Bangkok Bound: The Sights, Sounds, and Shopping (part1)

Although I may have painted it that way with my last two posts, Bangkok is not all about eating (I am all about eating…and Bangkok is just a darn fine place to do it). It is an energetic city full of rich history and culture. There is a ton of things to see and do: from majestic temples and awe-inspiring ruins of old; to cutting edge artwork that can be seen in the new galleries sprouting all over the place. Just watching life churn around Bangkok and its people is amazing. One moment you will see a pretty, young girl in all the latest styles (necessary body parts covered of course!) kneeling before an altar and praying intently, incense in her hand and Louis Vuitton on her shoulder. Another moment you will see a monk on a dock, leaning against a post and smoking a cigarette, his arm escaping his orange robe covered in tattoos.

And no, it’s not all about the shopping. Although shopping in Bangkok is fun and fabulous and that cannot be denied. But more on that later.

So much to see and (seemingly) so little time. We did as much as we could, but still allowing for time to sigh and savor. Because in Bangkok, whether you’re talking about the food, the sights, or the shopping, there will always be sighing and savoring.

The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Keaw (Temple of the Emerlad Buddha)
Two of the most visited places in Thailand, and two of the holiest. It’s no mystery why tourists come in droves to see them – and C & I were part of the throng. Eschewing the free city tour that came with our airline/hotel package, we made our own itinerary so we could see the temples we wanted at our own pace (which is how I prefer doing things anyway). This was first on our list. We took the public ferry from the Oriental Pier, waving away touts trying to convince us to rent a private long boat for 1000++ bhat. We paid around 36 bhat (for us both) to get on the public ferry that took us where we needed to go...and it’s a cheap way of “cruising” the Chao Phraya river! We got off at Tha Tien and walked to the palace entrance. I felt just like a school kid on a field trip…my eyes were wide as saucers as I tried to take it all in (and there is just so much to take in!). My mind tried to grapple with three things at once: The Thai style of architecture which I was seeing in person for the very first time, the size and splendor of the structures, and the beauty and mind-blowing detail that went into everything. I cannot imagine these buildings hundreds of years ago, still as they are now, in blazing, searing, Technicolor. Weren’t people shocked at the frenzy of gilded color? Or was brilliance like this commonplace in the life of a royal then? Wat Phra Keaw is another riot of fantastical embellishment. Golden chedi (bell-shaped tower), vibrant mosaic tiles, and gleaming marble compete for your attention. So much so that you find yourself forgetting…isn’t there supposed to be an Emerald Buddha in here? And there he is...high atop all this adornment, 66cm of jade holiness. I sigh in my bare feet (shoes off in all temples please!). What a magical place to be. When in Bangkok…Must see…Bring your shades and prepare to be floored. The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Keaw: 8:30am-3:30pm. Ferry stop Tha Tien or Tha Chang.

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
After exploring the Grand Palace & Wat Phra Keaw, we hailed a cab for lunch at Chote Chitr. You can read about our wonderful meal here. With our tummies full and ready for more adventure, we headed to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This 16th century temple is the oldest and largest wat (temple) in Bangkok, has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and now has the dubious claim of housing my favorite Buddha. I knew that it was supposed to be the longest reclining Buddha in Thailand, but I was not prepared for how big it actually was, or how gold. I felt like those girls with their noses pressed at Tiffany’s windows, shiny diamonds in their eyes…except my eyes were filled with big gold Buddha! I have no idea what it says about me, the fact that my head was completely turned by size and gold-ness…but it’s true and I won’t lie! My head was completely turned by size (46 meters long and 15 meters high) and gold-ness! Truly, it is a beautiful sight. And although you may be thinking it is all flash and fancy…it isn’t! Its reclining position illustrates the passing of Buddha into nirvana. At the gigantic soles of its feet are inscribed 108 auspicious laksana (characteristics of a Buddha). I was entranced! Wat Pho: 8:00am-6:00pm. Ferry stop Tha Tien.

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn)
After ogling at the Reclining Buddha, we crossed the river (from Tha Tien take the cross-river ferry to Tha Thai Wang) to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. The 82 meter praang (towering spire of Khmer origin, same purpose as a chedi) commands your complete attention as you approach it from the river. Upon closer inspection, it reveals itself as yet another wonder of intricate detailing in its porcelain mosaics. At each of its tiers there are rows of kinnari (half-human-half-bird) holding the next level up on their shoulders. It was here that the new Thai capital (in Thonburi) was built after the fall of Ayutthaya (and before it was transferred across the river to Bangkok). We walked about the towers and rested our legs on some steps nearby, admiring the mosaics and the monks going about their business, and watching the other tourists climb the towers. C had injured his knee in a game of b-ball and couldn’t climb the steep stairs. I have a more “feed-me-chocolate-truffles-as-I-lie-on-a-feather-bed” type of physique, so I was dubious about attempting it. We were there though…so I thought I’d give it my best shot. I made it halfway – not bad for me! Especially when I saw a couple of guys coming down from the top, their knees shaking like a carnaval dancer’s tush. Whew! We headed back to the pier to cross the river only to find it was closed! Apparently there was a military procession about to happen and the ferries weren’t working. So we had to meander around until we found a main road and grab a cab to take us back to our hotel across town. No easy task. Don’t let anyone tell you that Bangkok is not an adventure! :) Wat Arun: 8:30am-5:30pm. Th Arun Amarin, Thonburi. Cross-river ferry from Tha Tien to Tha Thai Wang.

I so enjoyed wandering about the wats! Everything seemed like our own little discovery, even if countless of tourist footsteps had come before me.

Next up: Ayutthaya (the once glorious Thai capital), Jim Thompson’s House (lovely teak residence of Bangkok’s favorite expat), a little spot of shopping, and my first Thai massage! But before that, I am off to Hong Kong for the weekend…C and I are visiting my godfather who lives there. I am looking forward to catching up on old times, a lot of laughter, and a load of good food! I'm also hoping to sneak a little food shopping in ;)

See you when I get back…with the last of Bangkok and the first of Hong Kong! :)