Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bustling Bangkok (3 of 3)

June 18th - June 26th, 2012

The following day was more city touring around Bangkok. We took a river taxi to the fabulous 18th century Temple of Dawn, one of the city's best known landmarks. Far different from the golden temples we have been visiting I was in awe over the beauty of this structure.   The main tower of the stone Wat is encrusted with porcelain surrounded by four similar, smaller prangs decorated with sea shells and bits of porcelain. 

We climbed the narrow, steep staircase to the upper terraces of the main tower offering a great overview of old Bangkok. Apartment and office buildings rose amongst street stalls; over housing complexes towered immaculate gold, green and red roofed temples and amidst them all; the Grand Palace.

We climbed the narrow, steep staircase to the upper terraces of the main tower offering a great overview of old Bangkok. Apartment and office buildings rose amongst street stalls; over housing complexes towered immaculate gold, green and red roofed temples and amidst them all; the Grand Palace

Having satisfied our stomachs whilst wandering through the street markets in the late afternoon, we parted company for the evening. Julian to the boxing on the edge of the old city whilst I took the river taxi back to the south side in search of a massage before retiring to Songwoots late in the evening.

The following day we walked up to the Royal Palace. Made up of numerous buildings, halls and pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards.  
We walked through the Outer Court towards the entrance admiring the grounds.  On arrival at the gate were flabbergasted by the ridiculous entry free of 800 Baht to be paid by foreign tourists (whereas the local Thais could enter for 40 Baht.)  Despite being interested we turned and walked straight out: Our budget is about 1000 baht per day between us!

Whist on the plane from Edmonton to Yellowknife we watched a documentary on the Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World.  Since then images of Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha or more formally known as Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan (and remembering Thai is a tonal language so really we have no idea what the temple is formally known as LOL - ed) have danced in my mind and I eagerly anticipated seeing it with my own eyes.  We came across another street market, this one, the antiquities variety;  religious stone carvings lay on tables next to patches of tiger skins and sets of dentures. We bought a small amulet depicting Buddha for 10 baht, a momento of our time here and Julian had a black necklace weaved personally for him; his wolf claw from the arctic attached to a isolated loop. 
Adjacent to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok and is home to over one thousand Buddha images including one of the worlds largest. We entered through the gates into the walled compound which used to be a centre of education for traditional Thai medicine and massage.  
Inside the main temple the golden reclining Buddha lay 15 meters high and 43 meters long with his right arm supporting his head on two box-pillows of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics.  The feet alone are a sight in themselves, the soles inlaid with mother-of-pearl of 108 symbols by which Buddha can be identified such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and alter accessories.  Down the entire length of the hallway people drop coins into 108 bronze bowls representing these characters believed to bring good fortune. 

We walked through the grounds of the temple; a small raised garden with bodhi tree,  91 chedis (stupas or mounds), four viharas (halls) and a bot (central shrine). 71 chedis of smaller size contains the ashes of the royal family.  The peaceful grounds were stunning and I continue to feel so thankful that I am able to experience these places.  

Leaving Wat Pho en route to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha we were drawn off course by hundreds of kites flying high in the sky.  We walked to the royal grounds and found we had come across the Traditional Arts and Sports Festival.  Somewhere around 2500 young people dressed in their school uniforms flew paper kits decorated with images of dragons or snakes.  A group of gorgeous women in elaborate traditional Thai dress were handing out kits to the youngsters.  It appears this event was exclusively for school children and I held back my eagerness to join in but it was not long before we were approached by a older Thai women (apparently a teacher) who encouraged us to claim our own kites. 

Overjoyed by the opportunity we filled out a form and received our kits.  Joining thousands of youngsters we attempted to get out kites into the air, which in all honestly wasn't as easy as they made it look!  The older lady had been watching and motioned to me from afar how to keep them airborne which made a dramatic difference and allowed me to keep the kite in flight. Julian, on the other hand proceeded to crash his into the ground repeatedly, accompanying his disastrous flying skills with giggles every time his brightly coloured wing spiralled earthward, until his kite would fly no more.

A commotion in front of the stage drew our attention; a performance of dance and martial art displays to live music of drums and strings went on for nearly an hour and it wasn't long before Julian had put away his damaged kite and tactically wormed his way to the front of the crowd for some unimpeded photography.  

The festival came to a close and as we made to leave, another commotion drew a crowd of people to a street corner at the edge of the park.  Two groups of art students from the local university faced each other across the road from opposite sidewalks.  The energy erupted from one group as they challenge the opposing team with intimidating song and dance.  On the other side of the street the students with the black and white faces scowled in response, arms crossed and glaring.  Enthusiastically they continued their performance to the beat of bongo drums before taking off to the other side of the block and continuing their antics on another corner.  Water bottles were emptied it the air over the bongo drums as the percussionists passionately persisted their beat, the underlying rhythm to some very raucous chanting. How much more wonderful would it have been to actually know what was being said? 

All the excitement caused us to miss the Temple of the Emerald Buddha but we were alive with the energy and passion of Bangkok, the kite flying and beating drums a welcome change to the endless golden temples. 

We figured we ought to check out Bangkoks' red light district but were appalled at the western prices, cheap knock-off merchandise and awkward 'family friendly' environment of this infamous part of the city.  I couldn't help but compare it to the vibe of Amsterdam (which is by no means family friendly) and I found myself disappointed with the atmosphere. We made to leave three blocks after arriving and headed home.  Realizing we had to eat first we chose the cheapest option in the area; the daily sandwich special at Subway. Our funds so tight that day we made it home via public transport with barely 5 baht to spare. 

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