Felt like being home, only ironically with some dose of unfamiliar. – 10.19.13
Having known Bangkok to be a country with a culture untapped by any foreign influence (being a country not invaded by anyone), it has always been an interest of visit. So when I had to chance to go there with a free trip of choice when I availed of Cebu Pacific’s Citibank card, I thought about Bangkok. My interest was tapered with some reading I did prior to going which made me discover stories about scams and unfriendly weather. Those, however, were gone just after day 1 of this weekend.
Start, shall we?
Getting there unsober and lacking sleep. Having come straight from a wedding, I went directly to my watering hole in Cubao to grab a few drinks. Plan was to kill time at the bar, go home to freshen up and go straight to airport. Having missed two of my most recent flights due to oversleeping, I was determined to not fall asleep that day so I can make it in time for my 6:30AM flight to Bangkok. STRICTLY NO SLEEPING.
And strictly, there was really no sleeping (before the airport at least). Thank goodness for that as my phone’s battery was again dead and not cooperating. So after about 15 minutes at home, went immediately to airport. It was a first that I was semi-drunk at the airport and I realized I was being cranky at the weirdest things. Well, not weird really but I remember having a rather unhumanely disdain toward long lines, slow-moving people and the likes. All of these could have been understandable given what time of day that was.
And given hunger pangs post-drinking, though I have eaten instant noodles already at home, I still bought a Yum with cheese burger, devoured it even before passing by the immigration and security check.
I was too early when I arrived at the gate as they were only two people there. I found myself an outlet and occupied four chairs which then became to me a bench slash makeshift bed. I have set an alarm, slept (without any difficulty) and when I woke up, there were more people around me. I didn’t mind. I felt recharged, though still a bit groggy.
I slept some more at the plane. I was waking up from time and time and kept on checking my watch. Funny thing was that I did not know that Bangkok is an hour late than Manila so when I checked my watch at the plane, I thought we were delayed for an hour. There was even a moment when I thought we were just stranded in the skies. Oh God, it must be the beer or the lack of sleep.
People-empty boarding gate and in between snooze-fest, last minute itinerary review at the plane.
Plane touched down at the Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “su-waan-na-poom”) Airport about 30 minutes than declared (as usual because airlines really tend to give allowances, right?) so that should be around 930 their time. It was a long walk from the plane to immigration and baggage claim but immigration was pretty fast. Yes, even Bangkok does it faster than my own country.
An overcast day. I almost thought it would be cold, rainy day.
Was not disappointed. Even airport has touches of Thai. And oh I love those people sitting in front of some paintings, doing something that intrigued me.
Upon claiming my baggage, I tried to open it so I can put in some of stuff from my hand-carry and “Panic Alert!” – I could not open my luggage. I must have improperly set the lock. I never double checked it anyway. I made an attempt to guess what the code was and even tried to reset it. I realized more sooner than later, however, that I since I can go to the Grand Palace without anything from the bag, I decided to just go and figure things out on the way.
While at the cab though, I immediately got my bag and started trying on different combinations. I was trying to operate on a clear head but I was really on a panic and I was already thinking of an alibi to tell the hotel at the persons at the hotel when I ask for their help. I was able to reach until xxnth when I tried again the number which I FIRST thought was the code and voila – it opened. It turned out I was just pressing the ‘button’ wrongly. There was a silent laugh at my own stupidity followed by a great sense of relief.
You made me panic. Feck you, you lock.
Search for the Grand. Just checked in at the lobby, dropped my luggage then hurried off to see the Grand Palace as planned. I was happy to realize that it was easy to spot the green field I have read about online. (I remember quite vividly though that while I was reading it, I thought it was that complicated). Oh well, it turned out it was impossible to miss after a quick “Turn Left” twice walk from D & D Inn.
I even had an encounter with a scammer. And boy, I was almost scammed there for a few minutes. As I was about to cross the street toward the green field (which I shall later know and forever remember to be called “Sanam Luang”), a friendly guy approached me to ask where I was headed to which I instinctively replied to “The Grand Palace”. Then he made this gesture as if he wanted to help me so quite instinctively too, I got the map from the hotel and showed it to him. He told me the palace was still closed and would be opened 1:30 in the afternoon then he started drawing temples nearby that I could visit while waiting for the grand one to open. He was sort of giving me directions which I pretend to listen to. I don’t usually listen to these kinds of “How to go there” instructions. I usually just need the map and I would do my usual walkathon to find those places.
While he was drawing the temples, he had to take a call and there was a roughly a minute talk in Thai. After which, he told me that the temples he drew may seem close with one another but Bangkok is a big city so he suggests that I take a tuktuk for 40 baht to go to all those places. And then for whatever grace and light that has shone upon me, it suddenly dawned on me – this was the scam I read about weeks ago while I was planning for the trip. It goes like this – they approach you and say a tourist attraction is closed, offer to take you someplace else and you end up in weird places where they force you to buy overpriced jewels and stones you could not refuse because you are in the middle of ‘who knows where’. To be fair to my memory, it did not fail me this time. I was saved from the scam.
But the quest for the Grand Palace was not yet over. I decided to walk straight ahead, saw some tuktuk guys offering me a ride (must be part of the accomplice team). I just didn’t look them in the eye, walked a few meters ahead, decided to go back to that point when I was about to cross the street. I even passed by the guy scammer but I just ignored him. And again, I got lucky, it was the right decision. Just had to cross the street and ended up on the park.
There is my field of green slash savior landmark to which I say “I shall be fine as long as I see you”. And oh how I wish I have a zoom lens camera for those pigeons.
I still spent some time wandering around the park, hesitant to ask anyone because I was still a bit traumatized with the encounter with the scammer. I just kept on walking but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to go. I kept walking until I saw these two young girls who seemed friendly and unscammer-like. I approached them and asked where the Grand Palace is. They tried explaining but seemed to be having a hard time but they nonetheless talked to me. Later on learned that they are also going to the palace.
Named Beer and Ma Tsian, Beer is Thai who is majoring in Chinese while Tsian is a Chinese who is majoring in Thai, I was the odd one out in the group alright. Still, we managed to chat as we seemingly endlessly look for the palace together. It was a very long walk but we found it eventually.
My newfound friends Beer (cool name it made me feel like being in a Gaiman book! When she told me her name, she even gestured drinking beer) and Ma Tsian
Beer and Tsian had to buy “sarong” because they were wearing sleeveless tops and skirts. We took some photos together, exchanged some contact details and just when I was about to tell them I will have to go my own way when we go inside, they said they are not going in. It turned out they just helped me find the ticket booth. I thought it was sweet.
Sweatfest at the Palace. From then on started my encounter with the temples in what is known as the Grand Palace or Wat Phra Kaew which according to an online article is said to be one of the most sacred Buddhist temples (wat) in Thailand. Being such an important cultural landmark and a popular tourist destination, I kind of expected tourists to flock but didn’t expect it to be that crowded. I have been to Korea’s counterpart Gyeongbokgung Palace but maybe because the grounds there are bigger, I don’t remember it to be as crowded as this one. To be fair to the Grand Palace’ management though, there was some semblance of a system upon entering the place. There was a queue but it moved fast.
They also give out this brochure at the entrance so visitors could have a more systematic look at the palace grounds. But I guess ultimately, it would have to depend on one’s ability to focus amidst the crowd (who could get all crazy taking photos too) and the heat as well (which I personally think is better than rain though). In my case, I get all panicky when I see beautiful subjects for photographs. I tried making my visit a little systematic by looking at the brochure but ended not being able to concentrate and choosing to just explore the place with no direction.
So many people but there was some system, alright.
Greeted by these temples and those tourists enjoyably taking and looking at their pictures.
Of the many intricately-made structures in the grounds, a personal favorite has got to be the own that houses the Emerald Buddha, a 26-inch precious deity that is made from a single jade stone (though Emerald in Thai means not the stone, but a deep green color). Some things learned as I checking online articles as I was writing this – high reverence is given to the deity that only the King is allowed to touch it. Also, its cloak has to be changed depending on the season as it is believed to usher in prosperity to the country.
Picture-taking is, quite expectedly, not allowed inside the place of worship. And a quick glance at the people seated inside made me sense that there is a sitting position deemed respectful to the Buddha (you may have to excuse me as I seem to have forgotten my Buddhism 101 when I was in high school). True enough, some later reading made me learn that it is disrespectful to sit with one’s feet pointed toward the Buddha.
No shoes allowed for those who wish to see Emerald Buddha housed in the palace’ phra ubosot / sot or prayer room. (Upper right photo): Walls intricately and symbolically designed with those ‘Garudas’ – mythical half-man, half-bird devas which in here are defeating the ‘Naga’ – serpent
Was just playing images with the spire nearby.
Spotted an interesting ritual which I hope I get what is all about. Google! Be of help.
I spent more time walking around (no longer looking at the map brochure) and essentially just let myself drown taking pictures of anything I find lovely. Sharing a few of them below. Caveat though that the notes on symbolism and others came to me not as I capture it but are a product of my reading as I was writing this entry.
This structure caught my attention as it looked different from the others. Called Sri Rattana Chedi, turns out it looks different as it is influenced by Sri Lankan style. Interestingly also houses ashes of Buddha
Playing with spires. I never find out what this is called.
Could not find online what this pyramid is but it sure looks lovely to me. I especially love those creatures – everyone looks alive to me I could almost feel the pyramid’s weight.
The palace ground’s library called Phra Mondrop and a model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.
I have always loved it when I see something common that everyone else fails to see. Hello there, bees. Spot the flying one on photo on the left.
I knew that elephants were part of Thai culture but didn’t know they symbolize independence and power. Hmm now I seem to get Murakami’s “The Elephant Vanishes” story more.
Took a photo of this because it looked flirtatious. “Kinnara” which according to Wikipedia is “paradigmatic lover, a celestial musician, half-human, and half-bird”. Now I get it why it seemed like flirting.
Just loved the fact that these are enormous. Apparently. these gate guards slash demons are called “Yaksha” which is a “class of nature-spirits who are caretakers of treasures found on earth and tree roots.”
A break from temple overload is this wall painting with those lovely golden paint areas.
A large compound close to the exit.
And just like that, I was back to where I started. Hi again and goodbye, Wat Phra Kaew.
On to the next what wat? Quite a long U-turn from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho which I initially thought housed only the Reclining Buddha. True enough that it was the main attraction. There are however many more interesting structures like glazed pyramids (or “Chedis”) which housed ashes of the royal family) and well, tons of other Buddhas. There is also apparently a place for massage in the compound but did not bother looking for it because I am not a fan of massages.
Entrance fee is less than the Grand Palace at 100 baht (vs 500) and though there was a sizable number of tourists, it was much less crowded so atmosphere was more relaxed. Similar to the Grand Palace though, there is a dress code so if you were advised to cover some skin in the former, chances are you would have to do the same in this attraction.
Saw these on my way to Wat Pho. I wanted to experience the tuktuk but blame those scammers 😦 Boohoo.
Here’s what the ticket booth looks like (hey, I was just thinking it might be useful). Also the ‘cover-up’ area.
I heart that Bangkok shirt that little boy was wearing. And i am amazed too how the place is a tourist attraction for me but it is actually a place of worship for others.
This giant reclining Buddha has been a particular object of curiosity to me since I read it while planning for the trip but it was different altogether when I actually see it. Having a crappy imagination, I could not expect how big the Buddha would be so when I was face-to-face with this, I was amazed. Apart from its bigness, I liked how it iis this glaringly golden, that big foot adorned with meticulously done (and I assume) highly symbolic details and of course, the expression on the Buddha’s face – as if Buddha is so relaxed and for lack of a better word, at peace.
Funny comment from a stranger who approached me “Excuse me, but it says here ‘Mother of Pearl’. But where is Mother of Pearl?”. To which I replied, “I don’t know. Maybe it is somewhere in the Buddha”. Lame answer alert.
And article said, the foot is actually adored with Mother of Pearl. Next time, I know what to say to a stranger who asks. o.O
108 Bronze bowls that are supposed to bring good fortune. I however wished for happiness 109 times. Yes, I miscounted.
These glared pyramids reminded me of candies. Very Hansel and Gretel.
Free water for tourists! And some palm reading in a corner. I was tempted but language could be a barrier, right?
A bot inside Wat Pho.
Giant Chedis. I believe these contain ashes of royalty. Such giant and elaborately designed urns, huh.
View of Wat Pho just near the Entry-Exit gate
And a very ordinary-looking cat but nonetheless adorable.
It was a little before 5PM (Goodness, I was not sure. I realized just now that my camera does not take time stamps when photos are taken? What) when I decided to go back to the inn. On my walk back, I saw this strip that is not very foreign to me. Certain areas in the Philippines like Quiapo also exist wherein there are stalls and blankets selling all sorts of items. What spells the difference, however, is that while those in Quaipo are just about everything cheap, those sold in Thai streets seem to be just about anything. That is, items on sale could include used household and personal items. At least to me, it looked like anything goes for this market – rubber shoes, combs, batteries, clocks, VCDs, and some other really random stuff. Quite reminiscent of Gaiman’s floating market in Neverwhere.
‘Stalls’ on the street adjacent to the Grand Palace
Also known for its street food stalls, I saw a lot ranging from those selling pork, sausages, pomegranate, that famous buco/coconut ice cream, juices, coffee among others. I was able to try only a few but it were the conversations that were most fun.
Street Food 1 : That sausage (not in picture below)
Teng (points at a small sausage-like food): What is this?
Teng (perplexed): Cock?
Vendor (now joined by another vendor): Cock. Moo moo.
Teng (hmm a cow’s cock?!) : Huh? Moo moo? In English, what is it in English?
Vendor : Moo moo
Teng: What is it in Thai?
Vendor: Say ko (I am guessing the spelling but it sounded like psycho)
Teng (said to self – he must think I am a psycho. Ah what the. It looks yummy. Let us try this) : Okay, I will try.
Vendor: Okay. I give you spicy sauce.
Street Food 2 : Just fried pork (in picture below)
Teng: What is this?
Vendor (looked at me and called a female vendor from a nearby cart)
Female Vendor: Pork
Teng (said to self – “wow that was easy”): Okay. Give me one. (pointed to a container which I thought was the spicy sauce). I want this. Spicy?
Vendor and female vendor (looked at each other confused)
Teng (to self: What now?)
Vendor did some gesture which I immediately understood to mean : This is not some dipping sauce. But marinade
Teng (to self: Yep. Actions speak louder than words sometimes).
Very few among many other food stalls. See those mountains of pad thai.
Finally really checked in after some street food eating, cleaned self from the day’s sweat but going out again to explore the nearby roads of Khao San and Rambuttri. But that merits a separate entry.