Bangkok hits us like a brick wall.
The sliding doors of the well air-conditioned Suvarnabhumi Airport open up into the early Bangkok morning. Hot and humid air smacks us in the face as if we've physically walked into a solid brick wall. In the harsh, bright Thai sunlight, I squint down at my phone to check the time: 8AM. Holy geez...
There's such a huge difference between overland trekking and travel by air. When you're hugging the ground on your slow journey, the geography and landscape, the daily cycles of the sun, and even the taste and feel of the air changes very subtly over a stretch of time. Hopping on and off an airplane is like teleportation. The effects are a bit jarring after crawling across the globe for so long.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Thailand
Iva, Neda and I flag down a taxi and once again, we're out of the furnace blast and back into another smaller air-conditioned bubble. All three of us stare out the taxi windows at our new environs, a mixture of weary jetlag and curious excitement. Our driver doesn't speak very much English and he glances at the map and directions that Iva had printed out with disinterest. He asks us the name of our hotel.
"We're going to Thara House", Iva replies.
"Okay. Talahow", he nods confidently.
All three of us look at each other with uncertainty. We want to make sure nothing is lost in the translation. "So... Thara House, right?" I ask. Our driver glanced at me in the rear view mirror, "Yes, Talahow". In turn, I look back at Iva and Neda and shrugged. Okay. I'm sure that's just the Thai way of pronouncing it.
We spent close to an hour on the congested multi-lane highway, trickling forward like warm molasses flowing all the way from the airport to downtown Bangkok. This was the middle of rush hour and it seemed like half of Thailand was heading into the city for work. I was most interested in the tiny motorcycles dodging and weaving effortlessly through the pylons of slow-moving cars and trucks. I miss our bikes already! Also, I was trying to get used to everyone driving on the left.
Ah! Something familiar! Tuk tuks from Latin America!
Our taxi finally entered the crowded and bustling downtown, and the driver circled around the area trying to find our hotel. After a couple of laps around Khao San Road, he had to stop to ask for directions. He rolled down his window in front of a large hotel and had a brief conversation with the security guard. All I heard was "thai thai thai Talahow thai thai thai". I pursed my lips and thought to myself, "But... That's. Not. The name..."
The security guard nodded affirmatively, repeated "Talahow" a couple of times and pointed out some directions in rapid-fire Thai.
At that point, I was very fairly certain we were not going to Thara House, but instead another completely different place. I wondered if the rooms in Talahow were nice. Was it even a hotel?
Not two minutes later, the taxi stopped underneath a small sign that read... Thara House. Hah! It was at that moment I learned two things about getting around in Thailand:
1) Don't print off map directions in English. Our taxi driver didn't read English, and why should he? We were in Thailand. We should have printed off directions in Thai.
2) I have to get used to the local way of pronouncing things. Just like in Quebec, when you're watching a hockey game, everyone calls it Centre Hice - the initials of which are even on the logo for the Montreal Canadiens... Deux minutes pour Hice Ticking? Ça me dérange pas pantoute!
There are monks in orange robes everywhere! We have to find out more about them.
Buddhist religion on display everywhere: Incense sticks burning in front of a shrine
It's so hot and muggy here in Bangkok! What a complete difference from the cold European climate that we've spent a year and a half living in. In the hotel room, Neda proclaims, "I miss the heat so much! We're not going to use the air-conditioning at all the whole time we're here!"
Sweat is dripping off the end of my nose. I swear I can see the hot, soupy air shimmering as it flows into the room through our open window. I would like to say that Neda's skin was glistening with perspiration, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate. She's sitting in an ever-growing pool of her own sweat and her eyeballs look like they're melting.
20 long minutes later, she's scrambling to find the remote for the air conditioner.
Because of her limited vacation time, Iva is on a mission to see and do as much as she can while she's here. I realize how lucky we are not to have to rush through everything. Although our primary reason to come to Thailand is to relax and recuperate from our travels, we decide to join her whirlwind Bangkok sightseeing hurricane tour shortly after checking into the hotel.
There'll be lots of time to do nothing later.
From our hotel, the three of us walk down the main street taking in all the new sights. Unlike the time we went riding in India, there is very little culture shock for us here. Everything is clean, nobody stares at us and there are so many gringos around. Actually, they're not called gringos here. The Thai word for foreigners is "farang". I think that's such a funny word. Farang. Like the Ferengi in Star Trek. I'm positive that's where the Deep Space Nine writers got the name from.
A new pair of pants for me and a snazzy skirt for Neda!
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Bangkok is the Grand Palace and inside of it, the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Like most sacred places in Thailand, there's a strict dress code here for decency and to show respect. This means taking off your shoes before entering the temple, and not exposing the skin on your legs and shoulders when you're walking about the grounds of the Palace. Gotta cover up those Thais! You can borrow pants and skirts at the entrance to ensure that you're modestly clothed.
The grounds of Wat Phra Kaew are breathtaking beautiful!
There are lots of interesting temples and buildings all over Bangkok, but the ones in Wat Phra Kaew have cranked up the bling a few notches higher. I wonder what the Thai word for "bling" is? I just Googled it. It's "เพชร". Okay. That added nothing to this blog entry. Anyway, bling... Glistening gold paint is used liberally across all surfaces and everything seems to be that much more intricate and well-cared for.
Words can't describe how ornate and magnificent the temples and statues are, so here are a bunch of pictures:
Green-faced, bulging-eyed, terrifyingly fanged giant guardians of the gate are called Yaksha
This is my favorite building in the Grand Palace complex: Phra Si Ratana Chedi.
The colour is so vibrant!
The face of the Chedi is covered in gold-mirrored tiles, which makes it more brilliant than the other buildings in the complex
Or it could be Iva (one half of the Pula Girls) and her amazing sunshine-making abilities...
Closeup of the tiles
Happy Neda Time!
Golden Yakshas protecting Phra Mondop (The Library)
More Yakshas holding up the building
Buddha in front of the glistening Library. You have to wear sunglasses
to stare at these shiny buildings!
These birdlike gold statues are called Kinnara, mystical creatures in Thai mythology
There is a plaque beside the Kinnara explaining the character. The text is taken from the Mahabharata, an epic Sanskrit poem from ancient India:
We are everlasting lover and beloved. We never separate. We are eternally husband and wife; never do we become mother and father. No offspring is seen in our lap. We are lover and beloved ever-embracing. In between us we do not permit any third creature demanding affection. Our life is a life of perpetual pleasure.
Neda read the quote out aloud to me and we both smiled at each other...
Although the top half of the Kinnara is human, the lower part is bird, enabling them to fly between the human world and the mystical realm
If we were Kinnara, our bottom half would be two wheels and a motor
Like the guards at Buckingham Palace, these Thai guards are not allowed to move, smile or acknowledge the tourists that stand beside them for pictures
Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall
After spending a couple of hours at the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, we grabbed some food at the market near the docks
Some authentic Pad Thai from Bangkok. Unfortunately, just because
it was authentic does not mean it was very good... :(
Neda's Tom Yung Soup was tasty though
The food here is so cheap. Meals are typically less than $2USD. We both love Asian food, so we're going to go bananas in Thailand! Literally. The fruit is quite tasty here!
We found out that the cheapest way to travel around Bangkok is by river boat.
But we didn't know that at the time, so we hopped on a much more expensive tuk tuk after lunch
One thing we've got to get used to is bargaining for everything. We're so bad at it. Everytime we meet someone else and ask them what they paid for tuk tuks, or whatever you can haggle for, we always find that we overpay by double!
Our next destination was Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho? Just Cause! (Sorry, so lame...)
Cloud peeking past the ornately carved sloped roof of the temple. Thankfully it's dry season in Thailand
The main attraction in Wat Pho is the 46-metre long, gold-plated Buddha lying on his side
The Reclining Buddha is an example of Parinirvana, the final passing of Buddha as he passes from death into the afterlife of Nirvana. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the Foo Fighters at all.
Buddha says, "Come as you are"
108 pretty bronze donation bowls line the inside of the temple in Wat Pho
108 is a special number in Buddhism. The 108 bronze bowls represent the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha as he takes the form of birds, tigers and flowers.
Is it my imagination or are the clouds getting thicker and darker?
The buildings in Wat Pho, although not as bright and shiny as the temples in the Grand Palace grounds, are so intricately detailed. It's getting a bit late in the day and the low sun is casting a beautiful glow over everything here.
As we walk around Wat Pho, parts of the sky turn black above us
Cat seems unfazed by the large drops of rain starting to fall from the heavens
Okay seriously? WDP?!?! (Wat Da Phu...)
It shouldn't be surprising. If we can bring rain to the Sahara Desert, surely rain in the dry season in Thailand isn't that much of a stretch.
We seek shelter inside the cloister with a buncha Buddhas
Wat Pho houses the most Buddhas in one place. There are over 1,000 representations of Buddha here. In another section of the large complex, there is an actual working monastery where monks live and go to school. So far, I find Buddhist monks the most fascinating aspect of Thailand. We had to go investigate that!
Buddhist monks congregating at the monastery in Wat Pho
We were allowed to sit with them as they chanted. Everyone was mesmerized by the monotonic sounds, almost hypnotic in their rhythm and lilt
Iva was sitting outside waiting for us as we came out of the temple. She said it only rained for 5 minutes
Hm... I'm starting to doubt the rain-warding power of the Pula Girls. Maybe you need two of them for their sunshine-magnetism abilities. Well, hopefully that will be it for the rest of our time in Bangkok and Thailand. Bring it on, dry season!
Beautiful sunset through the haze of the big city
Wow, I took a lot of pictures today. After spending so long in Europe, things kinda started looking the same. But now that we're on a new continent and in a new culture where everything looks so different, I went a bit crazy with the camera... :)
We're tired and jetlagged and need to get our Ferengi asses to bed. But we're totally looking forward to seeing more of Thailand!!!