Friday, 22 March 2013

... Indochina: Buddha's Feast

I awoke briefly during my flight for PVG to BKK to discover a tray in front of me. What the contents truly were I cannot say and that is after partially nibbling at some of it. It was like someone had visited the T&T Supermarket and grabbed some items. Various rice crackers, some weird pickled vegetable, the bean filled rice sweets. Not really my cup of tea but then again I was so unbelievably exhausted that eating food wasn't high on my list of priorities. I wanted to sleep and thanks to my window seat I did just that.

Arrival at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport was kind of like arriving at the Vegas of Asia. It was neon lights galore. All you needed were some showgirls and some slot machines and you'd have been set. I was convinced you could see the bright blue neon sign that greeted me from the runway in outer space!


Despite the time (1am) the airport was really busy. Thankfully though immigration wasn't and I got my first stamp in my new passport relatively quickly. Had I not been arriving after midnight there is a new, convenient rail link to the city. Because I was meant I had to look at alternative means to get into Bangkok city centre. Beware of the people waiting for you at the exit door.The people in the arrivals lobby are waiting to rip you off. If you're going to take a cab hire from the airport taxi stand, do not try to get your own. The taxi stand will give you a slip of paper and the driver has to use a meter. You use that paper to report him if he doesn't.

My driver was soon traveling at warp speed towards the city centre and my guest house which I will be staying at for (kind of) two nights in the Banglamphu neighbourhood. Sam Sen Sam came highly recommended by both the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. Of course arriving at 2am in the dark didn't really give much of an impression. However, the fact someone had waited up for my arrival soon did. Of course once I got to bed I couldn't sleep and it was 5am before I did.


I was up and showered by 730am. A light yet tasty breakfast included as part of my stay fueled me as I sat in the morning sun listening to some very songful birds whilst reading my Lonely Planet guide book. Then it was time to get going after a point in the right direction.

A 10 minute walk led me to the well preserved Phra Sumen Fort located on the Chao Phya river adjacent to Santichaiprakarn park at the mouth of the Klong Padung Krungkasem canal. It was worth stopping to take a look at on my way to the N13 (Tha Phra Athit) ferry wharf even if a wily TukTuk driver tried to pull the common scam of telling you something is closed & that (for a small fee of course) they can take you to this site & that site. I caught the orange-flagged Chao Phraya River Express (15 baht for a single trip) to N9 (Tha Chang). In the increasing temperature and humidity this quick ride was priceless.


My destination was The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The palace is the former Royal residence and is only used nowadays for certain ceremonial shindigs. I was able to see the 10am parade for changing of the guard. If the sight of all the gold leaf gilded stupas and mosaic-encrusted pillars doesn't impress you then the temple houses the most revered Buddha in the country.


You are not allowed to take photos within Wat Phra Kaew, however if you take an excellent telephoto lens like I did then you get some pretty stellar shots from the outside looking in. The Emerald Buddha, actually made of jade, is set back in the temple and then there's an area where you can kneel and pray.


When you sit in front of a Buddha image you are expected to tuck your feet behind you to avoid the offense of pointing your feet towards such a revered figure. Interestingly there are signs and announcements telling you that the grounds are open and "do not trust wily strangers". It is one of the more expensive sites to get into (500B) but this temple is simply amazing. I ended up taking the free English speaking hour long tour at 1030 with a guide who gave you the history and interpreted the religious meaning behind all of the bedazzling art and buildings. So really the entrance fee was worth that alone and not expensive in the grand scheme of things. It always makes me laugh to overhear people complain about how expensive something is when its a fraction of the cost of what it would be back home. Go late afternoon or early to avoid bus loads of tourists. I timed it just right and left just as it started to get congested.

If you plan to visit Thai temples expect to dress conservatively. The guards are pretty strict and they will refuse you entry if they deem your attire to not be appropriate. However here you can get loaner clothes from near the entrance.

By now the heat was insane but I was determined to find my next port of call. I could not come to Thailand and not receive a Thai massage. Wat Pho Traditional Thai Medical and Massage school is not the easiest to find and I actually ended up walking past it once. It is basically across from Wat Pho, the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, down the unmarked Soi Phen Phat. This is said to be the nation's premier massage school offering either air-con massage here or at the pavilions inside the temple. It cost me 420B for 1 hour of bliss. The massage was amazing. I was also sneaking peeks at some of the techniques and pleased to see that I actually incorporate some or variations in my own treatments. Although admittedly I don't use my feet and legs. This is deep tissue work and joint play at its best. Don't come for one of these if you're looking for gentle Swedish massage. You ain't gonna get it. There was a fantastic moment of understanding when she began treating my shoulders and she attempted to tackle my levator scapula - we both started giggling. But she really got in there and the release was amazing. I will be returning before I leave Bangkok on Sunday evening that's for certain.

After this I realized that I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I'd drank my weight in water/coconut water mind you. I wasn't particularly hungry thanks to the heat but knew I should get some food. I've heard a lot of people warn against eating street food but the way I saw it was as long as you used common sense in what you ate it should... nay would be fine. We will see how I am tomorrow. I opted for a spicy seafood stir fry with rice. And it was absolutely lush. So far so good GI tract-wise!


I decided to head back to the ferry wharf and make my way back to the guest house - I was feeling pretty beat after my adventures. The ferry was the ideal way to beat fatigue and the sun. At one point I was riding the ferry with at least 15 monks. Just a typical day in Bangkok right?

After a protein bar for dinner, I am now I'm tucked up in bed watching MTV Asia on the TV. I feel like I'm in Lost in Translation. How wonderful!

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