Saturday, March 11, we docked in Laem Chabang Port, where we met our driver and our guide, who took us (my wife, me and two other couples) to Bangkok in a very “modded” luxury van, with so many buttons, levers, lights and switches that it was fun to imagine what each of them could be for: smoke screen? projectiles? disco ball? retractable wings? 😛
There are many visual elements that spring to mind when one thinks of Bangkok: Tuk Tuks, bubble gum pink taxis, crowded streets, trucks with all kinds of colored lights decorating inside and out… and we saw them all, all over.
Our first stop of the day was at the Golden Buddha (yes, they say it’s all gold… or almost) Pagoda and Temple. An interesting tidbit was that amongst the several street vendors outside the temple was one with many bird cages and a sign that read “Freedom (sic) the birds for your happiness and your good luck – One box 100 Bhats”. I saw a tourist pay and be all happy because she “freed the bird”, and I could not stop thinking that she just paid a “bird kidnapper” that held its victims in plain sight. Or that the bird was in it too, and flew back to the cage at night, only to repeat the same trick the next day for the next tourist. Whatever works for you.
After the temple we drove by Chinatown stopping to get delicious banana fried in coconut milk, and headed straight to the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace is the royal residence and a major tourist attraction. When you visit make sure to wear sunscreen and a hat, as there are not many places to hide from the scorching sun.
Although the much beloved Thai King died a few months ago (which is why a more strict dress code was enforced at the door, about which we were informed on the ship before arrival), there were endless lines of mourners, dressed in black, standing in line for hours in order to pay their respect. The mourning period will last until next October, when the next king will be crowned. But unfortunately the Thai Prince is not nearly revered, respected and admired as his father was. He’s seen as a “playboy” who lives in Europe and does not care about Thailand. Which, added to China’s growing inference in the region, means next year there will be a lot of instability in the region.
Amongst the many buildings (their odd roof shape is due to animal symbology in Buddhism: on the edges of roofs you can see the bird and the snake), temples and sculptures, the most visited one was Wat (temple) Phra Kaew with its Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade, not emerald), so revered that Thailand’s beloved king used to personally change the Buddha’s cloaks three times a year.
We had lunch at a nearby restaurant that seemed like a “tourist trap” but ended up having delicious typical Thai food (lots of seafood, coconut, rice, etc). And it felt good to sit down with a little air conditioning to escape the heat and humidity for a while.
Right after lunch we took a boat tour through Bangkok’s canals (klongs) of the Chao Phraya river. Of course every city with canals describes itself as “the Venice of”. So Bangkok is “the Venice of Asia”. It was a very colorful ride. We saw up and close many houses by the canals, from luxury villas to worn down shacks (with satellite TV dish). We also saw a water lizard, fed catfish, and were approached by several market-boats.
The day was fun and I took many pictures of typical landmarks. But the one image that captures the “inside” of current Thailand is the one of the high-level monk, at the entrance of the Naval Officers’ Club, blessing and chatting with high ranking Navy officers, next to a SWAT van, as a Bentley picks up an elderly woman.