*This post was originally published on June 6th, 2012 on amywarcup.com
Twenty-six hours in flight, three planes, two different airlines, a few brief panicked moments of getting separated and fumbling for boarding passes, and we have arrived in Bangkok.
Most will agree that getting there is the most aggravating and cumbersome part of overseas travel in general. I felt fortunate to have received about six solid hours of sleep on the plane. Anyone who knows me well can attest that I do not often fall into slumber with ease. As for the others, well, our rookie flyer Katelyn slept for over nine hours. I believe our adventurous Katelyn is a natural traveler! Still, others in the group agreed that sleeping only half horizontal with another passenger’s reclined seat nearly touching one’s chest while small children scream up and down the aisles is not an ideal environment for blissful sleep for most.
After deplaning, going through immigration, customs, baggage claim, and getting our money exchanged, we were quite excited to see our guide ready to pick us up in the airport. In his hand he held a sign for professors “Warcup and Szczupakowski.” Well, Adam received the most rapid academic promotion I’ve ever witnessed, I must say!
When I was in Bangkok last fall I stayed at the Rose Hotel in Silom. This time, we stayed in the Glow Trinity Silom Hotel. Having never been to this hotel before, I was just slightly uneasy about what we would find. I’ve learned all too well that the glamorous photos that are often put on hotel websites do not depict reality. The Glow, however, exceeded our expectations. It is a modern and very new building with large, spacious, almost futuristically cosmic rooms with purple sleeper-sofas and modern, decorative lights on the walls and ceilings. The air-conditioning also worked very well (almost too well). This was important, being that it was already 95 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at 10:00am.
Our first day was designated for settling in, sleeping, getting massages, and shopping at the lively and uniquely Bangkok-style Pat pong market. One will truly get a quick taste of Bangkok by visiting this market, with its aggressive bargainers, miles of open stalls selling everything from knock-off Prada purses to hand-made tribal village garments, and rows of girly bars and tourist venues.
Day two, however, was anything but a day of relaxation, but it was exciting. Upon being picked up at our hotel at 8:30am, we spent a day of touring the Chao Praya River, Wat Arun, the Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, and visiting a local fruit market. We all agreed that we were in desperate need of foot massages by the end of the day. However, visiting Thailand would most certainly not feel complete without visiting these sacred and historical sites in the country’s capital.
The day began with a river cruise down the Chao Phraya River to view the life of the river people. Small little bamboo structures erected on high stilts lined both sides of the river. Many of these homes lack electricity and hot water. Some areas were quite polluted as well. Most of the Thai people we passed, however, greeted us with a smile and a wave, perhaps laying back to relax in the sunshine. There is a marked contrast to the Thai river way of life and the typical western lifestyle. There is a certain charm and appeal I find that lies in the simplicity of this life style, even if it lacks the amenities I am accustomed to having available to me.
There were areas along the river where several fish dwelled. Our guide, Utai, asked our driver to stop our little boat to feed the fish. Chelsey even held one in her hand for a moment.
Later, we stopped at the grand and picturesque Wat Arun, otherwise known as the Temple of the Dawn (Wat = temple; Arun = morning). This temple was built between 1809-1851, and is intended to represent Mount Meru, which the Thai people historically have considered to be the center of the universe. The temple has several Buddhist stupas, also called chedis, which represent the “eight directions of the world.” Our group was able to see a broad view of the river and the Grand Palace by climbing the very narrow and steep stairway of the temple, called the central prang. Although the climb up seemed a bit intimidating, it was the decent of the stairs that made my heart beat more rapidly. Could it be possible that there were more steps to leave this majestic temple? Kate and Emily walked down backward so as to not look down. The rest of us decided to descend facing out, however. Chelsey, Katelyn, Bree, and Adam fearlessly strolled down the stairs as if it was a daily occurrence for them. It was me, I admittedly share, who descended last, hanging on with both hands as my knuckles (and face) temporarily turned porcelain white.
Our next stop was to Bangkok’s oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, the Wat Pho. It is here that Thailand’s first public university was founded, and it is also where the original school for traditional Thai massage and Thai medicine was built. The temple was built in the 16th century, and within its walls are contained numerous inscriptions, paintings, and sculptures depicting various historical Thai events, as well as Thai cosmology and literature. The most famous structure in the temple is the 150-foot long gold plated Reclining Buddha, with mother-of pearl motifs on the statue’s feet. Lining the side wall of the temple are 108 bowls, which represent good fortune when one drops coins into each, perhaps reciting a prayer or good wishes while making the offering. Kate, Emily, and I partook in this ritual.
While at the Wat Pho we also gave offerings of lotus flowers, incense, and little gold pieces of paper, called “gold leaf,” which we placed on to the Buddha statue as a representation of good will and fortune. Utai thought this was one of many great opportunities for a group photo. Here is our group after making our offering (and a close-up of Adam).
After leaving the Wat Pho it was nearing about 2:00pm, and most of us concurred that we were quite hungry at this point. However, when partaking in a group tour that has been packaged by tourist companies (this has been my experience in Asia, anyhow), one must be flexible and go with the flow of what the guides and tourist organizations have planned. For example, Utai took us to a local fruit market instead of lunch at that point. We were able to eat something, at least, and many of us agreed that the exotic Thai fruits are incredibly tasty and sweet. Some varieties we sampled included lychee (my favorite), rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit, and the famously stinky Durian, which actually tasted much better than I anticipated.
After our lunch, which consisted of mainly deep-fried varieties of Thai food samplings, we were transported to the famous Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. We arrived just fifteen minutes before the ticket office closed, and we were the final group to enter the Wat Phra Kaew that day. I was struck by how there were considerably fewer tourists at the temple compared to my mid-October visit of last year. Visitors must be very aware of dress attire upon entering the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaew. Shoulders, upper arms, and knees must all be covered. Although we all adhered to this dress code, a couple of those in our party were stopped and asked to pull their pants down further so they came closer to the ankles. Personally, I thought pulling the pants down so low would expose much more than bare ankles, but everyone was agreeable and followed what the guards at the gate asked of us.
The most famous structure in the Wat Phra Kaew is the Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade. This statue is considered to me a most holy and exalted figure to the Thai people. Three times a year, the statue is adorned in different variations of pure gold clothing, representing the three seasons of Thailand: hot, rainy, and cool (cool being relative to Thailand’s climate, of course). As the staff at the temple began to close down for the day, the female members of our party were given beautiful flower wreaths of jasmine. They smelled quite lovely.
Well, all seven of us agreed that we needed massages after our long day of Bangkok sightseeing adventures. I believe everyone in the group did get massages that night, too.
The following day, we ventured to the monstrous MBK Center, known as Mahboonkrang to the Thai people. This super-mall is eight stories high and contains over 2,500 stores. Since many in our group needed to purchase cheap Thai cell phones to call home (far less expensive than using international minutes on an I-phone , which can be about $50 per minutes), I thought this would most certainly be a place where there would be options to purchase them. Perhaps saying options is largely understating, in fact. There was an entire floor that sold cameras and cell phones alone. Booth after booth of Bangkok sales people had their display of phones spread across counters, ready to bargain, or in some cases, oversell knock-offs to the young farang (foreigners). After some bargaining, everyone did purchase phones, although numerous problems followed, such as poor batteries, dysfunctional chargers, and some phones that did not stay on for more than three minutes. Eventually, most of these issues were resolved.
The group split off at some point – there were just too many directions to take. Bree and I thought it would be fun to try on some funky eight-inch Bangkok heels (Bangkok women love their heels). I thought these glittery blue pumps were too zany to resist. I even walked about five steps in these snazzy pumps.
Bree, on the other hand, preferred these beautiful hot pink, feathered pumps.
The mannequins, however, were the most beautiful fixtures in the mall, however…yes?
That evening, we were picked up at our hotel to be driven to the famous Siam Niramit, a show of spectacular scenery and costumes, portraying Thailand’s rich history and culture. Here is the group on the way to the show.
Three nights in Bangkok will certainly give one a taste for this unique metropolis, known as “the city of angels” by the Thai people. Hmmm….angels? In Bangkok? Well, perhaps we need to spend a little more time in this crazy city of twelve million to see those. – And we shall return for two days at the end of our trip. I’ll be sure to alert the group to keep their eyes open for winds and halos next time. But for now, we are off to spend seventeen days in Thailand’s second oldest city up north in Chiang Mai.