Bangkok and the Grand Palace

http://picasaweb.google.com/kyotesue/Day4InBangkok#

This day started early with another buffet breakfast at the hotel and on the bus by 8am. Our first venture was a trip to the Grand Palace. From the entrance gate, I could see the Phra Si Ratlana Chedi and thought, gee that’s pretty.

Nothing prepared me for what it was like to actually walk into Wat Phra Kao. The complexity of the art, the buildings the gilded figures, all of it, was overwhelming. And the sparkle! It’s hard to explain how all the mirrors and gold sparkle in the sunlight. No picture could capture it because it is related to your own movement as you walk around the grounds.

Everything soars upward, the chedis (where relics of the Buddha are held, the prangs which guard the grounds and even the buildings, everything requires that you look “up”. The ‘bat’ holds the sacred emerald Buddha, but the jade sculpture was so surrounded by complexity that you could barely see it. I sat on the floor with some Thai girl scouts and thought of my friend Shera who passed early this year and eased her passing with Buddhism.

Later in the day we went to the klongs, the canals of Bangkok. We walked from the palace down to the river where we boarded a long boat for a tour. Bankok used to be a city of water and the klongs were the main form of transportation. The ride up the river in the daylight was very different from the magical romance of the night before but fun nonetheless. Then we motored into the main klong going west into the Thon Buri side of Bangkok. Here we saw the intricate network of canals and scenes of everyday river life. There even is actually a “bank boat” that goes up the river to service people at their houses. We saw the Royal Barges and many houses of an amazing variety.

Lunch was at a restaurant near the waterfront and then we were taken to the Gems gallery to see the sapphires and rubies that Thailand is so famous for. It was a bit overwhelming, a little impressive, but just a thinly disguised way to get us to spend big bucks. The one small piece that I looked at was $2500.

Back to the hotel for a good nap and then downstairs for a “cultural discussion”. It was only ok, but a little bit interesting. More talk about the king and how wonderful he is and a bit about being a proper Thai girl. The people here are very modest and proper. Ray was a Buddhist monk and he often dispenses Buddhist teachings while we are on the bus.

Mo and I then braved the streets of Pat Pang to find some dinner where we ate Pad Thai and San Miguel beer and watched all the people at the night market. We also went to the Planet Internet Café and checked email, and home to sleep after I downloaded all our photos to the flash drive. It seems I am taking a lot of photos, and everything is filling up fast!

First day in Bangkok

Our hotel is really quite lovely and the room pleasant enough, with a nice bath and a view of the Montien Plaza. We are on the 12th floor. We woke after some sleep and went down to breakfast and our first day of adventuring.

Breakfast at the Montien Hotel is a great buffet with Japanese, Thai, and American food. The watermelon is truly incredible, dense and sweet, and dark red, and the pineapples incredibly sweet as well. Thai omelette with rice and hot chile oil is a treat, as well as dragon fruit and mango and papaya. The coffee is really good, too, strong and full of substance but not bitter.

We met for our orientation at 10am. Ray is our trip leader, the group is a mix of people but there are some younger people along as well the older folks so that is nice. After the meeting we walked around the hotel a bit, changed money at the bank, and found the internet café.

Our first exploration was a trip to Wat Traimit in Chinatown. It was actually somewhat tacky but is the home of the Golden Buddha made with 5.5 tons of gold. Our first venture into Bangkok traffic and the smell of deisel exhaust was an experience as well. I think the exhaust was the most difficult part about being in Thailand, since the TukTuk’s all run on deisel, as do the many motorcycles and taxis and busses that make up traffic in Bangkok.

We then went to the local flower market where all the good smells and sights of Thailand begand to appear.
I bought a fragrant jasmine bracelet which I found out later was for an offering to Buddha, but it smelled wonderful hanging in my room later.

There were huge baskets of gorgeous fruits and vegetables, ginger root and long beans, garlic, onions, and bushel baskets of cilantro. The smells were so exotic and stimulating. Ray said the market was mainly for wholesale purchases and the grocery stores buy from there.

We drove next to Wat Po and the home of the Reclining Buddha. On the way, Ray spoke about Buddhism in Thailand. The kindness and tolerance of Buddhism is in such contrast to the stark harsh violence of some other religions. The wat was our first exposure to the amazing Thai style of temples and the incredibly complex mosaics made from broken china and mirrors.

The reclining Buddah is really huge, 150 feet long and 50 feet high. The smell of incense is everywhere. It was so amazing to see it for the first time, but was just a tiny taste of what the Grand Palace held in store on the next day.

Home to the hotel for a short rest, and we set the alarm since we were so tired and didn’t want to miss our dinner cruise. I wore a skirt and sandals and Mo wore her long black skirt and we took the bus to the river for our dinner cruise. I may be naïve and underexposed to the wonders of travel, but for me this was incredibly exotic and magnificent. The boat held just about 40 people for dining and dinner was all buffet style with MaiTais. Now I know where they come from, all that pineapple, one of the best parts of Thailand for me.

We boated up the river while eating strange foods and watching the lights and temples of Bangkok slide by. It was incredibly beautiful and at one moment Mo said “I feel like we are at Disneyland on some exotic ride”. It was as though the reality of this world could only be a fantasy made up somewhere. Then at the perfect moment, the moon came partially out from behind the clouds and shined through the towers of Wat Arun. All the mirrors on the temples glitter and sparkle like twinkling lights as you move past them. It was simply magical. It still surprises me when I go back through my photos that I didn’t try to catch this moment. Somehow I know that something like this can’t be captured, it has to be experienced. I guess that is why we travel rather than just look at photos in National Geographic.

It started raining then, and the crew dropped the boat curtains and the wind blew and we all got wet. It was warm and humid and yet cool at the same time. I loved it.

After dinner, Ray gave orchid leis to all of us and we picked our way back to the bus through the dark streets. I even fell asleep on the bus and once at the hotel fell into the bed and slept like a stone.

The rest of the photos for this day are here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/kyotesue/ThailandTripDay3#

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