Sunday, June 1, 2008

We’re not leaving

We’re here to stay. Alright, you called our bluff, but it’s something we would consider. We had a GREAT day in Bangkok. Not only did we see an awful lot, we also got our bearings and established a pretty good comfort level for navigating this HUGE city.

The breakfast at the Amari is excellent, as promised. They had lots of exotic fruit, but they also had pancakes and bacon. That’s where we’ll be eating every morning while we’re in Bangkok.

We got a pretty early start by getting on our way to the Grand Palace. As we have always heard, the taxis were most interested in taking us shopping or to the floating market. They even concocted a story about how the Palace wasn’t open until 9 or 10…and a large group of protestors would make it difficult to visit (alhough he said he’d take us to the Palace after he took us to the floating market)…and indeed, there were protestors, but there was no problem getting into the palace – once we found a metered taxi.

The taxi drivers today were pretty good. No seat belts in any of them, but other than that, they knew what they were doing (and they’re very affordable).

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha)

The palace was magnificent. This part of the day is best told with pictures (we know this is a lot of pictures, but these are merely the highlights out of 204 shots…even more will be forced on you later.):

The architecture was incredible…the colors, more vivid than the camera could capture.

We took an audio tour, which was helpful to explain all the buildings and statues and put them into historical context. We enjoyed being inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. For one, it was shaded and there was a fan blowing on us so it was nice and cool. But also, sitting in that place was very calming. We could have stayed much longer, but our audio tour had a time limit and so we moved on.

Part of the palace was closed off for a laying in state ceremony.

After visiting the Grand Palace, we decided to check out some of the other nearby sites in the “old” part of the city. As we went, we found there were fewer and fewer tourists…as a result, some of the other sites matched the appeal of the Grand Palace. They were almost as grand, just less visited.

Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)

While walking around Wat Pho, a group of students approached us and asked us if we spoke English. They looked like a happy group of kids, so we played along. They asked us to fill out a survey about our time in Bangkok and what we thought about the food. Having only been here a day, we had to wing some of the answers. They were a lot of fun, but we suspect we were doing some homework for them…we suspect they were taking an English class and were suppose to be ASKING us the questions. It was still a good lesson for them, because they had to explain their oddly worded survey.

After visiting the Main Bot we came across a table full of roof tiles to use for repair. For a donation, people could sign the backs of them with wishes for the future. Robin wrote a wish for T.

What Pho was a large complex and we wandered around slowly, seeking out shade and small temples to enter and sit for periods of time. Eventually, we made our way to the Reclining Buddha, which is 46 meters long, and by far the busiest part of What Pho. The soles of his feet were really cool and intricately inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

By this point, we could tell we were getting hungry, so we set out to find our first meal on our own. No problem. We found a nice place across from the What Pho. As many of you know, Robin and I love Thai food, so it would be difficult to disappoint us…and were we NOT disappointed. The beer tasted pretty good too.

This brings me to a side note about the heat. Indeed, it is extremely hot. Hot, hot, hot, hot, HOT. We were very grateful to have hats, but Robin still got sunburned through her t-shirt. Shade and a light breeze are definitely helpful. It seems like a lot of Thais take a long break in the shade around the midday. Makes sense. It’s what I wanted to do. We drank a lot of water in our first day, and it probably wasn’t enough. Luckily it’s sold everywhere touristy for 20 baht (< $1 dollar), or, if we plan ahead, for 5 baht at the store near our hotel. Robin also had some delicious lime juice.

After lunch, we came across Saranrom Royal Gardens while we were looking for something else. It was a nice break from the busy city, and many Thai people thought so as well. The gardens were full of lush plants and flowers, ponds, monks feeding the birds, and evil Thai squirrels.

Wat Rachapradit

After hunting for a little while, we finally found the place we were looking for. Wat Rachapradit was unusual in that it was covered in marble. It was also 100% free from tourists except for ourselves.

Just before leaving, a man beckoned us over to the table he was sitting at asking if we wanted to know more about the site. We couldn’t say no. He was a history teacher waiting for his students to arrive and we chatted for quite awhile. As it turns out, he’s got a daughter going to school in Alaska who he’s very proud of. He enjoyed telling us about her grades in school and her accomplishments. He was quite superstitious and encouraged us to buy rubies for success in business and with money, and sapphires for good luck for a long and happy life (also because they are a great investment with interest rates so low). We told him why we are in Thailand, and he seemed a bit amazed and thanked us for “doing a great thing”. We tried to tell him it was us who are thankful that Thailand trusts us to raise one of their children. He recommended some good places to visit and even offered to let us take his taxi (the one waiting for him to be finished with his business at the Wat). We declined, since we were headed in a different direction on foot.

Wat Rachabophot

We then found Wat Rachabophat across a small smelly river, which was an equally deserted Wat with many beautiful buildings. This one had a few Thai boys playing ping-pong in the courtyard.

Wat Saket and the Golden Mount

We ended our day with a visit to the Golden Mount. We had to climb many steps to the top of an artificial hill, and we were getting tired and it was still HOT, but the view from the top was a panorama of Bangkok as far as we could see in all directions. There were several rows of bells on along the way that could be rung. Robin enjoyed this greatly.

After all this sight seeing, we headed back to the hotel and meant to take a catnap, but we were so zonked out we didn’t hear the alarm and slept until dusk. We found a little place to eat near our hotel, after dodging vendors of all sorts along the way. The food was good, but it was sad to sit there and see so many old white men sitting with young Thai women. It’s amazing how out-in-the-open the sex trade is in Bangkok. We knew this was something that happened in Bangkok, but had know idea how obvious it would be. We feel very sad for the young Thai people who are trying to scrape out a living any way they can.

Tomorrow we will spend most of the day in Bangkok, then leave on an overnight train for Chiang Mai. Our hotel there has free wi-fi (while our Bangkok hotel offers 4 hours of wi-fi, used only in the loby, for the same cost as lunch for 2 including beers and water. If we want it in our room it’s twice that!)


Jay and Chandra Regan said...

I see you just posted a blog. At first when I looked at your blog there was no update so I was hoping all was well with you two. I checked out several other blogs and then checked back on yours and lo and behold lots of new pictures. Very fascinating travelogue. I can't wait to hear about your adventures of taking trains across Thailand. Will be checking daily!

Glen and Andrea said...

That's a lot you packed into one day! We loved Thailand too and can't wait to get back for a holiday before too long. As our trip was more than a little complicated we didn't really write much about some of our day to day observations. But we too were saddened by the huge numbers of older white men with young Thai girls. How long are you having in Bangkok? Then where are you off to? When do you meet Thanu?

Hannah said...

Jeez - I think you guys crammed more into one day than we did our entire 2 weeks :) I can't wait to return also, when the boys are older, and really explore the city. Maybe we can all make a plan to meet up in Thailand in about 10 years :)
Stay hydrated and I hope you don't burn too badly :(

Courtney said...

Evil Thai squirrels? Please explain. :) Jim says that your blog is so great that we don't even need to go to Thailand ourselves, we feel like we are already there. Jim also has a question: What is the ATM count??? Just kidding, we know you have more important things to do. The trip sounds fabulous!!

Gator said...

Wow, you guys are thorough! I thought I'd somehow slept through a whole extra day and night and missed an entry. I'm amazed at how much you managed to see, and your photos are really great. Thanks for keeping us posted!

Rosemary said...

I've never been to the golden mount and now I'm dying to see it! You guys are such great travelers (and writers). Thrilled to see you're loving Thailand! Your story about writing a blessing for thanu on the roof tile brought a lump into my throat.
Have fun,

Hanna & said...

Prachtig verslag! Thailand heeft ook jullie al in de ban! We merken dat jullie er volop van genieten en wensen jullie zondag heel veel succes toe bij het ontmoeten van Thanu. Geen idee wat er in jullie omgaat, maar dit moet héél biezonder zijn. We zullen aan jullie drietjes denken,

kussen uit belgië
Hanna, Maarten & Elke

Emily said...

Yea! You are there!

Your baby is so close!!!!!!!!!!

Gem & James said...

James has just reminded me to tell you to try Khao Soi when you are in Chiang Mai, it is a noodle dish speciality to the region, yum yum. Ohh and of course my favorite Bannana Roti from the Nightmarkets! Have a wonderful train ride, please post all about it, as we are really tempted to give that trip a go too when we go back,
Gem x