Friday, March 20, 2009

Thailand Day 2

Day 2
The door bell rang at 8:30 with our croissant and toast breakfast. We hurried to get ready in preparation for our day of Wat (temple) sight-seeing. I was very excited as I was totally looking forward to seeing the Grand Palace, Bangkok’s gem of a temple.

We ran downstairs to meet Nat once more for our day! We originally planned on taking a taxi to the grand palace, but our driver quickly informed us that the streets were just too jammed. Nat asked us if we were comfortable using the canal taxi system (Bangkok is sometimes called the Venice of the East). We happily agreed as it seemed like it would be an adventure. We were sure right! For 8 baht we took our seats on the old style canal boat. The boat had these blue covers from the seats to the roof which they would raise and drop as we sped up and slowed down to shield us from the water. It was just SOOO cool! We were the only tourists on the whole boat and I tried to imagine what it would be like to take it to work everyday. At every stop the individuals would jump onto the rim of the boat and then get off on the port. I could only imagine the law suits if it was in the United States!

The Chao Phraya River takes us all the way to the Grand palace as we pass everything from shopping malls to shacks with their laundry hanging by the murky water. A short walk takes us to a plaza filled with Wats and monuments to the royal family. I marvel at the gold slopes and green gems as I snap a few pictures. From there we take a taxi to the main attraction: The Grand Palace!

The Grand Palace or Phra Bporom Maha Ratcha Wang is the “official” housing complex for the King of Thailand since the 18th century, although the current King Rama IX does not live there. It was built in 1782 under the King Rama I because he moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. Interestingly, Nat consistently referred to the king as “my king” and seemed to take him quite seriously. In Thailand it is against the law to slander the king in any way (unlike Britain, etc). One of its main attractions is the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) which is made of solid jade. It is totally breathtaking and is considered the most sacred Wat in Thailand.

We had a lot of fun exploring the Grand Palace. If you have a chance to Google it, you must because my descriptions just can’t do it justice.

When we first go there we were greeted by a marching band (I have no idea why), their white suits all in a row. Upon our entrance Brittany and I bought a flower and candle offering to the Gods and proceeded to dip it in holy water and bring it to our temple. Many pictures later we explored the gold, green and red structures. Marveling in their sizes and shapes.

There were huge monkey-like structures with green masked faces and ornate bodies. We mimicked their shapes and treasured their colors.  The palace was very impressive but also sweltering with heat and eventually we tired and had to move on (after seeing the gorgeous emerald Buddha). We were astonished that we had spent 2 hours there as it had totally flown by. The amazing colors and breathtaking monuments surrounding our senses.

As we exited we passed the Sanam Luang where the king entertains and looked inside the military supplies room, which housed spears from all over and all ages. We stopped in at a small café where for 20 baht, I ordered a coconut! Seriously! They hacked off the top and we all got to drink the milky water and scrapped off the coconut from the sides. It was a delightful treat!

From there we truly headed out and went to get a bite to eat on the river. It was very yummy and we even met some Australians who work for the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. They were quite chatty and they told us about the night market and the exercise park that we visited that night. After lunch (and the gorgeous view of the Chao Phraya River) we walked to the Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha. As that district (Phra Nakhon) is famous for massage lessons (the real kind) there were a ton of stalls lining the road with lotions and ceramic wares. I fell in love with a pair of elephant salt and pepper shakers and a lotus incense holder which I bargained down to less than 10 dollars for both!!! (I loved this country!)

We finally made it to the entrance of Wat Pho, our purchases in hand, where we were instructed by our tour guide to ring the gong three times for good luck. We had a lot of fun trying to bang it as hard as we could before heading into a small part of the temple where we prayed to the day-of-the-week-we-were-born-Gods. After our short prayers we Nat placed little pieces of gold leafing on our foreheads and we headed towards the main part of the temple.

Wat pho has over one thousand Buddha images, but its main attraction, which was made during Rama III’s restoration, is the Reclining Buddha which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high. It is gold plated and has mother of pearl on its eyes and on the bottom of its feet. It was ginormous and truly breathtaking. After taking in the magnitude of the sight we took another water taxi across the river to “The Temple of the Dawn”.

“The Temple of the Dawn” is actually called Wat Arun, It is over 70 meters tall and the main prang  (it is Khmer-style) is surrounded by four smaller prangs. Brittany and I admire the decorative prangs with their seashells and porcelain from afar while Perri and Nat ascend the steep steps. The market next-door has handmade paintings and I fall in love with a small sunset one for my apartment next year and manage to score it for 200 baht after some hard bargaining.

From the Wat we head to the Union Mall so that Brittany and Perri can get more of the T-Shirts they liked from the Weekend Market. The fashion in Thailand is very Urban Outfitters, but at a fraction of the cost. As they shop, I take in the culture of the mall. From the unique stalls to the KFC, this mall offered a real taste of Thailand.

Afterwards we head back to the hotel to drop off our belongings and get a lesson on how to use the subway from Nat. We decide to go Lumpini Park and the Suan Luim Night Bazaar in order to observe more of the culture!

Lumpini Park is a huge public square outfitted with metal exercise equipment. It was out of this world. I am not sure if any of it actually accomplishes much but we had fun playing with the fake elliptical and stretching ourselves on some of the other machines. It was interesting to see the men and women with their ipods working out with such different equipment. The locals laughed at us as we swung on one of the balance machines before retiring towards the Night Bazaar.

The Night Bazaar reminded me of a less intense version of the Weekend Market. As we walked through the over 3,000 booths we ran into a few SASers and discussed our various trips so far. The Bazaar was a little touristy for my taste but we still managed to find some cool items including a trench coat dress for under 15$ and a silver flower pendant for even less. The sweltering heat got to us once more and we retreated to an air-conditioned restaurant, with yummy Pad Thai but lousy service. By the time we exited the establishment we were very worn out from our day and decided to head back. On our walk toward the subway we stumble upon an outdoor arena with a Thai singer entertaining a quaint audience. We stop for a moment to take in the music before taking the subway back.

Our hotel room is welcoming as we slip into sleep once more.

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