Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bangkok an Enigmatic City

While Bangkok may be perplexing and mysterious a few things are clear:
  • its seemingly unplanned clusters of high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, obnoxious heat and humidity, and "naughty old men with young, Thai girls" did not give us a great first impression; however,
  • it is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities with delicious food, magnificent temples and palaces, a beautiful river, and bustling markets.
We chose to let our first impression slip away while we ate, enjoyed the sights, marveled at the views, and browsed the markets. Our base for experiencing Bangkok was lebua at State Tower. The view from our room was truly awesome yet, from the height of the 52nd floor, was potentially a bit vertiginous.

Afternoon View of the Chao Phraya River from Room 5205

Evening View of the Chao Phraya River from Room 5205

Getting around Bangkok is easy. The Chao Phraya Boats, the BTS Skytrain, metered taxis, and tuk-tuks all provide efficient and direct ways of getting from point A to point B. Our first use of public transport was the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat which is basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. (N.B. In the brief time that we were in Bangkok two river accidents occurred. The first one tragically involved a 8-year boy drowning after falling into the river due a collision of his long tail river taxi with a river barge; the second one humorously involved a 32-year political candidate, "making a splash", after falling into the river in an attempt to board his campaign boat. A paradox of tragedy and humor... much like the city itself.)

Chao Phraya Tourist Boat


Typical "long tail" River Taxi

Thai Family Outing via River Boat

Grand Palace as Seen from Chao Phraya River.
We were unable to visit the palace as it was closed
to the public on account of a private, royal ceremony.

Disembarking at the Tha Tien Pier we took a ferry across the river to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.The Buddhist temple has a central prang (a prang is a tall finger-like spire, usually richly carved) accompanied by four surrounding, minor prangs. The steep steps leading up the central prang represent the difficulties of reaching higher levels of existence. Gus explained that is was unnecessary to climb the stairs as "our level of existence was already being lifted dangerously  higher and higher or your love keeps...". Either way he didn't want to climb the stairs.

River View of Temple.
Wat Arun is considered one of the most well known
of all Thailand's many landmarks. Its image appears on
the ten baht coin.

Ceramic Details.
Much of the porcelain used to decorate the prangs
 was donated by local people. The flowers depicted
are said to evoke the vegetation of Mount Meru
(considered, by Thai Buddhists, to be the center of
all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes).

Small Cove.
On the second level of the central prang are
 many small coves, inside which are kinnari,
mythological creatures, half bird half human.

Chinese Guard.
These figures, at the entrance to the terrace,
 complement the Chinese- style porcelain
decorating the prangs.

Our next site required a ferry back across the river. Leaving the ferry we walked to Wat Pho. Wat Pho is home to the Reclining Buddha, one of the world's largest single Buddha images. The complex consists of two walled compounds. The northern walled compound is where the Reclining Buddha and massage school are found. The southern walled compound, Tukgawee, is a working Buddhist monastery with monks in residence and a school.

The Phra Si Sanphet Chedi.
Encases the remains of a sacred Buddha image.

Reclining Buddha.
The 150 foot long, gilded plaster and brick
image fills the whole wihan.

Feet of the Reclining Buddha.
The striking, intricate mother-of-pearl images on the
 soles of the feet represent the 108 lakshanas, which
are the auspicious signs of the true Buddha.

Meditating Buddha

Medicine Pavilion.
Embedded in the walls of the pavilion are stone
plaques showing massage points. Since the 1960s
Wat Pho has run the most respected massage
 school in Bangkok.

Calling it a day we headed back to the hotel. After cleaning up and dressing for dinner we headed up to the Skybar for drinks and fresh oysters.

View from Skybar

Joan and Gus Delighting in Cocktails

We then enjoyed a fabulous six course chef's tasting menu at Mezzaluna...

(single, left click on image to enlarge and read)

prepared by...

Thomas and Mathias Suhring
German, identical twins which I am sure
will soon own multiple Michelin stars

hosted by...

Christina, Mezzaluna General Manager

accompanied by...

Live Classical String Quartet
Musicians from the Thai Navy

(performed Cinema Paradiso)

We enjoyed an exhilarating evening of innovative cuisine in an elegant ambiance enhanced by superb service. 

Next morning, Sunday, we choose to experience Chatuchak Market. We used the BTS Skytrain to get to the market.  Chatuchak is Thailand's biggest market and is staged each weekend in a northern suburb of Bangkok. It is a chaotic collection of over 6,000 stalls which together occupy the space of five football fields.

Rambutan Fruit

Buddha for Sale
Good price but far too expensive to ship home.

Head Bands All-the-Rage
"Good price, four for ten baht "

Grilled Meats On-a-Stick

Busy Diner Serving "Street" Food

Noodle Shop with  Mounds of Condiments

By the end of 2 hours we had had enough. Unlike us, most Bangkokians spend the entire day browsing among the merchandise displays. We jumped back on the BTS Skytrain and got off at the National Stadium station and walked over to the Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson was a self-made American entrepreneur who was the founder of the world renowned Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. Thompson's achievements during his 25 year stay in the Kingdom of Thailand won him much fame as the "Legendary American of Thailand".

One of six "collected and reconstructed" traditional Thai-style
houses that together comprise the Jim Thompson House.

Jungle landscape envelopes the House.
 This natural beauty, in the midst of the
city, gives the house its unique appeal.
Bangkok remains an enigma. Yet, while our first impression stills holds true, we are glad we ventured out and about. Now we move on to Koh Samui... Thai simplicity at its very best. 

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