I’m updating my blog after ten days for the second time since I’ve been in Thailand, at last. This stay in Thailand has been incredibly hectic, probably because it’s so short, just about two weeks, that I’ve tried to see and do as much as I could.
The first three days were spent in the capital, Bangkok, of which I knew, among the other things, that it was a street food haven and boasted great open markets for my pleasure. Delicious temptations notwithstanding, I managed to devote some quality time to explore the Thai past and colorful religion by visiting the Grand Palace (grand, to put it mildly) and Wat Arun, with “wat” being the Thai word for “Buddhist temple”, some of the first things to do in Bangkok.
With all this in mind, I armed myself with a Bangkok map and off I was to explore the city.
While Wat Arun is an overwhelming ensemble of Buddhist pagodas inlaid with the finest colorful decoration Thai-Asian style, Bangkok Grand Palace is a complex of royal palaces, temples, gardens and pavilions magnificent beyond words.
Located on the west bank of the vital Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun Rajwararam is the royal temple of the 2nd reign of Chakkri Dynasty. Its entrance ticket offers a behavior guidance: “Please dress up politely, do not climb the rail, do not dangle any doll, do not drop cigarette and waste on the floor”, giving visitors a hint that despite it’s now a tourist attraction, it is also still a sacred place. Orange-clad monks, in fact, abound, and at the very entrance I enjoyed watching a group of teenage local girls bringing a donation to a monk and praying for some words of wisdom and a blessing.
The pagodas of Wat Arun have stairs that can be climbed by its visitors, but somehow they are not crowded. Actually, if you want to enjoy the temple in a quiet and silent atmosphere start climbing and you’ll soon find yourself left alone with around only the nice views of the city. I panted up some of the stairs, but didn’t venture up to the peak of the pagoda as my breath started to claim some air. Truth be said, Thai unforgiving heat didn’t help either. Not many people climbed higher, and some of the monks who visited at that time stopped right at my level, making me feel somehow less guilty.
Not far from Wat Arun stands the Grand Palace, former royal residence commissioned by King Rama I in 1782. The complex is all-encompassing, comprising of palaces, gardens and temples. Eyesight is not enough to embrace it all, everywhere you look you’ll find shimmering and shining.
As if the palace was not grand enough, part of it is also the beautiful Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, a magnificent building decorated in gold and stones where a tiny emerald Buddha lies right in the middle, and where thousands of people come every day to pay respect to Him and his teachings. The Buddha is enshrined in a golden traditional Thai-style throne made of carved wood. The Buddha’s costume is changed three times a year according to the season, winter, rainy season and summer.
This Emerald Buddha was carved out of a block of green jade and found in Chiang Rai in 1434. The monastery has all features of a Buddhist worship place except for the residential premises as no monks live there. Although it’s a big tourist draw, the Emerald Buddha Temple is still mainly a worship place, with its rules attached, such covering legs and shoulders, entering barefoot, sitting in a way not to point your feet towards the Buddha, no photos allowed and going past quickly unless you are there to pray.
Bangkok is literally studded with Buddhist temples, around every corner there is one, in shops, in restaurants, in private houses (all open and visible from the outside, for that matter) of all sizes and colors.
This gave me the impression that Thailand is a very spiritual country, as only in India I saw such a high number of temples.
Other than temples, Bangkok is also filled with shops, street food vendors, open markets, shopping malls and travel agencies. There are also many restaurants, but after 7-8pm I struggled to find one open so I’ve almost always had street food-based dinner. Which wasn’t bad at all as the street food scene in Thailand is legendary, so probably my first choice would have been street food anyway.
What struck me about Bangkok since the very first day was the huge number of travel agencies, almost as numerous as the temples.
It seemed like in Bangkok everything turns around tourism and what’s the best way to make tourists spend. From taxi and tuk tuk drivers who constantly try to rip you off by either refusing to switch the meter on and demanding ridiculously high prices, to ladies calling you for a Thai massage every two meters, it seems like the city doesn’t want you to forget you are a tourist and you are there to leave as much money as possible. Or at least such was the area where I was staying, near the famous, or infamous, Khaosan road, popular among backpackers, noisy, messy and, to me, not much enjoyable.
Although I’m not much a massage person, I have to say that one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had in my very short stay in Bangkok has been a Thai massage, a mix of yoga, rubbing, pinching, stretching, beating that in an hour made feel as relaxed as if I had slept eight hours straight. Not happy enough, the day after I treated myself with a facial consisting of scrub, massage, cleaning using fresh fruits and refreshing using fresh cucumber. That was a real pleasure that left my skin regenerated and supple and my soul in peace with the world.
This time I’m in Thailand for only two weeks, and in the capital I spent only three days, so I’m aware I couldn’t fully enjoy the city, but what I could sense is that it has a lot to offer and is vibrant just like many other Asian capitals, more so thanks to an always lovely Bangkok weather. Having lived in Shanghai for a year and traveled around China and India, and having already fallen in love with the Asian continent, I can only have big expectations about Bangkok, so next time I’ll make sure to give it a bigger chance to impress me.