After 2 days in Thailand I started to get used to the BTS skytrain and also started to have a crush on Chao Phraya cruises. After seeing Wat Pho and Wat Arun in my first day and visiting China Town and Flowers Market in my second day, I thought it would be the time to relax a bit and take a lighter approach. So, I searched on the Chao Phraya brochure something a little more manageable, maybe a shopping location. I’ve heard a lot about Thai silk and antiques boutiques and I thought to pay a visit to the River City shopping mall. On the following day I was suppose to goÂ on my first organized tour (one of the tours booked by internet) and I thought to relax a bit before that.
Bangkok River City
River City is a traditional location for antiques and traditional thai artifacts situated near the Chao Phraya river. The shop was surprisingly empty and at the ground floor there was an art exhibition.
I walked a little from shop to shop only to see that some of the higher floors shops didn’t actually had anybody inside. Looked desert but nevertheless cozy. I did a little bit of shopping: small jade elephants, some silk accessories for my wife and daughter, and a Tibetan dzi bead for me. The dzi bead was by no mean an original dzi, those are well over 1000-1500 USD (the most affordable, of course, an original dzi can go up to 5000 USD), but at least it was from a stone not resin, so I thought it would make a nice memory.
Although the mall seemed mostly empty I was able to have some interesting conversations with at least two shop owners while looking at some very interesting antique pieces. But after finishing this, I realized I didn’t have too much to do there and got back to the hotel.
Bangkok Victoria Monument
In the afternoon I took the BTS and stopped to a station called Victoria Monument. Didn’t know its historical meaning (and I still don’t) but the station seemed interesting enough for a shooting session.
The area is something between Siam upscale malls, all shining and new, and lower areas like the night market in Silom near Sala Daeng skytrain station. Overcrowded and filled with shopping booths to the point that you actually had to walk on the streets:
Watched the traffic for a while, looking at the motorcycles and how they managed to squeeze through the bigger cars.
It was still hot but either I was already adapted, either it was a little bit colder than yesterday. I think I spent at least half an hour on the Victoria Monument skywalk.
My 3rd day to Thailand was a fast-forward day.
Thailand Day 4
Next day, early in the morning I was sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for somebody to pick me up, and took me on a tour to the Golden Temple and The Emerald Buddha Temple (also known as The Royal Palace). Had no idea who is going to come and what I was going to do.
After 10 minutes of delay a young lady come and presented herself as my guide. She was nice, mixing some shyness with a little bit of seriousness, but the most important detail was his English which was more than I ever heard so far in Thailand. We could actually understand each other. She looked at my shorts and her smile suddenly disappeared: “Don’t you know we’re going to The Royal Palace today?” she asked. “Of course I know”, I answered. “Then you have to change, put a pair of pants, it’s forbidden to walk in the Royal Palace in shirts.” The idea of spending the day in my black, thick jeans wasn’t appealing at all, but as they say: “When you’re in Thai, do as the Thai people do…”. A saying that I had to repeat a lot during this day.
After I changed she walked me to the car, a little van with 9 places. Half of the seats were already taken. After my hotel, we made at least two other stops, driving through a crowded Bangkok in the morning and picked up another 2 people. In the end, the group was made by a couple of middle age Indians, a young black girl with glasses, a Chinese like youngster, a tall and very silent Korean, a package of muscles with a very European appearance and me.
The guide started to talk and finally announced the schedule: we were going to visit Wat Pho, Wat Arun, the Marble Temple and then The Emerald Buddha or Roayal Palace. I looked on my voucher and there was nothing about Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Instead, it was clearly written about The Golden Temple. I asked her and she seemed really surprised. “Don’t you know that The Golden Temple is closed for more than half an year?”. I kindly asked her to forgive my ignorance, but I didn’t. “It’s going through a rebuilding program, they had to finish it by the New Year Eve, but they didn’t.”. After a short pause she seemed to understand something: “Oh, that’s why it’s still included in the agency offer, it should have been done by now but it isn’t.”.
Well, my tour was starting pretty interesting. I had to revisit 2 of the temples I already saw in my first day and that wasn’t really interesting for me. I did want to take advantage of every minute spent there so double checking places wasn’t an option for me. But I also wanted to take advantage of the visit to the Royal Palace and the Marble Temple so I only had to find something to do during the first part of the tour. I remembered that in the fish market near Wat Pho there was a little Thai massage salon. I asked the guide if it would be ok if I would have a Thai massage while they we’re going to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
I can certainly tell you that this was a strange request for her. In the beginning she didn’t want to hear: “But how can we meet after that? Do you have a mobile phone with a Thai number? What if we get lost?”. I explained to her that the massage salon was 50 meters away from Wat Pho entrance and we can set up an exact time for me to show up. After a small negotiation she seemed to agree, but I could feel she was worried.
The Thai massage as we know originated exactly from the Wat Pho temple. Even today the temple is offering massage certifications and if you’re going to have this type of massage by all means look for somebody who can show you this certification. Thai massage is very different from the European “Swedish” massage. It’s more about pressing, stretching and liberating your inner energy so your body can be balanced again. But in this process you will be quite instrumented, if I can afford this word. I think I just did, anyway :-).
So, I left the rest of the group to enjoy their visit at the temples and took a very well deserved Thai massage. I guess it was the best massage I had during this period (I previously had some at the hotel spa), and the fact that it was performed by somebody who was trained at Wat Pho temple weighted heavy. My members were stretched beyond their point of resistance (or so I thought) and my muscles and bones were pressed in vital points mixing hurt with releasing sensations. After the massage I felt reborn. I walked to the temple without feeling any sign of heat and met my guide near the entrance.
She seemed really happy to see me, and I felt that this first successful meeting helped her build some trust towards me. We talked a little and she asked me when I visited the temple. I answered that 2 days ago and she was really curious about my impressions about the reclining Buddha statue. “What reclining Buddha statue?”. “The huge statue of Buddha lying one side, haven’t you see it?”. “Nope”, I genuinely answered. “Oh you have to see it” she almost cried, seeming even happier if she could help me understand more. She walked me to a building that I was completely ignored in my first visit and told me to take my shoes off and get inside.
And this is exactly what I did. Inside it was one of the most impressive things in this trip:
The statue seems to be as long as a handball field and as high as a two floors building. Is really something impressive. Well, those organized tours are good for something, after all.
Bangkok – The Marble Temple
After the group was reunited we got to the van and started another visit to the Marble Temple. The guide told us that the temple was built using imported Carrara marble from Italy. Not much to say other than looking at some beautiful Buddha statues and enjoying a rather peaceful atmosphere for a couple of minutes:
The Unexpected Jewelry Factory
After the Marble Temple something weird happened. The guide briefly told us that we are going to stop to a jewelry factory and after that we will have lunch. I didn’t know anything about a jewelry factory in this tour and there was nothing in the voucher also. But I was starting to get used to the way things can be so different than your expectations sometimes, so I went with the flow.Â When you’re in Thai, do as Thai people do… Of course, at the factory entrance there was some armed guard:
Thailand is one of the major sources for fine jewelry and their diamond mines are world famous. Of course, I didn’t know about that either, but I learned during the 7 minutes movie they ran for us. After the movie, in a rather disciplined flow, we all entered a room which seemed to be an old jewelry shop. Sitting at crowded small desks, quiet Thai master jewelers silently did their magic, putting precious stones in awesome gold or silver patterns while tourists were looking and commenting.
After the old room, we entered in something that looked like a casino room. Only instead of roulette and black jack tables everything was filled with shelves with jewels. And then I understand that we’re there to buy something. Each tourist had its own personal assistant who followed him and politely answered questions. But also subtly proposed some rings, or earrings or necklaces. Everything was so organized so you can’t escape the shopping impulse. Anyway, I made my way out and waited for the rest of the group. In minutes we sat at the small restaurant near the jewelry factory for lunch.
Although I specifically asked for a location in which I could have fresh food or vegetables, the restaurant obviously had nothing like this. Well, when you’re in Thai… So, without struggling too much, I decided to eat something Thai, but keep it on the vegetarian side. My cooked food tolerance was good in the last few weeks so I thought it wouldn’t be much trouble. I chose something based on fried tofu with an egg in the middle. I don’t recall the exact name, but I do have an image of it:
The taste was fantastic, one of the best meals I had in years. But along with the taste come the cooked food symptoms: somnolence, fogginess, a little sweat and a sudden desire to take a one hour long and uninterrupted nap. I knew about those symptoms so I just let them flow and waited to weaken. In abut an hour I was ok again. And in about another hour we arrived at our final destination for the day.
The Emerald Buddha and The Royal Palace
That was by far the biggest temple I visited and also one of the most visually appealing. From what I learned from the guide, the temple held a very precious statue of Buddha, made from emerald. Well, not emerald, but jade. You know, things are different sometimes… I saw it and it looked wonderful, but we aren’t allowed to take pictures of it. On the outside though, there were a lot of interesting things to be remembered:
Near the temple there were some official buildings in which the Royal Thai family used to perform some of their daily tasks.
Right now the whole complex is open to the public and the king is not living there anymore. I especially liked this building with a very interesting English and Thai architecture mix:
At some point during the tour I realized I become friend with my tour colleagues. I found out that the European guy was in fact a Russian. Well, a Russian who lived in Israel for many years and who was on a 50 days trip to New Zealand, Australia and some parts of Asia. The Chinese guy was in fact a guy from Indonesia who was really happy to give me his business card in case I would like to travel in Indonesia at some point in my life. The silent Korean guy worked in the tourism business also, and the Indian middle age couple proved to be from Australia, where they lived in the past 30 years. I really had a very good time with them.
So good, that when we arrived at the hotel, they asked me to join them in their next organized tour tomorrow. Guess where was that tour? Yeap, Damnon Saeduk floating market. Without any hesitation I accepted, and bought my tour on place paying to my guide in cash. I was eager to spend another day with them in another fantastic location.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen. But we’ll see why in the next post, the one about my 5th and last day to Thailand.