Bangkok Day One
Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
24Trip End Apr 15, 2011
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Today we got to know our guide, who I had found on the internet months ago. He told us his name was Jerry but who knows what his name really is, in
this country of very long names that we who only speak English cannot pronounce, they always give us an American name.
Jerry arrived at our hotel at 8 am for our day on public transportation to see the sights of Bangkok. We began by taking a taxi to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is a fascinating time for us to visit because they are celebrating Songkran, which is the Thai New Year's celebration. We were able to see the religious portion of the celebration this morning. Songkran is celebrated by cleansing for the New Year. People come to the temples to make merit. This means that they make offerings to the Buddha
and perfume over them. They also collect the water and perfume and bring it home for use as holy water during the year. All of the temples we visited today had many Buddhas out for people to bathe. There were many images outside and many people pouring water over them. They we're also purchasing lotus flowers to leave as offerings. It was all quite beautiful.
There are many temples in this complex, built in three different styles, Chinese, Thai and Cambodian. I can now say that I can identify the different style. There will be photos posted.
These temples are unbelievably beautiful. I can't adequately describe them. Many of them are covered with mosaics made of broken Chinese porcelain. When the temples were being built there was a lot of trade between China and Thailand. A lot of the Chinese porcelain broke in transport. The King ordered that it be used to decorate the temples. It's extraordinary
We were really fortunate on this visit as there is one building that contains life size images of all of the former kings of Thailand, called the Royal Pantheon. It is generally not open to the public. Our guide was very excited that it was open and told us he is 40 years old and has only been in here 5 times. I was also lucky as I had worn a long skirt to the temple. In general they do not allow shorts or bare shoulders in the temples in Thailand. I could have chosen to wear long pants today but went with the skirt. Lucky thing or I would not have been allowed in the temple. Women were not allowed in this particular temple with pants on. They had to have a skirt on, so I was allowed in. For all of the temples we went in to we had to remove our shoes.
When we went into the temples we could not stand up. You had to sit on the floor and you have to be sure that you did not have the bottoms of your feet facing the Buddha. People were praying in the temples, we did not see the monks chanting. It was ok to talk in the temples in low voices
Our next stop was in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. I think this was Ken's favorite. The Emerald Buddha is really jade. A large piece of jade. He has a long history of changing hands and originally was covered in plaster so no one knew he was jade. He has three different outfits for the three seasons, winter, summer and rainy. The King, or now the crown prince because the king is quite old, changes the clothing on the Emerald Buddha each season. The Emerald Buddha sits up high with many other golden images underneath. The walls are painted with the Buddha's story; very intricate.
It was then on to to Grand Palace. The public cannot go into the Palace. There are actually many buildings in the complex, consisting of various throne halls and reception halls and two large residences.. One was built in the French style and one built to look like Buckingham Palace. The French style building is now where visiting dignitaries stay. The one that was built to resemble Buckingham Palace has a Thai style top. The story was that it was originally going to look like Buckingham, but some advisor to the King suggested that it was Thailand after all, and so the top was finished in Thai style. They did have guards modeled after the Buckingham Palace guards who stand motionless while hoards of Chinese tourists climb on their platforms and out their arms around them and act kind of crazy. We speculated that they could never do this at home so they got a big kick out of it in Thailand. Of course, the guards stood motionless.
Our guide had planned our day to use all of the forms of public transport in Bangkok, so it was on to the Reclining Buddha by tuk- tuk, which is basically a three wheeled motorcycle with a covered seat that could fit two or three people. The tuk-tuk driers are notorious scammers, for example,telling tourists that wherever it is they want to go is closed and telling them they can take them to various tourist shops until it is open. I asked if the local authorities put up with this and our guide said they were part of the scam pointing out a police officer standing in the vicinity of another man. The guide said they guy in the pink shirt was a scammer and the officer standing by him was in on the deal. At any rate, we had to walk a little while before there was a tuk-tuk that would take us as we had a guide with us and couldn't be scammed.
The Reclining Buddha is gigantic and covered in gold leaf. I am sorry that I don't have the dimensions for you, but I mean monumental. This image was created and then the building he is in was built around him. Again, there were smaller images of Buddha scattered around in basins for people to make merit. There was also a Songkran street fair at this temple where there was all sorts of food stands and a loudspeaker blaring, apparently instructions about where to park, where to buy your lotus flowers and perfume. It was very crowded and hot with tons of food I have never seen before, including the food of the season, sticky rice in jasmine flower water, called the Royal snack in English. I must confess that I didn't try it. Here we also walked through an area containing over 400 basically more than life size Buddha images that were collected from all over Thailand to preserve them.
Then we waked a little ways to the river to take a boat and then the Sky Train to the Jim Thompson house. We found the Sky Train very convenient and easy to use and used it a lot during our two day stay.
Jim Thompson is an American who worked for the precursor of the CIA during WWII and also was an architect and appreciated the finer things iin life. He fell in love with Thailand and went on to single-handedly reinvigorate the Thai silk industry. He was also a collector of Asian art and antiquities. He built a beautiful house in Thai style in Bangkok, which has his art collection. In 1969, while on vacation in Malaysia, he mysteriously disappeared after going for a walk in the jungle. No sign was ever seen of him again. He was beloved in Thailand because of what he did for the Thai silk industry. After his disappearance his house was maintained by his staff and was eventually opened as a museum. The silk business is still active today and if you have a ton of money you can buy his beautiful silks. For those of you waiting for me to bring you Jim Thompson silk scarves and ties, you can forget it.
Our guide left us at the Jim Thompson house, where we had an excellent and inexpensive Thai lunch. We then went shopping at the MBK shopping center. What a strange place. It is like a big American shopping mall, but much of it is stalls like you would find in a street market. It was really crowded but fun to walk around in.
We then took the Sky Train back to our hotel, relaxed in the pool, got decked out for Songkran by the hotel with white powder streaks on our faces and orchid necklaces. They poured water over our hands and wished us prosperity in the coming year. We then went to dinner at a restaurant called "Cabbages and Condoms" which is run by an organization that promotes population control and safe sex. They give you condoms instead of mints at the end of the dinner. The food was typical Thai food and once again was excellent.
By that time we were exhausted and took a taxi home. The taxis are also interesting here. The drivers don't speak English and don't seem to always know exactly where they are going. There was a group of people waiting outside the restaurant for a taxi. The group before us talked to two drivers who wouldn't take them where they wanted to go. This may have something to do with the Songkran revelers in the streets who were throwing buckets of water, using high power squirt guns and throwing white powder all over the place, or not. Who knows.
One of the taxis that wouldn't take the other people pulled into the parking lot. Ken went over and gave him the card we had with the name and address of our hotel written in Thai. He looked at it, then got his his glasses and looked at it some more. He nodded his head and motioned for us to get in the taxi. He then went and started talking with one of the security guards for the parking lot. We waited and waited. Finally Ken asked him if we were going and he came back to the cab and got us within a block of our hotel.
That night, looking out of our hotel window we could see the Songkrqn partyers outside the bars in the street below. The street was wet and crowded with traffic as they continued to throw water late into the night.