Thursday : 3 January: Palaces and Buddhas

We started out with a bike ride to check the bikes had survived the journey. The traffic was pretty heavy and the surfaces not too reliable, with big gratings at the side of the tarmac. Good to catch tropical rainwater but not so brilliant for cyclists. We found a large park with a cycle route in the middle, but then got stopped by the police because it was no cycling until 10am. The runners and walkers had exclusive use until then.

The air quality in downtown Bangkok is legendary – and was as bad as we have ever experienced. It felt choking to do any exercise, and there were the occasional (or not so occasional) overwhelming smell of drains. So a short ride but at least we found the both US and UK embassies! The US one was much bigger and proudly boasted on a poster of a long friendship between the USA and Thailand. The UK embassy was more modest – but I suppose that is inevitable.

Then breakfast and a trip on the Skytrain to the river, followed by a riverboat ride along the Mae Nam Chao Phraya, the major river running through the centre of the city. The major hotels are on the river in huge skyscrapers, demonstrating that the Sheriden and the like have a major presence in the city. It was very polluted and we watched as small boats sucked up the green weeds that grew in the water. There were also groups of the largest barges I have ever seen being tugged along at a snail’s pace by a single small boat. I have no idea what was in the barges but this was a grade-A commercial super-highway.

We got off at Chang Ferry Pier and worked out way with the hordes of other tourists to the Grand Palace. Bangkok was founded in the C17th when the Thai King abandoned the old capital, founding a new city nearer the sea. Every king needs a palace with royal chapels to show his devotion to Buddhism, so the original palace buildings gradually developed over the next 200 years with every King adding his mark to the complex. But first we had to buy suitable clothing – hippy trousers for David and a Sarong for Bernie. Good business at the side of the palace but we were going to get these at some point anyway. My bright orange pants were suitable here but I suspect I might get some resistance from the children if I ever wear them at home!

The temple area of the palace hugely impressive in parts but overall was a bit of a hotpotch of wonderful buildings, statutes, murals and temples, all in a very small area.

We were one of thousands looking at these marvellous sights – but the pictures tell the story far better than any words can.

After that we wandered through the city to China Town and experienced the organised chaos of any major city in a developing country. Tiny stores selling gems, generators, offering Thai massage and food, food and more food – often cooked right in front of us. After a couple of hours of having all our senses assaulted, we headed for the metro and back to the hotel. We rested and planned the next couple of days.

Impressive overhead electrical work!

We were not so lucky with the restaurant we found for a meal in the evening – an indifferent curry – but tomorrow the real adventure begins.

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