19 October 2009 – day 3 – Monday – Bangkok, Thailand
This was a busy busy busy day, as usual for us on vacation. We basically lost a day because we spent it in on airplanes.
After our twelve-hour flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo's Narita airport,
we got on another plane headed for Bangkok, which was another seven hours. Ugh. We were so ready to get off that plane when we arrived. We flew all this way for free with frequent flier miles, so consequently we didn't get to choose our seats until all the good seats were taken. So we were sandwiched between two people in small, cramped seats, not even in the same row. Ah, the things we do in the name of travel.
We landed in Bangkok, found an ATM at the airport and withdraw 3000 baht, which is less than $100.00. Then we hired an airport taxi and he drove us to the hotel, which is the Tawana Bangkok hotel. We checked in, hot and sweaty. We were so grungy from the flight that we both took showers before plopping into bed. It was about 2:30 in the morning. Well, morning in Bangkok that is. It was 2:30 in the afternoon in Minneapolis. We were so tired it didn't matter. We crashed big time.
The next morning we woke up bright and early: Well, early anyway. It was 6:00am, after only a few hours of sleep. After showering again, I strapped on our backpack and we went out into the oppressively hot and humid air. We asked the hotel clerk to call for a taxi to take us to our destination for the day: the Grand Palace. Well, that's not exactly accurate. We asked them to take us down to the river to the water taxis, which they did. It's a long way to the palace and the water taxis are cheap, plus it's a cultural experience!
The taxi couldn't get us all the way to the river, due to rush-hour traffic, so we got out a block early and walked down to the river. We paid our ticket and took photos of other boats until our boat arrived.
We got on board the boat which took us toward the Grand Palace. After several stops,
we disembarked at the Grand Palace pier. We followed the crowd to the palace and stopped at a busy corner where interesting street vendors sold all kinds of things.
We paused to get our bearings, then walked across the street toward the palace. The walls of the palace were big and imposing and there was no indication of where the entrance might be. We saw a friendly-looking policeman and asked him where the entrance was. He told us that the palace wouldn't open until noon. He said that there was a special meeting of state officials and Parliament to discuss the issue of the King, who has been in the hospital for several weeks. Because of the meeting, visitors were not allowed inside until noon. He recommended that we spend our morning seeing the Golden Mountain, then take a tuk-tuk
back to the palace at noon. For only 40 baht, a driver would take us to the Golden Mountain, wait while we were inside, then take us back to the palace around noon.
I told Kathy I wanted to first find the palace entrance anyway to save ourselves some time later. We thanked the policeman for the information and walked toward the crowds, which I assumed to be gathering near the entrance. Halfway there, I stopped another guy and asked him if we were going the right way. He said yes, but the palace was closed until noon for a special meeting of parliament. Well, at least we had gotten confirmation of what the policeman had said. Nonetheless, my “intuitive advantage” (as Kathryn Harwig calls it) told me to continue on and find the entrance to the palace.
We walked to the entrance and went right inside. We followed the crowds, purchased tickets and went inside the palace! The policeman and the other guy were both just con-artists trying to sell tuk-tuk rides for 40 baht. There was no parliament meeting and there were no restrictions on the visitors. We were disgusted, but glad we followed our intuition rather than their misinformation.
Once inside the gate we encountered a small military procession dressed in white, marching down the entrance. I don't know if it was official or part of the ambiance, but it was fun at any rate.
The palace was just like I remembered it from our trip years ago with huge garuda guards at each entrance,
mythical creatures that looked like the product of cruel genetic experiments: half man and half chicken, or half lion and half bird. There were many of them.
The first complex was surrounded by cloisters that had dark Buddhist paintings on the walls. It was very cool.
Special artists were painstakingly restoring the painting with tiny paint brushes and gold paint.
Throughout the place were several large round stupas that had tall spires reaching up toward the sky.
Many of our photos had to be taken vertically in order to fit the spire in.
All of the stupas were surrounded by and lined with garudas and other mythical creatures that warded off evil spirits. They were very fun looking.
Everything was decorated in colored mirrors and gold paint and it gave everything a shiny, sparkly appearance.
There was a very large model of my trip's ultimate goal: Angkor Wat. It was very cool and I took lots of photos.
There were lots of buildings and they were big and beautiful.
The buildings were all highly decorated, but each had a distinct character.
Inside one of the buildings was a statue of the Emerald Buddha, which was very cool. Photos of the Buddha were not allowed from inside the building so a crowd gathered outside to gawk and take photos with telephoto lenses. It was not an easy task along side all the people but we both tried.
After we left that complex, we walked into the next area within the palace grounds,
where we saw an armory. Guards were placed around at strategic locations. Surprisingly, they didn't mind us taking photos with them.
Everything had a rich, sparkling, decorative feeling of Thailand, except for a few scattered statues that looked very Chinese.
By the time we left the palace, we were exhausted and hot. Close to the exit was a row of cannons and it reminded me of some Scottish Pirate Metal music I've been listening to lately. The band is called Alestorm and it makes me laugh when I listen to them. “Fire the cannons and sharpen up the swords! They will regret the day they faced the pirate's horde!”
Several times throughout the visit, we had to stop and sit because I felt overheated and almost ready to pass out from the heat. We kept drinking and drinking our water, but never had to pee: it all drained out of us in the form of sweat.
Our last stop in the palace complex was a museum filled with golden cups, dishes and decorations, most of which were made of gold. The best part was that the building was air-conditioned so we got a chance to cool off, if only for a little while.
After the Grand Palace, we got our bearings, then started walking toward our next goal: The reclining Buddha. As we walked, we chose to ignore the advice of helpful pedestrians who seemed to be placed strategically close to tuk-tuks.
Inside a nearby Buddhist temple, inside a particular building, was a very large golden statue of a Buddha, reclined. It was beautiful. It was huge!
The down side was that the building was small and the crowds were big. So it was uncomfortably filled with people. We did the best we could. The Buddha's feet were decorated with scenes from the life of the Buddha.
The Buddha's hair was a tight grouping of golden spirals I thought was fun.
By then I was exhausted. But the reclining Buddha gave me a good idea!
Like other Buddhist temples, it was richly decorated and
there were various statues and spires.
There were statues of Buddha all over the temple complex. Most of them were gold in color, mostly from delicate gold leaf, but a few were not.
We left the temple complex, very tired and hot, but still full of ambition. Coming out of the walled complex, we didn't know which direction we were facing. While we got our bearings, we encountered another traveler who looked like a fellow American. We decided to get our bearings together and he introduced himself as Robert. We told him we were going to Watt Arun, which was across the river. He asked us if it was worth the bother, and we told him if memory served from our previous trip, yes, it was well worth it. Then we invited him to tag along and join us.
For the rest of the day, Robert tagged along with us. He was intimidated by the ferry and boat taxis, so we guided him and he was grateful for the company. We walked to the ferry, paid the nominal fee and boated across the river to Wat Arun together.
We took lots of photos, then climbed to the stop of a very steep spire where we had a spectacular view. Robert chose not to climb up. The view was great,
but the steps to the top were very steep, like a ladder.
We climbed all the way up, higher, to another steep spire. There was a tiny but inaccessible metal ladder that went all the way to the top. It was definitely not meant for the tourists and we marveled at how anyone—tourist or otherwise—would ever climb it.
From above, the statues surveyed the complex like gargoyles but with human-looking black faces and blue eyes.
After visiting the temple, we took the ferry across the river again, then got aboard the water bus, which was next door. It was the same boat we used to get there in the morning.
After we got back to the area where we had been dropped off by our taxi, Robert returned the favor. He showed us how to use the metro, which he was comfortable with. So following his guidance, we boarded a train and took it to the stop closest to our hotel, where we said goodbye to Robert and parted ways. We promised to email him some photos from the day.
It was now rush-hour and there were crowds of people and cars everywhere in the streets. We had to find our way back to the hotel. We dipped inside a shopping mall, but quickly exited again. Once again, we didn't know which way was which, so we didn't know which direction to walk to get to our hotel. We asked someone and they basically told us it was too far to walk, we should take a taxi. We ignored that advice, found the proper direction and started to walk. It was nearly dark by then, because it was 6:00pm.
After negotiating a few small roads, we found ourselves—apparently—in the red-light district. It didn't look dangerous or intimidating (like Amsterdam's red-light district—except for the many policemen) but there were big ten-foot-long neon signs that said things like “Pussy”. I wondered if perhaps that's why that guy tried to talk us into taking a taxi rather than walking.
In about three blocks, we came across a busy road and spotted our hotel. We were glad we had not gotten in a taxi because the rush-hour traffic was at an absolute stop. It would have taken an hour to get to the hotel.
We decided to eat dinner at our hotel, and it was very good. We went back to our room and crashed big time.
Interesting Thailand observation for the day:
I had almost forgotten from our previous trip to Thailand that the Thai people are so gentle and the Thai language is beautiful. I only remembered a few phrases from our earlier trip. One of them was “Sook Sook” which is an instruction to cook your food “well done.” I don't like my food well-done but I hate bacteria even more. The second was “Sawatdee” which means “hello”.
The third was how to say “Thank you.” I forgot the spelling, but a man would say something that sounds like “Kap kuhn klop”. Or maybe “Cop coon clop.” Women would say something like “Kap kuhn kah” or “Cop coon ka”. Men and women use a different suffix in speaking, and it's very cute, especially when the women extend the “kah” to a longer “kaaaaah.” If I remember correctly, this is a sign of respect, almost as if to end almost every sentence with “God within you” or some such.
I find it especially endearing when Thai women use it when they speak English, as our Thai contact from the travel company, Prin did to us when we first met her at the airport. She was picking up OAT travelers from another group. “Good morning-kaaah. Welcome to Thailand-kaaah. I hope everyone is well-kaaah.” It's just so damn cute!