Bangkok – the Unicorn Cafe

Have you heard about the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok, Thailand? It’s been all over social media from what I can find.  Granted this could have something to do with the fact that one of my best friends is obsessed with unicorns so everyone started posting anything that was related to it on her wall.  No matter what fancy algorithm was in place that resulted in this Unicorn Cafe taking over my social media, it was placed on the agenda for the group to go visit while we were in Bangkok.  In fact, since we most of had been to Bangkok before it was actually almost the number one priority.

After we had completed our temple adventures, we loaded into two separate Uber’s and made our way to the Unicorn Cafe.  It was about 15 minutes away without traffic which ended up being about 25 minutes total with the traffic.  The cafe is located down a side street off the main roads in Bangkok and is fairly subtle from the outside.  There are some signs outside that let you know you’ve reached the Unicorn Cafe but other than that, ti’s not some giant pink building with a unicorn painted on the outside.

But once you walk in, it’s a completely different story. Once you walk in the doors, it is like you’ve walked into a room that Lisa Frank threw up in.  It’s kind of crazy.  Walking into this cafe, I was brought back to elementary school where we were obsessed with Lisa Frank folders, and the pictures that she had all over the stuff.  The trademark animals, fantastical images and bright neon/pastel colors plastered over notebooks.  If you think of all the unicorn related items that come to mind, there is a high possibility that those items or some version of them can be found in this cafe.  The walls are covered with wall paper images of unicorns, there are unicorn onesies that you can put on, there are stuffed unicorns and My Little Ponies available to play with, and a menu full of things with unicorn type names. Everything is in some pastel color and it is everything you could hope for in a unicorn themed cafe.

We waited a few minutes for a table and were able to be seated on some pastel couches close to the front of the restaurant, given an excessively large menu and started to take in what we were seeing.  It was a very strange and overwhelming experience to have, especially after spending so much time in the sun before.  I ordered some cheesy fries because that seemed like a good idea to order when in Thailand.  I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to order them but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  We also ordered some unicorn ice cream with pastel colored waffles and a burger with a little horn on the top.  After ordering the food, we started the photo shoot.  I know that it sounds weird, but how can you not take a bunch of photos and snapchats when you’re hanging out in the Unicorn Cafe?  The unicorn onesies were in high demand and so we had to wait for someone to give it up for our group to try it one.  We spent a bit of time checking out our surroundings, taking photos and trying to absorb everything we were seeing in this brightly colored room.

I have to admit that this was a very interesting experience.  It was fascinating to see what people did when they first entered the cafe.  I think some people were thrilled, others were overwhelmed and no one seemed to know what to think when they walked in.  It was also a great place to people watch and see how people interacted with the props and the various unicorn themed items around the cafe. After our sugar overload and not so impressive food, we decided we had enough of the Unicorn Cafe and it was time to move on.  We still had one more place we needed to check out before we met up with the rest of the group.

We loaded back into two Uber’s and made our way to the Hello Kitty House.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand

Ever since 2012, I have said that Wat Arun which is also known as the Temple of Dawn has been my favorite temple.  There’s something intricately beautiful about this place and I know that I’ve written about it before.  The way the designs are done all over the buildings is something to be admired. When we decided that we were going to skip Wat Pho which has the large gold Buddha, I was super excited to go across the river to see the Temple of Dawn again. It was my third visit across the river to that temple and it was just as beautiful the third time around.

We paid our 4 Baht to get across the river, took the water taxi the 3 minutes across the river and walked off the boat to get to the temple.  We were prepared for the boys to end up having to wear the pants again but the rules at the Temple of Dawn are not as strict as the rules at the Grand Palace.  So as long as the men are not wearing short shorts, then you can get away without long pants as a male.  Females still have to cover up which is still rough so I had on my regular two layers in the the sweltering heat and we wandered around the Temple of Dawn grounds.  One of the things is that the main temple is currently under restoration. When I went there back in 2012, you could climb the steps up to the middle section of the temple, but now all of that is covered in awnings and you aren’t able to walk up the steps anymore.

We took our obligatory photos and walked around the various pagodas on the grounds and then decided to sit and relax in the shade for a bit.  While we were sitting in the shade, I looked up and realized that the Wat Arun was significantly brighter than I remember.  I remember the first time I saw it, it was a gray ish color against the bright blue sky and on this particular day it was almost blinding how white it was.  I couldn’t place my finger on it for the longest time and I sat and stared at the pagodas trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing.

I finally realized what it was.  When I was there in 2012, they hadn’t restored the temple and the beautiful gray version that I had in my head was actually the dirty version of the temple with all the dust/dirt/pollution over the years. This new version I was seeing was the way the temple was supposed to be viewed. White structures so the colors of the designs actually appeared in contrast to the white background. I’m not sure which version I like better but I still adore this temple. If you ever get a chance to see the temple after it is restored, take a walk up the stairs and look out over the city.  it’s absolutely beautiful and totally worth the fear as you climb the steep steps.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand. Let the countdown begin. #travels

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Bangkok – The Grand Palace, Attempt 3

We finally arrived at the Grand Palace only to find security gates placed all along the perimeter of the palace about 300 yards away.  We had to go through metal detectors and show our IDs in order to get through the gate.  These security measures blocked anyone from entering the perimeter by vehicle.  You had to go through these metal detectors in order to get to the actual palace itself.  We had our brief panic moment when we thought that they needed our passports but luckily they took our state issued IDs and we were let in.  I’m not entirely sure why the security measures were put in place but I think it may have had something to do with the passing of the King but to be honest, I am not sure what happened or what was driving this.  In the two previous attempts to get to the Grand Palace, I had never experienced security like this.  In fact, the two times before were super easy to get right up to the gates via tuk tuks and taxis.

Once we got to the actual Grand Palace, our adventure began.  We were a group of five people, two males and three females.  The three females came prepared because the dress codes are a bit strict over there.  I had brought my one size fits all elephant pants to put over my shorts and had a longer t-shirt to wear over my tank top so that I could cover my shoulders.  When we arrived, we tried to get toward the gardens and as we got closer, our group was stopped by a security guard because the boys were wearing shorts and so they had to get cover ups.  So they got in line to rent them and while we waited surrounded by hoards of tourists, we got the brilliant idea to go buy shawls/scarves/cover ups from the gift store so that the boys could wrap them around their legs to get into the Grand Palace.  We found them in the air conditioned gift shop, had the boys come meet us and they tied them around their waist.  We started walking toward the tickets booth past the original security guard and thought that we were in the clear.  As we got closer to purchasing our tickets, another security guard showed up and told the boys that they needed to wear pants like men. So we were sent back to the clothing rental location for pants for the boys.

As we walked back, we came up with the brilliant idea to give the guys our one size fits all elephant pants and we would wear the cloth wraps.  But the only issue was that while we were in the gift shop, I had taken off my shorts because I was melting from the multiple layers so I couldn’t just give away my pants.  So we got creative.  I can officially say that I have changed clothing in the Grand Palace gardens.  We found a nice shady less obvious location hidden along the wall and I performed some clothes changing magic.  We wrapped the cloths around our waists, shimmied out of the pants, then managed to pull our shorts back on in public without getting caught.  I have to say, doing this when you’re sweating all the water out of your body is not an easy activity. We finally accomplished the swap and began making our way into the Grand Palace.

I’ve been here multiple times but have not actually gone into the temples that are housed at the Grand Palace, and every time I show up, I usually get there right before they close the doors.  This place is the home to the Emerald Buddha and of all the times I have been to Thailand, I have never seen this Buddha. So that was our number one goal.  We started walking around the intricate buildings, past the various statues and checking out the murals.  I would definitely recommend trying to get here first thing in the morning or later in the day.  Arriving right at noon meant that we were fighting everyone to try and get through to see anything which definitely did not help with the heat situation.

After checking out everything there was to see, we took our shoes off, placed them on the racks outside of the main temple and made our way into the home of the Emerald Buddha. You cannot take pictures in there so I don’t have an image of this Buddha but it truly is beautiful.  It’s rather large for jade and it’s impressive.  It’s not the size of the Buddha’s you’d image in the all gold.  From a distance it looks like it’s maybe a foot and a half tall which is pretty huge for being a gemstone. It is clothed in gold and it sits high above everything else in the room.  It was rather crowded when we showed up and so we couldn’t get very close to it so we walked in, saw, and walked out.

After that, the heat officially got to us and we decided we really needed to evaluate our priorities.  We had a few other things we needed to see, we were melting and we had evening plans.  So we decided to skip Wat Pho and go to my favorite temple in Thailand, Wat Arun.  We began our journey to the water taxi and made our way across the river.

Bangkok – Day 1, Round 3

I’ve been to Thailand three times now and I’ve always spent a little bit of time in Bangkok.  It’s a great airport to fly into and it’s a good central hub for being able to travel both north and south.  Plus, it’s Bangkok so why wouldn’t you go and visit?  There’s so much to see there and so much to do.  Even after three separate trips, I know that I’ve missed a lot of Bangkok and there’s still so much for me to see in that city. Every time I’ve gone to this city, I’ve stayed in the same general neighborhood and I have to say that it is definitely the place I recommend.  Granted, take my recommendation with a slight grain of salt considering I haven’t really stayed anywhere else in that city.  But I would still stand behind my recommendation to stay in the Sukhumvit neighborhood of Bangkok.  It’s a good central location that allows for you to easily travel around the city even though it is a bit far from the temples but it’s not terrible.

On our first day in Bangkok, we knew that we had a few things that we needed to check off our list.  We had a friend who had never been to Bangkok so we knew that we had to make the most of this short time that we had in this city before we headed off to the coast.  So we made plans to get breakfast at the hotel first thing in the morning and then start an excursion through the rest of the city which would include a few cafes and a few temples.

Our day started off with delicious food at the hotel and then quickly led to the realization that we weren’t entirely sure how to get to the temples.  Each time I’ve gone, we’ve taken different modes of transportation there from taxis to the trains but this time, we didn’t have anyone to show us around and we didn’t know which train to take, plus we thought it would be fun to take a tuk tuk to the temples.  So we stood along the main road and waited for a tuk tuk that would be big enough for the five of us. We ended up not having any luck so we started wandering and eventually found a street that had a bunch of tuk tuks parked.  We found a driver and negotiated with him for a tuk tuk ride for 800 baht which is around $24 USD.  Unfortunately, we negotiated with the driver before checking the tuk tuk that he had.  It actually wasn’t a tuk tuk but rather a dirty work truck that would typically be used for transporting employees rather than customers.

We started the drive in the 90 degree heat with 100% humidity through early morning rush hour and what should have been a 20 minute drive quickly turned into 40+ minutes of stop and go traffic that involved locals laughing at us when they realized we weren’t Thai. We had multiple scooters drive by us, yell something at us in Thai and then bust up laughing when they realized that we had no idea what they had said to us. Finally, we got close to the Grand Palace and all the roads were blocked off. We were still about a mile away and the driver told us that he couldn’t drive any further so he dropped us off on the side of the road and we started walking which was an adventure of its own…

One of the things that I’ve never actually experienced in Bangkok until this trip would be the scams.  I usually have locals with me in Bangkok and they can spot those scams like there it’s nothing.  But this time, my friend was busy prepping for her wedding so we were off wandering around on our own and looking like total tourists.  One of the scams in Bangkok that you need to keep an eye out for would be the people who will tell you that major tourist attractions are closed.  It’s interesting because we experienced this twice in the one mile walk to the Grand Palace. The first was just an older gentleman telling us that the Grand Palace was on lunch and that it wasn’t open.  He didn’t offer up any other options for things to do or try to get us to follow him so I didn’t think it was a scam.  It didn’t make sense but it must have just been a cruel joke that they try to see if tourists will fall for.  The second one was a lady telling us that the Grand Palace was closed and that there were better options to see everything and tried to convince us to take some other tours.  This was definitely a scam and it took us awhile to finally get away from her.

One thing to note: It’s a common scam for them to tell you places are closed.  Usually they’ll say they’re closed for lunch or for specific hours of each day.  For the bigger tourist attractions, that is a flat out lie. The bigger attractions like the Grand Palace and the Temples are open but they do have earlier closing hours like 4PM so you just have to mindful of that.

I had a friend

I had a friend who decided to leave this world
This friend was someone I once adored with all my heart
But nothing happened between us
Except the constant exchange of words
Words that we sent on a weekly basis through emails
Words that described our days,
Our deepest secrets
Things we loved and things we hated
These emails were novels
Novels that told the story of our lives
and documented everything about freshman year
These emails were a historical document
transcribing every interaction
Every emotion and every thought

He’s gone now and those words are too
Those stories we told
Now lost in some account
Those words he wrote
gone forever

I’m sorry for not keeping those stories
For not keeping in touch
For thinking that what once was
Could never be

I missed you
And thought of you often
Checking in on social media
Hoping you were doing well

I’m sorry for not noticing that you weren’t
For not reaching out earlier
For not sharing with you that
I thought of you often
And wondered how you were

Goodbye Ben.
Goodbye Jam.
Sweet dreams.

Chiang Rai to Bangkok

We were dropped off at the airport in Chiang Rai after our excursion at the White Temple and ended up showing up for our flight about 4 hours too early.  We considered trying to get on an earlier flight to Bangkok but unfortunately, since it was a smaller airport there weren’t any other flights out to Bangkok except for ours.  After the eventful first few days of our trip, it was actually really nice to sit and finally relax.  As someone who isn’t used to traveling with people, it was a nice moment to sit back and read for a bit and decompress after the hot day and traveling.

We boarded our hour and a half flight out to Bangkok and arrived in the city. One of the great things about flying the airlines in Thailand is that along with their great prices for the internal Thailand flights, you still get fed.  We received a decent snack on our hour and a half flight to Bangkok even though it was later in the evening and the flight was short.  It is almost as if  as soon as the plane hits altitude, the crew is running through the cabin serving food and drinks and then immediately running back to the front to start picking up all the trash because you’re about to land.  I know that sometimes it’s a little hard to convince oneself to purchase airplane tickets with an airline you’ve never heard of before or have never experienced, but I have only had great experiences with all the Thai airlines and I would highly recommend them.  This includes Nok Air, Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways.

We ended up arriving around 1030PM and luckily, wifi is strong in the Bangkok airport and we were able to get access to an Uber.  So rather than having to barter with a taxi, we were able to grab an Uber which ended up being relatively cheaper than the taxi.  We took the car all the way into the city and were dropped off at our hotel.  We checked into our rooms and considered going out to get food.  We actually tried to go get food from the hotel given that we were all super tired but unfortunately we missed the restaurant by just a few minutes and were unable to go food.  So instead of venturing out, we wandered back up to the room to get some sleep before the next few days.

You see, we were actually in Thailand to go to a wedding of a couple that live in Bangkok.  And so rather than starting out the trip around the wedding, we decided to travel before the wedding, then end with the wedding before heading back to LA.  So we had a few days as a small group and arriving in Bangkok was the sign that it was all about to get crazy.  It was time to meet up with the other people who had traveled from all around the world to be there to celebrate the happy couple.  And because of this, we needed as much rest as humanly possible to prepare us for the remainder of the trip because you just never know what’s going to happen when large groups meet up in another country.

24 hours in Prague, Czech Republic

If you only have 24 hours in Prague, then here are a few things you should do:

  • Visit the Old Town Square, which is right in the heart of the city. It is a great little square that has a bunch of great little restaurants and outdoor seating for you to sit and enjoy people watching.
    • To get to this square, you can do some shopping and wandering along the streets that lead up to the square.  There’s great little trinkets and one of the streets has a chocolate factory that you can pay to go into but before the paying section, there’s a great area to watch them make the candies. And it’s a great little shop to purchase the other candies that they have. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can get some samples from them.
    • Check out the clock tower, every hour there is a little show.  You can also pay to go up to the top of the tower and look out over the entire city.
  • Find trdelnik which is a baked good.  it’s basically a spiral loaf of baked bread that is hollow on the inside.  The outside of the loaf is harder and covered in cinnamon sugar while the inside layer is gooey and can be left plain or covered in Nutella.  I recommend Nutella and sharing this with someone.  It can be quite sweet.
  • Visit the Lennon Wall. This is a great wall with a tribute to the Beatles and it is covered in graffiti.  I’m sure that every time you visit it, it will look different than the previous time.  It’s a beautiful wall full of great graffiti to check out.
  • Go to the Prague Castle.  You can take a tour of the castle but if you don’t have time, at least make sure to check out the gothic church that sits at the top of the hill with the castle.  There’s a great hike up there and if you’re feeling like you need a place to rest with a little coffee, check out the Starbucks up there. I know, weird suggestion but even if you don’t order anything, this Starbucks has a great view of the city.
  • Check out a market in one of the squares.  I would definitely check out Wenceslas Square if there’s a market.  If they have the hot dog vendors, I highly recommend getting a hot dog.  We got a sausage with red peppers in it placed in a baguette.  I’m pretty sure our entire group stopped speaking for a solid 5 minutes as we consumed our hot dogs.  There are also great little snacks like baked potato slices and crepes you can buy here.
  • Check out Charles Bridge.  This is a popular spot and full of beauty but can get very crowded so I would highly recommend showing up here early morning or later evening so you can get some pictures of the bridge without dealing with all the people.
  • Go to a rooftop bar.  They are all over the city and give a great little perspective of the city.  We did a rooftop bar for dinner at sunset and it was amazing.
  • Check out Cafe Savoy.  This place is amazing and has the most delicious French Toast.  Yes.  French Toast.  And the baked goods are so incredible.  In fact, I’m drooling think of them right now.
  • Go to Petrin Lookout Tower.  They like to call this the Prague Eiffel Tower because it looks slightly like the Eiffel Tower in a smaller scale. If you’re afraid of heights or you don’t like heights with a fairly exposed wall, then I don’t recommend this.  The stairs to the top are exposed to the elements and can be a littler terrifying.
  • Check out a bar at night.  There are a great bars all around the Old Town Square that have great little personalities.  Some of them are underground and usually packed.  You’ll see people wandering streets drinking pretty late at night and lots of bar crawls so you’ll be sure to find something that suits you.

Prague is a beautiful city that feels relatively untouched from the outside world.  It’s actually fascinating and very pristine.  I would highly recommend visiting but you really don’t need more than a few days there.

Prague, Czech Republic

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Chiang Rai – the White Temple

A few years ago, one of my coworkers asked me if I had been to the White Temple in Thailand.  I looked at her blankly and said “no.” She then proceeded to Google the exact phrase “White Temple Thailand” and the most amazing photos appeared before my eyes.  The Wat Rong Khan, AKA the White Temple, is on the outskirts of Chiang Rai and it absolutely something you need to see.  As soon as I saw these images, I knew that I needed to go visit this place at some point in my life and I needed to do it soon.  I could not believe somewhere like that existed and I hadn’t been yet so on this trip, I made it a point to go.  If I was going to be that far north in Thailand, why not go the extra three hours north to go see this temple.

To be honest, I didn’t know anything about this temple except that it was supposed to be incredibly intricate and you cannot take pictures inside the temple itself. I somehow convinced my entire group that we needed to go here and so we did.

When you drive up to the White Temple, you can see it standing over the fields around it from a distance and let me tell you that it is very obviously white and can be seen from all around that area.  As you drive closer, you’ll see all the tour buses and the cars that drove out there to see this temple that sits outside of the city on its own.  They’ve built little shopping areas with food around the temple but it’s minimal and more on the “expensive” side if that’s a thing in Thailand. Our taxi driver parked across the street so that she could sit in the coffee shop while we went across the one main road over to the temple.  As you walk up, it is fenced off and you have to pay in order to get in to see the temple and walk along the grounds. If I remember correctly, it was only 50BAHT to get inside of the fence.  If you’re there with lots of other people, be prepared that it will be difficult to get any good pictures without people everywhere.  Luckily, we got there a little later in the day so we had a few moments where we could capture photos with almost no one around.  As you walk up to the temple, there are heads hanging off the trees and then it opens up to the lake surrounding the temple.  From there, you walk up the path surrounded by water then by concrete hands reaching up to you as you make your journey into the temple.

It’s very interesting and if you’re here, keep an eye out for the painted pink nail on the middle finger of one of the hands on the right side of the walkway. Once you get closer, you’ll see that it’s not so much all white as much as it is white concrete with silver accents that makes the entire thing sparkle in the sun and stand out so much from all its surroundings.  While we were there, the skies and the water were super blue, the grass was exceptionally green and then this silver/white temple was the perfect contrast to the rest of the landscape.

We walked up into the temple, took our shoes off and went into a room that surprisingly enough much smaller than I originally thought it would be.  It housed one Buddha and all of the walls were painted red with the devil and various pop culture references all around.  If it’s not crowded, I would suggest taking the time to see all the different references that were painted in there.  I remember finding an Avatar, Michael Jackson, minion, a Transformer and Darth Vader. What’s really interesting about this temple is that it’s not an old temple.  It was built as more of an art collective in 1997 and is supposed to grow into multiple buildings.  The temple itself is obviously the main attraction but there are buildings all around with various displays of art around the grounds that you can explore.  The temple itself is really just one minor part of the entire area.

After we were done inside of the room, we started wandering around the grounds and admiring all the work that was put into each and every structure.  It is definitely worth visiting and taking a look.  There’s symbols everywhere and some really intricate images, albeit creepy like the hanging heads.  I am very pleased that we took the time to visit this place.  It’s still under construction and will be drastically different in a few years when it is done but for now, it really is an experience to see it the way it is now.  If one is lucky, maybe you can see it now and then see it again when it is complete.  It would definitely be an interesting contrast.

It got to a point where the heat and sun officially got to us and we had a hard time functioning so we went to get some food, attempt to cool down and then head off to the airport for the rest of our journey.

Next stop: Bangkok.

The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

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