Flight to Bangkok from Kathmandu (abstract)
"Why all mean are crap." [A prologue to Thailand]
"Okay! Okay!" Don't get too excited lady readers. No real bold admissions here. No confessions of a defeated male. I dare not concede a single inch of ground in the eternal battle of the sexes. Neither is it my meaning or intention to do so.
Alright, but an explanation's due I guess. Steve has decided that with at least six weeks ahead of him in Thailand, he reeeally should try and shrug off the Brit stereotype of self-confessed 'n' almost proud about it lazy linguist. I'm as guilty as the rest in this respect. With two tri-lingual parents, but barely the capacity to string more than three sentences in french together myself, I am going to try sincerely to learn some Thai!
So I've bought a Thai phrasebook in Kathmandu.
The curse of the Headless Homeless Person strikes again!
.. and have even glanced at its cover on the rare occasions I can tear my eyes away from the preferred chaos of the conclusion to 'The Brothers Karamazov'
. It's a very informative looking frontcover I swear!
AND, so, heeere
we go... seconds onto the Thai Airways flight to Bangkok
, literally as I step through the cabin door, I'm all linguistic guns-a-blazing! "Sawah-dii kha!"
Smile to (pretty) air hostess. Smile back from (pretty) air hostess. "sawah-dii kha
!" Smile to (even prettier!) air hostess. Smile back from (even prettier) air hostess.
China Town gold market (window abstract)
Smile to (EVEN PRETTIER - ohmygodI'mgonnalovethiscountry!) air hostess. Smile... and laughter back from (EVEN PRETTIER - ohmygodI'mgonnalovethiscountry!) air hostess. ?!? What?! WhaddidIsay? "Oh sir, for you, you are a man."
Uh-huh? yep, with ya on that one sweet cheeks. What'syapointexactly? "So you say "khrap""
Huh? "Lady, she say "kha", man he say "khrap"."
"Ooops!" I getcha now. I've fallen at the first hurdle. I thought you changed the all-purpose polite preposition between 'kha' and 'khrap' depending on whether you find yourself addressing a woman or a man respectively.
China Town, Bangkok "yum!" :)
But no. Junior error. As a man I will always be bound to say "khrap".
Seems I got my males 'n' females confused right outta the blocks. Ignoring the obvious irony of the pitfalls of gender confusion when about to enter Thailand
, you now know, how I know; how I remember that all mean aaare
... KHRAP! :)
Wats, Bots and Whatnot : Welcome to Bangkok.
Arrival. Late. 22.00. First attempt to haggle Thai taxis is hard work and fairly fruitless. 600 Baht down to 450. (don't bother people, look for metered taxis and insist that the meter is used!). "Oh well!". I pester the good-natured driver, Ming, into helping me with some Thai practice despite his lack of english.
I have no idea what they are selling here!
3 hours into Thailand I've clocked the basic greetings, can ask you what your name is, tell ya where I'm from and count to a thousand or more. Are you impressed? Nah, I wouldn't be either. My first meal, some genuine, hard-sought 30 Baht side-street vendor fair called Kai Poh Pai... or somethin' like dat?!
A plesant enough interval of sleep at the New Road Guesthouse and I'm out into this big, bustling and oft maligned Southeast Asian megalopolis, Bangkok. Free foldy-bendy map-thingamy in hand, I set off into the heat. First task, purchasing a 3rd Class, seated night train ticket to Chiang Mai for a day or so's time. Oh the joys of budgetising sado-masochism! :D
Now time for the proper start to proceedings and my fave way to introduce myself to any city I find myself in.
..through the soles of my shoes! Some aimless ambling along. I start with a headlong dive into the chaos of BKK's Chinatown. It's hot and bright. The neon monsters of advertising hordings slumber above by day. Jewellers shops with waterfalls of gold and bedazzled eyes of the better-monied Thais. Homeopathic pharmacists and 'doctors' stand behind their antique-looking glass and wood counters and cabinets containing all manner of dried, dessicated, powdered and potted flora and fauna victims of tradition, healing and superstition. Horns, bones 'n' hooves from all manner of creatures unknown... is that a unicorn spear over there? The weird, the wonderful and aphrodisiacal all available for the right price. Roasted chestnuts; ducks strung up by the necks; fresh herbs and spices.
'Captive Roses' - Bangkok Flower Market
Men sit on pavement mats selling neck-locket icons of saints and buddhas, batteries, bracelets and broken watches. My first ever sightings of sharks fins, prized as a delicacy, here hooked, dried and suspended like decorations from restaurant entranceways. Endless stalls of fresh sea food. Fresh fruit, vegetables and whole shops packed and piled high, floor to ceiling with large plastic sacks of dried noodles.
I get sucked into the slipstream of a crowd (quite happily). The crowd is attempting to burrow its way into the pulsing heart of the largest single covered stretch of market way in Thailand. This more than at any other time in my life so far (except maybe moshpits at over-enthusiastic rock gigs?) is the closest I have come to experiencing what it would be like to be a human toothpaste tube being squeeeeezed for that last, impossible-to-get-to dollop stuck at the base of the tube.
The absolutely huuuuuumungous reclining Buddha of Wat Pho.
Everyone rammed and crushed together, stepping uncaringly, unflinchingly on one anothers toes. Possibly a pre-Christmas/ New Years rush? Humanity oozing impossibly past intself in both directions. Possibly just another 'normal day' in Chinatown, BKK style? Amidst the mush, colour, cries of shoppers and vendors alike and lights and strange sights I manage to purchase a 'comedy' Christmas hat. Mission accomplished.
Next, more of the splendid lookign wholesale food produce and ingredients markets nearer the riverside. Whole mountains of celophane-wrapped vegetables I know not the name of. Giant wicker baskets containing fresh ginger stem roots, limes, dried red and green chillies, patiently peeled garlic cloves and onions. Large wicker trays covered in ginormous bushels of emerald green corriander! May favourite herb (as yet know to me)! I tell ya, I could swim in that bright green, flavoursome, blissful stuff.
The vast, 46m long, 15m high Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho. The largest reclining buddha in Thailand.
.. and there's almost enough of it here to do so! But I resist. The flower market does not appear to be in full bloom today (or at this time of day) so I progress, salivating at the street stall food all the way, towards the city's grand temples.
I've opted to pass over the grand Palace on this visit in favour of the much older Wat Phra Chetupan or 'Wat Pho' as its more commonly known. Writing this now (15/02/09) in my 6th week in Thailand this remains for me the most fascinating and - in its slightly more rugged, cracked-ceramic way - most beautiful of the buddhist style wat complexes I have visited. Trust me, I've seen a lot of 'em! It's also about a 6th of the price of the Grand Palace next door to enter.
Your amble inside its grounds will probably, as with I, start with the show-stopping Reclining Buddha.
:D What a tool!
At an immense 15 metres high and 46 metres long this really makes for a blockbusting first glimpse; first expression of Southeast Asian religious devotional creativity and magnificence. You stroll along his golden flanks and amdire the delicate, patterned carving of the soles of his giant feet and the intricately painted and carved window surrounds of the bot he reclines within. Your journey accompanied all the way by the constant waterfall clatter of small metallic 'coins' purchased by the faithful (or curious tourist) and dropped one by one into a long line of prayer cauldrons suspended along the rear wall.
The rest of the complex is filled with innumerable connicle or 'lotus' shaped chedi spires and several grandiose rainbow-tiled roof bots, these being the devitional halls within which the most revered images and statuary of buddha are kept and offerings of prayer, incense and money may be made.
Remember when you enter people. Shoes off! and sit modestly in a manner that the soles of your feet are concealed or point behind you or not at buddha... this would be the gravest of insults. The soles of your feet being the lowest part of physical and spiritual connotation and the top of your head the highest. Likewise, buddha will always be seated at the highest point within the bot. The main bot at Wat Pho
houses the Ayutthayan Buddha containing the remains of Rama I, the founder of Bangkok. Wat Pho being the oldest temple in the great city.
Almost all architectural structures within Wat Phos grounds, with special regards to the chedis, are painstakingly decorated with coloured ceramic, mosaiced tiles and ceramic flowers and other animal, dragon and human statuary.
Wat Pho (abstract)
Statuary of all shapes and sizes populate the grounds. Sometimes imposing. Sometimes seeming to hide. Hundreds of cross-legged golden buddhas sit behind glass screens in the central areas and there are over 1,000 representations of buddha to be found here.
A longish stroll now to Wat Saket or the 'Golden Mount'. Many a shallow step and prayer bell passed and chimed before climbing up to the glittering gold- mosaiced chedi-spired summit from where the temple derives its name. An impressive vantage point to pause and take in a large slice of the Bangkok sprawl. I head back riverwards. People sit and chat by roadsides and streetstalls. Tuk tuk drivers constantly, but not invasively hustle for your business. A row of shops where plastic buddhas of all sizes and chedi statuary are sprayed gold for extra mejesty and home consumption.
Lady, her flag and her city, Wat Saket.
Disturbingly life-like wax work buddhist monks at prayer can also be purchased. The tired, the homeless and downtrodden sprawl, dead to the world in almost artful, anatomical compositions of repose upon the sidewalks. The lost sons (and daughters) of The City. I pass the modernist Democracy Monument, heading riverwards where for 14 Baht I catch a late evening river-taxi boat down the Ghao Phraya river. Heading home upon the water.