19 January 2014
Okay, we're still catching up - our last day together in Bangkok, the four of us went to the Grand Palace, which also houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Now, Bangkok was built by the Chao Phraya River, which winds through the city. Much of the area was swamp land, and during the 16th to 19th century canals were built to drain the land of water for agriculture. Since then, some canals have been filled and now are used for streets. Others remain, with lovely bridges crossing them periodically.
But the river is used for transportation, with "water taxis" (more like water buses) plying the river. Each stop is numbered and labelled, and people wait at various piers to catch a ferry heading north or south along the river. It makes for very easy travel, although it's also very confusing for tourists since all announcements are in Thai. However, it's a fun and easy way to cruise the river and see the sights.
So we took a taxi to the nearby pier, waited a bit, found a nice Thai young person who showed us which ferry heading in which directions, and we were off!
Yes, we stood. We crammed in with everyone else. We nearly fell over each time the captain slammed into the floating dock at each stop. Really, it felt like a crash each time. All part of the process, I guess.
There were normal, boring, boxy apartment and office buildings along the banks of the river. Colourful tugboats and embellished touring boats.
But also beautiful temples with swooping roofs and soaring spires and the little stylized animals at the eaves.
And of course periodic pictures of the king and, well, I don't even know how to describe the displays. There's the central photo of the king in this fancy frame, and then banners and pennants of the Thai flag (red white and blue), and the king's flag in yellow (the colour of the day of the week he was born). All in this huge elaborate display. I'm not sure if these displays we see around are his choice, or if these are just part of the culture.
Anyway, all of this was to get to the Grand Palace. We disembarked and headed out. Right into the area of one of the universities, and where some of the protests and demonstrations are being held. Not that there were any demonstrations that day (Sunday 12 Jan.) - but there were people getting ready for the Shutdown Bangkok slated to begin on Monday. (The graffiti actually reads Shutdown Bangkok.)
There is a dress code to enter the Grand Palace - long slacks or skirts to the knee, no shorts. No sleeveless tops. No shawls, tops must have sleeves. So people put down a deposit and get strange trousers and bizarre shirts. I ended up with a man's short-sleeved shirt. How that is more decorous than a shawl over my sleeveless top I don't know, but such is the local custom. I did like this group of Russians in their borrowed colourful trousers.
Anyway, there are incredible, amazing, astounding huge gold tile stupas (the bell-shaped shrine or temple built to house relics or to remember a major occasion). And giant ceramic guards. And, well, I can go on and on - the place was beautiful, with some of the most ornate buildings we've seen, embellished with all kinds of gilt and mirror. Plus mythical half-human half-animal guards scattered around to ward off demons and enemies and evil spirits. Or something like that.
Anyway, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha - there was a stupa in Chiang Rai (pronounced Chiang as one syllable, cheeang with a quick slide over the ee part - Chiang Rye). The stupa was hit by lightening (around 1434), and the figure inside was found - it appeared to be a plaster Buddha. But then, over the years, bits of plaster flaked off and it was found to be green stone. At first they thought it was emerald, hence the name. Turns out the Buddha really is made of jade. Wearing a gold cloak, sort of. It's about 12 inches (30 cm) tall, not very big, but lovely. Because it's so small, though, it seems somewhat unimpressive as a Buddha, especially having seen the Golden Buddha and the Reclining Buddha the previous day.
The temple was gorgeous, as well as the rest of the temple complex. The map was difficult to follow, but there were various shrines and temples and stupas, each one ornate and unique. We spent time marvelling over one building and then marvelling equally over the next.
Once again it was a case of an artist's dream of visual overload - so much of a wonderful thing that it becomes almost distracting and hard to focus. It was wonderful.
We walked and wandered and marvelled and photographed until closing time. And then we discovered the actual palace! Of course, one can't go in the palace, but we could only look as we walked by, herded out by the military guards. So I could turn in my ugly shirt and get back my deposit.
A taxi back which took forever because our driver went around all the areas of the planned demos and blockades, and we were home.
Sandy and Jody headed out on their group tour plan the next day (Monday), and Richard and I finalized our plans to head north to Chiang Mai on Tuesday. But that's another story, and it's about an hour beyond bed time here, so hold on for tomorrow, okay?