Sunday, January 1, 2017

Touring Bangkok from our base in Ayutthaya

Today was our day for tourism in Bangkok.  We had hoped to rent an air-conditioned van for the day, so that the baby would have a cool place to take naps breaking up the day, but Chingchai was unable to make an appropriate contact, and our hotel, the Krungsri River Hotel, had utterly no interest in trying to help us.  In fact, it became clear that they would not even arrange a taxi to get us to the airport on the day we needed to fly to Yangon.  Strange hotel that won’t arrange for cab service to the airport; generally speaking all of us found the front desk personnel to be singularly unhelpful.  Luckily, my brother-in-law grew up in Ayutthaya and had the needed contacts to set us up with the transportation we needed.

Instead, we got a  ride to a location where shared-vans made trips into Bangkok (for 60 baht per person. Like most of the other passengers, we got off at one of the outer Skytrain stops

then we took the Skytrain to the Chao Phraya river, where we caught a river taxi. 

There was a huge line of people waiting to board the tourist boat (for 40 baht); we took the regular boat which, for 14 baht, was less crowded

As we passed Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, we could see that the prang was covered with scaffolding for a renovation, so we crossed that tourist destination off our list of places to see that afternoon.  We got off the river taxi at the exit for the Grand Palace.  When we arrived, there was tight security with a metal detector and ID check

Inside security, we hurried past a changing of the palace guard

and took our places in the line to present our 500 baht tickets to enter into the Grand Palace, a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok that has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782.   And then – disaster struck.  After some of us had passed through the crush of the ticket-taking line

 (here are some nice murals in the passage way)

we found that some of us had not come through.  We were separated, and with no way to get in touch (Nafisa had a local SIM card but had run out of minutes).  Chingchai, as a Thai citizen, did not need a ticket so he went back to the area before the ticket takers, and could not find them at first.  After some half hour of panic, he finally made contact with them – the problem was the dress code – no bare shoulders, no pants failing to cover below the knees, no plunging necklines. Nafisa had brought a shawl to cover the bare shoulders exposed by her sleeveless shirt, but it was Sam’s torn jeans that had attracted unwanted attention – he had to go back all the way outside the Palace grounds to a place where he could rent so loose gray pants to cover his offending ripped jeans. 

Finally reunited, we had only 50 minutes until the 4 PM closing time.  The guards were ot going to admit anyone after 3:30, so by this time hardly anyone else was coming into the complex.  We hurried past the great demons guarding the entrance/exit

to see the most important attraction within the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was going to close at 3:30, only twenty minutes away.

First we walked around the outside of the building and admired the rich decoration

Then headed to the interior

to see the Emerald Buddha itself.  To see, but not to take photographs, which are strictly forbidden.  (this Wikipedia image  shows the Emerald Buddha as we saw it; usually, Chingchai explained, you would see more green, but this was winter to he was wearing his winter garments, placed there by the King himself).  And Dan explained the trick about the no photo rule; people take photos from outside the temple in a way that just so happens to include the Emerald Buddha

Then we looked at some of the other buildings in the Grand Palace Complex: the murals along the Hor Phra Naga, which houses a manuscript library as well as the remains of the Thai royal line

the Prasat Phra Thep Bidon, or Royal Pantheon,

whose outsides were being “supported” by these fearsome creatures, monkeys and demons;

the Phra Si Rattana Chedi, a golden stupa said to have been built in the the Sri Lankan style to house relics of the Buddha

the Belfry

and the Phra Viharn Yod, which houses two Buddha images

and is guarded by Tantima birds

Walking within the palace complex we spotted this part of the line of Thai citizens, all dressed in black, waiting to view the body of the recently deceased king, lying in state

Here are some of the murals they could see as they waited

The complex also houses this model of Angkor Wat

Here are some heads that made up the toes of the foot of nagas runing along the staircases of some of the buildings

At 4 PM, the guards started shooing the remaining sightseers towards the exits.  We tried to see a few more items on the way out, catching this view of several prangs

and just before the exit, this group of statues features the Kun Iam, Goddess of Mercy

In the end, our visit to this collection of treasures had been rushed, but one advantage of seeing the Grand Palace near closing time is that the crowds were much reduced for out visit.

On our way of the Grand Palace we passed the Royal Palace, the actual headquarters for Thailand
Royal Palace on the way out

including this highly sculpted bush

As we left the Grand Palace complex, Chingchai pointed out the City Pillar off t0 the right (every city in Thailand has one)

We did ot have time to go up for a closer look.  Instead, we turned left to go look for Wat Po (as it was written in the guidebooks when we were in Thailand in the 1990's).  SO we turned left; on the way we ran into this mural containing a series of portrayals of the recently deceased king

This turned out to be the location where the Thais, attired entirely in black, who had been through the line to view the king’s body came out of the royal palace                       

Various groups were on hand to accommodate the mourners,

doling out bottles of water or other cold drinks, as well as snacks of various kinds

The viewers were also being handed souvenirs, including a photo of the Biddha Kantara style and a calendar of some sort. Apparently not everyone treasured these materials; the discards had accumulated in this pike along the sidewalk

It was getting late, but we wanted to see Wat Pho before leaving the downtown area.  At this point, we had had in mind to head over to Siam Square for dinner, but we paused for a quick bite to eat at the AMA restaurant between the Grand Palace and Wat Pho; this late in the day, they were a bit low on ingredients for some of the dishes listed on their very abbreviated menu, but we had pad thai which came quickly and was well done

Next it was on to Wat Pho

This signs shows how the temple's name is currently nbeing spelled in English; we could not held joking, "Whut foh?"

We were disrespecting the building, but not the Buddha

The entrance to the Viharn Phranorn, which houses a huge reclining Buddha, is guarded by these Chinese-style figures

Here are some of the murals decorating the corridors of the Viharn Phranorn

The reclining Buddha could only be seen in small sections separated by pillars that were close to the huge statue.  If you thought of the pillars as vertical bars, it was almost as if the Buddha were being held in a very small jail cell.

You could lead in between the pillars and over the gate preventing sightseers from touching the figure to take photos up and down the body

Here is a video of a pan from head to toe.

Here are the soles of its bejeweled feet

and here its back (note the pillows on which Buddha’s head is resting)

These statuary groups are outside the Viharn

The Phra Ubosot

contains this sitting Buddha

By the time we left Wat Pho, the stamina of some of our group was starting to fade, and the concept of dinner at Siam Square followed by a mid-evening departure for Ayutthaya was unappealing to some.  So we decided to head straight for our home base.  Easier said than done – it was hard to find taxi big enough to take six adults and a baby back to Ayutthaya.   By the time we located one, it was dark, and the driver knew we were stuck: it cost 2200 baht.  And we were still in rush hour conditions.  It took us two-and-a-half hours to make it back to the hotel.

We were glad we had taken the opportunity to visit Bangkok, and we got a bit of a late start to accommodate Abe's nap schedule, but the amount of time it took us to get into the downtown area and and especially to get back meant that we spent more time traveling than sightseeing.  Yes, we had left later than we had hoped, but in the end, given traffic conditions, Ayutthaya is not a sensible place to stay when sightseeing in Bangkok
We tried to head for Bensansuk (where we had dined the night before) for dinner but it was just closing when we arrived shortly after 9 PM.  So we settled for the Thai restaurant within the hotel, Suan Rim Nam.  Our meal was reasonably good (except for Nancy’s choice, we were sitting along the river, and there was a nice flute/piano duo (the flautist also sang), playing both classics such as Anonimo and covers of standards.  The one problem: the amplifiers were turned up much too loud, so that all the diners were sitting as far away from the performers as possible.  The music was ALSO loud that it could be heard booming through the windows of rooms above, even if the windows were closed, making it hard to sleep.

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