Tuesday, March 5, 2013

tSH goes to Thailand: Bangkok

My sister and I were so enchanted by our experiences in Railay that all we could talk about as we waited (not necessarily patiently so much as in a comatose state) in the Krabi airport was how different Bangkok would be from Railay. There was hilarious talk about quitting jobs and living the island life (which is strangely what it feels like to be in Railay, despite the fact that it is not, in fact, an island). We both know that this is unlikely (also unlikely that we could convince our bosses to somehow lay us off or fire us, to the same effect), but it was apparently worth talking about for at the very least, comic effect and distraction. I was trying to relax and not throw up again, as I had unfortunately done as soon as we had passed through security after I foolishly chugged most of my bottle of water after realizing it would not be allowed to go with me on the plane. This is one of those instances where really, you should just leave it behind.

Needless to say I fell asleep on the plane as much as I could (despite the couple next to me, who were in the middle and window seat, wanting to go to the bathroom as much as possible, and me trying very hard to ignore the meal service). My digestion was still angry with me for days afterward, but that's a whole other story, and one that I will not be describing here.

We eventually got to our hotel in Banglamphu. This is a great area for walking around and seeing people and things. There is a great street market that happens every night here where you can buy trinkets, clothes, massages...basically anything you may want, and fairly cheap.

After a rough day of travel we didn't wander too far before calling it an early night. But not before getting a cheap massage (250baht for an hour) in an air conditioned place right next door to our hotel. Best neck and shoulder massage on that trip so far, and just what I needed after my whole ordeal. I slept fantastically that night and after that, actually kept my food down.

The next day we ventured out and took advantage of our hotel's free shuttle ride to the Grand Palace. We didn't read that much about it, but if it commanded its own free ride it must be something to see, right? Right.

Unfortunately it was ridiculously hot that day and extremely humid. Though I think realistically it was only +30 (which is pleasant, I think, in most cases), it felt like it was +35 venturing on +40 because of the humidity. And what makes it potentially worse (depending on how you look at it), was that there was a dress code at the Grand Palace. Oh yes - no shorts, short skirts, tank tops, etc. Not even 3/4 pants at this place (I, unfortunately was wearing 3/4 leggings that day, under an appropriately long-sleeved dress). No way you were going in and potentially offending the King. Or anyone, apparently.

Lucky for botards like me there were clothes to rent - either outside the Grand Palace, or if you ignored the hawkers until you were inside the grounds, at the actual palace. If you actually waited to get inside to be told that you were dressed inappropriately the charge was actually free, you just had to put down a 100baht deposit and promise to bring back the clothes...or keep them. You could also just bite the bullet and buy lesser quality clothes to keep straight on the spot. I decided to rent; didn't need more clothes I can't wear 5/6th of the year (also don't need to be constantly reminded of this fact, despite moving to slightly warmer climes soon).

So after this wardrobe fiasco was fixed we set off to see the Grand Palace. 500baht entrance (which is ridiculous, considering all that 500baht can buy you in everyday life - easily 10 meals, at least 2 hours worth of good massage, slightly more than a good pair of sandals, at least two shirts...you see where I'm going with this) apparently gets you entrance into four different sections of the grounds. A very beautiful (though strangely difficult to read) map is also given to you in a language of your choice and you're released to basically roam free (you can also rent audio guides for an exorbitant price).

The sum of the Grand Palace? Incredibly detailed, sumptuously rich and downright...overwhelming. The thing is huge...and gaudy. Every tiny thing has been decorated and blinged out to the nth degree. I mean this in a nice way, not in a mean way. I've never seen anything so intricately decorated in my life, it's just...incredible. It's also...a little too much. Once you've seen the first several buildings with minute detail down to the centimeter (and I do mean that seriously), it starts to all kind of look the same. The unhelpful (and rather unlabeled) map doesn't assist you in this either.

Here are some images to sort of visually aid what I am saying:

Gorgeous, beautiful, sumptuous...too much. It's all so much. And the grounds are huge. I cannot stress how unhelpful this map was. I ended up using it as gift wrap for the souvenirs I brought back for my girlfriends - like I said it was gorgeously illustrated....just useless.

Anyway, there were some things that were worthwhile here, so don't think that I regretted paying my 500baht. The most famous site here, and definitely worth seeing is the Emerald Buddha. It's in a temple by itself and is not-so-easily-identified by the fact that there are swarms of people around it and you have to take your shoes off before going inside. There are shoe racks outside and no way of protecting your shoes (my sister was afeared of her shoes being stolen so she put them in her backpack and brought them with her). By this point I'd burned through two pairs of my shoes (one of them died an honorable death by sea...the other unfortunately in one of my bouts of vomiting) and was not really worried about my third and final pair being taken by some robber at a temple. That would just be too ironic. I was assured the universe would not do that to me (and it didn't).

The Emerald Buddha is actually made out of jade, despite its name, and has a long history, which I won't go into here but you can read about here. The part that I found the most interesting is that they change the buddha's clothes seasonally (to be seasonally appropriate) and the king needs to be present for these ceremonies. The thought that went through my mind when I learned this fact: who is this clothes maker and he's one lucky guy (something something makes clothes for the Emerald Buddha, which by the way sits in the personal temple of the king...huge deal!).

We spent a lot of time in this part of the Grand Palace for several reasons. One, the chamber itself was really intricately painted with gorgeous murals on the inside depicting all sorts of things, and just looking at those was interesting enough not to mention the huge amount of other items in the room (silver trees, endless bouquets of flowers, other decor items for the temple where the king personally worships). Two, you were allowed to sit and meditate there if you wished, and real Thai people do this on a regular basis, so it wasn't just tourists. My sister has fairly recently gotten into meditation so we sat there for awhile contemplating new experiences and things we had learned (or at least that's what I sat there thinking about...by the way there is an appropriate and inappropriate way to sit - do not sit with the bottoms of your feet pointing towards the buddha, it's extremely rude and you will be told to sit otherwise). Three, and finally, and likely one of the best reasons why we stayed there for a long time - it was the coolest place we'd been all day. The floors were made of marble and cool to the touch and there were constant revolving fans going. It was heaven. I do love to sit and meditate and contemplate, and I'm sure that setting is indeed perfect for just that thing because I did slide into a trance-like state almost immediately, but I'm also fairly certain a lot of it had to do with the fact that it was cool in there, and wonderful. Don't hate me, it's true.

One of the funniest things to note about this room, also, is that photos are strictly forbidden. I mean for serious forbidden. Not only are there signs saying that no pictures are allowed (which is common for most places of this magnitude), there are guards actively stopping people from taking pictures, yelling at people who are about to or who have already taken pictures, and actually confiscating cameras of people who have unfortunately failed to notice and already snapped pictures. If you have a digital camera of some sort, usually you could get away with just deleting the offensive photos (in front of the guard, who then confirms that all photos have been deleted). However if you have a real film camera, your entire device was taken (not just the film, mind you). So word of warning - that precaution is serious, don't take the picture!

After visiting the beloved Emerald Buddha, we made our way around the other parts of the grounds before calling it quits. It was just too hot, we kept getting lost, we were pretty sure we'd seen most of it, and it was all starting to kind of look the same.

We caught a quick lunch after that (I had Fanta...still not really eating real food by that point...had rice porridge at the hotel breakfast that morning and that was only sort of sitting well...plus the heat had basically killed any appetite I might have otherwise had) and headed towards Wat Pho.

I'll talk about that in my next entry.

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