Today was special in so many different ways and we saw so much it was hard to capture in just the few photos we post; hard to absorb in the short time we have had; and hard to describe in one blog. My efforts will not do justice – so a mea culpa in advance.
Our welcome into Laem Chabang, the port city that services Bangkok, was a little different – a) the pilot was late (and you can do nothing without the pilot) and b) we had a police escort with a front-mounted 50mm Machine Gun!! Lovely. My advice – don’t do anything naughty here (and in the next few stops) ie chew gum – other stuff seems to be OK.
Laem Chabang is a 2 hour plus ride to the sights we were scheduled to see in Bangkok. Our tour guide kept up a running commentary on the demography, politics, agriculture and sights of Thailand for all the time there and back – fluently and in tremendous detail. She was great. Before we came here we were given dire warnings regarding the primitive nature of the toilet facilities – we were instructed that we should bring our own toilet paper – see Bonnie proudly demonstrating she has listened!
And we were instructed regarding the complex maneuvers required (particularly ladies) in the use of Asian toilets ie a hole in the ground. Our guide kindly directed us to facilities that obviated this fear at a rest stop along the highway and at our lunch stop at a hotel – but Asian porta-potties – or worse were the order of the day for those in-between moments.
Statistical summary – 65 million population (v Approx) 14 million in Bangkok. Political insight – it’s a Kingdom. All the kings seem to be called Rama with numbers ie Rama IX is the latest. His brother Rama VIII preceeded him but was assassinated. Rama VII was their Dad (Im guessing now). Thai’s love their king who is the father of the nation. Buddhism is the religion of 95% of the population providing a unity of belief and philosophy. Given the climate and the soil anything grows here – for example tapioca is a huge crop (I hate tapioca – especially the pudding); also bananas – 44 varieties (like Heintz’s); also pineapples, mangos, sugarcane and rice. Summary; lots of people; lots of crops; benevolent monarchy, happy people with a very positive spiritual religious belief system. Toilets here are called Happy Rooms. I am so Lonely Planet!!!
Our first stop was the temple (Wat) of the Golden Buddha - Sukhothai Traimit.
This Buddha image is carved in the style that was typical of the first Thai capital – Sukhothai so it is very old. It is the largest Buddha image (15 ft 9 inches tall) and weighs 5 tons. Originally the image was covered in plaster to conceal from invaders the fact that it is made of solid gold. An accident, during its relocation in 1955, resulted in the breaking of part of the plaster and the gold was revealed. It was moved to the fourth level of the temple in which it now resides only recently. The temple and the Buddha are a remarkable sight – a very spiritual place.
From this temple we drove through Bangkok – through Chinatown then the Flower District. We didn’t stop but the scene at the flower market was unbelievable – stall after stall selling flowers – especially Marigolds. They are yellow and that is a lucky color; also yellow is the royal color and the royal flag is yellow; so marigolds make a great offering. But, as you can see, the whole scene is very colorful.
Our next stop was the Grand Palace – the palace complex of the Kings of Thailand; once this was their residence (and in fact this was where Rama VIII got assassinated) but now it is reserved for state occasions. It is also home to the Royal chapel of the Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of Jade). I cannot possibly describe to you the impact this complex had in the short time we were here. Its over 700 years old and the various buildings (and there are many) and the religious statues (and there are many) are decorated in such a beautiful way – in tile, porcelain, gold leaf in so many different formats it was impossible to do it justice but here are a few examples of the beauty of the complex.