My hotel room
I wake up early to send an email home. That's an order of mom, who wants to know whether I'm still alive, so I confirm. Breakfast in the hotel is lovely. At first I wonder how all these people manage to eat warm rice and vegetables with curry at 7am, but the smell is so wonderful I don't hesitate for long. It is early and I am the only Westerner in the room, all the others have dark skin and are probably Thai or either Chinese. There are many Chinese in the hotel, I noticed yesterday. First thing I notice is the delicious taste of the pineapples. We have pineapples in Belgium, but of course, they are all imported. I used to like them, but now I've tasted the fresh Thai ones I think those days are over. First breakfast and I think I have already eaten more pineapple now than in my whole previous life! The second thing to notice is how friendly every one is.
Because all this, I start today with an exquisite good mood.
At 8:30 am we leave for the first excursion of the trip: a visit to China Town. Our Thai guide Mac explains all in English after which Kim translates to French and Flemish. As I understand all three languages I can already predict that this is going to piss me of by the end of the journey. But as this is only the beginning, I don't mind listening to the information more than once. As we drive through Bangkok
everything is still weird and unknown. Nothing seems to be the same as in Belgium, which pleases me. The people, the houses, the food, the shops, the traffic, the alphabet, the language,... Everything differs. I could describe each and every thing that astonished me, but then this blog would turn out to be a book in the end.
A stupid example are the cars. At first it looks like something you know. The cars are pretty much the same as here in Belgium. But then you notice they are all very big and brand new, which is odd. There are also countless numbers of them. The traffic is extreme but yet it also seems to be much more laid back than at home. And between all these fancy vehicles their are the flashy taxis and rundown tuk tuk's, and much, much more motorcycles than you will ever find in a Belgian city. This is just one thing, the cars. And so it goes for everything. It is like entering a whole new world. It is silly, 'cause I've read and seen so much about Thailand and Asia in the past years, that for a moment I thought I knew how to picture it. It turns out I don't. It is not like it let down my expectations, yet it is pretty much unpredictable.
The two flags
And I love it. It is all I hoped it would be.
My fellow travelers don't seem to feel this way. Turns out they aren't interested in anything that ain't a palace or temple. They don't look out the window and don't seem to be impressed at all. The couples have ordered once again Singha beer from Hot, and most other people are gazing sleepy at our guides while listening to their explanations. Not like I care. I could have predicted this attitude when booking a tour and programmed myself not to pay attention to it. I don't need a tour guide to see what their is to see, so I open my eyes widely while riding by this new world and walking the foreign pavement.
The bus drops us of at Wat Traimit, to see the massive golden Buddha. It is the first real temple and Buddha I have ever seen in my life.
Finally. The place is really small but full of activity. People praying, selling things, walking around,... Tourists taking pictures, buying things, walking around,.... I liked the Buddha but I liked the people watching more. I've read quite a bit about Buddhism but here it is not written but practiced. The lotuses and candles, the pieces of gold, taking of shoes in the temple, the beautiful statues, the bells,... I've tried to understand Buddhism but came to the conclusion that it is probably impossible for a Westerner who hasn't lived the traditions yet. Buddhism searches a life far from greediness and materialism, but then outside the temples lottery sells tickets and gold shops sell jewelery at the latest rates. Sure most people here are praying for money or wealth, while monks beg for food and walk around in nothing but scarf like clothing.
It is an odd thing, but I can only like it. I like it a lot. For some reason it suits me and I feel strangely comfortable here, in this temple, on my knees before the statue, smelling the incense and looking up to the shiny Buddha image. I know nothing about this culture or the language, but rare enough I feel already at home.
We stroll through the Pak Khlong market until noon. It smells wonderful here and so it looks, mostly. We seem to be surrounded by millions of people, and the stalls sell almost nothing ordinary. I try to remember the name of each and every fruit and vegetable, but after we turn the first corner I realize that this will be impossible. Walking China Town is still one of my favorite memories Thailand. The little stalls next to the pumping traffic, all the local people selling things and eating aside the road.
The strange merchandise, the smell and the taste of exotic fruits, the chattering of Thai that is all around. Simply unforgettable. We had lunch in a small yet touristy restaurant next to the Chao Praya River, and again the Thai food tasted wonderful. Next was a boat trip over the river and in to the klongs. We didn't really entered the really small waters, to my frustration, but yet I had a great time to see Bangkok from upon the water.
Then we got of at Wat Arun, to admire the astonishing architecture and to climb the building. Going up wasn't really an issue but I didn't like going back down that much... Steps are really steep and pretty high. But Wat Arun is nice, and also offers great views. To end the day we went to Wat Pho
or Wat Phra Chetuphun, the oldest in Bangkok if I'm correct.
I loved the whole complex and the atmosphere, which was vivid and friendly. Above all there was the reclining Buddha, which turned out to much more beautiful and bigger than I could ever imagine. The statue has such a peaceful look that I could not but stare in admiration. The warm color of the gold and the beautiful details on the ceiling, walls and the feet of the Buddha were breathtaking. I love the expression of the face. It really stuck with me until now and I guess just picturing it in times in stress could calm one down. This definitely was the highlight of my fist day in Thailand.
In the evening we had a diner cruise on the Chao Praya, with again wonderful food and beautiful views over the cities enlightened monuments. Time passed by way to fast.
These streets - Paolo Nutrini