I’m on a trip of a trip of a lifetime to SE Asia with my mom and good friend Sandra. See my original post here where I explain the how and why of us coming halfway around the world. Special thanks to my many travel blogger friends who were loaded with advice on what to do, where to go, and how to blend in.
After 21 hours of travel, we arrived in Bangkok, one of the world’s major cities. A blend of ancient and modern, Bangkok is so welcoming to foreigners that it makes a good introduction to Asia for the novice traveler. A driver met us and whisked us to our 5 star hotel, the Siam, which was built a few years ago by the man who brought Mazda to Thailand. He wanted to create the ultimate in pampering, and the Siam turned out like a dream.
Named after Thailand’s original name, Siam, the hotel looked like the ultimate paradise with a graceful fusion of Ancient Asian and modern conveniences. Service was their utmost priority, and we had a private butler assigned to meet our every need. “Jill” was our day butler and he would escort us to and from breakfast, make dinner arrangements for us, and make sure we had everything we could possibly need. At first it was weird to have Jill walking along with us, but I must say, by the third day, he was a comforting sight as we returned to the hotel each evening.
Our visit to Bangkok coincided with the recent anti-government protests, and our hotel was just a few blocks from the parliament building, so whenever we drove anywhere, our driver had to fight the insanely congested, re-routed traffic. We never saw the protesters in action, but we would see the King’s guards gathering to keep the peace as well as protesters carrying signs and flags as they headed home in the evenings. Our guide, Noi, was very much into the anti-government movement and every morning she told us the latest updates. While no violence happened when we were there, we could still feel the excitement in the air. I will be following the current events in Thailand with great interest from now on.
Fun fact: While the Thai people have heard of the movie The King and I, it has never been shown in Thailand because it makes fun of the King.
Traffic, traffic, and more traffic. I’ll take I-4 any day! Lol Once we got rolling, though, it was fun to check out the busy street markets and signs written in the curly-cue Thai language. Many people spoke English, so getting around was easy, but it was strange to see the King’s photo everywhere. And I mean everywhere! On every building, gate, and often on specially-built monuments… I must say, it reminded me of seeing Lenin’s picture everywhere when I was in the former USSR. Creepy!
Bangkok itself is huge, and looked like I expect most big cities to look, but throw in a couple hundred temples! Buddhist temples are called “wats” and we got to see some mighty impressive ones in Thailand. One wat may have several different pagodas within the temple walls. Most of the places we visited were crowded with tourists as well as Thai people, who were there to pay their respects to the monks or pray in front of a Buddha statue.
Fun fact: Thai people dress the Buddha statues according to the season. They put a bright orange “monk” robe on him. For winter, he is wrapped up tight. While we were there, all the Buddha statues had on off-the-shoulder robes for fall. (Weird! Wouldn’t this be like putting a fur coat on Virgin Mary statues for the the winter?)
The temples were so ornate and often decorated with bright colors, elaborate carvings, gold leaf, and jewels. And since most of these were already hundreds of years old, they were truly some of the most magnificent sites I have ever witnessed!
Among other places, we visited Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha (which was ridiculously big – 45 meters long), the Grand Palace (which was also humongous), as well as the Emerald Buddha (which was actually a tiny little thing).
Fun fact: Thailand is 95% Buddhist and Thai families pay to take care of or restore a Buddha statue so they can have the ashes of a dead family member put inside, so we were actually visiting a giant beautiful cemetery!
That night, we took a river cruise and got to see these same temples all lit up- just breathtaking!
The next day we headed to a rural part of Thailand, just outside Bangkok, where we got to see the King’s summer palace. Bang Pa is gorgeous and shows just why it is good to be the King!
Fun fact: The King has his royal monastery here, too, just across the river. We crossed via cable car and had a private tour. The King who built this monastery was a fan of European architecture, and so he built a replica of a Catholic church and placed a Buddha inside instead of a cross!
Then we headed on a river cruise for lunch, where the sites were outstanding but the food not-so-great. FYI: I am not a fan of Thai food – it is way too spicy and half the time I wasn’t too sure what I am eating! And anytime I can see the fish’s face, it is a no-go for me!
Fun fact: Butterfly Pea Tea is a sweet drink that is indigo blue until you add lime; then it suddenly turns purple! I am definitely having this at the next bridal or baby shower I host!
The final place we visited was Arutthaya, the ancient ruined city that was the Siam capital from 1350 until 1730 when it was sacked by Burma. It is now a World Heritage Site.
Our last night in Bangkok was spent courtesy of Ben Reed, whose Asian experiences you can read at Adventures with Ben as well as his Florida experiences at Orlando Waterhole. Ben suggested we try out the Sky Bar on the 64th floor…. Oh my! What a view!
Bangkok was a fun city but I don’t feel the need to go back. It was fast-paced and crowded. Religious signs and temples can be seen everywhere and is part of everyday life; however, according to our guide Noi, most people just pray for good fortune and financial prosperity. They make donations to the monks to gain special favor, and it all felt a bit corrupted. In fact, Buddhist Rehab seems to fairly popular, when a person shaves their head and becomes a Buddhist monk for just 7 days to try and change their luck. (Say wha–?)
The Thai people for the most part were extremely gracious and most anything was forgiven with a smile and a head bow. (Thanks, Greg Nunn, for that tip!) If you have the chance to go, be sure to see the colorful temples, head up to the Sky Bar for a drink, and maybe even do a little Buddhist Rehab to see if it will help you win the lottery!
Bring on Cambodia!
To see all the photos from my trip, see my Flickr account.