For weeks, that old song has been stuck in my head. “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster”, etc. etc. Rest assured, that gorgeous place didn’t make these tough guys tumble.
There are many times over the years that we have been thankful for Tim’s great job. This week in Bangkok was one of those times. Tim had to go for a few days of work, so we tagged on some vacation time too. We loved the city and the people, though the weather reminded us of a trip to Provence in June many years ago when a friend, Matt, said, “Oh, this must be what it’s like to live on the sun.” A humid sun, no less. For people like us who sweat when the AC is off, just walking outside in Bangkok put a nice sheen on our entire bodies. They know how to use the air conditioning there though. The sky train (elevated train) was a welcome cool as we traveled around the city. The trick was to keep moving; on land or water – the breezes were critical outside.
Since we only had a short tourist time, we opted to use a tour guide for the city one day, and outside the city another day. Tour with Tong was recommended by many folks on Trip Advisor, and we would have to agree. They certainly made things more efficient and it went much more easily with them. Our first stop was the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is an amazing complex; one of those places that you don’t believe really look that way until you’re standing there yourself. Like St. Basil’s in Red Square – it doesn’t look real in the pictures. Many sites in Bangkok are like that too. The Palace complex construction began in the late 1700s and it was until recently, the royal residence. It remains government offices, foreign dignitary guest housing and the famous Temple. There are gloriously ornate buildings, defenders of the King in huge statue form, walls of galleries telling a proud history, and Buddha is ever-present. We saw and heard tourists from around the world, at the same time seeing locals in devout daily prayer.
The Thai people are pleasant, seemingly happy, and smiling most of the time. They always take the moment to smile, greet you and say their sawahdee. Dare I say you feel a bit happier being around them. We heard the tourist warnings and took heed of pushy vendors and tuk tuk drivers, but had no problems. I think because we choose to have, and plan on, a good experience, then we do.
In addition to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), we also visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), and took a river and canal tour. Throw in a tasty lunch, a tour of the Jim Thompson house, and even a traditional Thai massage, and it was a great day.
On Monday, we opted to see some of the country and toured the Kanchanaburi province. The main purpose of this trip was to see the Temple of the Tiger, a sanctuary for rescued animals in the area. It was started years ago, when a poacher brought a baby tiger to the monks (because the mother was dead). From that one occurrence, the temple grew and the number of animals grew too. They have 72 tigers this year, along with water buffalo, pigs, deer, and even a peacock. It was amazing to see their work; like taking care of those animals is their calling in faith. As with all travel, there is food involved, and Monday’s lunch involved pad thai and spring rolls at a fabulous outdoor, rural restaurant. We loved it. After the temple, we stopped at the Erawan Waterfall and hiked to the first two levels. For us, this was another of those places that don’t seem real in the photos. On this Kanchanaburi trip, we also visited the bridge over the River Kuai and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre museum. The latter tells the story of the Japanese invasion of the region and is dedicated to the men who were prisoners of war for the death railway. It was sobering, to say the least. It has always been important to us, in traveling, to see the beautiful and the sometimes painful reminders of the past. It gives us perspective on where we are in the world; where we have been and where we are going.
The next couple of days involved Tim going to meetings and Julie off on her own. In this week, there were some non-touristy things too, like our first Burger King and Dunkin Donuts in three months, a visit to a great grocery store with lots of Western products, a fantastic bookstore where I spent a little too much money on English books, and a couple of American movies. All of these things give us perspective too, and a little comfort.
Enjoy the photos.