Monday, May 22, 2006

and a few more shots from the Royal Palace

Pretty girls abound in Thailand - especially the ones who have been dipped in gold.







nope, I'm not meditating, just got zapped by the flash. On the other side of the doors behind me is the Emerald Buddha, one of the most holy items in all of Thailand.




Imagine, shrink-wrapped tourists

lot's of gold Garuda's at the Emerald Buddha

Bangkok - Khao San Road

Bangkok. Not really as foreign as I anticipated. In fact, it’s pretty much like any other place I’ve been. Well, sort of. For some reason I had it in my mind that I would be stepping into a very unfamiliar land where I would be absolutely at the mercy of whoever would take pity on me. In actuality, it is nothing like that at all. I found my way to Khao San Road, searching for a budget place to stay. I expected to find sort of an Asian version of Bourbon Street or some similar place in Prague, but in reality, it’s more similar to Canal Street than anything, except there are far more white people here than there are in Canal Street.

In Steven King’s The Talisman, there is a character called Wolf – briefly, he is the specie of which the legend werewolves is derived. Wolf refers to the world we live in as ‘the land of bad smells’. I think of Wolf often here and hope for his sake he never comes to Bangkok; his senses would simply not be able to handle it. It’s funny though because there are times when it smells really nice and then just when you are thinking, hmmm, this is nice, is that yellow rose incense? Or fresh jasmine flowers? The tables turn and you are infused with a smell that I find suspiciously similar to some of the ‘experiments’ I’ve grown in the back of my fridge – you know, the ones that kick in the gag reflex as they get dumped down the sink. This smell can be purchased, apparently in a bowl or on a stick.

In all fairness, Bangkok seems like a decent place and I have explored only a small fraction of it. I’m very glad that I’ve stayed out of the Sukhumvit district. From my conversations with people this is the heart of the sex tourism area. I know I won’t be able to avoid witnessing this pimple on the Thai culture, but I fear it will sadden me as most red light districts back in North America and Europe do. And on a happier note…

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew must make the Vatican City green with envy (no pun intended – Wat Phra Kaew houses the very holy Emerald Buddha). The gold and semi precious stones that guild the many buildings of this site is simply outstanding. Unlike the cathedrals of Europe, there is far more texture to the intricate mosaics that adorn the stupas in Wat Phra Kaew. Instead of all the tiles being flush with the fa├žade, many stick out to form little lotus flowers or some other decorative flair. I spent a good 5 hours here and could have spent more had I used a little common sense and eaten a good breakfast before heading out to this spot. Of course, I ran into my favourite deities, the Garuda and this certainly made me feel quite at home.

In both the Grand Palace and the Royal Regalia, Decorations and Coins Pavilion, I found the plaques are virtually useless. There is rarely mention of when something was made and most of the information is written in Thai. I had a pretty good time chastising myself for forgetting all of my studies in Buddhist lore while strolling along the longest mural I have ever seen, nearly 2000 metres. The mural depicts various classic Buddhist themes and stories and I could figure out a couple, but most ended up being impressive on an artistic scale only. Of course, with my vivid imagination, I had a pretty good time making up my own version of the story, but I did yearn for a guide from time to time – well, about half way through I thought, ‘sure, they have guides, spend ten years in a Buddhist monastery and you might get the stories straight’. Also unlike Europe, I found it hard to hijack other guides (you know, listen in on their discourse) and when I did, their explanations seemed, frankly, a bit shallow.

Once, in a museum in Florence I was a parasite to one guide who was so knowledgeable and I got such a tremendous education I felt compelled to give her a tip or pay her normal fee outright. In contrast, in the Grand Palace today, at one point I was tempted to start reading aloud from the free brochure while a guide was reciting it nearly word for word to his customers. I didn’t mostly because I didn’t want to embarrass the guy and didn’t feel it was necessary to point out to the tourists they had been rooked.

Hunger eventually caught up with me and I headed back to the familiar territory of Tr. Khao San. I was very pleased to find the place called Pannee where I sat for three hours eating, watching, drinking and eating some more. After 3 hours, I decided it was time to leave, asked for my check and nearly fell out of my chair – 360 Baht. That’s pretty cheap for 3 hours of drinking and eating. Especially when the food is so tasty and the service is attentive in that special Thai way of being attentive while ignoring you. That’s hard to explain so let’s just say, if you come to Thailand don’t get your britches in a bundle just because the waitress has spent the last half hour setting up a stand across the street. That’s just the way it works and if you need her, cross the street and say hello, otherwise, enjoy your time here on earth. I know I certainly am. Love you all – even if I don’t know you.

Interlude

I guess I forgot to add in all the stuff between Kitty joining Gillian and I and heading off to southeast asia. Oh, well.

Needless to say, it was, as it always is, an absolutely terrific trip. No wonder they are my favourite people. Gillian likes them too!