Hmm… another day in Bangkok, although this was far more, well, I won’t say planned, but there was a direction. I started off the morning with a delightful pineapple pancake at my guest house, New Siam I, which is just one large pancake with pineapple slices cooked in.
Then it was off in the direction of the museum, palace, and one of the most-visited wats in Bangkok. They are all nearly next to one another, so it was kind of an obvious day. THe one thing about Bangkok \, unlike say San Francisco, is that you can’t not seem like a tourist. In any major US city, if you look confident, walk with purpose, people tend to leave you alone, as opposed to reading a map and looking lost. But here… it is nearly a given that if you are white, you are a tourist.
So, on my way to the museum, I am constantly told by Tuk tuk drivers that I am heading in the wrong direction, and that the museum is closed today for a holiday. This is all something you are warned about in the guidebooks, so I just ignore them and keep walking. Hmm, I guess the tuk tuk drivers here are more like the homeless at home, just far more persistent. And there is no escape.
The funny part is that they are offering me rides at absurd prices, one saying he will take me directly to the museum for 5 baht (like 12 cents?), but I like walking, so I persist. Of course, the museum wasn’t far, and wasn’t closed.
But before that, I am taking a photo of some statue. No English, so I have no idea who it is, but it looks cool. I’m taking in so much information that had I known then who it was, I couldn’t type it now anyway. So, I’m taking the photo, and a woman walks behind me. She says, you are American? I say yes. She says, you must see temple. I didn’t even realize there was a temple (it would have been obvious from the sidewalk in another 500 feet), but she proceeds to reach into her bag, produce a key, and unlock a gate behind the statue. In the middle of what ended up being a rather significant wat, there was a HUGE sitting Buddha, and I would have to say 300 Buddhist women (seemingly all women) all reciting together. I looked around some more, and then continued on my way.
The museum costs $1 to enter, but what was surprising is just how available it was. I found it odd that they offered a free bag check at the door, but now I understand… I could have easily swiped something. There are no security cameras, no alarms I could see, and most things you can touch, although some things say “Don’t touch.” But wooden doors from the 17th Century, sure run your hand on it. Weapons from long-fought wars, not a problem. The only thing behind glass were gold, pottery, and other fragile items. Seemingly nothing was made unavailable based on its historic value.
The museum was interesting because it just showed how different history is elsewhere. I mean, I know the US history, and some European stuff (don’t quiz me, it ain’t much), but to see images and recreations of historic Thai battles where both sides were fighting on elephants, that was all new.
The downside of this is that, really, it becomes overwhelming. You go into a weapons room, and it is just wall to wall weapons. Many times, there isn’t any description due to the volume in some rooms. On the grounds there were several more wats, and some of the elaborate vehicles (better word?) they use in royal funerals, to carry the ashes in parades. They are pushed by hand, and detailed to an amazing degree.
One thing you learn is that the Thai LOVE their royalty. Whenever I have heard from anyone about the Royal Family here, they are always layered with adjectives about their lovely queen, their strong king, etc., etc.
After the museum, I continue down the street planning to go to Wat Pho, which has a large indoors reclining Buddha. But on my way, I run directly into the Grand Palace, so of course, I go in. I knew it was in the area, but I was planning to check out where after the wat.
The Grand Palace is just an amazing assortment of wats, Thai architecture, and history. I never did figure out which building, if any, was the palace. All the signs kept pointing toward the Grand Palace, but it lead you in a circle. There was never one (that I found) that said, Grand Palace and opinted at something specific. My guess would be the one with guards posted, but who can tell.
Anyway, one of the oddest thigns at the palace was that it was FILLED with Thai schoolchildren, all of whom are learning English. I don’t think they were there to see the palace. I think they were there to see English-speaking tourists. Their assignment involved asking us four questions in English, and writing down our answers. Initially, I looked at their sheet to figure out exactly what they were asking. It boiled down to our name, where we were from, what we do for a living, and what we liked about Thailand.
The strange part is that it was never one person asking you this, but one asking and about 12-15 surroundnig you and the interviewer. A lot of the time, they also asked to post for pictures with you, one at a time, so it was just strange having person after person wanting to be photographed with you. I had some of teh students (and on teacher) take some with my camera whereby I think I was surrounded by 20 students or something.
And as soon asb they finished with me, they would all run to the next person. Needless to say, the tourists weren’t quite sure how to deal with all of this attention. But it certainly made the exhibit all the more fun.
After the palace, I head toward Wat Pho, and take up conversation with a 17-year-old Buddhist monk. Well, he said I can’t call him a monk, as he is still a novice and you can’t be a monk until you are 20. But, in any event, he had the shaved head, orange robes, etc. It was his holiday from study, and he was spending it going to the wat.
The guidebook says monks love a chance to practice their English, and he didn’t disappoint. It was challening because he was talking to me about religion, and had to keep stopping mid-sentence when he hit a roadblock as far as how to say something in English. Then he would just attack the sentence again with all new words.
He led me right into the Wat, and showed me the reclining Buddha, which is 46 meters long, and 15 meters high (sorry, only know the metric, but that means it was really tall and long). As we were walking, he then told me more about the structures within the wat, and someone from the wat said somwething to him in Thai. He said, he was told he shouldn’t be telling me about this wat, because it is not where he is studying and he might tell me something I shouldn’t know. I think that was just a poor word choice, though, and not indication of vast Buddhist conspiracy.
So, he says we must part ways, and that he likes making friends, but should probably continue alone. I head back to the reclining buddha, since he stormed through it so fast. At the Buddha’s feet, you can purchase a small dish of coins, at least 108, and you got to put one coin in each of 108 small bowls behind the Buddha, to represent the 108 incarnations of the Buddha that are depictued in mother-of-pearl inlay on his feet in the statue.
So, I dropped all my coins, and headed for the real attraction at Wat Pho.
Thai massage is legendary, and tied to religion. There are signs all over the place for thai massage, but many of them are not trained, and most are fronts for what we more commonly think of as massage parlors, some where you even get to pick your masseuse and are given a condom. Instead of trying to sort things out among all those colorful options, I went for the Thai massage at Wat Pho, which is done by religious students. I picked an hour-long massage with herbs ($10), and was given loose shorts to change into.
Thai massage is relaxing and afterwards you do feel great. The during, however, can be rather intense. Basically is was this slender Thai woman putting herself in any position to put as much possible pressure on my body, like my calves where the muscle meets the bone, every inch and a half, she pushes her whole body weight into her two thumbs. It is basically painful, but rewarding in the long run. I didn’t know my toes all cracked when pulled, but they do.
She was rather deft at getting me to contrort into whatever position, to the degree that it just seemed like I knew what to do. I don’t even recall most of the positions, because there was never any instruction, just some sadist dance that was innate.
After she would wring the hell out of one section of my body, she would then get the herbs, which were steaming hot in a softball-sized cloth, which supposedly improves circulation.
Mid-way into the massage, she said now is the point where she can either extend the massage to 90 minutes, or be sure to finish in 60. As you might expect, asking someone if they want a longer massage in mid-massage is playing dirty pool. Of course you want a longer massage, so they got another $4 or so out of me, and it went a full 90 minutes.
That was pretty much my day so far today, and it is after 6. I am going upstairs to read, so hopefully not a repeat of yesterday, rather not take 6 hour naps and be wide awake at 2-4 a.m.
But I am cramming a lot into the day.
One of my new obsessions while here, though, is to eat durian. I’ve heard a lot about it, and am dying to try it. It is this fruit that basically looks like a coconut with spikes coming out of it. I saw whole durians while on the tuk tuk yesterday, but have yet to find any on any road-side stops or restaurant menus. The museum today had a restaurant that offered durian with sticky rice and coconut milk, but they said they were out of it today.
So, the durian hunt continues…