First off, I want to wish everyone a very happy New Year! Instead of writing a sappy post about all that I’ve learned in 2015 – and I all hope to be in 2016 – I’m going to tell you about my vacation to Thailand 🙂
Thailand has been one of the top two destinations for Chuck and I during our time in Asia (with New Zealand being the other.) Since we wanted more than a 3-4 day weekend to explore, we planned to save them for the Christmas holidays, when it’s easier for both of us to get time off of work and school. We had a truly exotic 10-day experience in Thailand, and since I have so many pictures and stories, I am dividing my experience into 3 posts… starting with Thailand’s sparkling capital, Bangkok.
So to begin with, Bangkok is not actually that sparkling. It is a rather dirty and polluted city with a great deal of heart wrenching, in-your-face poverty, not unlike Manila. But in the area in which we stayed – Ratchaprasong – we encountered lots of glitz and a smattering of glamour. I learned later that Ratchaprasong was the site of the bombing last summer, as well as a number of protests and vandalism. There was no remaining evidence of such turmoil as we made our way through the busy streets, which were full of vendors selling very cheap wares.
In fact, Bangkok was the first place I’ve visited in Asia where I actually loved the street markets. For instance, the markets in Beijing and Taipei were filled with knock-off Western items, discount electronics, and very pushy sales techniques that often asked for payments that exceeded what I was comfortable paying. If traditional or unique items were available, they were often so traditional that they wouldn’t serve much purpose except for cluttered memorabilia display, rather than actual use. In Bangkok – and throughout Thailand – the items consisted of clothes, shoes, household items, and decor that I would actually use, and everything was mostly in the $3-$15 range. Now that’s my kind of cheap shopping!!
Anyway, we spent two nights and one full day exploring Bangkok, so we focused on the Wat Phra Kew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. At this point, I am quite accustomed to the beautiful East Asian temples of Japan, Taiwan, and China – but the wats (temples) of Thailand blew me away!! I felt like I was stepping into another universe. Their splendor and intricacy had me in awe, but Chuck found them rather unsettling. The fact that a country struggling with such poverty would display excessive wealth in its places of worship undermine what Buddhism claims to be all about (not unlike the ostentatious cathedrals of Christian Europe.) He is right of course, but it didn’t stop me from soaking in their obvious beauty.
The Grand Palace, which was the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782, now only serves for official purposes. It is on the same grounds as the Wat Phra Kew, and is (almost) as spectacular as the wat itself.
By the time we finished exploring Wat Phra Kew and the Grand Palace, the heat of the day was debilitating. But, it didn’t stop us from pushing onward, hiring a hot pink tuk tuk, and crossing the Chao Phraya River to see the 17th century Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan, or Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn.) Wat Arun derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. This confused me because I understood the temple to be Buddhist, not Hindu. I’ll have to keep digging for an explanation!
Compared to Wat Phra Kew, we were less impressed with Wat Arun, but we were also rather overheated and exhausted. We went back to our hotel in Ratchaprasong to freshen up and celebrate Christmas Eve on the town, starting with drinks and appetizers at the Speakeasy rooftop bar at Hotel Muse. It was trendy and breezy up there 🙂
Afterward, we did venture to Soi Cowboy, the famed red light district in Bangkok. For some reason, it was listed as a must-see on TripAdvisor, and I had been told it is “fun” and “crazy.” Chuck warned me against it, but I had to see for myself. Honestly, it wasn’t fun or crazy. It was boring. Everything was geared towards the sale of girls for gross old white men. I knew that would be part of it, but I thought maybe there would be fun dance clubs, too. Not so much!! Throw in the fact that the drinks were among the worst I’d tasted, and the fact that girls were just waiting to be invited to our table (and probably our hotel room), we did not stay long. Instead, we rested up for our flight the next morning headed north… to Chiang Mai!
Peace out, Bangkok!