Published: February 26th 2012February 25th 2012
Weds Feb 22nd: We leave by bus at 8am and first pass through Chinatown. Bangkok was originally a Chinese settlement and now Chinese represent the largest foreign portion of the Bangkok population. The Chinese influence can be seen everywhere and the dark skinned Thais and light skinned Chinese have intermarried to the point where it is very hard to distinguish who is who. Chinatown here has the second largest market in gold in the world. Chinese buy and sell 24 carat gold not as jewelry but as a commodity. We then pass through Indiatown. Indians represent the next largest foreign portion of Bangkok citizens. We pass an enormous wholesale flower market. Thailand is a huge exporter of flowers and has close to 300 varieties of orchids. Street after street receive and sell flowers 24 hours a day.
Bangkok is a city of temples with 99% of the population being Buddist. We learn from Mae that Buddism teaches a way of life that is based on giving and living the kind of generous life that will ensure happiness and luck. Studying as a novice monk is extremely important to a young man's success and monks are consulted on all life decisions. The first temple we visit is Wat Trimitr. This temple was recently completed by the king to house a Buddha found years ago. When the cement Buddha was moved it was dropped and they discovered it is solid Gold. It is huge and weighs five tons. We remove our shoes and walk into the beautiful marble building. All decoration is hand painted and trim is gold leaf.
Our next stop is the Grand Palace. Built in 1782 by the first of Thailand nine kings. It is a huge complex of buildings and gardens. We stop at water color wall paintings which tell the stories of Thailand. These stories include demons and protector monkeys which surround the king. Thai children learn these stories and along with us this helps to explain the many statues we will see in the area. The architecture of the buildings is Thai, Ceylonese and Chinese. Thai temples are stacked levels reaching up to create the towers, Ceylonese is more domed and the Chinese towers are covered with beautiful pieces of Chinese porcelain. The effect is truly breath taking. There are hundreds of people and it is 37 degrees so we move slowly keeping an eye out for Mae. We pass a sandstone model of Angkor Wat which took longer to make than the original! It gives us a wonderful perspective of what the temple looked like hundreds of years ago. We see the temple of the Emerald Buddha which sits high above us in the temple on a stunning Dias of gold. The Buddha is a sold piece of jade and is dresssed is winter robes. Spring and summer will be marked by the change in his apparel. There are child school children in the grounds who are working on English projects and they stop us to ask our names in English. We see the classroom used by Anna of the "King and I" fame. We learn from Mae that the Hollywood version is not accurate as Anna would never have been allowed close to the king. The Thais also do not like the movie as they love their kingvery much and would never have portrayed him to be weak or made fun of. We pass the modern palace built by the fifth king in western style but topped with Thai domes. The current king is in his mid eighties and poor health has him living in 3floors of the massive hospital.
Our last stop is Wat Do, founded in the 17th century and the oldest temple in Bangkok. It houses the massive reclining Buddha. We hear the constant clink of coins being dropped into brass buckets which line one side of the temple. All Buddists give generously to the temples on a regular basis.
All the temples are painstakingly maintained by monks and artists who reprint, clean and replace everyday. Billions of one inch glass tiles are changed every three years, gold leaf is polished or repainting miles of water color paintings are freshened up and everything has a new and beautiful appearance.
We board yet another type of transportation and go by tuk tuk back to our hotel. We end our day with a far greater understanding of Buddhism and the huge role it plays in the everyday life of the Thai people.