One Night in Bangkok and the World's My Oyster...

Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
Trip End Mar 24, 2011

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One night spent in Bangkok so far and so far, so good!  I had a fantastic, deep sleep in my lovely hotel although having been sleep deprived, it was reeeeeallly hard to wake up this morning!  I knew I had to get up relatively early as I had a tour booked for pick-up at 7:40 AM.  It seems that some Thai elves must have visited me overnight and somehow attached my mattress to my back because I couldn't get myself out of bed very early :)  I did manage to get up at 7:00 and was just getting organized and sipping a coffee when I got a call at 7:15 that my guide was in the lobby waiting for me!  A mad dash and 10 minutes later, I was down and out (of the hotel that is). 

So, I have to say that my morning Grand Palace/Temple tour brought me to some amazing places but being tired, having no coffee or breakfast, being too hot (close to 30 degrees) and having wool in my brainpan instead of brain cells made it a little difficult to take it all in both visually and verbally.  It turned out that although I had requested a group tour, I again had a private tour with a guide and a driver (I see a pattern here)!  Try as I might to listen to and process what my guide was saying, it sounded a lot like the teacher on Charlie Brown:  mwa mwa mwa temple mwa mwa Buddha, mwa mwa mwa pagoda etc. 

On our way to the Ratanakosin area, which has the most important and ornate sights in the city, we drove through the flower market where there are many stalls of beautiful flowers that people buy for temple offerings and for decoration and we also went through China Town.  There were many colorful flags draped overhead and my guide explained that these were in honor of the King's upcoming birthday celebrations in December and that the color yellow is used as it represents the day he was born (each day of the week has a color). 

I did see a plethora of Buddhas and they were quite amazing and beautiful - starting with the impressive 700 year old Golden Buddha, which is made of pure gold and weighs 5 tons!  It had been covered with plaster to protect it from invaders and was 'discovered' when it was moved to a different location in 1955 and the plaster cracked.  Now, THAT's a find!!!

On to the indescribable (but I'll try) Grand Palace.  These royal grounds are chock-a-block full of the most ornately and extravagantly designed and decorated buildings I have ever seen.  It is very hard to appreciate it all because no matter where you look, there are temples and pagodas and statues and bonsai trees and mosaics and bells and spires - incredible!  The colors in the morning sun send your brain into a frenzy of visual overstimulation.  There are massive gold structures and huge pillars and temples that are intricately hand-decorated with tiny sparkling pieces of colored glass, gold and tiles and paintings.  Pictures do not do this place justice - you have to see it to believe it.  In front of many important buildings, there are imposing and intimidating 'Guardian' statues meant to protect the contents inside. 

I saw the changing of the Royal Guard mid-morning - somewhat like that at Buckingham Palace last month with guards dressed all in white and less music playing as they marched.  Some of the royal buildings held jaw-dropping sights, such as the throne room where coronations are carried out - the thrones were designed like oriental boats with incredible carvings and embellished with gold. 

The most sacred Buddhist site in the whole country is also to be found in this complex - this temple has the holiest image in this religion, the Emerald Buddha.  Now do you remember that on previous parts of this journey, royalty has been visiting sites that I am also visitng that day (Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, King Mohammed VI in Midelt, Moroccco)?  Well, it happened again folks - I am a royal magnet - the Thai King and royal family were coming to visit the Wat Phra Kaeo temple this afternoon and so the Emerald Buddha could not be accessed as they were preparing security details for the royal visit!  Sheesh!  I would like to go back and get a good look at the little green most holy guy.  The royal guards are very particular about the dress code at this temple as it is so highly esteemed as a sacred site - absolutely no shorts or sleeveless shirts and you must sit with your feet pointing away from the Buddha when praying.  In other temples, I saw a bit more of a relaxed attitude toward the dress code but there were no guards in those areas.

Another amazing sight today was the Reclining Buddha which is a HUGE image of Buddha made of brick but gilded in gold lying on his side, apparently in a pose depicting him entering Nirvana.  It is so big and in such a narrow little chapel, that it's hard to take it all in - you get the best view standing at the head looking down the length of the 150 foot long statue or at the massive feet looking back toward the head.  It is truly eye-popping!

After the temples and Grand Palace, I had a little bite and decided to figure out the subway system in order to get to the main train station in the city to buy my ticket for my journey to Chiang Mai on the weekend.  I have to say, this hotel is not only a little gem as a place to stay but the location can't be beat.  I am a few hundred yards from the main Sukhumvit Road, and the subway station and skytrain station are both right at that intersection.  It couldn't be easier to get around.  The MRT subway was one of the easiest, cleanest and most efficient ones I've ever taken.  The staff is helpful and courteous, the station and trains are pristine and the routes are direct and easy to follow.  I bought my ticket and browsed around the train station, picking up some reading material and post cards, then headed back on the subway.  The whole trip only took about 20 minutes!

I took a walk around my 'hood this afternoon, up and down Sukhumvit Road.  It is a main road in a smart area that has many high end hotels, really good restaurants, embassies, businesses etc.  All along the streets are food carts/stalls, market stalls selling mostly t-shirts and cheap jewelry and shops.  It is safe and easy to walk around and no one hassles you to buy their goods or take their tours etc.  There is a lot of traffic but it is very orderly and regulated, with traffic cops and lights keeping everything moving appropriately.  You see lots of taxis, tuktuks (like a hybrid ATV/bike and small taxi), motorbikes and buses but again, they are quite orderly.  You really notice how much pollution there must be from traffic because I saw so many people wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from fum es whilewalking, riding motorbikes, tuktuks and on buses.  The buses in the city are in 2 categories - those with air conditioning, and those without.  The open window buses looked hot and many people wore masks while riding the bus.  In the morning, when I was driving with my tour guide, most people were on their way to work and the sides of most of the main roads were crowded with food carts where people stopped for noodles for breakfast.  Cool.  Another funny thing I saw today was a well-dressed lady in a cream colored jacket and skirt and heels jump on the back of a motorbike taxi with a driver!  Lots of older western gentlemen walking hand-in-hand with their tiny young Thai 'girlfriends' too.  Hmmmm.

The weather was hot and humid today although I am told that this is the 'cold' season.  Thailand apparently has 3 seasons - hot, rainy and cold.  At 30 degrees with a humidex of 38, I'm quite happy to be here during the cold season :)

I have to say that although I was dreading Bangkok a bit as I've heard many horror stories of pickpockets, noise, pollution and mayhem, so far, I've been impressed.  It certainly has a different 'vibe' than the big cities of Morocco - although busy, things seem orderly, the people seem to have mastered the businesses of tourism and hospitality and it has been easy to get around and enjoy.  I look forward to more touring as well as maybe shopping at the 7 storey, mega-mall, MBK and heading down to the river for some sight-seeing.  Now, to add to my sleep-bank!
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Renena on

Hey A!! Just catching up on your travels!! Wow!! Love the updates! Pics are fabulous!! Looks like it's continuing to be an amazing journey!! :) Stay safe!

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