Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Temples and Palaces in Bangkok

Today I decided to try to make my way to the Royal Grand Palace. Actually, yesterday that had been my goal, too, but I got too sidetracked wandering around the city and wouldn't have made it there until just before dark. Yesterday, I ended up walking to the Jim Thompson house first. Jim Thompson was an American guy who moved to Thailand and almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry. He is a big deal in Bangkok; there is all sorts of stuff named for him. His house, actually six houses that he connected together, has been turned into a museum, and he collected all kinds of Southeast Asian art and relics. He apparently disappeared in Malaysia in the late 60s, and nobody to this day has any idea what happened to him.

Then, I just ended up wandering around the city, randomly taking a bus for a short distance, and ended up at Lumphini Park. Lumphini Park is a beautiful little green space in the middle of Bangkok with some little lakes in it. I walked all around the park, snapping pictures, then I decided to sit by one of the little lakes in the park. Within minutes, all kinds of events involving random weirdness occurred while I was perched by the lake. First, some guy showed up with a bunch of bread crumbs to feed the critters. He threw some on the ground, and a whole bunch of birds descended on the fodder. Then he threw some in the lake, and a huge number of fish suddenly appeared, jostling each other for the food. After the crowds of animals dissipated, he wandered away. Then, suddenly, this long, dragon-like creature suddenly leaped up from underwater, startling me. I was able to snap several pictures; it hung around for a bit. I was just glad that it didn't run right at me after it leaped out of the lake. It turned out it was a monitor lizard. Right after that, a bird landed right on my leg, which I don't think has ever happened to me before. I managed to take a picture of it perched on my leg (there wasn't much time; I had to react quickly), and then it tried to land on my face, flapping its wings in my face. I flinched and it flew away. Then, right after that, an older Thai guy came up to me, asking me where I was from. When I told him I was from the US, he asked me why the US liked Cuba's dictator Fulgenio Batista, but didn't like Fidel Castro. I didn't really have an answer to that, and just told him that all happened before I was born. He sat down, and we talked a bit, then he asked me if I would buy him a Coke, so I gave him a little money. He then asked me if I wanted a girl; I told him no thanks.

By this time it was way too late to make it to the Royal Palace, because it was almost dark and the palace was about to close. So I blew it off for the day, and ended up heading back to the hostel to find some food in the area. But the next day, I decided to try to get to the Palace, and I decided I would take some local transportation to get there, so I wouldn't just walk around all day and get distracted by every shiny thing that I saw. But bus transportation just hasn't worked out for me in Bangkok. I just haven't grabbed on to the system yet, and every piece of advice that Google Maps has given me about buses in Bangkok has been wrong so far. The strange thing is that Google Maps will tell me where to catch a bus, and I'll go there, and find a bus stop that lists the bus it says will be there, but then that bus will not show up. I've waited forty minutes for buses that are supposed to show up every ten minutes, while seeing other buses show up over and over again. I could work this stuff out if I had time. The worst piece of misinformation I got from Google Maps was a bus that went diagonally agross streets, with the route going through buildings and in places where there were obviously no streets. What the hell? Anyway, that is one reason I ended up walking so much yesterday, and meandering to places where I thought I could catch buses, and then waiting too long in frustration only to continue walking when the bus does not materialize.

So I got a tip from somebody at the hostel that I could walk a few blocks away to the next canal down, and I could catch a water taxi there. And that actually panned out. The water taxis are incredibly cheap, too. I only paid 9 baht for the water taxi, which is a little more than a quarter. I took the boat to near the corner where the Golden Mount Temple was, so I decided to check that out first. The Golden Mount is a temple with a lot of stairs to climb to the top, and on the way, there are a bunch of really ornate decorations, and bells, and gongs. At the top, there is a spectacular view of the city of Bangkok. I took a lot of pictures there, and some videos, but my camera overheated, and sometimes when it overheats, it won't allow me to take videos any more. So I wanted to take a video from the top to show the panoramic view among the many ornaments on the rooftop, but, alas, my camera forbid me from doing so. My phone has been giving me some trouble for some time, and the internal memory is just about completely full. I've had to delete all kinds of data, and now I'm having to delete apps as well...some that I have considered fairly essential, because it won't undertake some functions with the internal memory being full, including getting emails. It is also freezing up more, and getting less responsive to touch sometimes. I foresee phone failure at some point in the future. But getting a new phone from my US carrier is probably going to be an ordeal at best...getting them to ship a phone to Southeast Asia is probably not going to be easy, from the conversations I've had with them (and it's not easy to have those conversations either, believe me...they are set up to do everything through calls, but it's not that easy to call them from here. And the time difference means I have to communicate with them through chat in the middle of the night, while waiting an hour for a response. What I have had to mostly do is send them a chat message, notice it hasn't been answered for an hour, and then log back in the next day to get an incremental answer. This is going to take a while).

But, anyway, after the Golden Mount Temple, I walked down a big boulevard with lots of memorials to the king who recently died. The Thai people take their king seriously. I think he had been king since the 1940s. A Thai guy I met at the hostel told me he cried for three days when the king died. He also told me the new king was going to be crowned in a couple of days, but some news sources have made me doubt that. It looks like the new king, for some reason nobody seems to know, wants to wait a year before his coronation, and in the meantime, there is a regent appointed to do king stuff.

A ways down the big boulevard, there is a big expanse of land called the Royal Field. There were all kinds of festivities going on there. The Thai guy from the hostel told me that there were coronation activities going on, but I think they were still mourning the king who just died. Almost everyone was wearing black. But there was an enormous amount of free, delicious Thai food being served in tents by people mostly representing various government entities and ministries. The Thai army had a tent there where they were handing out food. Somebody had a tent that was devoted to vegetarian food. There were what seemed like acres and acres of tents just passing out free food and drink and desserts. I ate a lot of really good food there. I went into a tent where people were gathered to eat, and a guy motioned me to sit down, and he laid down a mat made of coffee labels put together into a big sitting rug-type apparition. Others had similar mats, mostly made of wrappings and labels for commercial products.

Then I finally made it to the Royal Palace. The route to get there was quite convoluted because of all the festivities, and once I got to the Palace doors, the police made us wait for about half an hour to go in. Nobody was quite clear why we had to wait, and several people asked the police why we were waiting (it was sweltering and there was no shade where we had to wait...I felt nearly like I was going to pass out). But they just got told to go back and wait. Finally, a large crowd was allowed in, so we all horded in at once. I guess another group showed up after us and had to wait, but I don't know that for sure. Anyway, the Palace was enormous, and there was so much so see on the grounds. There were huge statues and icons made of tiny little ornate baubles that must have taken an enormous amount of labor to construct, and the whole area was taken up with thes incredible decorative material. There were also gardens that were ornately constructed, with strategically placed statues among the plants. I was in there for hours just walking through the grounds. Then when I got to the exit to leave, it was the same situation as when we went in...everybody had to wait a long time. But this time, they just didn't let us leave through the exit at all, they just sent us back through the crush of the crowd to the entrance to leave. I never quite figured all of this out. But I guess somebody had some sort of plan about all this.

My next stop was Wat Pho Temple, which was a ways down the street from the Palace. Incidentally, I picked a good day to visit the Palace, because it was due to be closed for the next two days due to king-y stuff. So it was my last chance to visit it in the time I was in Bangkok. The Wat Pho Temple was another marvel of ornate craftsmanship. After a while, you just get inured to this stuff. When you spend a whole day looking at some of the most intense and meticulously crafted pieces of art, it just becauses normalized, and it is hard to see it with the same sense of wonder that you have started your day with.

After all these temples and palaces, I ended up strolling through another massive free food zone, and eating yet more incredible and delicious food that was given away to whoever wanted some. I don't think I paid for any food that day. But darkness was descending, so I tried, once again in vain, to catch a bus back to the hostel. I tried two different locations where buses were supposed to come, but no dice. So I just started walking back. But I was walking in the dark, sometimes with very little light at all, through unfamiliar neighborhoods that sometimes looked kind of sketchy, slipping on dubious liquids in the street that I could not see a couple times, and having a difficult time navigating through paths that sometimes dead-ended and I had to turn around and find a different route. So as soon as a tuk-tuk caught my attention, I went for it. I had wanted to take a tuk-tuk at some point anyway, so this was a good opportunity. A tuk-tuk is sort of a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi. And this driver was hauling ass on the street whenever he got out of a place where there was a traffic jam. He ended up dropping me off right near the hostel, so it all worked out.

1 comment:

  1. Update: It looks like the Thai guy at the hostel was right...the new king was named. News sources were not clear about that at the time I wrote this.