Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wat Pho and the canals of Bangkok

Wat Pho is a very famous temple in Bangkok most well-known for its grynormous Reclining Buddha. This Buddha, 15 meters high and 43 meters long, is supposed to represent the Buddha entering nirvana (i.e. passed away).

Maybe it was the zen of being in a less crowded place or the much more reasonable 100baht entrance fee, but I felt much more at ease at Wat Pho than the Grand Palace. I thought the grounds, though much less sumptuous, were more beautiful, and I found more truth in them.

All of it was still incredibly intricate and beautifully wrought, but somehow, more real. Less gaudy, perhaps. I don't know. In any case, we took our time here and strolled around.

We finally arrived at the Reclining Buddha in the middle. Despite the grounds being significantly smaller than the Grand Palace this didn't make them any less confusing or maze-like. And there was no map, helpful or not, to guide us.

The Reclining Buddha was all that they had hyped it up to be, and more. Beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Even to the beautiful mother-of-pearl inlaid toes. So much detail, always.

After this we decided to head to the canal after a very helpful Thai (randomly, on the street) suggested we go. He obviously worked in the tourist trade, and wasn't trying to sell us anything or rob us, he genuinely just wanted us to have a good time while we were in his city and thought we would enjoy a cruise of the canal. We'd come across a few people on our trip who offered us suggestions like this (hey, you should go check out x, it's really excellent and not so far away from here) and it's really lovely. There aren't so many places in the world I've been where people give you free advice, other than fellow travelers, on things like where you should go and why, while you're in town. And all of their suggestions were wonderful.

So to the canal we headed, vaguely, since we didn't know exactly where the entrance was. After stopping into a plush air-conditioned hotel and getting help from a very nice woman, we found the dock and where the boats were leaving. The guy who had suggested we make a trip down here had even told us approximately how much canal tours should be, so we wouldn't get ripped off. So while others were waiting for the jammed-packed tourist ferries, we got to hire a boat all to ourselves and get a canal tour for an hour with a personal driver as a guide.

He didn't speak much, but he did shout when there were cool things to see.

Like these weird huge fish in the water. Since he didn't speak English he couldn't tell us what they were, but my sister says she read something about "canal dolphins" or "river dolphins" that swim up the waters when the water is high. All I know is that they were brown, large (like the size of a medium-sized dog, like a labrador) and did seem to move sort of like dolphins, jumping in and out of the water as they swam.

We saw a few boats stopping and feeding them, but we didn't have anything on us.

There were also these terrifyingly huge reptiles in the waters and on people's decks. We didn't know what they were either but they were about the size of alligators and we believe they are some form of water-living komodo dragon.

Across the canal, where we didn't go, was the other famous wat of the city, Wat Arun. You could see it from the water though and it looked quite mysterious.

After the canal we took a tuk tuk back to the hotel so I could rest. A lot of heat and walking did in what little energy I had left after not being able to keep much food down the past day or two. So I took a shower and a nap and we went out to the street market again to get dinner. Another air-conditioned massage did me some good and we went to bed in peace, ready to move the next day to another part of Bangkok and our last full day in Thailand.

Hard to believe we were actually going to leave this wonderful country.

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