Three Nights in
|Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.
Details of Wat Arun.
Hey, hey, we're the monk-eys...
November 5, 2006
I arrived in Bangkok this morning. I really and truly had no idea what to do with my first day as I never read one things about Thailand
before coming out here. I left that up to my sister, Michelle. From the different emails I received from her in the past eleven months, I think
she had already consulted five guidebooks, twenty message boards and countless magazines about what needs to be seen and done out here.
None of that would help me for my first twelve hours out here though.
Because I knew I would have time to myself when I first arrived, I sought out to do something that I have not done anywhere on my trip –
visit an international doctor. I was given this advice in Hong Kong based on the quality and the cost of the healthcare out here. I opted for
Bumrungrad International since it was close to the hotel (my experience is detailed on my Bumrungrad webpage).
I tried to make the most out of my cluelessness and headed down to Khao San Road. I heard about this street countless times probably
because it is the backpacker’s haven. I went, I saw and I decided not to conquer. I am not a backpacker on this portion of my trip. Therefore,
I really had no reason to be there.
While walking around Bangkok today…especially near the river…I remembered my sister telling me that there was a festival today in
Thailand. I thought she was just referring to some festivities that take place every time there’s a full moon. Nope. This was a full-blown
celebration that only happens once a year called Loi Krathong. Paper lanterns are lit and launched off into the sky. People make little floats
made out of flowers, incense and candles. There are lit-up boats in the river (resembling floats in a parade). Everybody was at the river. One
thing that posed a bit of a challenge was the flooding that was taking place in Bangkok. People had to walk through almost knee-height water
levels to get to the river. Knowing the color of the river and the disease potential in such water, I opted out of treading through this area. I
went to the ferry station and launched my little float there. My little guy joined hundreds of other little floats that were making their way
down the river, too.
When I got back to the hotel, I pulled out the goodies I have bought along the way for my sister. She gets here in an hour. I just wrapped her
gifts. Fun times are just around the corner…
November 6, 2006
Michelle is here! She got in pretty late last night. She ended up bringing me the loot I asked for (white tank tops, Ziploc baggies, Splenda
packets, pajama bottoms, Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares filled with caramel, etc.) plus some additional goodies. And these goodies weren’t
from her…they were from my friend Heidi. It turns out that my sister saw her on a two hour layover in Minneapolis. Heidi asked my sister
before seeing her if there was anything she could bring for me. My sister didn’t really know. Heidi ended up getting me four different
magazines (all celeb-related) and different sweets that she remembered that I used to always eat at her dad’s house back in the day (mini-
Snickers, m&m’s, Hershey miniatures, etc.). This blew me away! And even though it was 1am, I had to dive into the latest edition of US
Weekly. I mean it’s pretty obvious why Reese and Ryan are getting divorced…but it was great to see what A-listers are wearing to events,
pictures from movie premieres of movies that I have never heard of and those ‘What were they wearing?’ moments. Ahhh…how I so enjoyed
being reunited with US Weekly.
On that note, a special ‘Thank you!’ and shout out to Heidi. You rock!
I told my sister that we needed to make a pit-stop before we began her list of things to check out today. That pit-stop involved stopping off at
a travel agency so I could drop off my passport to get a Vietnam visa. This took a matter of minutes and we were on our way. All that needs to
be done now is to pick up my little ‘ticket to the world’ tomorrow afternoon.
Michelle decided we would hold off on seeing the religious sites until tomorrow - today we were going to check out some of the nice hotels on
the river and pick one where we would have afternoon tea. Since the Oriental’s facilities were being used for another function, the decision
was made for us – we were going to The Peninsula. Days like this make me appreciate having somebody to travel with. Afternoon tea is all
about lounging for a couple hours and chit-chatting – something that is hard to do on your own.
Michelle was determined to see the temples along the river during sunset. I had seen them yesterday (by sheer luck I was on a boat just as
the sun was setting) but I told her that I would be down for the ride. It was a bit lackluster for her but at least she now knew that she wasn’t
missing some amazing sight.
Our night was wrapped up at one of the night markets (something that all of Thailand seems quite known for). I wasn’t looking to buy
anything but ended up with a skirt and earrings. It seems that I am now always finding something when I initially have no intentions of
spending any baht. The censor that once said ‘You don’t need that’ has officially been killed off. I am okay with this.
Our night ended at an uber-hip bar at the Metropolitan Hotel as we were both feeling uberly un-hip. Sadly, I have become quite used to this
feeling. My sister wasn’t. One thing at that moment made her less concerned about her appearance there. As I was talking about how I loved
the afternoon tea this afternoon, she realized that she hadn’t lost the sister that she knew. She literally said ‘I’m so glad that my sister is
back.’ In my mind, I never went away. I have always treated myself to little things along the way like nice meals, nice cafes or nice hotels
(relatively speaking). I think the fact that I’ve stayed at a hostel or two made my sister believe that I had gone ‘granola’ (in her words). It
definitely had much more to do with frugality. But that concept is hard to explain to someone who would never come within a ten-foot pole of
a hostel. I will have to say that my initial stereotype of hostels has changed. Many of them really aren’t so bad.
That being said, we are now back in our hotel room…
November 7, 2006
My sister and I went into the heart of Bangkok today to see some of the sights. I keep forgetting that this is my sister’s first time in Asia. She
is blown away by every temple and has just about each one in this city on her ‘list’. Oy. I actually feel really bad because I am showing
nowhere near the same enthusiasm. I’m trying. I really am. From afar, these temples are all interesting shapes – but I’m not aching to visit
I guess I can put a tally mark under the ‘negative’ things about doing a year-long trip like this. It takes a lot more to impress me these days. I
will say that the temples in South-East Asia are vastly different than temples in China and Japan. That being said, I just saw a good share of
temples and their architecture while I was in Cambodia. My sister and I compromised and decided we would visit two temples and the Grand
Palace during the course of the day.
We first went to the Grand Palace. The exterior of these buildings blew me away. I had never seen anything like it. It is nearly impossible to
describe and there is no way you can capture it by taking a photograph. There are some parts that were mosaic tiles…many made of
gold…that were almost blinding when the sun shined on them. Other parts had detailing that was done with ceramic tiles that were arranged
in a way that was three-dimensional. All I can say is that I had never seen anything like it.
One of the temples on the grounds housed the ‘Emerald Buddha’. In all honesty, I was expecting a small Buddha made out of emerald. Just
like so many other times, I was wrong. The ‘Emerald Buddha’ is actually made out of jade. And there is not one of them; there are three.
There are also three different outfits for the not-as-little-as-I-thought guy: a winter outfit, a summer outfit and an outfit for the rainy season.
Even Buddhas need to be prepared for certain weather conditions!
The Grand Palace also earned a few bonus points for all of the elephant sculptures.
From there, we went to Wat Pho. This was the home of the largest Reclining Buddha. I will have to agree. It was very large. And very
impressive. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a big, golden Buddha lying on its side?
The honors of the next (and thankfully last) temple of the day would be given to Wat Arun. We didn’t do much more than walk up some
stairs. I really had no desire to visit this temple but I am glad that we did as the details were amazing. I guess that can be said with all of the
Thai temples that we have seen thus far. I have to admit that my threshold for temples seems to be larger than I once thought.
About four hours after our day began, we headed to the area of Bangkok with massive, beautiful shopping centers. It was at this point that my
sister was now in her comfort zone. I couldn’t stop laughing as Michelle made it clear that she was done with some of the…um…‘street sights’
we were seeing. I must be immune to this stuff now because I barely noticed any of it. I forgot that this is her first time to a developing
country. Well, her first time to a developing country being outside of the confines of an all-inclusive resort. It was funny seeing how tense a
person could get in their communications with the locals. Sometimes I had to remind her to relax. And I could never resist laughing at her at
these times, too.
We allowed a few minutes for my errand of the day – picking up my passport with its new Vietnam visa – and then got ready for a nice dinner
at the Sukhothai Hotel.
The hotel was beautiful and the restaurant was some of the best Thai food that I have had. We made the right call in going there (as it is
sometimes hard to make a decision knowing so many fabulous places exist).
After four hours in the ‘developing world’ part of Bangkok, my sister was ready to bid it adieu. After almost seven months of traveling
through similar ‘developing’ areas, I was okay with this decision. This is Michelle’s vacation and, for that reason, I considered it a bit of a
‘vacation’ for myself as well.
November 8, 2006
Today was such a nice, mellow day. I think my sister and I were both a bit Bangkok-ed out. For that reason, we booked a Thai massage. But
before doing that, we went to see Jim Thompson’s house.
Inquiring minds might be asking ‘Who is Jim Thompson?’ The answer is that he was an American architect who fell in love with Thailand
while in the Army and decided to make his home out here. He introduced Thai silks to the American market and started a company shortly
after. In 1967 he was in Malaysia and went to go for a walk and was never seen again. It is a mystery that has never been solved.
Now his house is on display and I have to say that I fell in love with the Thai-style of architecture and furniture while I was there. I found
myself wanting to build my own dark-wood home. My sister informed me I would need high ceilings or else it would feel small. Wait. Why
were we even talking about this? My goal is two buy a two bedroom condo when I get back to San Francisco. I don’t think hiring an architect
to build my own place is in the cards. Oh well. A girl can dream.
From seeing a Thai home, we went to go get our Thai massage. I guess you could say that we were packing quite a bit of Thai culture into our
When we were leaving the spa, my sister had an idea to go to Golden Mount (where there is a temple and a sweeping view of Bangkok). I
agreed. After sitting in at least 30 minutes of traffic to maybe go a kilometer or two away, we got to the Golden Mount. And it was closed. It
would be one thing if our stupidity was involved in not reading the hours that this was opened. But the hours were right there on the door. It
should have been open. Others were waiting outside looking as puzzled as we were. Did we just sit in all of this traffic just to turn around and
sit in the traffic all over again? The answer is ‘yes’. Actually, the drive back to the Sky Train was even longer.
I am now going to now vent about public transportation in Bangkok. Personally, I think it sucks. They have the Sky Train. There are two
lines. But if you want to go certain places in the city, you are out of luck. It’s time to figure out another option. Then there’s the metro. Once
again, it doesn’t run that many places so don’t count on it getting you where you need to go. Then there are the ferries in the river. These
come every fifteen minutes and seem to take forever to make their way down the river. And this is after already spending a good amount of
time on the Sky Train. And, yes, there are tuk-tuks galore. But all of these seem hell-bent on taking you to different shops along the way. We
ended up getting out of a tuk-tuk after he wouldn’t listen to our pleas just to take us where we needed to go. The last option is a taxi. While
these are dirt cheap (it is necessary to always insist on the meter), the traffic is so bad that you can’t count on getting anywhere in a limited
amount of time. If public transportation was better, I’m convinced traffic would still be bad…but not as bad. I guess my point is that it takes
forever to get where you need to go if it’s not near a Sky Train station.
I’m a bit ‘big citied’ out, to be honest. I feel a bit bad for my sister. I didn’t really know what to expect from Bangkok…but I found that it lacks
the character that I was expecting. It might partially be our fault for escaping some of the character. But it’s really not that big of a deal…this
just makes us both more excited to head up to Chiang Mai tonight.
***Update: November 13, 2006
Turns out that we didn’t see the Emerald Buddha. We only thought we did. Not only that, we thought we got lucky and saw three of them.
Michelle just got done reading through her guidebook and is now thoroughly annoyed with herself. She is really upset right now. I’m looking at
her right now and she might cry. Really, she might. I’m trying to console her by saying “Hey, it’s not everybody who can say that they
thought they saw the Emerald Buddha only to find out later that it wasn’t the actual Emerald Buddha.” This little condolence didn’t go over to
well. She almost started to blame me for appearing to ‘not be into it while we were there’ and having that be the reason why we didn’t walk
around the grounds more. Now, I am irritated. We thought we had seen the Emerald Buddha so why would we have continued to look around
My sister just came up with an idea to ease her irritation. We’re going to fly out of Phuket a few hours earlier so that we can get to Bangkok
while the Grand Palace is still open and then we will go see the temple then. This will be my last day with her so I am okay with the plan and
told her that I agree to go along. As long as there is a spa treatment waiting for me right afterwards…