A Sweaty Tourist in Bangkok

One of the hazards of traveling in Southeast Asia is temple fatigue. Having donned my long sleeves and a long silk skirt, I braved the 100 degree humid temps here in Bangkok and did the mandatory sight-seeing temples yesterday. I started out early to join the lines to see the Royal Palace and the famous emerald buddha first. The sparkle quotient is really high here with walls and roofs covered in shiny mosaics and lots of golden statues surrounding the buddha figures. Like in Bhutan, there are piles of shoes outside the temples as the visitors pad in barefoot to pray and observe in front of the statues. The crowds got thicker as the day progressed, pilgrims from all over the world coming together in these sacred places. One of my favorites was the world’s largest reclining buddha, barely fitting into its building about the length of a football field and reaching several meters high. The feet alone were taller than me and made of mother of pearl inserts – the most beautiful feet around.

Another highlight was the Temple of the Dawn. In order to get to this one you have to cross the river by ferry. On the opposite shore you can see the spire sticking way up into the air in the Khmer style of Cambodia. What I didn’t know until I arrived is that you can climb way up onto the tower using a set of really steep outside stairs. Despite the heat, I made the mid-day climb, sweating profusely but enjoying the view from high above the river. There were few people up there and I could pretend it was all for me, this aerial view across the river with spires of other temples shining in the hot sun.

Before I got to Bangkok I was overwhelmed by the various forms of getting around this huge city. I was happy to figure out the boat system, though, and took an express boat down the river to the central pier passing barges along the way and seeing the fast long tail boats whizzing up and down the river. I boarded the SkyTrain to get to another part of the city where I visited the Jim Thompson House. He was an American architect who is known for making the Thai silk industry into an international phenomenon. In the process, he made a lot of money and used it to procure an impressive collection of Asian art and build a beautiful teak house. Unfortunately, he disappeared on a trip to Burma and was never heard of again. I enjoyed seeing the collection and his unique home. I also managed to find my way back to my guest house which was an accomplishment in itself by walking, skytrain and a boat. For my first day on my own in several weeks, I did alright.

The flight out of Bhutan was the scary experience that I had expected on the way in. Flying up and over the high mountains we could feel all of the up and down drafts. My seat mate and I kept exchanging glances as the jet shook from side to side and up and down with mountains just off to our sides. Indeed, it takes so much fuel to make the climb that we had to make a stop in Bangladesh to refuel. Apparently, the plane can only carry so much fuel to make the steep ascent. I just kept reminding myself that they do this every day – well, most days at least. I always feel a little more secure when there are monks on the plane and I was delighted to see my friend, the monkette in the airport who was also flying to Bangkok. I shared my photos of us with her and she came back over to where I was sitting and gave me a set of Malaysian prayer beads. It was a special moment. Maybe some day I’ll see her in Malaysia as she gave me her monastery address as well.

Back at the Bangkok airport, I spent the night with Marleen, my fellow Vermonter who needed some assistance to get on her early morning flight since she has been on crutches or a wheelchair since crashing her bike in Bhutan. Later in the morning I met up with Claudia and Virginia from our Bhutan tour who had a day planned with a private tour guide and were gracious enough to allow me to join them. We started the day by driving out of the city and boarding a boat to experience the Floating Market. Boats jockeyed for position in the crowded canals. We bought a bunch of bananas to bring to some elephants and some delicious coconut ice cream for us. I also bought some mangosteens, the tropical fruit I hadn’t tasted since Bali. On one deserted canal a monitor lizard swam in front of us. When he climbed up on the bank we got to see his impressive size. There were also huge snakes that you could carry and photograph for a fee. No thanks.

Back in the air conditioned car, we drove to the Bridge on the River Kwai. The bridge was destroyed during WWII but has been rebuilt. There was an impressive museum dedicated to the memory of those who built it and a railway for the Japanese using POW labor. The cemetery across the street is filled with the graves who died in the process. It was a sobering experience learning of the many who suffered there.

Our last stop was an elephant farm. Passing tapioca and sugarcane fields, we arrived at the elephant farm after a short drive. Since there were only 2 elephants reserved I was going to bow out but I ended up riding on the spine of Virginia’s elephant, a very bony experience. Fortunately it was only a short distance down to the river where we were to bathe the elephants. I seem to attract elephants who like to roll under the water so when this one started to go down I quickly jumped off. I left Virginia to do the scrubbing while I became their photographer dripping on the shore. Other elephants wandered down to cool off in the river and I was happy to be nearby and being soaking wet was actually a good experience in the heat of the day.

It was a long drive back to the city and the other two had a late night plane to catch so I got into a taxi to reach my guest house on the edge of the backpacker district. It has turned out to be a good place – simple, inexpensive accommodations on a quiet street near lots of restaurants and with good wifi. I decided to spend an extra day here to just wander about and enjoy Bangkok.

This morning I started out with a vague idea of places to see. Along the way I stumbled upon a parade at the Independence Memorial. It turns out to be Thai Labor Day and the people were protesting about the minimum wage. I wandered down streets and canals finding the street where you can buy golden statues of all kinds, canals with people hanging out in their homes, a beautiful park, more temples (I didn’t go in) and the chaos of Chinatown. I ended up in the electronics section where men and women were busy fixing circuit boards and televisions in the heat of the sidewalk. I also wandered through the warehouse area near the river and watched men load huge bags of garlic into baskets and chilies dried in the sun. The fresh pineapple from the street vendor really hit the spot.

For a change of scene, I decided to take the canal boat and Sky train back to Siam Square that I had passed the day before. The air conditioning revived me as I wandered one of the world’s largest shopping areas. Every luxury store was represented as well as all kinds of tech stores including an Apple store. I checked out the cinemas on the 6th floor teeming with Thais enjoying their fancy cinemas but decided to go down to the bottom floor to get something to eat. Again, there were restaurants from all over the world – some familiar like Swensens ice cream and McDonald’s – and others representing all kinds of cuisine from Korean to French. I also discovered the Gourmet Shop, a kind of Whole Foods that imports food from all over the world as well as selling the more prosaic things like rat poison and fabric softener.

I had thoughts about walking at least some of the way back to my guesthouse but as soon as the heat hit me I changed my mind and got on the modern air conditioned SkyTrain to the canal boat.

In the morning I’ll be taking a bus to an island a few hours east of here. I’m looking forward to some cool ocean breezes and activities I’ll describe in my next post. One month from today I’ll be on a plane home. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun!

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5 Comments

  1. I love your commentary and can’t wait for the next one. You have become very adventuresome and brave and have squeezed the most out of every place you have been.

    Reply
  2. Pam Perkins

     /  May 1, 2012

    Reading your blog here at LAX while waiting to board to New Orleans where I will meet Penny for a couple of days before our MM trip begins. Love how you described Bangkok. You are so brave– truly an intrepid traveler. I can’t believe that you only have one month left. You will be so happy to sleep in your own bed but beware of big culture shock. I look forward to reading more adventures. You can find my blog at pamsrideupthemississippi.blogspot.com.

    Reply
  3. Pam Perkins

     /  May 1, 2012

    Oops. Wrong blog title. Try this instead. http://pamsmississippiride.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  4. Barbara

     /  May 2, 2012

    Only one month to go and I’m sure many more adventures! It will be wonderful to have you home but I’ll miss your posts!!!!

    Reply
  5. john bentley

     /  May 3, 2012

    Fab photos!
    JB

    Reply

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