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February 25, 2007

Sightseeing in Bangkok

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I had an easy bus trip to Bangkok a nice change from the previous trips.  I knew where my hostel was when I arrived, but wasn’t exactly sure where I was arriving too or how to get there.  I knew that if I could get to a skytrain (subway) stop it would be no problem.  I asked the information desk at the bus station and found out what local bus to get on.  I had my eyes peeled and my map out, but wasn’t seeing the skytrain anywhere.  Regardless we were pretty much going in the direction I wanted so I stuck with it and eventually it appeared.  I had to walk on an elevated walkway for a couple hundred yards all the way around a huge roundabout, but got to the station and was at my hostel in no time.

The hostel is really cool (Suk11.com).  They have done a great job of decorating and lighting to give it a homey feel.  The corridor to the rooms has an almost Disney like feel with wood planks with that move as you walk on them and have little steps up and down along the way.  They might be a bit dangerous after coming home from a night at the bar though.  In a completely sober incident I kicked the doorframe two days ago and my left pinky toe is very swollen and bruised.  I’m guessing its broke, but it isn’t bothering me while walking and I don’t think a doctor would be able to do anything about it.

My first full day here I went to two major tourist sites, the Jim Thompson House, and the Grand Palace.  Jim Thompson was an American who revived the Thai silk industry after coming here after WWII while working for the CIA.  He fell in love with the Thailand and the people and collected many artifacts which were on display in addition to the beautiful teak home that he had built.  The tour (and the ones I’ve taken since then) vary from what I’m used to in that they don’t really tell you about the building, how it represents the local ways, or what period its from.  You do find out exactly what type of wood is in each room, what country all of the display cases were made from, and what dignitary each piece was given too.  I tend to spend most of my time looking around and loose interest in the commentary fairly quickly.  Most of the tours have also banned photographs inside the building so you will be spared those.

After that I hopped on a local bus ($0.25US) and got halfway to where I wanted to go, but ended up in Chinatown so I cruised down the stalls for a little while, but wanted to get to Grand Palace.  I continued there and was appropriately dressed (long pants, no bear shoulders) so I didn’t have to borrow any clothing items to go in.  These were the most impressive buildings I’ve seen here.  They were so bright in the afternoon sun I was squinting with my sunglasses on.  Everything is covered in gold leaf, small pieces of glass, or broken porcelain pieces.  And it is everywhere you can see.  There is no way you can get it all in one picture unless you are way up in the air.

The highlight there is seeing the Emerald Buddha who is only about 4 feet tall and is perched about 30 feet up on a shrine with so many gold statues, vases, and jewels in front of him it is completely overwhelming.  The emerald buddha was “discovered” in the 1300s when a piece of plaster fell of a buddha statue and it was found to be bright green beneath.  The monks continued removing the plaster and found the entire image was like this.  It turns out he is made from jade and not emerald, but the name has stuck.

Yesterday I hit another big tourist spot, Dusit park, and toured the largest golden teak building in the world which housed the royal family for about 100 years.  It has two 66 yard long sections, two stories tall, and is built without using a single nail, just wooden pegs.  Again I was told exactly who gave every piece to the royal family, but don’t remember any of it.  The highlight of the day was taking the ferry down to a skytrain stop and getting to see the city from the river.  You can’t see far into the city, but get to see a good blend of skyscrapers, traditional waterfront building, and the tops of temples nearby.  The river is just as busy with boats as the roads are, but without the stoplights and traffic jams.

There are 10 million people living in Bangkok out of 60 million in Thailand so you can imagine how busy it is.  If they didn’t have so motorbikes I don’t know how they would survive.  The motorbikes weave in between cars, ignore lines on the road separating traffic, and choose which stoplights to pay attention to.  However they move through the city much quicker and if it were just cars, they would be backed up so far you would never move.  For all of the madness when driving I’ve only seen one accident (in Malaysia) and one very close call.  There are taxis and tuk-tuks (motorbikes, with a carriage behind them making a tricycle)  offering there services every ten feet you walk.  So far I haven’t needed either and am tired of them asking.  Same for body massages and naked girl fliers.  It reminds me of Las Vegas 20 years ago, but I don’t think it is something they are trying to get rid of anytime soon.

I was supposed to go the airport last night and meet Michelle for her two week stay, but her flight was late leaving Dallas and she just missed her connection in Tokyo.  She stayed there last night and is currently in the air to arrive here this afternoon.  I’m glad its a two week trip she is on instead of just one with the lost day.  I was doing my last email check before going to the airport when I found out she didn’t make the connection.  It would have been a long wait if I didn’t get that email.  We’ll stay here until Monday and then head for an island near Cambodia, Ko Chang, for a week of relaxing on the beach.  We are both looking forward to that very much and I’m sure she will be ready to finish her travels for a little bit.  Thanks for checking in and I’ll get back to you from the island.

Brian

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