Thursday, September 29, 2011

Touchdown Thailand

I was going to Bangkok with a mix of excitement and apprehension. Thailand was actually one of my favorite places on earth I've never been to. However I knew that traveling there alone would be a lot different from traveling alone to the safe and sanitized streets of Singapore. Bangkok strikes me as a dark and gritty city from what I’ve seen in movies like The Beach, Street Fighter and The Hangover. But then, I grew up and live in Caloocan so why should I be hoity-toity?

Sunday morning in Sampeng Lane, Chinatown

Coffee by the Chao Phraya River, with a view of glorious Wat Arun

Bangkok's rail station is speedy and efficient. Although it doesn't travel along the older areas where the touristy temples are abound.

The hotel which is to be my home for five days was located in the rugged, bustling and often-filmed Yaowarat Road, Chinatown. I’d be mostly travelling by foot because the best temples to visit are far from the convenience of the mass transit trains. Also I was deliberately avoiding tuk-tuks and taxis as much as I could as I learned from my Googling that plenty of those are involved in some sort of scam.

The routes to my destinations were pretty straight-forward but with some street signs written only in Thai it was pain-in-the-ass difficult to street-trek at times. Thankfully the friendly locals are always happy to give you directions. I arrived late in the afternoon in Thailand because of an insane flight delay, so I just spent my first day eating out in the red light district and woke up early the next morning to visit some of the most popular places in the city.

Wat Pho
Being my first time to see a Thai temple up close I was utterly wowed as soon as I entered the grounds, which welcomed me with a view of a dozen towering chedis and golden roofs gleaming in the morning sun. Just as I was about to remove my shoe to get inside the temple however, I discovered that I stepped on dog manure. Ew. I normally have some kind of psychic shit-radar but apparently it doesn’t work on these parts.

By the feet of the reclining Buddha

Placing coins on 108 metal pots.

Dozens of chedis gleam in the morning sun at the Wat Po temple complex.

I wasn’t so much wowed by the reclining Buddha as I was by the chedi’s outside, maybe because I’ve already seen hundreds of its photo in my friends’ Facebooks. I was actually more fascinated with the intricate murals of the temple – with their vibrant yet muted colors reminding me of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. There were constant sounds of chinking metal inside the temple, and I see later that they come from the coins being dropped onto a long row of alms bowl by exiting visitors.

Before leaving the temple complex I bought my own little reclining Buddha and a ganesh murti at the souvenir shop which I were able to haggle to 250 baht each. It was a rip-off price but it’s still much, much cheaper than those being sold at Ongpin. By noon students and tourists began pouring in so it was time to leave ‘Wat Poo’ and walk my way to my next destination.

The Royal Grand Palace
There were lots of tourists around the palace walls which makes it an ideal feeding ground for scammers. While I was waiting to cross a street for example a nearby tuk-tuk driver saw me bungling with my map. “You look like Thai people. Where you from?”. I was thinking about faking an Asian-American accent and tell him I just came back from the states but I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. “Oooo, Philippine? I like Manny Pacquiao (while punching in the air). Want to see nice place? Come, I show you map.” Using his map he pointed to several tourists spots where he could take me to for just 50 baht. Of course he didn’t mention that he might bring me as well to a jewelry shop or to God-knows-what place else where he could earn himself some commission. He was nice and friendly eventhough he was trying to scam me so I declined with a smile.

The demon guardians of the temple

Five headed naga

Buddhist amulets on sale on the streets surrounding the royal palace.

A devotee gilds an image of the Buddha

Palace guards on their routine march.


The royal palace complex is like an Asian-themed Disneyland and is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. Being also a place of worship there were lots of locals doing their religious duties, although I couldn’t imagine how they are able to pray so serenely with all the tourists walking and chattering  all over the place.

Among all the beautiful buildings in the palace grounds, the Wat Phra Kaew temple is king. It holds the legendary Emerald Buddha which is one of Thailand’s most sacred relics. Inside the atmosphere was serene and different from the hustle-and-bustle outside, and photography is not allowed so I just concentrated on admiring the sacred Buddha relic and sucking in the “I’m-in-Thailand” experience.

I must have spent two hours walking around the complex despite the scorching sun. Thankfully there is a refreshment area just before the exit where I had myself some coconut and an odd-tasting popsicle.

Khao San Road
I rested my feet inside a not-so-famous little temple where I came upon a chatty local named Mariwan, a nurse who’s vacationing from Chiang Mai. We had a hearty and noisy chit-chat, laughing at our inability to understand each other, much to the annoyance of the monk who was manning the temple.

A heavy rain pours over Khao San road. An hour later this street will be flooded and the sidewalks infested by hundreds of cockroaches. It was kind of funny to seeing tourists hoppity hop around trying to run away from them.

Just before sunset I headed towards the famous Khao San road to experience some party vibe, but when I came there I realized it wasn’t really my type of environment. There were loud music and beer and boisterous tourists all over, which reminded me of the seedy areas around Jupiter Street in Makati. There was then a long and heavy rain which flooded the street and which had me trapped in the place until late in the evening. I just amused myself watching the other tourists wondering which country they might have come from. By midnight I grew tired of it all, and because of the rain and flood, I had to pay an exorbitant fare to a rip-off tuktuk driver to take me back to my hotel. It was a perilous and scary drive: we were probably hitting 80 on the wet and slippery street while the driver kept on insisting to take me to the red light district to see the “ping pong pussy exhibition”. I was beyond words with my happiness and relief when I arrived at the front door of my hotel.

 Tom Yum Ghoom and Mexican Coffee. And iced water for putting out the fire in my mouth.

View from the long-tail boat.

Patpong at night.


Post a Comment

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Affiliate Network Reviews
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...