The Kingdom of Siam: A Visit to Old Bangkok
We did not have a lot of time in Bangkok, since we chose to zip over to Cambodia while here, so we needed to make the most of the time we had. With the help of our wonderful A&K guide Annie, off we went.
No trip here would be complete without seeing the famous Buddhas. The guidebooks say if you see one thing here, it has to be the Grand Palace. We did see the Palace and the Emerald Buddha (actually jade), but my favorite site was not the Grand Palace, but Wat Po, the temple complex that houses the Reclining Buddha.
The Grand Palace complex is huge, beautiful and has many buildings and even commercial shops. King Rama IX died in November, and the country has recently completed 100 days of mourning. The Palace complex is very crowded with locals since the King’s body is lying in state and traffic is closed on the immediately surrounding streets. Security was tight, everyone passes through metal detectors and a photo ID, in our case a passport copy, must be shown. Ankles and shoulders must be covered (and not with a shawl). I saw people turned away. Many locals are still wearing black to honor their beloved King.
The Emerald Buddha is small and positioned quite high, and was dressed for winter (one of its three outfits), covering all the jade except his face. Visitors maybe not photograph inside the Wat Phra Keo (temple) that houses this Buddha, and from outside the temple, only a camera much better than mine would have a lens good enough to get a decent photo.
Conversely, the buildings at Wat Po were closer together and look like something in a fairy tale. As with other ceremonial locations, tiny tiles of stained glass, ceramics and richly painted murals cover every surface inch of space. The effect is magical, sparkling in the sunlight, vibrant color everywhere. Again, I find my camera lens insufficient to capture what I am seeing. The 160-foot-long reclining Buddha is far larger than it looks in photos – breathtaking.
I was blessed by a monk here – being “tapped” (it was pretty hard) on the head and shoulder with a short straw broom and basically doused with a substantial amount of cold water. It was so hot, it did feel good. We also visited the massive Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit.
Solid gold and weighing in at 5 tons, but skipped a visit to Wat Aron, and settled for seeing it from the river since the entire temple is scaffolded for renovation. Clearly, these temples are meticulously maintained; they are all so elaborate and seem in perfect condition.
The temples we visited are in Old Bangkok, but the rest of this sprawling, modern city was not unlike our home city of Miami. Skyscrapers, modern elevated expressways, tropical vegetation and sunshine. Our focus was to see as much of the ancient and traditional features of Bangkok as possible, so we embarked on a private long-tail boat trip through the canals (khlongs) of Thonburi.
Traveling through locks (they say “water gates”) on the way in and out of this charming area, we enjoyed seeing the wooden shacks, beautiful new homes, Temples, waterside markets and even restaurants with cooks preparing food from small boats in the canal. I’ve read these waterways make Bangkok the Venice of the East, but they reminded me far more of the Florida Keys.
Thanks to the efficiency of our intrepid, always smiling guide Annie, we even managed to get in a ride on a tuk-tuk, one of the motorized three-wheeled carts so prevalent in this city. Thankfully our smaller ship, Azamara Journey, docked in town on the Chao Phraya River (larger ships dock two hours from town), and we were able to productively use every minute of our time here.
I now understand “The King & I” is more fairy-tale than truth (it’s banned here), but do plan to re-watch.
Side bar: Originally, I had wanted to visit the MaeKlong Railway Market, a market that covers rail tracks, and is quickly picked up just prior to the train entering the station. But it’s about 90 minutes out of town and this time of year, the train only comes through twice a day, 8:30 AM and 3:30PM. Apparently, many of the local vendors have quit going to the market, because the growing number of tourists is having a negative impact of their ability to sell their fruits, vegetables, etc.
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