I awoke after a deep, uninterupted sleep that one can only have after flying 24 hours half way around the world. After two lattes at the Metropolitan’s fine continental breakfast, I managed to get a lift in a taxi to the center of Bangkok for some old fashion tourista-ing in the big city. I was unsure how long I was going to stay in the toxic air of Bangkok, before fleeing south or north for more pristine city/rural life…so I thought I would knock out as many stops as possible. This required a tuk-tuk, a 30 baht ($1 US dollar) hire to cart me around the city for the day. Yes, $1 for what turned out to be a five our inter-city sojourn.
I started at the Grand Palace, marveling at the gold leaf, the pitched roof and the royal intrique that must have filled the halls (and still probably does on certain occasions).
Next, I made my way to check out the Emerald Buddha, which if local legend is true, I would receive good luck in my career and fortune if asked (let me tell you, I did)! Next, I made my way over to Wat Pho to have a photo with the reclining Buddha. At 46 meters long and 15 meters high, this image of buddha passing into nirvana was truly transcendental.
I spent alot of time at these stops also checking out the tourists who in turn were checking out the locals who were praying devoutly to the various gods. The incense, the lotus leaves that were offered as thanks, the coins tossed into the little bowls and the giant bells that wrapped around the buildings all were magnificent in creating an aura of calm and serenity, despite the stifling heat and crowds.
After the tuk-tuk wisked me around, I stopped off at the Golden Mountain to check out the view from the top of the mount and then finally ended up in the Banglamphu district to check out the tourist street (Th Khao San), which is quite renowned. Not too interesting as you might imagine – backbackers, travelers, people who needed a bath, alot of folk with dreads, loud western music cranking Marley and other oft played dance tunes as lithe young ladies called passerbys in for a beer and some pad thai.
After a quick snack, I made my way back to the hotel by taxi (this took a few minutes as I didnt have my address written down so I was the challenged one, showing the Thai speaking driver my hotel’s address in English). After some hand gestures and louder than normal enunciation of my hotel’s name, I pointed to the phone number, he called the hotel and off we went to the Sathon district for a safe arrival home.
In closing, here are a few things I noticed during the day cruising around this most interesting of cities and most hot and sticky of south east asian locales:
– Its an incredibly westernized city; you don’t feel any animosity as an American or westerner due to Thailand’s close interaction with the US/England/Europe over the last two hundred years.
– A number of the Rama kings studied in England or Europe and their summer retreats are even mirrored on some of France’s renowned sun-king buildings
– Not nearly as many moto-bikes as Vietnam or Cambodia to the east? Not sure why?
– Traffic on the left, modeled after the UK, was of interest. Since it didnt have the “free for all” feel like Saigon, wasn’t as disconcerting holding on for my life in the back of a tuk-tuk.
– Pictures of the royal family were EVERYWHERE; I need to speak with some locals to get a better understanding on this relationship? Also keen to understand how the coup in 2006 is playing out?
– Very few people honking their horns (I guess coming from NYC, this was a shock)?
– Despite being noted as the largest sex industry city on the planet, the women all dress very modest (no tank tops, no spaghetti straps, etc – and its HOT, so I would expect a more “care free” approach to dress).
– Lastly, I am amazed that every Wat or buddha relief I visited, people would leave their shoes at the door to enter the temple (can you imagine this happening in the US – people would come out and their shoes would be gone in a city second)!