Friday, February 11, 2011

Bangkok, Thailand

February 11, 2011—Yesterday we started fairly early in the morning by leaving the hotel in search of donuts. Believe it or not they sell Dunkin Donuts here in Bangkok. Good coffee, however, is a little harder to find. We bought our donuts and sat while we enjoyed eating them, and then we took the sky train and then the subway to the Central Pier.

At the pier we boarded a local water taxi to head up the canal to the Grand Palace. The current in the river was truly amazing—even more amazing was the skill of the driver in maneuvering up to each dock in order to allow passengers to get on and off. The docks were moving up and down with the waves, and it made for a thrilling departure from the boat.

We walked to the Grand Palace, and after having a local try to scam us, we decided to go on to the National Museum first. On the way we found the Amulet market area where collectors, monks, taxi drivers, and people in dangerous professions buy small talismans for protection from evil. We also saw dentures for sale along with the amulets.

We found the museum without too much difficulty and paid our fee to go in. The first exhibit was the history of Thailand, which we found very interesting. The other exhibits included examples of textiles, wood carvings, gold treasures, and weapons; and they were all very well presented. The gold, combined with small pieces of glass, gave many of the items an amazing sparkle.

After leaving the museum we walked back to the Grand Palace but stopped to enjoy lunch at a nice sandwich shop just across the street. We crossed the street and entered the Grand Palace, and grand it was. The entrance fee was 700 baht or about $24 for both of us. We were required to wear long pants, and my blouse had to cover my shoulders.

The grounds include Wat Phra Kaew Temple and the Grand Palace, which is the former residence of the Thai monarch. The grounds were consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule. The 94.5-hectare grounds encompass more than 100 buildings that represent 200 years of royal history and architectural experimentation. There are no less than 394 gilded Buddha images, and the mosaic glass and tile work on the exteriors of the buildings was impressive.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds for about two hours. There was so much to see—so many buildings and temples. There were tourists everywhere, and it was difficult to take any pictures because someone would usually walk in front of the camera. Unfortunately, our camera just can't capture the beauty of the site. By the time we were done, we had had enough of being around so many people for awhile.

We left the palace and walked across the street to find a taxi or a tuk-tuk to get to the Golden Mount. We asked a taxi driver, but he quoted a fixed price and would not use the meter; therefore, we moved on to a tuk-tuk driver. We found one that agreed to take us for 120 baht so we got in the tuk-tuk and left. After five minutes, he pulled over and tried to pawn us off to another driver, so we started to get out. He stopped us and said everything was okay so we continued on. The drive was not fun as he was driving very fast, and the traffic was very heavy. I think that he was a bit frustrated.

There is a program here that allows you to borrow a bike and take the green path to see the downtown area. Unfortunately, the motor scooters and the tuk-tuks use the designated lane. You could not pay me enough money to get on these streets on a bike. Talk about a death wish.

Finally the driver dropped us off at a temple. We saw that it was not the one we wanted, but we were more than happy to exit the tuk-tuk. As Steve handed him the money, he said that we owed 150, but Steve just said, “You agreed to 120, and we are not even at the right temple.” We walked off and did not look back.

We were at Wat Traimit so we entered the grounds, paid our fee, and then walked up several flights of steps to the top. Inside was an amazing golden Buddha, which is 3 meters tall, weighs 5.5 tons, and is said to be solid gold. This image was “discovered” some 40 years ago beneath a stucco or plaster exterior, when it fell from a crane while being moved to a new building within the temple compound. It was worth the trouble of getting here to see it.

When we were done, we left and walked back across the canal to the train station where we took the subway and then the sky train to get back to the hotel. After resting up a bit, we left to have a nice meal out. We found a nice restaurant with good food, but the prices were a bit high.

This morning we left a little later in the morning, and we decided to try riding a local bus for a “real experience.” We walked about 10 blocks and then picked up the #79 bus. When we paid our fare of 24 baht, the conductor asked us where we were going so we told him. He informed us that we were on the wrong bus—again—and needed bus #59. We thanked him and got off at the next stop where we did finally get on the right bus.

We were looking for our stop but were not sure which one it was. Steve asked the conductor, but she did not speak English. We came to a stop and all of a sudden the monk beside me, the conductor, and the driver were all telling us to get off, so we thanked them and left.

We walked just down the street and came to the Golden Mount. The Mount part of the name comes from the fact that you must climb many steps in order to reach the temple at the top, but the good news is that you have a 360-degree view of Bangkok. The dome at the top is gold in color, but I don’t know if it is actually gold, and there was a wonderful breeze at the top, which helped to cool us off. The temple was beautiful, and the view was excellent.

After descending all the stairs, we walked to Ban Baht or the Monk’s Bowl Village. We just happened to look down an alley and saw what we thought was the village so we entered. A woman asked if we were looking for a bowl. When we said yes, she led us to Mr. Somak Buppachart, who is master in the craft. The bowls are used by the monks to receive alms from the people. The craft has been carried on for a long time, but it almost died out several years ago. The tourist business has helped to revive it, and Mr. Buppachart hoped that it would continue.

After leaving with a beautiful bowl, we walked over the canal and found a local shop for lunch. The food was good, although a bit spicy. After lunch we went to the Wat Suthat, which is another temple. This one has very large grounds, and the priests were performing what we believe to be prayers while we were in the temple. The ashes of Rama VIII, the current king’s deceased older brother, are contained in the base of the main Buddha.

We have now had our fill of Wats or temples, at least here in Bangkok. We left and walked back to our bus stop. On the way we stopped to enjoy a cold beer just across from the Golden Mount. It turned out to be a very warm day, and the beer tasted great. We were just about at the bus stop when we came upon the King Prajadhipok Museum so we went in to look. There was no fee, and it was air-conditioned, so we decided to walk through.

The museum was actually focused more on his wife, Queen Rambhai Barni. It discussed their life together in Thailand and then in England after his abdication of the throne. It was beautifully done with many personal items belonging to both of them. There were many wonderful photographs, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

By now we were pretty tired so we found the #59 bus that took us all the way back to the Victory Monument. We got off and headed to the mall for an ice cream before returning to the room. Two hours later we left to have dinner. On our way we stopped and bought some pork on a stick for 5 baht each. They were so good that we ended up buying several more, some rice, some corn, and some papaya from the street vendors. We returned to our room where we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, which cost us 300 baht or $3.

Tomorrow we leave round 6:30 on the train for Chiang Mai. We will have some time in the morning to walk around China Town before we leave Bangkok. We have enjoyed seeing the sights, but this is a very large, very crowded, and very busy city. There are many scammers ready to take advantage of tourists; but, luckily, we had read about it in a guide book, and that helped us to avoid any problems. There were also many wonderful and helpful locals here who are honest, hard-working people.

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