Bangkok, Part II
Forgive the quality, I haven’t had time to edit since I have to use public computers while on the trip!
Stayed three nights in the Banglumphu area, known for its proximity to some of the most famous tourist attractions in Bangkok and also for its concentration of backpacker hostels, bars, tattoo and piercing shops, and abundance of street vendors hawking what can most succinctly be described as hippie-ware. Just outside my small hotel, New Siam III, which is one street away from the infamous Khao San Road, I could get my hair braided, listen to Bob Marley (or some lite-jazz rendition of “No Woman No Cry” by a young female) and get a Thai foot massage – all at the same time.
Wat Chana Songkhram, a temple complex situated at the heart of this area, was a welcome escape from the dense chaos of tourists and vendors. The temple was definitely very Thai in architecture and had rows of gold Buddhist statues lining the outer walls, peacefully smiling at the central temple which housed more Buddhist statues in gold. Behind the central temple, young monks lived in the monasteries and the back door led straight into the lane which my hotel is on. At dusk, the temple gates are closed to the drunken debauchery that goes on in the streets late into the night.
More Wats! More Gold!
Down the West Bank of the Chao Phraya River from Banglumphu is Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn. The surrounding walls, parks and temples are much newer compared to the ancient structure, which seemed to stick straight out of the ground – defyingly gray with age and battered from the centuries. I have to say, it was quite an intimidating sight. However, the view from the top was well worth the steep climb. Personally, it was a pretty memorable view of the river which was lined with houses on wooden stilts. Not too far off, was the Grand Palace’s curved and tiered roofs amongst green trees and beyond that, skyscrapers in the distance.
Wat Po, on the other side of the river, houses the world’s largest reclining Buddha. Of course, this statue was covered in gold, too – except for gigantic feet on one end with intricate mother-of-pearl carvings on the soles. (Honestly, the most beautiful feet I’ve ever seen.) The sheer number of tourists was unbelievable though, thankfully, all was quiet inside except for the clinking sounds of everyone dropping coins into bronze bowls that lined the inner walls. I’m beginning to think that Bangkok is a city of contradictions – there’s chaos and confusion but also calm and peace.
Across the street is The Grand Palace, which is really, quite an understatement. ‘Grand’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. The palace and the buildings contained within its walls are utterly dazzling. Gold everywhere and where there isn’t gold, colored glass mosaics took their place. Looking around was like standing in a kaleidoscope.
Wat Phra Keaw, which houses The Emerald Buddha (actually jade, by the way) is set in the middle of the most unbelievably decorated temple. The tall pillars were intricately decorated with shimmering tiles in every color imaginable. Inside, the Emerald Buddha was almost difficult to spot amongst the tons of gold offerings and ornaments. Even the Buddha itself was clad in an outfit of woven gold and gems (he has a total of three outfits for different seasons).
After the glitz of the Grand Palace, I managed to spend some time at the National Museum where I learnt enough about Thai Royal History to make me understand why Thais are so proud of their heritage and why there are giant posters and banners bearing King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s image everywhere. (The sheer variety of his pictures is also quite interesting – The King with a camera around his neck, The King in a cowboy hat, The King in a regular polo shirt, etc.)
Sukhumvit, Bike-taxis, and Wholesale Shopping
We eventually moved out of the Banglumphu area for Suk11 Hostel, which is aptly described as “Robinson Crusoe-inspired” by the Lonely Planet guide that I loaded onto the iPad (very handy for traveling, I have to admit!). Jungle fever all around.
Finally got the guts to take a bike taxi. Pretty insane weaving in, around, through and against Bangkok traffic without a helmet on. It was a bit like sky-diving except that at no point will you feel the relief of knowing you have a parachute.
Anyways, I survived the ride to Platinum – a 6-floor, 3-block shopping mall that sells everything at wholesale prices (if you want to buy anything at wholesale price, it has to be at least 2 or 3 pieces per shop). It’s mostly a fashion mall with hundreds of small shops. Was it cheap? Kinda sorta maybe. Did I overspend? Kinda sorta definitely yes.
In the meantime, sawatdeekaa!