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Published: February 8th 2009
Sawat dii ka from Bangkok! We arrived safe and sound in the City of Angels and have spent the past couple of days acclimatising and exploring the sights.
Bangkok's real name is actually "Krungthep mahanakhon amonratanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok popnopparat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amonpiman avatansathit sakkathattiya witsanukamprasit"
which means city of angels... good job the locals shortened it to Krung Thep!
Bangkok is a loud city. There are 10 million people living here. It's a city of skyscrapers and rundown shacks, modern shoppings malls and ancient temples. Pollution is starting to become a problem here and many of the locals wear masks covering their mouths. The traffic is crazy 24/7 and taking a taxi through the city streets is a white-knuckle ride with no seat belts! A lot of the locals get around on mopeds and we've seen whole families and even dogs on the one vehicle! The Thai national flag and the yellow flag of Buddhism fly outside all of the temples and there are pictures of the King adorning many of the buildings and roads. The city is also full of street vendors and market stalls selling everything from Thai silk to roast duck and catfish.
Thailand is 543 years ahead of the Western world, as the Thai calendar measures from the beginning of the Buddhist Era. 95% of the population in Thailand are Buddhist and Bangkok has over 300 temples. The most famous sights are located in the oldest and holiest area, Ko Ratanakosin. To get there, we took the BTS SkyTrain down to the Central Pier. The SkyTrain is elevated on the streets of Bangkok, so it's great for avoiding the traffic. It also provides good views of the city from above ground level as it weaves its way in between the skyscrapers. Plus, it's air-conditioned which is another bonus!
Once we reached the Central Pier, we hopped on the Chao Phraya River express boat to Maharaj pier in Ratanakosin. In the olden days, Bangkok was called the "Venice of the East" and both people and goods were transported on the canals. Some of this river life can still be experienced on the Chao Phraya, where long tailed boats still make their way up the river.
Having arrived in Ratanakosin, we explored the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha
(Wat Pho). The Grand Palace is a former royal residence but is now only used for special occasions, as the king now lives in the northern part of the city. The current king is Rama IX and he's been on the throne for over 60 years which makes him not only the the longest-reigning king in Thai history, but also the longest-reigning monarch worldwide. He no longer has any legislative powers, but he remains very much a figurehead for Thai people.
In the same complex is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which houses Thailand's most sacred image. As the name suggests, the Buddha is jade green in colour and seems to levitate about 20 feet in the air. The temple's walls and ceilings are decorated with intricate paintings depicting past lives of the Buddha.
Nearby, Wat Pho is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok and houses the biggest collection of Buddha images in the country. It dates from the 16th century and is famous for its reclining Buddha which, at 46m long and 15m high, is the largest in Thailand. The Buddha is coated in gold leaf and its eyes and toes are inlaid with mother
While in Bangkok, we also visited the floating market at Damnoen Saduak which is 105km southwest of the city. Thailand has seen rapid development over the past few decades; 50 years ago, over 70% of the countryside was jungle, but now only 20% remains. It was nice to see the remnants of the traditional way of life at Damnoen Saduak. The market is full of wooden canoes laden with fruit and vegetables, which are paddled by local Thai women with wide-brimmed straw hats. It's colourful and chaotic! We took a tour of the market in a paddle boat and then took a longtailed boat ride to the Ban Sukchoke resort, from where we headed back to Bangkok.
Bangkok has been a great introduction to South East Asia for us. Tomorrow, we're off to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to soak up some more Thai culture. Love to all!
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