Today there was a lot of walking in a lot of sunshine. My forearms are now bronzed like those of a Greek god. Unfortunately, my nose and head are as red as a baboon’s bottom and my legs as white as a pint of milk (which incidentally, you can’t seem to buy here).
I went with Prashant, a lad from India in my dorm who’s been to Singapore recently. I have to watch what I say around him as he’s a lawyer by trade. He thought Singapore a fine city. “They have a fine for everything. A fine for chewing gum, a fine for spitting, a fine for jaywalking…”
He’s also spent some time on the beaches further south and has recommended somewhere to stay in Phuket which I may well use if I head down there in a week or so. That all depends on those forms coming through from my lawyer. In honesty, I’d rather head for Vietnam while I have plenty of time on my visa!
Back to the touristy stuff. Mainly, this was to see some of those things that “if you go to Bangkok, you have to see…”. So I’ve seen ’em now. And they’re big. And impressive. And in their own way beautiful.
To get to them, the easiest method is Skytrain to the end of the line (Saphan Taksin). You then board a local or tourist ferry and get off at pier 8 (13Baht), double back on yourself and get a dinky ferry for 3Baht to the other side of the river.
Here you will find Wat Arun (entrance fee 20Baht). It’s a fairly large structure, decorated in pieces of broken china and crockery. It glistens in the strong sunshine and is obviously the result of some painstaking work. However, I couldn’t help but think “bling”.
Back over the river and a walk up the road gets you to the Grand Palace, the king’s incredibly opulent residence (well – one of them) which also includes a huge temple area (Wat Phra Kaeo). On the way up, I encountered my first handful of potential tourist fleecers.
I’d read about these, so knew what to expect as soon as they started talking. The signs at the Palace even warn “Do Not Trust Strangers”. What they do is walk up to you and ask where you’re going. Then where you’re from and how long you’ve been in Bangkok. They pick up on the newbies and then say they know someone from where you live and could you do them a favour?
The more gullible tourist then ends up in a gem shop buying cheap crap for 10 times what it’s worth on the promise they can get it home and sell it for a fortune as they’re getting a bargain. Again, the old rule applies – if it seems to good to be true…
I found the best way to get rid of them without being too rude was to tell them I’d been in Bangkok for 6 months and that I lived here. You can physically see their faces change when they hear that and they walk off.
Back to the Palace. It’s 250Baht to get in, which includes entry to the temple area, a coin and jewellery museum, 2 weapon museums and a museum about the Wat Phra Kaeo. You also get a ticket valid for 7 days for 3 other attractions, though I’ve no idea where they are!
The temple area’s the first to be entered and if I thought Wat Arun was “blingy”… there was enough bling here to satisfy a whole 5 generations of chavs. Huge gold structures, more gold leaf over here, gold embossed something else over there. Massive statues of gods and demons.
My personal highlight was a scale model of the Angkor Wat, about 10 metres square, located outside one of the buildings. Also, there’s a huge mural running for hundreds of metres around the innner walls of the courtyard, telling stories from early Thai days.
The main temple area contains the Emerald Buddha (who’s actually made of jade). He was wearing his summer outfit (there are three and they are changed each season in a big ceremony), sat atop a very high plinth sourrounded by more bling. I mean, this place made your average Bradford taxi driver’s parcel shelf look positively tame.
The Emerald Buddha was discovered by a monk hundreds of years ago who thought he was just a normal buddha statue until the plaster cracked and revealed the green stone. He mistakenly thought it was emerald and the name stuck. At one point in the country’s history, a Laotian prince was asked to take the throne in Siam (Thailand’s old name) as there was a gap in the pattern of ascension. When he left to take his rightful throne in Laos, he took the buddha with him. Many years later, the two countries warred and victorious Thailand recovered the statue.
Buddhas in all positions, standing, sitting, cross legged, palms facing you… And all in solid gold. It was just rather overbearing, to be honest. Prashant is a Buddhist, so obviously it meant more to him than to me, but I just felt that the excessive “goldiness” actually cheapened the appearance of the place for me. I hate to say it, but it looked tacky.
The skill and craftwork involved in the building structures themselves, though, was beyond reproach. Carving and casting done to perfection.
We moved on to the palace grounds in the baking heat. Again, opulence was the watchword. Huge amounts of intricate work and massive, overbearing structures. Soldiers were stood at attention in pristine white uniforms (not a job I’d fancy in that heat), guarding certain entrances.
We wandered round both of the weapons museums (ancient and modern). At both, the guard on duty at the entrance was asleep!
It took us a little over two hours to plod around the grounds, and we then headed down the road to Wat Pho – the home of the enormous reclining Buddha.
Entry was 20Baht and the grounds were – as expected – beautiful. Some fanstastic oversized water features caught my eye as we went into the main hall holding the Buddha. It’s huge. Both tall and long.
The bit that struck me as bizarre was the fact that you can walk past the Buddha’s feet. Now, you’re not meant to point the soles of your feet at anyone in Thai culture (or, indeed, at any image of Buddha) – it’s very rude. Yet, this Buddha has huge feet at one end that point directly at anyone walking past. They’re inlaid with mother of pearl decorations, so maybe this has something to do with it.
Around the back of the Buddha are 100 or so bowls, one for each monk who cares for the temple. The idea is to hand over some cash to someone who will in return give you 100 Baht in 1 Baht coins. You place one coin in each bowl. There’s a near continuous “clanking” as you walk around while people do just this.
We had a quick wander around the rest of the grounds and discovered another temple with more Buddha statues in. By that point I’d decided I’d seen enough Buddhas to last me a lifetime.
Back to the boat, the skytrain and a short stopoff at Siam Paragon to drool over the Lambos and Ferrari Enzo in the “posh car” area. Next, the Bulls Head (where else?) for some great food and 8 loing tickets for the “open the box” competition. Ah well. I’ll be back there on Sudnay for the Boro game.
No plans for Saturday at all. I have a couple of postcards to write and need to walk up to Joy and Nacho’s to make sure they have my email addres to tell me when/if those documents ever arrive. Aside from that, just chilling and reading! I’d rather be doing it by a pool or on the beach though!