29 December 2012
I arrived safely in Bangkok at 8.30 last night and had pre-booked a transfer to the hotel so despite it being 45 mins drive, I was checked in and tucked up in bed by 10.30 (with a sleeping tablet).
I was keen to see the Royal Palace as this had been closed both times I had visited Bangkok previously. I was told it wasn’t too far from the hotel and that I could hire a guide at the gate, but I decided to go for the simpler option of pre-booking an Urban Adventures Temple & River of Kings half day trip that included the palace, even though there would be some overlap with the main tour. They would meet me in the hotel lobby and I wouldn’t have to think if I was jet-lagged.
Day trip guide Bo met me and a young English couple in the hotel lobby promptly at 8.30 ready for our day’s adventure. First a quick ride on a local bus to join the hordes waiting to see The Grand Palace. It was King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday on 5 Dec and visiting dignitaries included Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Aung San Suu Kyi. So there were lots of decorations – the road looked amazing coming into the city last night: vast avenues of trees dripping in fairy lights. There was amazing detail in the intricate decoration of nearly every surface. Much of the ornamentation had recently been renovated and was now sporting very shiny stained glass mosaics. The yellow glass shone like pure gold almost ridiculously so against the centuries old Chinese porcelain-work.
The grand palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam and Thailand since 1782. The king, court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The present king lives elsewhere but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year.
To further our adventure the 4 of us squeezed into tuk-tuk with the roof so low that we had a truncated view of the world racing by at speed. It was probably just as well we could only see half of what was coming our way as we weaved out in front of on-coming trucks, between duelling buses and racing motorbikes and competing tuk-tuks for that all important gap potentially opening up.
We arrived shaken not scarred at our next destination: Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple is one of the six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first class Royal temples. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 15m high by 46m long Reclining Buddha.
The aforesaid effigy lazed in golden splendour while the revering and curious crowds jostled for prime viewing positions between the pillars along his resplendent body and where his magnificent gigantic mother of pearl inlaid feet afforded vistas back to his watching head with eyes open in awareness of demons (rather than closed appreciating nirvana).
Countless other lesser Buddha figures stood lining hallways or sat ready to receive devotions. Visitors purchased the obligatory lotus flower and incense stick, and applied their gold leaf to smaller Buddha figures in accordance with the particular good luck they sought, whilst in nearby courtyard orange-garbed monks chanted seated in rows like the Buddhas behind them.
Inside the Ordination Hall is a gold and crystal three-tiered pedestal topped a gilded Buddha, and over the statue is a nine-tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. Some ashes of King Rama I are kept under the pedestal.
IWat Pho is regarded as Thailand’s first university and a center for traditional Thai massage. It served as a medical teaching center in the mid-19th century before the advent of modern medicine, and it remains a center for traditional medicine today.
Klong Tour, Chao Phrya River
Our next adventure entailed threading our way through the crowds at the dried fish market down to the pier where we boarded our trusty long-tail boat, though boarding is a far too elegant a term to describe the frenzied leap of faith from the tyres edging the pier into a craft wildly bucking in the wakes of the hundreds of other boats plying their trade along the Chao Phrya river.
Safely on board we set forth towards the klongs – whole suburbs set Venice- like along a network of canals. Dwellings of every sort from ramshackle huts adorned with washing, plants and TV aerials to magnificent mansions with opulent gardens enclosed like gated communities. There were local corner stores where the fluid intersections caused turning boats to list dangerously to one side. Driving in this neighbourhood was equal to that on dry land – racing long tail boats revving their giant engines to race into an approaching gap leaving waves in their wake ready to drench unsuspecting passengers.
As out on the liquid superhighway, a multitude of craft made their way up and down river plying their various trades, visiting or obtaining vital supplies. At strategic points were places where you could purchase bread to feed the protected catfish to bring you luck. The water seethed and boiled where enormous overfed fish jostled for prime pickings.
Back at the dock we meandered our way back through crowded streets of countless stalls, an eclectic mix of local necessities and trinkets for gullible tourists, to return to the Viengtai Hotel. Right next door, the cooling fans of a restaurant promising fresh coconut juice and Pad Thai beckoned. Along the street cries of “Hello. Massage” tempted foot-weary travellers (myself included) to a half hour of blissful foot massage for just a few baht.
That evening we met our guide Kom (from Cambodia) and the fellow travellers that would be our family for the next month and learned of important details that would make our lives easier. We were to be 12 in total: 3 Canadian couples (John and Diane, Valerie and Bruce (Valerie and Diane are sisters), Brian and Eke), a young German couple (Leonie and Christian), and 2 Australian women friends (Ingrid and Sarah), with Kom and myself.
Then our first ‘group dinner’. We had a private room at a nearby restaurant and a horde of seemingly attentive waiters who each investigated our requirements. One enterprising waiter even wrote our orders down on an elaborate seating plan, much to the consternation of his fellow waiters who then proceeded to walk around us scratching their heads in puzzlement whilst turning the paper round and round but finding no match between people and their orders. Quite some time later a few dishes appeared that also had no match. After more head scratching and puzzlement, and several fruitless trips back and forth to the kitchen it was discovered that our enterprising waiter had put down his own descriptions of the dishes we ordered and these had then been decoded by the chef to produce the erroneous results. As most of us couldn’t pronounce our selections we had simply asked for #76 so were somewhat bemused by the whole rather protracted dining experience which was further enhanced by jetlag and the effects of beverages on very empty stomachs.
Hello/Goodbye Sawatdee ka (krap for men)
Thank you Kawp khun ka/krap
25 Thai Baht = $1 NZ
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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