Monday, October 22, 2007

thailand redeemed. raman amazed.

today was, by far, my favorite day in Thailand, and unfortunately, my last. that being said, i do plan to return sometime very soon.

given i was on holiday, of course i chose to sleep in once again (big surprise). we quickly packed everything away in the the backpack, since i would be leaving on a jet-plane later that evening (a day earlier than kat. after all, SOME of us have to work.

we hopped on the skytrain, switching lines at Siam Station, and rode out of the city, where the towering city structures became less frequent, giving way to more parks and residential areas. we eventually reached the end of the line, at the main river, where we bought a day pass for the river bus-boat for 100baut (not sure if this paid out, VS having paid as we were going). for what little of a day we had, we had a pretty solid itinerary, to spend the afternoon seeing just a few of the MANY temples along the river, then for me to rush off to the airport.

we rode several stops downriver, passing a wide array of river boats - of the bus, individual ferry, and tourist variety. like the river Kwai from the day before, the water was brown and muddy, definitely not something worth jumping into.

our first stop was Wat Pho ("Wat" meaning "temple" in Thai). upon entering the gate, we were greeted by imposing stone guards towering over us. we paid for our tickets, and immediately entered the temple of the Reclining Bhudda. covered in gold, the Buddha rested on his arm, a few stories high. we walked past the columns, peering around them for a different angle of his body, which lain in a temple constructed around him, ran an immense length. you have to wonder what the original artists were thinking. i bet it went something like this, "y'know, Buddha's always sitting upright in the ol' lotus stance looking so serious, why not we try something a little more...relaxed? perhaps something a little more ...inviting. a little something that says 'hey, come on, join me, Buddha, on the middle path. it's just this easy.' "

the nice thing about Buddhism is that there's no hell for me to go to. my life is now just subject to a really sucky set of kharma. so long as it's more of the comedic, rather than tragic variety. ha.

outside of the temple, we walked the grounds of Wat Pho, which were even more impressive than what we had just seen. everywhere around us were intricate, towering spires covered in colored tiles. the photos taken, as with most of my photos from the day, can hardly do the experience justice. there were smaller, similar spires, as if the temples constructors had just gotten tired, but wanted to keep going. Wat Pho had me humbled and amazed.

outside, we quickly stopped for quick lunch, at a small restaurants on the street i had seen earlier. a fresh stir-fry of chicken, chiles, basil, and rice for me, and some form of egg noodles for kat - by far the best meal during my stay in Thailand. since our next destination was only a few blocks away, rather than get back on the boat, we decided to walk it.

along the way, we deflected several offers for taxis and personal tours of the area. there were also merchants sitting on their small rugs on the ground, selling their small wares. i wondered how these citizens eeked out their existence from such meager commerce, as what they were selling was hardly appealing or interesting to the passers by. the monks, in their orange robes, peppered the streets, simply waiting patiently for a bus to come by.

the one thing i'm not sure has come across in any of my recount/commentary of Thailand, is the aching similarities to India. i find Bangkok to be a bit more modern and cleaner than India, but this is not saying much. the India i came to recently know is a colorful and chaotic place, not much unlike my experiences in urban Bangkok, as well as the more rural surrounding areas. but though the Thai share the overall rushing quality of all of south Asia, they seem to do it in a much more...considerate, east-Asian manner. though you wouldn't be able to tell this by all of the street merchants and hawkers clambering for your attention and money, which is yet another similar trait to the streets of India. so the reminders were subtle ones, but all to familiar. and just like India, i didn't speak the language.

back to our day's adventure though. our next stop was the Sanam Chandra Palace. upon entry to the palace, where Kat, and many other visiting tourists were forced to detour into a small office to rent "more appropriate" clothing to view the temple. Kat rented a skirt to cover her ankles. it was just to either drop off your identification, or leave 100 baht deposit (~$3). it was a pretty red little number, and given the minimal investment (and difficulty to return later in the day), she wound up deciding to keep the skirt :). i only hope she's not now a fugitive of the Royal Thai police.

further in, we entered gates into the old palace grounds (only dating back to the 1700s), where we were flanked by by more elaborate, colorful, yet menacing figures for guards. the palace grounds had several temples and spires covered in gold, from which you could immediately feel the heat radiating. it took some time to cover all of the ground, but every detail was so refined and ...shiny. if it was only the towering spires and intricate colors of Wat Pho that had just earlier impressed us, here it was the sheer opulent and elaborate design of the inner grounds that had me amazed. there was even a replica layout of the temples of Angkor Wat, which gave me a preview of things to come (i plan to visit Cambodia to see this in November).

after taking far too many photos and staring at far too much gold, we walked over the adjacent Temple of the Emerald Buddha. we removed our shoes and lined up to enter, taking a brief seat to see the much smaller Buddha literally raised up on a pedestal of ornate gold. no pictures were allowed, but as with everything from this day, pictures would not have done the experience justice anyways. instead, settle for a picture of a cute kid petting a lion.

we exited the inner grounds, out to the outer palace. everything here was majestic and impressive, yet it paled in comparison to the earlier temples and spires we had just seen. we covered quite a bit of ground, but were baking in the heat, especially Kat in her constricting silken skirt. we took several pictures, and found respite inside a small restaurant for tourists, where the Gatorade was only 20 baht (< $1 USD).

back out in the heat, we walked to the nearest boat station, riding back up the river to Wat Pho, where we caught a separate bus-boat to the opposing river banks for Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. by now it was nearing 3pm, and time was running short. we accidentally wandered into a smaller nearby temple, which was under construction for another brief respite, as the heat was bearing hard upon us. the young monks smiled and continued on with their repairs.

back outside, we found our way to the main entrance of the Wat Arun, which was made of one main spire pushing into the sky, with multiple ones surrounding it. other than aesthetics and purpose (not like they really matter anyways), the key difference with this temple was that we were allowed to climb to the top ...if we so dared. again, every piece of the temple structure was intricately carved and placed. the stone colors were simpler and more subdued, focusing only on reaching the heavens. the steps were thin and steep. and while going up was a task, coming down later would be sheer intimidation. while we only walked up 2 levels, we found ourselves high above the surrounding region, with an easy view of the bustling river, and even some of the other lesser, nearby Wats.

now pressed for time, we quickly ferried back to the other side of the river, and waited impatiently for our bus-boat back into the city. it eventually came, and we jumped on the skytrains back into the city. we briefly stopped at the tailor from a few days before, picked up my newly custom-made shirts, bid farewell to the Sidharji tailors, and rushed back to the hotel. i grabbed a quick shower to rinse off the caked sweat and dirt from the day's explorations, grabbed our pack, said a brief goodbye to Kathryn (since i'd be seeing her the following evening back in Singapore), and jumped in a cab bound for the airport.

as with any international departure in Asia, the process was painfully slow, followed by a lot of waiting. the Bangkok airport was extremely modern (only 2 years old, it rivals Singapore Changi airport). i now sit, typing in the dark on my flight homeward bound, with a full work-week just several hours away.

for even MORE pictures from the trip (3 albums), click one of the pics below, featuring me mocking the majesty that is Thailand:

part 1
part 2
part 3

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