One night in Bangkok

8 Feb

…and, apparently, the world is my oyster. Well, it’s three nights in Bangkok, but that would ruin the song reference.

So, having been joined by my friend Lisa for a few weeks, and having spent a profitable afternoon deciding just how to get my visas for onward travel sorted out (a few more nights in Bangkok, I think) we set out to discover the joys of Bangkok.

Now, the first thing to understand is transport. You could take the bus, if you knew where it went. You could take the skytrain, if you were near a sky train station. You could take a taxi, and you would actually get where you are going. Or you could take a tuk-tuk.

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Now, there is a certain risk with a tuk tuk. On one level, these are simple forms of transportation that are lots of fun, especially if the driver can get a bit of speed up. Some of them would rather be mobile dance clubs and have the sound system and the lights to match. Some of them raise certain concerns over what the driver has been drinking/smoking/ingesting before hand. The chief function of a tuk tuk, however, is NOT to get you where you want to go. It is to offer you an excellent deal on where you might want to go, but take you to a suit shop/jewellery arcade/travel agent on the way. Laden with rucksack, the tuk tuk driver STILL wanted me to go to a suit fitting before dropping me at the hotel.

Sunday

Woken a little earlier than expected by the banging of drums in the street outside and a large number of firecrackers going off.

We got quite an excellent tour from one tuk tuk driver (although there are certainly more buddhas in Thailand than seems strictly necessary) around the temples we hadn’t seen – and then happened on a friendly newspaper reader in one of the temples who warned us that the border with Cambodia was shut (I missed that bit of news – might be important later) and then suggested we might visit the tourist agency to book more tours, along with a very convincing explanation why. Is he in cahoots with the tuk tuk driver, who wants to take us to the same place? I don’t know, and honestly, I have given up caring. An hour at the tourist agency, and we have a plan for the next three weeks – a plan which, dear reader, I will gladly unfold for you as it unfolds for us… but no peeking! We have a small collection of envelopes with vouchers and leaflets in them, and a promise that Sammy will pick us up on Tuesday. This could be interesting.

We discovered that you can buy a shrink wrapped Buddha statue at a little shop in the street…

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The rest of the day has been spent wandering Bangkok’s temple landscape – banging the gongs and ringing the bells at Golden Mountain, with great views over the city….a lot of the faithful have a ‘worship bag’, the contents of which get posted into each of the slots on the top of the temple…

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The signs around the temple inform us, usefully, that the temple has been repainted with the sponsorship of a local paint company, and helpfully advise us which colours we need should we want to achieve the same effect at home.

Avoiding the demonstration outside the agriculture ministry (possibly the most laid back demonstration I have ever seen, which mostly seemed to consist of people having a picnic in the street).

Watching the catfish in the river being fed. Wild.

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Seeing the giant Buddha at Wat Inrawiharn (‘Wat’ meaning ‘temple’) – this Buddha is 32m tall, and an imposing sight, even if we didn’t notice it initially…

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Discovering the delights of Thai iced coffee and street hawker food.

And finally back to the hotel (note – real hotel, not hostel… luxury…how things have changed since Australia (Australia it’s around £20 per night for a dorm room – in Bangkok, high living can be had for £30 a night for a twin room))

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Monday

Setting off to see the rest of the city(!), we stop off at the Erawan Shrine, constructed in a corner of the Grand Hyatt’s grounds after a run of bad luck dogged the hotel’s construction – the miraculous change in fortune means that the shrine gets a lot of devotees.

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A brief sojourn in the city’s malls in Siam Square leaves us strangely unmoved, and we decide to close out with a visit to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. ‘But they are shut for a ceremony’ comes the cry (followed by ‘let us take you on another tour of the city then you come back’) – we have heard this ploy too often now, and settle for a walk dodging the lawn sprayers in the park.

Wat Pho proves to be incredible (once we get there) – a huge temple complex and the biggest reclining Buddha in Thailand – at 46m long and 15m high it’s quite incredible, and seems to threaten to burst out of the building housing it. It’s impossible to get a real picture of all of it, so we have to content ourselves with snapshots of bits of it… and this quite amazing mother of pearl detailing on the Buddha’s feet.

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We discover shrink wrapped Buddha figures – turns out these have not been recently delivered from the Buddha shop in downtown Bangkok, but are being protected against the enthusiastic painter who is refreshing the walls.

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And the rest of the grounds are no less astounding with pagodas a-plenty, beautiful buildings, an awful lot more Buddha figures, and stone guardians in human and animal form

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But we are too late to visit the Grand Palace – fortunately, I am coming back… but it’s increasingly difficult to remember which temples we’ve actually visited.

There is a strange and rather beautiful peace in each of the temples though – Wat Pho is a bit crazy, but it’s a wonderful experience to be able to sit amongst the faithful with their gifts of fruit, candles and carved animals, as they wave their incense sticks and bow deeply to the Buddha. For them, their faith seems deeply meaningful and a core part of their life – it is said that 95% of Thai people are practicing Buddhists.

Our tuk tuk driver initially doesn’t want to take us back to the hotel, but would rather deliver us to a boat tour of the floating market…but eventually relents and takes us instead to another bespoke suit shop – where the manager is outraged that I actually don’t intend to buy a suit (actually, if he had been more polite, I might have done, at £80 – if I could only find a way to get it home) – in pursuit of his commission in the form of a petrol voucher, our driver attempts to seduce us into visiting a jewellery store, a massage parlour and the same travel agency. Nice try.. but we are unable to be persuaded, as we have a dip in the pool on our minds.

And then an evening in Chinatown… flaming woks, brightly lit lanterns, street sellers and street hawkers – and I am pretty certain there are people selling discounted New Year products (stock up for 2012!)

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On the way home we get a little lost (as usual, so ‘lost’ is more a normal state than ‘I know where I am’ – and it’s more fun that way, as I end up exploring all sorts of places we weren’t expecting) – and our attention is drawn to a solid gold Buddah – the temple is still open at 9:30 at night, and the devotees are still praying. And it felt good to go in and hold a moment of peace, and joy, and gratitude in my heart before wandering back to the hotel..

 

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