Thailand: Traffic and temples

I realise it’s not long since my previous post but we did lots in Bangkok. I usually draw journals of my trips which this blog is meant to replace, but I’m finding myself wanting to write every day. So my new plan is to just lift excerpts from my written  journal into the blog every so often when I’ve got some photos to go with it. If the frequency (or content) becomes irritating, I won’t be offended if you un-sign up if you’re getting email notifications!

Sunday’s adventure led us to experience both highs and lows of the Bangkok transport system. There are many ways to get around. The skytrain (BTS) is a cleaner, more modern version of our Underground and is pretty cheap and efficient. Then there is the multitude of tuk tuks which are much more spacious than those in India but aren’t any cheaper than air conditioned taxis here. The latter chequer the traffic in an amazing array of colours: green and yellow Government cars, hot pink, orange, red, bright blue and purple!

Generally the traffic we’ve seen so far has been (like Thai people) calm; little barging, shoving, swerving and honking compared to many countries with one notable exception, your other taxi option. This is to climb on the back of a little motorcycle (official drivers wear a colourful tabard) and hold on for dear life! I don’t feel the need to risk it here, especially as Dean says they are the only transport option in future countries.

Buses are the other main option for getting around but seem mainly to be the domain of locals. They too come in a range of colours and are usually very tatty-looking. Timetables are nonexistent and fares vary from very cheap to free. We stood at a stop a few minutes, sat at the back of the bus with a good view out of the open window, rode for about half an hour and paid nothing! A very positive experience.

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I did mention lows though. On the return journey, we (logically I would say) stood at a bus stop bearing the correct number (2) on the opposite side of the road to where we arrived. We waited, and waited. None came for a good half hour (during which I nodded off about 8 times due to our poor efforts to shake our jet lag) so then I checked with a man nearby who said the number 2 didn’t come here and we needed to cross over! [Note to self, check on arrival at bus stop, rather than after half an hour!]

So we crossed over, waited and waited. We were about to give up and get a taxi when on the horizon the number 2 appeared at last. We were delighted… momentarily.  On boarding the bus, a lady bus collector started shouting what we think was ‘backpacks no, backpacks no!’ and was then joined by the passenger she was serving. We had no choice other than to turn around (with our small camera bags only might I add) and get off. Pretty furious at this blatant unfounded discrimination (whilst also a bit aware I’ve managed to reach nearly 30 without experiencing this when others, past and present, deal with it daily) we wearily headed off in search of a taxi.

Of course we didn’t just ride around on public transport all day for the fun of it, we had a packed day visiting some of the most important Bangkok sights. First up was the Grand Palace (a gift from Vicki, thank you!) which was situated in a temple complex surrounded by huge white walls. A repeated announcement incongruously played some cheesy big band music as if it was the entrance to a fairground. Everyone had to have completely covered legs and shoulders; I’d prepared for this by bringing an extra top but hadn’t accounted for having to wear it around the grounds as well as in the temples.Consequently I, with hundreds of others, spent the day uncomfortably melting in the blazing heat.

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The complex is famed for housing Wat Phra Khao – the temple of the Emerald Buddha. He was a tiny little chap (66cm) perched atop an enormous (we’re talking 6m I’d say) gold and jewel-encrusted platform. Shoes had to be removed before entering, photographs weren’t allowed and all the devotees knelt before him to pray.

The grounds consisted of loads of buildings. Without a guide, we don’t really know what they all were, but I guess there was everything needed for life at the palace plus stupas containing royal remains and sacred relics. The building exteriors were impressive. Every inch was covered in large intricately painted tiles or tiny colorful mosaic tiles, mirrors, jewel-like pieces and gold. We didn’t go inside many buildings but those we saw were equally, if not more highly decorated.

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Devotees seemed to be bringing beautiful lotus flowers, garlands and in some cases food like eggs. They lit candles and incense and peeled tiny pieces of gold leaf off its paper backing before attaching it to a Buddha of their choosing. Chanting (unusually by a group containing women as well as men) filled the space, peppered occasionally with the chimes of tiny bells.

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After leaving the Grand Palace, we shuffled our way through tightly knit market stalls covering the pavement leading to Wat Pho, another temple complex. This one is most known for an enormous reclining statue of Buddha which fills its room. This must be something of a pilgrimage site for Buddhists but I found it a bit of a strange novelty. The best bit was the intricate mother of pearl patterns inlaid on the Buddha’s gargantuan feet. On leaving the room, you could get a metal dish of coins to put into each of the fifty or so alms bowls lining the wall. The rest of the grounds were similar to the last set with the addition of several rockery areas containing water features or stone ornaments or small statues.

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As we left Wat Pho, the day’s first rain came in fat drops. After hastily covering our camera bags in a spot rather too close to a row of dried fish stalls, we sheltered for the few minutes it took to pass, enjoying its refreshing coolness.

Next we boarded a ferry (3 Baht each) driven, it seemed, by a tiny waifish girl of about seven whose long hair whipped about in the breeze. Really I think her dad may have had his hand on the rudder. The five minute ride took us to the magnificent Wat Arun which is covered in sculpted gargoyle-type beings, elephants and various other more complex details. We decided not to pay to enter these grounds especially since the main activity is to climb very high up some riduculously steep and freshly rained upon steps. So we wandered around the outside (papping some orange-robed boy monks as discreetly as possible) to admire it before re-boarding the ferry and heading to our aforementioned frustrating journey home.

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Evening brought us possibly our most luxurious experience ever! Dean’s dad and his wife bought us a meal out at an amazing hotel called The Banyan Tree. We ate at Vertigo on the 61st floor which was al fresco with the most phenomenal 360° panoramic view of night time in sprawling Bangkok, complete with sheet lightning filling the sky! It was awesome.

We enjoyed the service and the food: breads and oil, mozzerella and multi-coloured tomatoes, a guacamole bruschetta amuse bouche, spinach and mushroom cannelloni and then a coconut and lime sorbet amuse bouche! Then the rain came. The first time it was pleasant and added to the excitement but the second time was accompanied by increasingly blustery winds so we were moved downstairs to a table on the 59th floor. We ate our dessert at their last spare table which had no light and no view. We didn’t really mind since we were feeling pretty spoilt as it was, but once we’d finished we were given complimentary cocktails and a third table by the window to compensate!

Mosquito bites: 4
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms: 0
Weather: 31°, sunny, light showers

A few bonus photos of a night market where we are today: Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand.

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