Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wat is happening...

Wat's up?! Today is our second full day in Bangkok and we've already done a bunch and seen some awesome Wats or temples. We're calling it an early night tonight thanks to a combo of exhaustion and waking up early tomorrow to head to Ayutthaya, the original capital of Thailand. This blog post is long over due... and I attempted to write one yesterday when we were taking a break to recharge our batteries (literally- camera battery died earlier because I was snapping pics like crazy) so I figured I'd post something about the day so far. I started the post then, and then ended up taking a much needed nap and never finished. So let me begin/resume by telling you all about our day yesterday! It began excellently, and early. We woke up around 7:30 and snagged our free complimentary breakfast from downstairs. It was awesome and hand prepared for us on the spot!
Starting the day deliciously!
After breakfast we got a map of the nearby area from the hostel employees and practiced saying "Thank you" in Thai. Then we started gearing up to head out and explore Bangkok! The plan was to hit up Grand Palace and Wat Pho, as well as possibly more depending on how the day played out. We wore zip off pants so that we could be comfortable in shorts while walking around, and then easily zip into pants before entering the temples... as this is a mandatory sign of respect.
Ready to go exploring!
But before we made it any of those cool places, we had to navigate our little neighborhood! The streets near us are small and windy, and you never know what you'll see around the corner... maybe a bike, a scooter, a car, a stray dog, or a food vendor... all can be found in the streets. The smells are a sensory overload as well... varying from very foul canal water filled with trash, to the overpowering scents of the various different types of meats and spices being cooked by the street vendors. Who nose what you'll smell next?
Who's up for a swim?
I let Mike take the map and lead the way, because I was constantly reaching for my camera and stopping to take pictures making me practically useless as a navigator. I probably could have snagged pictures of those little streets and alley ways for hours... it was all very different from anywhere else I've ever been.
Mike leads the way
After passing a series of different parked scooters, stray dogs, and walking across a small canal... we chanced upon a small park by the river that held an old fort and a small temple. Lots more pictures were taken!
Never a dull moment on the street
 We later discovered on our walk back home that the fort was built as a request from one of the many Ramas or kings of Thailand. Can't recall at this point whether it was ever actually used.
Fort near our hostel
Then we discovered the river! We knew it was nearby when we booked the hostel, but this was our first actual glimpse of it. It was pretty dirty too, but thanks to the fact that there was a lot more water and it was moving... it wasn't as trashy as that little canal. Kind of frightening that people just throw their trash into the rivers here.
Water, water, everywhere... 
Our first temple which was also in this same little area was small, but definitely still stunning. Something this magnificent in any other place would have visitors from all over... but in Thailand it is just one of many, and so it sits quietly alone watching the river flow by.
Wat by the river
We chose to walk along the river for a while, since that would lead us to the temples we wanted to explore, and it gave us a scenic view of one of the many ways to get around in Bangkok. The old longboats are used mostly for tours, and they also ferry people to certain hot spots such as markets and temples.
Colorful longboats
We took a short cut through one of the Universities near by, and then ended up in the heart of the Amulet Market... where many small tokens are sold, mostly to taxi cab drivers, monks, and people in dangerous professions. There was a huge variety of different little trinkets, with lots of different food vendors and tiny convenience stores wedged in at all angles. The walking space was narrow and there was tons to look at all at once. We walked through rather quickly, and I snagged as many pictures as I could.
Crocodile skulls at the Amulet market
I am posting the full album of pictures from this day and other days to Facebook, so you see even more pictures if you're interested. I'll also work on setting up a Flickr account once I get into the field.
Siamese Cats
On our way to the Grand Palace and after surfacing from the Amulet Market, we stopped at a museum and decided to take off our shoes and walk around since it was free and had AC... which is always welcome! It appeared to be a sort of history of Thailand museum, showcasing exhibits about different wars, leaders, etc. It was all in Thai of course so we couldn't quite say for sure what was going on... but it was elegantly done and quite large.
Door to the museum
After the museum we walked past a few more smaller temples that were very near to the Grand Palace. At this point we were beginning to encounter overly "helpful" Thai people who knew a bit of English and began to tell us places to go or things to see that may or may not have actually existed.
Wat that we entered
I read in the guidebook I have that a common scam is for Thai people to tell you that something is very special only for today, or that something is closed until a certain time... and then they'll try to redirect you to somewhere else where hopefully you'll spend some money and then they get a cut. That happened to us today more than yesterday, but we definitely had a lot of people coming up to us trying to point us places on the map because we clearly looked like clueless tourists.
Approaching the Grand Palace
Nonetheless, we managed to avoid throwing our Baht away to any of these people and finally made it to the Grand Palace. Grand is no understatement, this place is HUGE. There are tons of different temples within the boundaries, and it reminded me almost of a holy amusement park because there were so many tourists from all over the world coming to see it.
Greetings from the Grand Palace!
The entrance consisted of a few guards making sure that no one walked in with shorts or sleeveless shirts, and they were happy to direct you to the building adjacent to get a free sari or whatever necessary clothing you were lacking so that you could still enter.
Approaching the main entrance
We were thankful we brought our zip off pants so we didn't have to put on sweaty clothes worn by who knows how many different people. We bought our tickets at the window and then headed towards the main entrance. Thankfully it was very clear which line we were to be in.
That's us!
Once we got inside, I couldn't turn my camera off... there were just too many things to try to capture. Except when we actually went inside the temples, you weren't allowed to take pictures in there and guards were standing by to make sure you didn't try to pull a fast one.
OHM my goodness
We walked around inside for at least a half an hour... admission was 500 baht, or about $17... so we wanted to make sure we got our money's worth, not to mention there was a ton to see!
Always watching....
The most famous temple within the Grand Palace is the one containing the Emerald Buddha, which has quite an interesting story.
Can you see why they call it Grand?
The Emerald Buddha is very small, and it was originally covered in plaster when it was located in the Chang Rai providence in Northern Thailand. One day it was dropped by accident, and the plaster broke to reveal its gem interior. Covering Buddhas with plaster was a common occurrence back then to protect them from being stolen.
Hands off the Buddha, Brudda!
It's "coming out" happened back in the 15th century, and then in the 16th century... it was stolen by a Laotian army that invaded Northern Thailand. The Emerald Buddha remained in Laos for over 200 years until 1778 when King Taksin waged war against Laos and retrieved the image.
Very tall Wat
Originally the Buddha was taken back to Northern Thailand, but when the capital was moved to Bangkok, it moved also and became a resident of one of the largest Wat's within the Grand Palace. We took off our shoes and walked inside to check it out, and it was astonishing. The walls were entirely covered with murals telling stories of the history of Thailand... depicting wars, and scenes of villages and forests. Even the roof of the temple was completely covered in extremely detailed art.
Outside of the Emerald Buddha temple
 We walked around some more... took a lot more pictures, and then eventually attempted to exit.
Wat's up doc? 
I say attempted because there were many twists and turns, and it was easy to get turned around among all the different Wats that each looked different but also very similar.
Another awesome Wat
We did finally find our way out, and I of course continued to snap a bazillion pictures the entire time we were exiting. I even made Mike and some random German guy take a few pictures for me.
Gold Wat
On our way out we passed by a few armed guards, looking very official making sure that tourists didn't enter into certain parts of the Palace that they weren't allowed. No body seemed too concerned with trying to get past the guard, instead they would all rather just have their picture taken with him.
Eventually we ventured out of the Palace, and wandered on to another Wat... Wat Pho. This is the home of the famous reclining Buddha. I will have to tell you about this adventure another day, because like the Reclining Buddha... it is time for me to lay down. Lots of more stories to come, and I promise to try not to get too far behind!
-Brewkeeper, Over and Out!

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