Wednesday 24 May 2016
Arriving in Bangkok yesterday afternoon we were picked up by a limo and whisked away to the Pullman Hotel. The hotel has a rather interesting atrium making one want to go and find a rope and some abseiling gear.
After inquiring at the desk about hiring a tuk-tuk for a tour of the city and being informed they don’t come out this far I settled for a hotel car and driver. Ken the driver was there waiting for me in the morning.
Our first stop was the Palace. I had to buy a pair of long pants as no shorts allowed. The grounds here are huge with dozens of buildings of all shapes and sizes. Gem stones glitter from many of the columns and walls.
One of the buildings (where it was shoes off and no photos) where people prayed and made offerings had a large gold structure in it.
As I passed through some buildings there seemed to be a long queue of people mainly dressed in black, some holding up signs.
Even some nurses were standing ready to assist.
This queue went on for hundreds of meters; I never did see the end or the beginning. After making a few enquiries it turned out they were all queuing for an audience with the king. Not that he is saying much as he died in October last year and will lie in state for a year. In the first few months after his death forty thousand people a day were queuing to see him; apparently it’s now dropped to ten thousand. The king here is highly respected and everyone I have spoken to speaks highly of what he achieved during his long life. His pictures are displayed all over the city.
As I made my way out of the grounds a group of Palace guards were undergoing a bit of drill. These guys are placed in guard boxes with an old 77-type radio all around the grounds. After taking these pics a security guard raced over and said no photos. Of course I didn’t take anymore!
As I left this grand place I wondered if the king ever visited all the buildings in the grounds.
Next stop was the Golden Buddha
This 5.5 ton solid gold Buda has an interesting history to say the least. Brought to Bangkok in the early 1800’s it was a plaster statue with coloured glass in the plaster. It was housed in a couple of different places around the town. In May 1955 while being moved to a new home a pulley rope broke and it crashed to the ground; some of the plaster chipped off and the gold was discovered. The theory goes that it was plastered over pre the mid-1700’s to prevent it being stolen. A key was found in the plaster, which enables it to be broken down into nine pieces that fit so well together that it looked solid. The theory is that it was made in India sometime after the 1300’s.
Next we made a brief stop at a Hindu temple where it seemed that people would buy food from stalls take it to a stainless steel bench in front of the shrine as an offering. When they left people collected the food and took it back to the stall for resale. Looked like a pretty profitable way to do business to me. With a lot more detail and colour than the Buddhist temple it is quite interesting. This was another no photo place but a got a couple from the outside.
There are many more temples and Buddha statues in Bangkok including the lying Buddha and the marble Buddha. Apparently there are over forty thousand Buddhist temples in Thailand with over thirty thousand still in use.
Time was ticking on and the traffic was very slow so we headed to the Vimanmek Mansion. With a large, gold, pagoda-like structure just inside the grounds this place is stunning. First I had to get into the grounds! I had given the pants I bought to get into the palace away as the driver had told me that was the only place that long pants are required. The guy on the gate here pulled me aside and indicating I needed to go get a sarong, pointed down the road. After looking around and not finding the local sarong salesman l headed back to the gate hoping some kind person coming out may sell me their old one. No such luck so the guy on the gate let me in without one. The grounds are stunning here.
This 72 room pad was completed in 1901 for King Rama V who, after a visit to Europe, decided he needed a castle-like palace. He only lived in it for five years after which it was used as storage. In 1982 King Rama IX gave permission for it to be turned into a museum.
As I joined the queue to enter I was taken aside and told to enter by another door. This turned out to be because I had a camera, which along with my phone was locked in a box and the key handed to me. I was also sold a sarong which was fitted for me.
Entering the main building I had to step on a box and was given a thorough pat down to make sure I didn’t have a hidden camera. These guys are real serious about the no photo rule. It’s a pity as the artefacts here are amazing. I am just sorry I can’t share them with you. There were huge silk tapestries, gold elephant chaise the king use to ride around in and much more that I can’t describe. The painted dome shape ceilings were also stunning.
This is a must see place, just take long pants or a skirt and ladies, cover your breasts and shoulders.
Thursday 24 May 2017 – Ayutthaya
Mr Ken, the driver, picked me up at 0900 and we headed north to the old capital Ayutthaya. The way the lady at the tour desk spoke the previous evening this was to be a three hour plus journey. Sixty seven kms and a little over an hour and we were there. Ken, my English-speaking driver, was really helpful and keen to please. He was always ready to tell me about the place we were heading. I learned pretty quickly “don’t ask questions” as with many so called English speaking guides in many countries it’s parrot fashion English. Ask even a slow speaking question and they haven’t got a clue.
Ayutthaya was the capital for a few hundred years until the late 1700’s when it was captured by the Burmese. They held it for a while then burnt the hundreds of Buddhist temples down and buggered off back to Burma. Something the locals even now can not understand as that is not the Buddhist way.
Soon we arrived at the local elephant ride place – Special deal today: 2000 locals or about 80NZD for an elephant ride, a snake show and a visit to the floating village. My vision of standing on the elephant’s trunk and being hoisted onto its back soon turned out to be delusional. It was up some steps on to a stand; soon an elephant strolled alongside; a family of three got off and I got in.
Soon we were heading down the road and through the town. Motorbikes, trucks and cars raced past, the large beast not even slightly phased. Then a big red fire engine came slowly up behind us; the big fella was not happy, breaking into a sideways shuffle and making a loud trumpeting noise. The driver sitting behind his head also started making a bit of noise. As I was starting to wonder how good the ropes holding this seat in place were, the fire truck turned into a driveway behind us and the big fella calmed down.
After passing a derelict temple we turned down a side road. The buildings around here are generally quite rough and untidy with the odd nice place. Food stalls are dotted here and there.
Big fella would require some fuel from time to time and wander to the side of the road, helping himself to some local vegetation.
We passed another derelict temple. There must have been a massive rice factory here all those years ago.
Then we headed across a paddock, past yet another derelict temple. The driver took my camera and dismounted. I took his place as he took some photos.
As we headed back to the yard out came a box of elephant teeth made into pendants. “500” he said. I declined and the box went away but soon came out again “300” this time. I am now the proud owner of an elephant tooth.
After dismounting I checked out the elephant shed.
As I was heading back to the reception a lady summoned me into a room with a bloody great tiger in it. It did look pretty tame and half asleep so I paid the money and had my picture taken.
There were some rather scrawny sheep in a pen. And by the number of red phone boxes it is a favourite stop off for Dr Who.
Next was the snake show, which after receiving some directions I made my way through the various stalls to. I sat alone in the stand while a lady went around opening the many boxes trying, I presume, to find a snake awake enough to play. Eventually she dragged out a python, wiped it with a rag, called me over, and threw it around my shoulders.
She than told me the snake man was having lunch so to come back in ten minutes. Back I came expecting to see a bit of snake charming like the guy in Nepal I saw once with a flute playing and the snake raising up and down in and out of the basket. This was not to be the case here – in fact this guy was no charmer but did everything he could to piss the snakes off. With a stick with a hook on the end he hooked a cobra out of a box and tossed it on the floor, then followed with a king cobra. He then sat on the floor and started slapping them to get them to sit up and flare their heads. The Cobra has a diamond on the back of its head and the King cobra a white angled stripe.
Being the only spectator I stood up and moved a little to get a better pic. As I did this, distracting the bloke, the snake struck out and nearly got him. He looked a bit pissed off. He signaled me to come and join him in the snake pit. Thinking they probably deactivate these snakes I wandered in and sat down beside the guy as instructed, comforting myself with the thought that too many dead tourists would not be good for business. I sat there as he continued his snake baiting performance. At one stage he had me holding the King cobras tail as both snakes looked at me, heads raised in the strike ready position. Fortunately I was out of range. He then wrapped the king cobra around me and held the head to my lips to kiss (sorry Sylvia they made me). Punishment over I was then allowed to leave the pit as he continues the show.
He then dragged out a python and tormented it into lunging at him. Another less angry python is strung around my neck – again for another kissing. (Sorry again Sylvia, this time just couldn’t resist)
Show over I then took a stroll around the so-called floating village. It was in fact on piles. With lots of colourful displays of food and made-in-China souvenir-type stuff it was worth a look.
Next we headed into the centre of town to visit the main temple. This is in the process of being restored and has some nice buildings in it. Climbing the steps to the top of the main temple I could see many brick spires around the city.
The temple is surrounded by statues apparently keeping the bad spirits away from the Buddha.
Crossing a bridge I came across what can only be described as unusual, unless you’re a chook lover or collector. The reason for this display I could not establish but they surrounded this fairly new, church-like structure.
An the way back I asked Ken the driver what the story was with the chooks. “One of the previous kings liked hens” was all I got back.
Friday 25 May 2017
I took a stroll into the main part of the city on Rama l Rd, where the main modern shopping area is, following the metro rail line, which runs 6 or 7 meters above the street. The footpath along the way is packed with traders selling everything from massages to gold watches. At one point a rail line runs across the road. Looking down the line people strolled about as there houses face, and seem to be accessed, from the line.
Narrow streets ran of to the sides packed with motor bikes. After walking through some huge multi-storey shopping malls I found my way to the Jim Thompson House and Museum. Thompson had served with the US military during WW ll in Europe being transferred to Asia after the war. He ended up leaving the army and staying in Thailand. Originally an architect by profession he became attracted to the Thai silk industry. Highly gifted as designer and colourist he revived and promoted the local silk industry. He also built a house by combining 6 Thai houses from out of town into one large house by Khlong Saen Saep Express, which is a canal still used to cart people around. Thompson disappeared in 1967. Apparently while in Malaysia on holiday he took an afternoon stroll in the jungle never to be seen again. The house is now a Museum. No photos are allowed in the main building. There was however some nice stuff displayed in some other small buildings.
Outside under a veranda some ladies spun silk.
While inside the heavens had opened in true tropical style. It cleared as I left so I took a boat back up the canal to the hotel.
With a walkway on each side, little shops and cafes have been set up in places.