Bangkok and Macau

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Monday, May 16, 2011

 So why am in back in Thailand and Bangkok again? Well I just seem to get pulled back to it like a magnet. I could have pushed on and visited more countries after the Philippines, but the urge wasn't there. To me its important to follow your nose and your desires rather than feeling you need to visit as many places as possible. When I first arrived in Thailand on a beach I was so happy I stayed there for a month, I felt like maybe I should experience more and not stay there so long, but then I realised. I should just do whatever I wanted to the most. It was the same situation at the end of the Philippine's trip; do I visit Malaysia, Indonesia or somewhere new or return to Thailand and Oi?  In the end it was an easy choice. Bangkok in May is hot hot hot with occasional downpours. Average temperatures reach 35C and humidity is around 80 percent and the rainy season is effectively in its beginnings. Just walking down the street in the afternoon is likely to make beads of sweat trickle down your cheeks. Taking a trip to see a place of interest therefore becomes a little tougher, well that is my excuse anyway! To be honest we did just spend a lot of time eating, drinking and making merry. Bangkok is a great city to wander around. There is a simple and cheap public transport network, the food is varied, good and inexpensive, there are loads of cultural sights to visit and it has a very lively nightlife. Add in friendly locals and you have for me the most dynamic and exciting city in the South East Asia region. Unbelievably, there are over 30,000 Buddhist temples spread around Thailand. In Thai these are called wat. On one of my earlier trips to Bangkok, as part of a bike ride I visited Wat Pho or the Reclining Buddha . Again I had visited this sight at night on a previous bike tour in Bangkok, but I wanted to see it during the day. This was where I had previously seen several young monks chasing elusive slippery fish in a pond in the outer grounds, on the orders of a senior monk. Sitting directly opposite the Royal Palace Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images - the Reclining Buddha. The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled compounds, the northern walled compound is where the reclining Buddha and massage school are found and the southern walled compound,  Tukgawee, is a working Buddhist monastery with monks in residence and a school.  Wat Pho holds the dual honors of having both Thailand's largest reclining Buddha image and the most number of Buddha images in Thailand. The highly impressive gold plated reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, and is designed to illustrate the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. The large grounds of Wat Pho also contain more than 1,000 Buddha images in total, most from the ruins of the former capitals Ayutthaya and Sukhothai . There are also a massive 91 chedis of varying sizes around the grounds, along with chapels, rock gardens, an array of different types of statues, inscriptions, bell towers and resident fortune tellers. The library is nearby too, decorated impressively with figures and pagodas made of porcelain, in much the same way as Wat Arun across the river. . Covering an area of around 20 acres, it is the largest Wat in Bangkok, and built two centuries before Bangkok became the capital, it is also the oldest. The wat was rebuilt by King Rama I when Bangkok became the country’s capital. The temple is also regarded as being Thailand’s first university, being the first institution to provide education to the public.Besides the wats which I visited for a second time we also found the beautiful and less visited Golden Mount, which sits atop a hill in the city, which was once the highest point in Bangkok. This 80-meter tall artificial hill, also known as Phu Khao Thong, features an impressive golden chedi at its summit and is part of Wat Saket. To the reach the top of the Golden Mount, you must ascend an exhausting 318 steps in the blazing midday sun. It is pretty exhausting as beads of sweat drip down your face but the serenity and views that great you at the top make it worthwhile . Also on the way up you can take your mind of the steps by ringing the bells which you will find lining the viewing areas in between the step on the way up. There are lots of little bells and one bigger bell, its great fun to just ring them all as you pass by and notice the different chords that you can produce by changing the contact point with the bell. As you strike the bells the gentle sounds drift off across the hill. On a clear day, the impressive view from the top includes old Rattanakosin Island and the rooftops of Bangkok. Below the Golden Mount is one of Bangkok's oldest temples, Wat Saket - which means Temple of the Washing of Hair. It is so named because King Rama I bathed here after coming from Laos victorious, before he proceeded to Thonburi to be crowned first king of the current Chakri dynasty. Wat Saket is not generally considered a notable temple in its own right, and most visitors come for the Golden Mount. However, it is interesting for its long history and its use as a cremation and burial site for so many people. We also took time to travel around 20kms outside of Bangkok to see the Ancient City of Siam . Billed as the world’s largest open-air museum, Ancient Siam covers more than 80 hectares of peaceful countryside scattered with 109 scaled-down models of many of the Thailand's most famous monuments. It’s a great place for long, distracted bicycle rides around the grounds and it was very quiet and peaceful too meaning we happily cycled around with virtually no one around.  The model replicas of Thai style structures from different historical eras cover a park area whose layout represents the shape of Thailand itself. Riding around on a bike makes it a pretty effortless experience and the attractions are kept in good condition. A nice way to spend an afternoon . In the Ancient City of Siam we saw several representations of different traditonal Thai houses. These traditional Thai houses with their elevated floors and sleek teak paneled interiors had always appealed to me. In Bangkok the Jim Thompson house is a good example of these houses . The walk in museum exemplifies this old Thai style of architecture. 'The most famous foreigner in Thailand' was one of many monikers given to Jim Thompson. An American who practiced architecture prior to World War 2, he volunteered for service in the US Army, campaigned in Europe, and came to Asia as part of the force that planned to liberate Thailand. However the war ended before the operation began and he arrived in Bangkok a short time later as a military intelligence officer. After leaving the service, he decided to return and live in Thailand permanently. The hand weaving of silk, a neglected cottage industry, captured his attention, and he devoted himself to reviving the craft. Highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist, he contributed substantially to the industry's growth and to the worldwide recognition accorded to Thai silk. He gained further renown through the construction of this house combining six teak buildings which represented the best of traditional Thai architecture. Most of the houses were at least two centuries old and were dismantled and brought to the present site, some from as far away as the old capital of Ayutthaya. In his quest for authenticity, he adhered to the customs of the early builders in most respects . The houses were elevated a full story above the ground, a practical Thai precaution to avoid flooding during the rainy season, and the roof tiles were fired in Ayutthaya employing a design common centuries ago, but rarely used today. All the traditional religious procedures were followed during construction of the house, and on a date in the spring of 1959, decreed as being auspicious by astrologers, Jim Thompson moved in. The house and the art collection soon became such a point of interest that he decided to open it to the public with proceeds donated to Thai charities and to projects directed at the preservation of Thailand's cultural heritage. The house is as beautiful as you would expect with a lush garden and carp pond surrounding the building. Inside are teak paneled rooms with beautiful sculptures and effects and nicely conceived different living areas. You should be careful as you walk from room to room as raised wooden planks mark the entrance to all rooms . Apparently in Thai custom this serves to ward off evil spirits who may roam the house. They say these ghosts cannot cross over the planks, tourists sometimes struggle with them too. In 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Not a single clue has turned up in the ensuing years as to what might have happened to him. His famous Thai house, however, remains.As late May approached I decided I wanted to stay another month in Asia and so decided to go to Macau for several days to play poker and hopefully win some more money. It was also a good way to renew my tourist visa for another month. So I packed my bags and flew off. I got a good deal on a great hotel in Macau and preceded to play for the next five days. It felt like I was working as I had to be careful to play in a certain way and not play for too long and to generally to be aware that without a profitable visit I may have to return home earlier than planned. Thankfully it all worked out and it was job done.  Macau is a fairly uninspiring place so when I stay there it feels less like a fun trip and more like a necessary evil. Macau itself is a pleasant island but when you dump Vegas in a Asian style and add millions of visiting mainland Chinese you get a fairly sanitised experience. Not speaking the languages makes it even more so. Initially I had thought it would take maybe ten days to reach my target but when it was reached within four days I was happy to book my flight for the next day and head back to Thailand. Unfortunately in Macau there is not much to do other than play some game in the casino. Any non casino activity costs a fortune. Want to bungee jump off the highest commercial tower in the world? That will be $500 thanks. Want to just view Macau from the viewing tower? That will be $200 thanks. The prices are so ridiculously inflated that unless you like throwing money away it pointless leaving the casino. There are some sights to see but its slim pickings on the cultural front. Thankfully I did get to met some nice people at the tables and had a laugh with them. There were the two Danes, Morten and Christian, who I got painfully drunk with one night. Then there was Kenny, the mechanical engineer from Hawaii who managed one day to run up a huge profit at the table; while I sat there enviously eying his money. The guy was golden for one day. After it was all over I sat down on the plane for the flight back to Bangkok and looked forward to now spending some time on a island somewhere on Thailand for the last hurrah of my travels. 

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M&D on

Another great blog, and some beautiful photos. once again. Am just about to watch the videos - hope there's some footage of you in them? Also that there's time for one last blog before you fly home? What a fantastic time you've had out there. xxxxxxx

M&D on

We've just watched the videos, leaving us longing for more! Please take some footage of you both next time, and more voice track - particularly liked the vocal accompaniment to the gorgeous peacock!xxx

astonmcneilly on

Well done for keeping us plugged in to how you're getting on out there mate! Am now up to speed on the blogs and am really looking forward to catching up when you get home! Will there be room in your suitcase for Oi?! Or at least the eye-catching peacock that you've befriended?! I'd imagine not, as I'm sure your bags are already overflowing with gifts and trinkets for us all, very exciting!! No need to get us anything.....I mean, all those hours and hours trawling through your blogs wasn't easy, true, but we didn't do it for reward, or for some little memento from your travels to let us know you were thinking about us too...nothing like that!

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