stopped in at Healthland Spa - which is a corporate chain of spas in Thailand.  They are run like the fast food of massage, have 40 or 50 on call therapists, so you can walk without an appointment and begin your massage within 10 minutes of arrive (if they're busy).  As you wait, they serve you rose scented water and let you cool down in their lounge area.  After that, you are led to your room and given a surgical looking shirt and fisherman's pants to change into.  Once you are properly dressed, your massage therapist will come in and start giving you the most amazing massage of your life.  If you've never experienced Thai-style massage - its unlike anything that you're use to.  Its not a 'relaxation massage' but its not a deep tissue either...Thai massage uses a mix of stretching, kneading and pressure and Chakara points throughout the body - and the ones at Healthland last 2 full hours.  When you leave, you are 100% refreshed and your body is free of all aches and pains - all for about $15.  If you've never had a massage in the US...lets just say the average price for an hour (which is really about 45 minutes since your hour usually starts the moment they walk you back to your room and  ask you to disrobe...) by a lower-rent company is about $75-80.  Yeah Thailand!


That night I decided to sleep over at Aaron and Shane's hotel, since we had planed an excursion the next day and were going to be picked up at their hotel at about 6AM.  So I packed a mini bag and headed over - when I got there, we decided to go out for a little bit since the night was still young.  Everyone hears about the 'darker side' of Bangkok - and since it is so accessible...we thought we might go see what a Thai Go-Go club was like, so we took a cab to the Surawong area (Soi Twilight) and found ourselves being led into a place called Dreamboys.  Now I want to disclaimer 2 things - A go-go dancer in the US is VERY DIFFERENT than a go-go dancer in Thailand...and I don't believe our experience is the norm in the Go-Go Go-Go clubs go, I believe we found (possibly) the ONE fairly legit (as legit as they can be) one....  Dreamboys had a cover charge that included 1 drink - and that is all that you have to pay to stay in the club to see the show - you are fully able to buy more overpriced drinks or spend your money in other ways, but you were not forced to.  When you walk in what you will notice is that its basically a market - there are guys in numbered thongs on stage staring into space and 'dancing' to the music.  They are there to get your attention - if you make eye contact and smile at them, it is a signal that you'd like them to come and join you at your table for a while.  They will expect you to buy them and yourself a drink at that time -and after you've finished your chat to be tipped for their time as well.  If you really are adventurous - you can talk to the 'Captain' and pay the 500 baht 'leaving fee' and they will change into their street clothes and...leave with you.  Knowing all this, we did our best not to make any eye contact with the guys - who kept cycling onto and off of stage - there were at least 60 there that night in rotation.  If you waited long enough the 'show' starts.  The 'show' includes several acts starting fairly tame and working towards the 'big finish' (I'll let you imagine what that is).  It was...different.  It was interesting, seamy, sleazy and I felt a little bad afterwards that my entrance fee helped to further the sex industry in Bangkok but its something that I can say I've done and don't have to do again...


The next day we were picked up very early from the hotel and driven out to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.  Floating Markets were, traditionally, how the people of Bangkok bought most of their goods - since Bangkok and the surrounding areas are very 'Venice-like', meaning that all the main living areas center around the rivers.  Merchants would load up their boats with produce or other goods and people would row their boats into the sea of merchants and buy their food for the day.  Today - unless you travel WAY outside of Bangkok, the Floating Markets are kitschy tourist traps.  They basically sell all the same mass produced crap you will find in every street market in the country (day or night).  But the experience of being rowed around in a longboat and bartering on the river was kind of cool - since they merchants (to gain tourists attention) wear the 'traditional' clothes that river merchants wore when the markets were real.  After we disembarked, we got back in the car and were driven to the city of Kanchanaburi, where we met our tour guide for the day.  Kanchanaburi is the home to the POW Deathcamp cemetery were most of the POWS from Australia, Thailand, England and China that died building the 'Deathbridge' are laid to rest.  The 'Deathbridge' is better known as the 'Bridge of the River Kwai' - there's a film by that name that tells the story of the POWs.  They were basically worked to death by the Japanese running the POW camp and given little to no food as they build this incredibly long bridge that would be used as part of the railway system.  There were Americans at the camp as well (about 750) but they were sent back to the US for burial and are not in the cemetery.  It was very sobering to see the bridge - which is still used today, 4 times a day to run trains from Bangkok to Chang Mai.  After a quick lunch stop, we made our way further into Thailand (a total of about 3 hours from Bangkok from start to finish) to the Saiyok Elephant Camp.
This was one of the coolest things I got to do in Thailand.  The families that live at the camp do nothing but care for the elephants that are there.  Some of the handlers couldn't have been more than 15 years old - it was kind of amazing to see them barefoot and guiding the elephants while riding them on their necks.  Well, the first part of the visit was a ride for us in the jungle on the elephants.  They had seats set up on the ones walking - so we climbed on board and went.  It was exhilarating - and scary (lol).  Our elephant was 45 years old and HUGE - had to be the tallest one in the camp.  Aaron and were literally ducking away from tree branches (and spider webs) as we rode.  It was incredible.  After we returned to the camp, it was time to 'bathe' with them.  I opted out of that portion.  I had seen the river and knowing that I hadn't had any vaccinations done before coming to Asia - it made me wory about getting know Dysentery ...or Malaria... But Aaron and Shane went ahead with it.  I probably would have been fine but even after seeing everything they did, I was happy with my decision (lol).  While they were showering off and changing clothes, I was feeding the 2 year old baby elephant.  She was adorable - and so hungry - drinking out of a bottle.  She held it with her trunk and kept trying to get more out even when it was empty - so adorable and sweet.  All in all, it was a great day and a wonderful experience that I will never forget!

The next two days I spent in an introduction to Vipassana (Insight) Meditation course taught by meditation master Helen Jandamit at the House of Dhamma.  Mrs. Jandamit is a fascinating British woman who found Vipassana and Buddhism in her college years and has spent over 65 years practicing.  She has some of the most amazing stories to tell from her years of practice and travel and teaching and I really learned a lot.  Firstly, though the course didn't focus on Buddhism just the form of meditation used IN Buddhism, I learned that Buddhism is not a religion as I had once thought.  There is just no good category for it to fall into so it gets lumped into 'religions' - its more of a 'way of life' or a 'path' people choose to follow.  Very interesting.  I also learned that the meditation that you see Buddhists doing - the chanting and pacing, followed by sitting on the ground in concentration - are focused mainly on becoming hyper-aware of your body in space (to the point where are experiencing the feel of clothes on your skin, air touching your skin even when its not moving, feeling the blood flow through your veins, etc.).  This leads to moments of clarity where you see yourself in the big picture of the universe and how everything is meant to work together in harmony - thats the goal of a practiced mediation session anyway.  Its actually very challenging.  I didn't realize that the 'chanting' that they doing is really just them saying what they are currently doing in an effort to help them concentrate on their body even more -- meaning if they are standing - they are chanting the word "Standing" and then "Preparing to Walk" as their body gears up to move its muscles.  All incredibly interesting - and much harder to do in practice - though its something i want to keep looking into in the future and am glad I took the class.


I went out to diner with Aaron and Shane on their last night in Bangkok - they were headed to Beijing for the rest of our time off.  Two more of our company, Chloe and Brittany had just arrived after a few days in Hong Kong and joined us at Baan Khanitha for a slightly pricy (by Bangkok standards) but really delicious meal.  Afterwards we decided again to delve into the darker side of Bangkok and visit one of their famous Ping Pong shows.  If you don't know to what I'm referring to, watch a little Priscilla Queen of the Desert...  We'd read how the shows work and all the scams associated with them but thought that we'd be safe if we were smart about it.  Within 30 seconds of walking into the PatPong Night Market, we were approached by a man asking "Ping Pong? Ping Pong?" - He had a sheet listing about 25 acts in the show which branched pretty far out form just ping pong balls - and at the bottom of the sheet it said 100 Baht Drinks.  We asked him how much the actual SHOW was - not just the drinks and he told us it was an extra 200 Bhat.  After verifying 2 more times that the whole price was 300 Baht per person, we started to follow him.  He took us into a side street with other Ping Pong show harbingers and led us into a building and up 4 deserted and skeezy flights to the stage.  Before going into the bar we checked again with him and the woman bouncer that the full price was 300 Baht per person.  They confirmed that it was and led us inside a dimly lit room with blaring music and 3 or 4 scantily clad girls standing on the stage.  They tried to sit us right up against the stage but as we thought there might be an extra charge for that - and there was no way we wanted to sit that close anyway, they instead moved us to seats against the wall.  We ordered our beers - but didn't drink them because I'd read that sometimes they drug your drinks and clean you out once you've passed out.  The first act started, in which they volunteered Brittany to pull an incredibly long ribbon from one of the girls.  After the act she came around with her tip box and DEMANDED 100 baht tip.  I mean could not give less or not tip or she would not move on to harassing the next person. The second act quickly began by a girl covered in very long balloons handing them out to the audience - I didn't take one because I knew what was coming next.  Two girls laid down on the stage and proceeded to shoot darts at the balloons until they had all popped - it was incredibly disturbing and we all decided we were done at that point and got up to leave and settle up our bill.  When you go to pay, they lead you to a counter on the other side of the room.  The counter is wedged between the stage and a smallish hallway area, so you are pretty much trapped as the bouncer and the guy who manages the money step in between you and the door.  As we were getting our 300 Baht out, the guy whips out a clipboard with a list of charges on it and tells us that for the 5 of us the price is 7,800 Baht.  Of course this is complete bull and we try to explain to him that we were told several times that it was 300 per person.  Finally fed up with the man, Chloe collected 500 baht and put it down on the counter and went to leave.  The man grabbed her fairly forcefully by the arm - obviously not realizing that he was dealing with a girl from Philly.  She wrenched her arm from his griped and made it known that he was not to touch her again.  Then they all began screaming at us in Thai and broken English.  The girls were warning us that they were calling the Thai mob and we'd better pay.  The level of noise in the room was unbearable and they were backing us further into the corner.  It was terrifying.  Finally Chloe turned to us and said "I need a man" and Aaron stepped up to talk to the man, who was obviously not used to dealing with women.  The guy tryed to offer us a 'deal' of 5000 Baht to which Aaron got a piece of paper and wrote out 100 for beer x 5 = 500 Baht, 200 for show x 5 = 1000 Baht = 1500 Baht.  The guy finally said ok and I tossed a 1000 Baht at him and he stepped aside and we made for the stairs.  Even then, I noticed that the female bouncer was starting to follow us down the stairs so I hurried us along - eventually we made it down the 4 flights, out of the ally and to the safety of the gay bars in Silom Soi 4.  It was an awful awful awful experience and not worth it.  Do Not See A Ping Pong Show in Bangkok - or anywhere really.  It was so scary - I really felt that our lives were in danger.  I didn't let it totally ruin the rest of my time in Bangkok - but it definitely tainted my time there and made me even more untrusting of everyone I met.  One of the lows i mentioned before....

It is now safe to begin reading again...

The next day I made it briefly out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  After the experience from the night before, I couldn't stand to haggle with many people and it was incredibly hot and crowded, so I didn't stay long.  The weekend market itself would be overwhelming on a regular day as its made up of over 15,000 stalls selling everything from food to furniture to silk to books to touristy trinkets.  Anything you want, you can literally find there in multiple overcrowded stalls.  I did make a few purchases before I headed back to the hotel to recuperate.

The following day I had booked a trip out to Ayutthaya, which was the ancient capitol of Siam before Bangkok was established.  It had been destroyed by fires when the Burmese invaded and most of the city is in ruins - though you can see when you walk around that in its heyday it must have been quite a sight to see.  When it was written about by visitors to the city, they always described it as a thriving metropolis.  The ruins are truly magnificent.  In Wat Mahathat many of the Buddha statues were beheaded with thieves stealing the heads.  During the theft of one of the heads, the thief was almost caught and he hid the head in the roots of a tree - but never came back to retrieve it.  As the tree grew, the head became part of the tree with the roots intertwining themselves around the head - its one of the most famous sights to see in the area.  Another is a giant Reclining Buddha out in the open as the building around it is no more.  Its such a sight to see.  One of the highlights was visiting a temple where one of the monks was blessing visitors.  We knelt in front of him and he sprinkled us with holy water and asked for blessing for ourselves and our family.  Then we were presented with white cords to wear showing that we'd been blessed.  We also visited the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, where the Thai kings of the 17th century once lived (like the King from The King and I).  Today its used as a palace where the King and Queen stay when they have visiting dignitaries like Barak Obama or Queen Elizabeth.  At the end of the tour we took a river cruise back to Bangkok where they served us a very westernized Thai style lunch buffet. After the antics o the few days before - it was a very relaxing way to end a wonderful day.

I spent my last day in Bangkok at the Wat Pho - and I decided to hire one of the guides that I missed out at the Grand Palace.  I'm really glad I did too as he told me a lot of different tidbits I'd never know without him and showed me a lot of little details on the structures that I defiantly would have missed.  Wat Pho was the first 'hospital' and 'medical school'.  The monks there have practiced and taught the art of Thai massage for hundreds of years - in fact inscribed along the walls of the Wat are murals showing how Thai massage works as there were no 'books' on the subject, that's how the Monks recorded their knowledge.  There are also records showing how to diagnose different ailments and treat them with different herbs.  The Wat also houses the larges known Reclining Buddha - its absolutely huge.  Seeing the Wat Pho was the perfect way to end my trip to Bangkok and round out those lows with a really good high.

Bangkok was just what I needed to recharge my batteries.  I'm leaving with a lot of memories and stories and am ready and raring to get back to the show and finish up our last month in Asia...Guangzhou here I come!