We just got back from our first trip to Thailand.  A couple of interesting things to know about Thailand - approximately 90% of the population is Buddhist.  Most Thai males are ordained as monks at adolescence - a major rite of passage - they do this to earn merits for themselves and their families (typically this last for a couple of months or a year).   Almost every Thai person gives some sort of offering to Buddha each week - this could be a piece of food, incense, flowers - this is to earn them merits on their way to Nirvana which is the highest level of enlightenment for them.  The Thai people are very friendly and easy to be around.  Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 which is the year the country changed its name from Siam to Thailand.   The current King is the longest running monarch in the world today - his coronation was in 1946.  They have a long and proud history that is very integrated to the rest of Southeast Asia.  We went to several "Wat's" these are temple areas around Thailand.  Within each Wat is the "Bot" this is where the buddha's are located.  Most Wat's have monks living within their walls - the exception is the Wat Phra Kaeo at the Grand Palace with the Emerald Buddha.  We did see this and could not get any pictures but we got a couple off the web for you to see.  If you look up "Emerald Buddha" on the web you will be able to read a lot more about this....they believe it was built in 53BC - and it is about 66 centimeters tall with 3 different outfits for each season - Rainy, Summer and Winter.  One of the most beautiful temples we have seen - video's are included for your viewing pleasure.
     We started out in Phuket at the JW Marriott resort - gorgeous.  If you want to look at the resort the easiest way is to go to their website at www.jwmarriottphuket.com   Molly got the worst cold she has had in I don't know how long - actually ended up needing to go on antibiotics - yuck!  All we did in Phuket was sleep, drink, eat and sit by the pool and sea.  It was very relaxing - the ocean was warmer than the pool.  It was gorgeous.  They had several big events happening for the holidays - we went to Barbecue on the Beach - it was very fun and festive.  It didn't feel like Christmas as all - it felt like April.  Very strange to be somewhere warm (and I mean hot)....Some of the pictures we have in the gallery are from a fire ceremony then they do most nights - very cool.
     After 7 days of fun and sun we headed to Bangkok to do a little more cultural activities.  We spent our first afternoon riding in a long boat on the Chao Phraya (river of kings). Bangkok was once called "Venice of the East" - the long boats in Bangkok actually don't move with a pole like Venice - instead it is a car engine and transmission running a long pole with a propeller on the end - Crazy!!  There is a picture for you to look at...The canals were very interesting to see - and we actually saw a 7ft lizard (there is a picture) - it was huge!!  The canals were also a little depressing to see - from an outsider's perspective many of the people along the canal appeared to live at the poverty level or below.  
     From the canal's we went to see Wat Arun.  This temple was named for Aruna, the Indian God of dawn.  Each of the "Prangs" (these are the tall tower like structures in the temple) are completely covered in broken porcelain.  We went up as high as we could walking up the central Prang - and they are built really narrow and steep to represent the difficulties humans face when they are trying to attain a higher level of existence.  I don't know if they helped us with that when we did them - but going up was a little painful - trying to get down scared me!!  (picture of the stairs is in our photo section).  
     That evening we decided to go shopping at an antique market that was recommended - it was overwhelmingly beautiful.   They had some of the most beautiful pieces for sale that I have ever seen - Eric and I decided that if we didn't find a lot of other pieces around the area while we are here we may need to make a trip just to go shopping there for a whole day.  We did buy 2 pieces - one is a prayer book that is about 100 years old from Burma - written in their language and the second was a sculpture of one of the hindu gods.  Both are amazing.  After shopping we dropped off our stuff and headed out to "Pat Pong" which is the oldest red light district in the world.  There are three main streets - one for hetrosexuals, one for homosexuals and one for trans-sexuals.  We had several drinks, shopped at the night market and just watched the people - crazy!
     Next day was to see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keao - there are a lot of pictures and a couple of video's for you to see - truly one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  The temples and they way decorate them is so different from western churches - but the craftsmanship and attention to detail is really wonderful.  The other amazing thing we saw at this site was the Ramakien Murals - these stretch over 1/2 mile along the cloister walls of the temple.  There are 178 panels of intricate detail and vibrant colors - we have included a couple of pictures for people to look at.  Another item that was at this site was a model of Angkor Wat - Eric and I will be going to this temple in March.  It is located in Cambodia near Siam Reap - if you look up Angkor Wat on the web you can learn all about it.
We were supposed to go to the National Museum for a couple of hours as well but it was closed - so instead we went shopping for Amulets.    The Thais are a highly superstitious people - those who do not wear some sort of protection or lucky amulet are firmly in the minority.  Although many amulets are religious in nature - such as buddha images others are copies of sacred statues.  Amulets are big business in Thailand - they even have magazines dedicated to them.
     For New Year's Eve we decided to splurge and went up to the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel for a 7 course meal, overview of the city - it was outside dining and we could see all of the city for fireworks.  To get home that night we rode home on a "Tuk Tuk" which is a 3 wheeled motorcycle.....quite an adventure at 1:30 in the morning in Bangkok.  Dinner was a great way to end our trip!
     Hope you all had a great holiday season and we wish you the best for 2011!