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Published: November 23rd 2009
Arriving in Bangkok we had a taxi waiting to take us to our pre booked hotel in the city - too easy! The hotel was close to the shopping delights and neon lighting of Siam Square so we walked down there. By this stage we were feeling like we had arrived on another planet - everything was too clean and efficient after India. We had a touch of reverse culture shock for a few days I think. Next morning (Sunday) we caught a taxi to the Grand Palace complex - remembered from a previous visit and we knew it was definitely worth a second visit. A beautiful area full of golden mosaic spires, brightly coloured walls and dozens of grotesque idols. It was very busy as it's a prime tourist attraction.
It was as beautiful as we remembered it being! The emerald Buddha had just been dressed in the winter clothes - it is a tiny Buddha in the main pavilion which has three sets of elaborately bejeweled clothes - as the seasons change the King of Thailand changes his clothes. The King is currently in hospital due to ill health and the city is full of photos, flags and get
well books. After leaving the Grand Palace area we headed to Khao San Road the backpacker area of the city - it was clogged with tourist shops and cafes, but we still enjoyed browsing. There were many book shops there 8 years ago and we were hoping to find a book exchange - surprisingly we couldn't find one. Later that evening Bangkok was hit by a large storm - it had been very humid all day.
Next morning we headed to the Vietnamese Embassy to apply for visas to the country. We had to leave our passports there until next day - we always feel slightly naked when you haven't got them attached to your person. I went back to the bright lights of Siam Square to ogle at the shops - totally exhausted myself without spending barely a cent - and Jerry went off to check out markets in the Defence Academy area. Jim Thompson's house was our destination next morning - he was an American who lived in bangkok for many years who established a thriving silk industry there using Muslim silk weavers. He built a beautiful teak house which is now maintained by the Thai Government .
He disappeared whilst hiking on holidays in the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia. His house is as he left it, full of a wonderful collection of Asian artifacts. His family still operate his silk business - the products are of high quality but very expensive. They now have outlets in all the major shopping areas. Late that afternoon another trip to the Vietnamese Embassy to collect our passports complete with visa stamp. That evening the city was again hit with a bad electrical storm.
The next morning we caught a train (very cheap - only 50 cents each but the 80 klm trip was very slow - I'm sure we could have walked faster) to the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya. I'll write about our few days there in the next blog. Five days later saw us back on a bus to Bangkok to spend another 3 nights there before our flight to Hanoi. A quiet day followed - we watched a couple of Dvds and enjoyed the aircon. That evening though we braved the fun fair that was on as part of the Loi Krathong - we caught one of the narrow canal boats and sped up one of the
many waterways which criss cross Bangkok. It was a fun way to travel and after getting off at the last stop we pushed our way through the crowds and stalls which surrounded the temple known as the Golden Mount - so called because it is set up higher than the surrounding area and is topped with a gold spire. We headed up the stairs to the temple building - half way up we realised that it was a one way system and we were walking against the crowd! Turning back we headed back down and had to force our way through the fun fair to find the 'up' stairway. The stairs were lined with bells and everybody rang them as they walked past - the final 'bell' was actually a large gong which they hit with a wooden stick. From the top we watched the sunset over the city before queuing up to see the idol inside. Again money was being thrown at it from all directions! At the bottom was another Buddha which was surrounded with streamers of bank notes - after they prayed the devotees would pin more money onto the end of the streamers. They were all
hanging from the ceiling around the Buddha. The fair was full of old fashioned rides, balloon games, freak shows and food stalls. It didn't seem possible but crowds just kept pouring in - we decided that it just became too crowded so forced our way out. A taxi took us to another fair under the Rama VIII bridge - this one was less crowded and we spent a pleasant couple of hours enjoying the atmosphere and watching a procession of brightly lit boats sail down the river. A mad rickshaw driver took us back to our hotel - he went around most of the corners on 2 wheels instead of 3!
Our last day in Bangkok was very busy! Up early and off to the flower markets by taxi. We picked a great day to visit them as that evening the city was holding the main day of the Lantern Festival and all the stalls at the market were selling lanterns of all sizes. These lanterns are mainly made from flowers on bamboo bases - they are decorated with intricate designs made from banana leaves, candles and incense. Other lanterns are made from bread and ice cream cones. That evening
In front of the gold mosaic tiles in the Grand Palace
everybody would take their lanterns to the riverbank and place them into the water. As they are placed in the river wishes for the next 12 months are made. We were really looking forward to watching it and had decided to float our own lantern, made of bread and containing a small sachet of David's ashes. A couple of hours was very easy to fill in there - the smells were intoxicating, piles of brightly coloured orchids and roses (all very cheap) surrounded us and it was fascinating to watch the lanterns develop piece by piece under the clever fingers of the stall holders. Some of them were very expensive - around AUD $500 each. I bought a bag of orchids for 30 cents for David's lantern.
Leaving the market we walked to Wat Pho, the temple where the stunning reclining Buddha is housed. This Buddha is very big - 46 meters long and 15 meters high it is covered in gold leaf. Her feet are inset with gorgeous mother of pearl patterns. Very impressive! As the temple is close to the river we crossed via ferry to another temple, Wat Aran, The centre piece of this striking complex is
Mosaic statues at the Grand Palace
an 82 meter high tower covered with patterns made from broken Chinese porcelain crockery, discarded ballast from Chinese merchant ships. I climbed the very steep steps to the top of the temple - it had a fabulous view of the city but I started to feel giddy from looking down. I had to climb down backwards - it was almost like going down a ladder it was so steep! Back at the hotel I covered our bread lantern base with the orchid blooms before we headed back out to the river again. It was incredibly busy! Everybody was carrying lanterns when we arrived at the river bank and it was lined with hundreds of stalls, all selling lanterns. Millions must have been sold that day! We lit the incense and candles on our lantern and watched it float down the river. We walked along the bank beside it until it dissolved as there were many people with scoops on sticks fishing the lanterns out of the river, pulling them to pieces to find the money that most people seemed to have put in their lanterns. We were quite shocked to see that happening.
Anyway it was a great evening -
very pretty to watch and I'm really pleased that we decided to postpone our trip to Vietnam to attend it. It was late when we returned to our hotel but people were still streaming towards the canals and river with lanterns in their hands. Next day the river would have been clogged with rubbish from the previous night. We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Thailand - it gave us a chance to catch our breath before heading off to Vietnam.
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