wat-pho-temple

10

It Started With a Bangkok!

My first stop in South East Asia is Bangkok! I am only here for 2 days because my dad has joined me and my mom did all of the planning. The schedule is packed. I’ll probably be back in a few months though,  since Bangkok is such a hub and also contains “backpacker’s paradise” Khaosan Road (literally a backpacking Las Vegas-type Convention Place that’s been around since before my mom traveled here in the ‘80s) which I haven’t properly explored because I am in “family vacation” mode.

Of course Bangkok is a standard first stop for South East Asian travel. Oh man, it is worlds different from the places I have been in Africa of late. I am so overwhelmed by the intricate details in gold and gems and… beetle wings on every temple or building of importance. 

After juggling jet lag and a quick culture shock, my dad and I started our first full day hoping to see some temples and the Grand Palace. We found a tuk tuk driver and told him which temple we wanted to start with. I showed him on a map and he said he knew where we meant.

15 minutes later, we arrived at what looked like a palace… next to a zoo. And it was a zoo. Buses on Buses on Buses of Chinese tourists were unloading at this location that…wasn’t the temple we pointed to on the map and definitely wasn’t the “Grand Palace.” Turns out it was  The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. I have no idea why the driver took us here, but I am glad he did. 

Once my dad and I maneuvered through the sea of tourists and realized we did not have to wait in line with them, we entered the palace. Inside there were displays of golden thrones, silk embroidered tapestries 10 feet tall, fantastic acrylic paintings, and the most detailed wood carvings telling stories of Thailand’s history and royalty. Every piece was absolutely magnificent. We couldn’t take photos but the silk tapestries are some of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen (it all kicks anything in the Louvre’s ass, sorry Paris). Most took many sempstresses and years to complete, but they were shimmery and mind-blowing. If I ever become wealthy, I will buy one of these tapestries. Even if it is small. 

After realizing what this museum was and feeling grateful that we randomly ended up there (I recommend it!), we hopped on another tuk tuk and hoped it would take us to the Grand Palace!

It kinda did. It took us to the neighborhood.

We had to walk a bit. On the way we were told that I would need to buy a shirt to cover my shoulders. I saw men and women of all nationalities and ages wearing typical Thai Elephant pants. Most had to buy these on the spot because they were wearing shorts. You must be well dressed to visit the most sacred place in Thailand! I thought a shall covering my shoulders and a dress covering my knees with ballet flats instead of my usual flip flops was enough, but I was wrong. Respect for the King is a huge part of Thai culture and it’s phenomenal. 

When I was finally dressed up enough, we were about to cross the street with a giant hoard of tourists to enter the Palace grounds when police men started screaming in Thai. The people who understood took off their hats and began to kneel. Everyone else followed suit. For the next few minutes, we all hovered over the ground as fancy cars holding Thai Officials entered the premises. 

When we finally entered the Palace Walls, it was a bee hive of tourist activity. Giant tour groups were assembling in every piece of free space. It was hard to find where to go and I got a bit overwhelmed. 

Once we walked into the Temple area where the Emerald Buddha is housed, I was even more overwhelmed. So many ornate, golden-tiled buildings surrounded us, climbing to the sky. Photos could never do the Majesty of this sight justice. I was beginning to have a bit of culture shock. I hadn’t seen this many tourists or intricate details ever in southern Africa or Madagascar and it was A LOT to take in. 

We walked into the Prayer Temple to pay respects to Buddha by sitting in lotus position with our feet pointed away from the shrine as a monk said a prayer over some Thai Buddhists kneeling ahead. It was hot and very busy but I think most people did their best to respect the religious rites unfolding before our eyes, despite the frenzied environment. 

After we left the temple area, we walked past the Grand Palace and read a bit about the former king who ruled for 70 years. He was a very multi-talented, highly respected man. 

After the Palace, we walked a bit down the street to find Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Thailand. This temple houses the famous “Reclining Buddha” which is GIGANTIC and awe-inspiring. 

Later that evening, my dad and I walked around Khoasan Road which is nick-named “Backpacker’s Paradise.” It is filled with bars, tattoo shops, henna shops, hair braiding stands, massage parlors, clothing stands (your typical colorful travel dresses and elephants pants- gotta get the look!), jewelry, and a mazillion other things like lights and music and activity that is SO OVERWHELMING to someone who just got off of an island where for two years I hardly participated in night-life. 

I bought some dresses. There are so many!!! But I do feel guilty since I try to be so minimalist… and stingy. Good thing Dad is paying for these few weeks. 

After a night of bad sleep thanks to jet-lag, a tour bus picked up my dad and me to go to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market 90 kilometers outside of town. I was soooo tired but I hopped in the car and turned off my brain for an hour and half. Eventually we arrived at the floating market which was mostly a giant Disneyland, tourist experience. But it was cool and sometimes you gotta do the Disneyland Things. Most of the boats on the water were actually canoes of tourists, but there were also paddle boats carrying cold spring rolls and fresh fruit floating around. It was all kind of silly, but still unique and I am glad we went. 

After the floating market, our group went in a speed boat along the canals to see the houses and agricultural life around the brown waterways made by the Chinese. It was super cool. 

Once we returned to the city by mid-day, my dad and I took a cab to check out a random part of town and ended up in the financial district. After that we took a cab to Chinatown and explored a bit before I collapsed from exhaustion. I normally don’t pack this much activity into an average day because I am traveling for many months/years and it is a marathon. I also just left winter in Africa and came to summer in a tropical, humid climate, so my body is confused. 

Anyways, Bangkok has been fun to explore. I am pretty sure I’ll be back, but I am glad I have already done the most touristy things (and didn’t have to pay for them) so next time will be more chill!

Bangkok, Thailand… I was warned of its chaos but it still somehow surpassed its reputation.  Luckily, I was taken in by a dear friend and her family, it truly made my time there enjoyable (thank you Ika).  On my last night we went out just like old times so that I was properly sent off to the airport with just a few hours sleep and a slight headache.  

As I took a taxi to my Chiang Mai guesthouse (hotel), my body and mind finally began shake off the Bangkok hustle. The laid back atmosphere of the Old City reminds me of a beach town in the mountains, as if you should be walking around barefoot with a coconut in your hand.  The winding streets are lined with tons of little restaurants (they all seem to feature the same menu), hostels, shops, and a temple around every corner.  The air is filled with the sound of birds chirping and motorbikes zooming down the narrow streets swerving around dogs that stroll wherever they please.

I arrived at the Elephant Nature Park office early and was immediately greeted by a very happy dog that still carried the shave marks and scars of his recent amputee surgery. This was the first sign of my adventure to come…

As we entered the valley and knowing we were close to our destination, it was quite a shock to say the least to see the trees on the side of the road part to reveal elephants strapped with saddles, carrying people, winding up the mountainside.    

And then we arrived.