Friday, February 12, 2010

Bangkok, round two

Well, we've been in Bangkok for five days now, and I will say I didn't give it a fair chance on the first visit. The bus ride here was quite comfortable (on a VIP bus with blasting cold aircon, cushy, reclining seats, and lunch! of course, everything is better with food included), and arriving with at least somewhat of an idea where we were going helped as well. There are many spectacular sights in the city, and we've tried to take in a bunch of them. One day, we went to see Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace grounds. Wat Phra Kaew is the home of the Emerald Buddha, probably the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. It's not very big (about 26 inches high) but it's carved from a single piece of jade (not actually emerald). It's placed high up on an altar in the temple, and many people make pilgrimages here to see it. The building itself is really impressive in its over-the-top-ness; there's an abundance of mirrored mosaic tiles in primary colors and LOTS of gold. All of the doors and shutters are wood inlaid with intricate mother of pearl designs. We also went to Wat Pho, which is the oldest temple in Bangkok and home of the largest reclining Buddha (46 meters long!). The feet were the most amazing part, with the 108 auspicious virtues of the Buddha also inlaid in mother of pearl along with whorls on his toes (I think he may have needed corrective arches though, because the feet were as flat as could be).
Another day we walked to Dusit Park to see Vimanmek Palace, one of the homes of the former King, Rama V (the current one is Rama IX). It's a 72-room home built of golden teak with NO NAILS! It is a really beautiful building; Colin once again commented how good it is to be king. The other buildings on the grounds have exhibits on silk production, amazingly intricat bamboo and fern basketry, gold and silver traditions. There was also an exhibition of the "Masterpieces," created in honor of many different occasions in the monarchs' lives. It was all a bit more than our tastes could handle (Colin said if he was king, his first decree would be, "enough with the gold, already"). Today we went to the Jim Thompson House, which is actually six old teak houses put together, filled with antiques and artwork. Jim Thompson was the man who introduced Thai silk to the western world after WWII. They came to prominence after being featured in the movie, "The King and I," which our guide had never seen, since it's still banned in Thailand. Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967. No one knows what happened to him, but an astrologer warned him that his 61st year would be a bad one for someone born in the year of the horse, and he was 61 when he disappeared. Our guide warned Colin against traveling to Malaysia when he is 61 (he's also a horse...I'm a monkey, whoever would have guessed that). We don't have many photos of any of these places because cameras were forbidden within all of the buildings.
Enough about the cultural stuff. Bangkok has a seamy city, and we have seen some of that in our visit as well. We wandered Khao San Road, which is the tourist "ghetto" and didn't find it to our liking, although if anyone is in need of a diploma from Oxford or the London School of Economics and would rather blow the college fund on a trip to Thailand, you can buy one on Khao San Road (along with fake dreadlocks and an assortment of ugly t-shirts). Last night we had dinner at a Japanese steakhouse in Patpong, the seedy district favored by American GIs on R&R visits during the Vietnam War and now a night market and tourist trap. The restaurant looked (and smelled) like it hasn't changed since it opened 50+ years ago, and the food was terrific (you know us, it's all about the food).
Tomorrow we will take the train back to Chumpon and will hop a ferry to the island of Ko Tao (renowned for the snorkelling and diving), or maybe we'll go to Phuket to find our new friend from George Town, Bernie. We haven't decided, so we'll let you know when we get there!

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