We are coming close to the end of our trip. I had no idea what to expect from Bangkok. It was amazing. I found it to be a wonderful confluence of totally divergent aspects. As we were being driven into the city from the airport, the first thing that hit me is that this is a major city unlike any we have encountered on this trip; there’s a skyline with huge skyscrapers, there are real highways (not just big roads) & there are more cars & traffic jams than we have ever seen even in NY. That was our introduction to Bangkok. A few hours later we were traipsing through a large, gritty, grungy Chinatown, the likes of which we have never seen before, be it in NY, San Francisco or anywhere in China. And then the following day (which was a definite highlight of this wonderful journey) we were taken to the most gorgeous temples and palace buildings unlike anything we had already seen.
Unlike IndoChina (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia) which was originally French, Thailand was ruled by the British. Like Great Britain,Thailand also has a king with only ceremonial power. In fact, Thailand’s king (Rama IX) passed away in October & the country is still in mourning. Everywhere you go, you see huge pictures of the king. Our guide wore a black mourning ribbon; fascinating, no? (BTW, Rama IV is the king from “The King & I). Even today the Thais drive on the “wrong” side of the road & the cars all have the steering wheel on the right hand side. Our guide in Bangkok had the best English (i.e., easiest to understand). Bangkok alone was worth the trip (& we all know by now that we have seen some truly spectacular sights in the past 3 weeks).
So let’s start at the beginning of our time in Bangkok. Straight from the airport we were taken to Wat Traimit – the Gold Buddha Temple. It contains the world’s largest solid gold statue of Buddha. It weighs 5.5 tons and was discovered 40 years ago beneath a plaster exterior when it fell from a crane while being moved to a new building.
If you’re wondering what I’m wearing, it’s a rented skirt! We came straight from the airport & I was wearing shorts because the original plan was to go to the Golden Buddha after checking into the hotel.
Here’s the outside of Wat Traimit:
At this point, we did check into our hotel — the Peninsula which has been rated the world’s best hotel by Travel & Leisure magazine. While we haven’t been to every hotel in the world (yet 😀), we would certainly have to agree that it is a stupendous hotel. Our suite was laid out almost like a one bedroom apartment. Marty wanted to stay there longer in order to take advantage of the hotel’s amenities. However, we had places to go & things to see.
After a couple of hours at the pool, we were picked up by our guide and driver and taken to Bangkok’s Chinatown for a Chinatown Foodie Walk. As I’m sure you can guess, this was an activity we had been looking forward to & we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were handed over to a guide who specialized in this tour. As with virtually everything on this trip, it was a private tour for just the two of us. We spent the next 3 1/2 hours tasting the local cuisine. Each dish was from a different vendor or restaurant; some dishes were street food (where both the cooking & the eating were literally done in the street & no, we didn’t get sick!) and others were in restaurants ranging from very casual to somewhat more elegant. The food included some soups, some dim sum, pad Thai (even though we were in Chinatown, we were in Thailand!), a few entrees & dessert. While we didn’t like every dish, it was such a fun experience. My favorite dish was the last one; it was a dessert of a ginger soup (yes, cold soup for dessert) that contained a huge doughy ball filled with sesame. Marty hated it!
Here’s the gate leading into Chinatown, certainly reminiscent of those in many Chinatowns around the world.
And here are a few photos from our Foodie Walk.
So here’s what I wrote in my journal for the next day: “Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any better, it does.” The day focused on Bangkok’s historic & artistic treasures. First we went to Wat Pho arriving in time to hear the chanting of the resident monks.
Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest & largest temples. My photos don’t do it justice. It was magnificent. There are lots of different buildings within the complex, all with gorgeous colors. The Angkor temples were incredible, but they were all grey. I can’t begin to describe the visual effect of the profusion of glittering colors. Here are a few pictures.
Note all the jewels the Buddha is sitting on.
The Wat Pho complex has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand.
The next 3 photos give a little indication of the fabulous colors.
The Wat Pho compound includes the largest reclining Buddha. He has mother of pearl inlays on the soles of his feet. It was amazing.
From Wat Pho (where we spent several hours) we walked about15 minutes in the heat (& appropriately dressed in slacks & covered shoulders) to the Grand Palace complex. Again, I was overwhelmed by the multitude of magnificent buildings. Clearly, this is one of the most spectacular sights in Thailand (& on this entire trip). The buildings all have colorful & glittering mosaics. Housed in one of the buildings is the Emerald Buddha I mentioned back in Laos. (Can you remember that far back?!). Turns out it’s really jade & you can’t take ant photos of it from inside the building. It didn’t really matter as it was far less impressive than everything else I saw on this day.
The Grand Palace compound has 945,000 square meters of grounds with more than 100 buildings that represent over 200 years of royal history & architectural experimentation. The ground was consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule & is today a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists.
Then we walked another 15 minutes in the heat to lunch where I had a lovely salmon & papaya salad. Have I mentioned that I’ve fallen in love with papaya on this trip? After lunch a short walk to our last boat ride on this trip to navigate Bangkok’s maze of waterways & canals. As big & busy as Bangkok is with its myriad of skyscrapers, it is also known as the Venice of the East, although I thought the canals were more reminiscent of Amsterdam. The breeze on the boat ride was very refreshing as we observed life along the canals. We stopped at a local artist community. I was hoping to buy something there, but alas nothing struck my fancy.
After the boat ride, we visited one more amazing temple: Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn. This is one of the best known temples in Bangkok & yet another one that “knocked my socks off”; (even though I wasn’t wearing any!). This temple is made of mosaics of broken porcelain. The tall elongated central Khymer-style tower is surrounded by 4 minor towers.
When we got back to the hotel, we collapsed from all the walking & the heat. We had a lovely Thai dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge. We took an Uber taxi back to our hotel; funny, no? especially since this was the first time we were ever in an Uber taxi!
The following day was our last day of sightseeing on this trip & it was another wonderful day. Our first stop was the Prasart Museum. It was amazing. It is a private museum on the outskirts of Bangkok. It was a collection of antiques from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China & Burma all owned by Mr. Prasart who lives on the grounds. The museum consists of many different buildings (that were transported there) & statues in a lush garden. One of the buildings contained incredible small artifacts, but no photos were allowed inside & we had to take our shoes off (as if we were in a temple) so as to not destroy the rugs. We were led through this museum by a guide from the museum who was incredibly knowledgeable about each piece. We were the only people there; it was odd.
From there we went to one more market: Chatuchak, Bangkok’s famous week-end market; biggest market I’ve ever seen. It was a maze of narrow lanes packed with stalls selling everything. It was part flea market, part craft market, part food fair. There were live snakes for sale, herbal remedies, dishes, clothing, etc. Would you believe Marty bought another pair of shorts?! & I finally found a picture I like; although I’m considering possibly just blowing up one of my own photos. We’ll see.
Our last sightseeing stop on this wonderful journey was Jim Thompson’s House & Museum. He was an American born in 1906. He served in Asia during WWII & fell in love with Thailand. The hand weaving of silk captured his attention & he devoted himself to reviving the craft. Highly gifted as a designer & textile colorist, he contributed to the industry’s growth & to the worldwide recognition accorded to Thai silk. They had beautiful silk fabrics & clothing in the store there. He gained further renown through the construction of his house combining 6 teak buildings which represent the best in traditional Thai architecture. The house contains his collection of Asian art. Unlike the Prasart Museum, this one was mobbed & we were on a group tour. Unfortunately, you were not allowed to take photos inside the house. It was a good tour though.
Our last dinner in Bangkok was at a Thai restaurant called Nahm. It was on the World’s top 50 restaurant list so I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype. Ah well.
This ended our sightseeing trip, but not our journey. We are spending the last 3 1/2 days at a beach resort in Phuket; time to relax & unwind. We are at the SALA Resort. We have a private one room villa. We have our own swimming pool which is 10 ft wide by 30 feet long & 4 ft deep; so cool.
Even cooler perhaps is that the bathroom is outdoors! The toilet & sinks are covered by an awning, but the shower is open to the sky.
The white piece at the end of the pool is the bathtub!
The resort has several communal pools. There are not only comfy chaise lounges, but cabanas to relax in.
The weather in Phuket has not been perfect. The mornings are gorgeous. I went for a walk on the beach this morning. There have been thunderstorms every afternoon. At least it’s nice & warm. It gives me time to read & to finish this last Haber Report.
This has been an amazing trip. We have seen so many fascinating things. One of the best parts of this trip was that I never felt like we were seeing the same thing over & over again. The guides were all very good; some, of course, were better than others.
Here are a couple of thIngs I discovered on this trip that had nothing to do with what we were seeing: Some of the hotel bathrooms had baskets for your dirty towels; seems like such an obvious thing to do; don’t know why all hotels don’t do this. Liquid sugar syrup for your iced coffee.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the majority of you who have been writing to me after each report. I definitely appreciated all your feedback. It was very gratifying. It was fun traveling with all of you. So until our next sightseeing trip, I remain
Your Roving Travel Reporter,