Traditionally, Thais believe that when a new building is built it disrupts spirits who were previously living in that space. In order to pacify these spirits, one must build them an alternative house that never falls into the main house's shadow and where they receive occasional offerings such as food and flowers. We saw these ghost houses on almost every single building all over the country, sometimes as freestanding structures and sometimes attached to the front wall by the door. From our perspective as foreigners, its a quirky and endearing custom that speaks to the ways that Thai Buddhism (like Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Hinduism elsewhere in Asia) is intertwined with local superstitions and religious practices.
Side note: sorry the photo quality here is a little spotty - I shot these last minute from a moving shuttle.
Bangkok's Grand Palace
Bangkok's Grand Palace is a complex of buildings that plays home to the Thai monarchy. Highlights were really shiny temples and seeing the way that the Thai royalty had incorporated elements of European architecture into their palace design as a savvy political move to show potential colonizers that they too were "civilized" thank-you-very-much and didn't need to be taken over by a foreign power. One of the main palace buildings has an incredibly unique design that has a facade emulating Buckingham Palace, a roof that is distinctly Thai, and an interior that emulates Versailles. This clever approach, among other things, kept Thailand as one of the few Asian countries never to suffer from colonization. The Grand Palace complex is also home to some famous murals and religious statues. Overall, there's some pretty neat stuff there, but we were lazy and may have spent the morning in bed watching House of Cards causing us to arrive at the palace in the middle of the hot afternoon - ugh.
Days in Thailand: 30
Number of cities/locations visited: 5
Number of different accommodations: 6 (3 hostels, 1 lodge, 1 overnight train, 1 boat)
Average daily spending: $130 (largely inflated by the high cost of our diving trip)
Max spending in one day: $409.48 (day with the elephants)
Min spending in one day: $40.49
Overall, Thailand completely lived up to its sterling reputation for friendly people, outstanding food, beautiful nature excursions, sparkling blue waters, and low prices. It's safe, decently well organized, English is prevalent, and the train system is the most comfortable we've experienced so far. We bathed elephants, learned to make curry, went spelunking, saw temples, went diving, relaxed on beaches, snuck into a parade, released sky lanterns, heard a free public concert, fell in love with mango sticky rice, and even managed to see The Hunger Games when it came out around Thanksgiving. Way to be an awesome country, Thailand; I'm sure we'll be back.