Leaving behind the mountainous land of the elephants, not to mention the lovely weather, we were back in Bangkok on our last few days in Thailand. Although Thailand’s cityscape is not as bright as the likes of Shanghai or Singapore, I was still impressed by the sights we witnessed as we took a dinner cruise along the famous Chao Phraya River. The food was admittedly nothing special, although there was a lot to choose from right from pasta, to sushi, to the usual Thai fare. There was also some entertainment on board, a lot of singing in all different languages. The singer assigned to our ship was actually quite talented, and almost all the things she sang seemed convincing enough since she got all the Russians and French to sing along with her.
What I liked most about the cruise was the wind, and the illuminated grand temples and palaces of Bangkok. The golden structures looked like they were shimmering because of the yellow street lights, and from where I stood on the ship, they reminded me of the pagodas from one of my favourite movies, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. There was simply something mysteriously magical about how they glistened in the night like that.
The weather that night was also quite chilly, and I’m not sure if it was because we were on a boat in the middle of a river; nonetheless, it made the experience quite memorable. Despite the ongoing ruckus with all the people dancing to the singer’s songs, I felt the cruise was a nice moment of peace. There were moments when I felt like there was just my camera and I looking out on the cityscape, the music distant and the wind blowing on my face.
Thailand is arguably famous for their Kathoey, more well-known in Thailand as “the Third Gender”. Perhaps Thailand is one of the most open countries in terms of their acceptance towards transgenders, and it is obvious by how a lot of people actually tune in to these transgender beauty pageants. I think it’s empowering for them to be able to change the way they look to match how they feel or their image of who they really are.
We went to see a cabaret show featuring the Kathoey, very popular shows in Thailand I might add. I was certainly impressed by how beautiful they looked, most of them even more beautiful than actual women! I guess they drew inspiration from their favourite actresses or characters (one of them looks like Jessica Rabbit, I thought). The only downside was that their voices were still rather low whenever they talked. I really like that they are able to come out and express who they truly are in their hearts this way, and they really do enjoy performing all the different characters in the show! You can see it in their demeanour.
We watched The Calypso Show at the Asia Hotel. There were famous musical sequences from famous Chinese and Japanese musicals, a very cute rendition of the famous Korean song ‘Nobody’ by the Wonder Girls, and also some numbers from Chicago, and the most recent Burlesque. As it was the Christmas season, they fittingly ended with the energetic Mariah Carey song ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, plus an explosion of confetti. Certainly a way to end the show and the evening!
The next day we went for half a day’s worth of sightseeing in Bangkok, and the first place we went was The Grand Palace. (Whenever someone says palace I get all excited!) To note: Tourists are not allowed to enter the Palace compound dressed in shorts, sleeveless clothing or clothes that show too much skin.
The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings approximately 220,000 square metres in size, located at the heart of Bangkok. Although the current king does not live here compared to the previous kings, the palace is still used for several official events throughout the year. Although it is one of the most famous tourist spots based on the number of people who were there along with us, it is only partially open to tourists as there are still some parts of the Palace complex used by royal officers as a place of work.
Inside the Palace compound is where the most sacred temple in Thailand, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), is located. Within the temple is the Statue of the Emerald Buddha set atop a lavish pyramid-like golden pedestal, and only the King is allowed to touch the statue. The King changes the statue’s cloak three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy season. This ritual is said to be performed to usher in good fortune for the country during each season. The King used to do this when he was a bit stronger back in the day, but as you might have heard, he has been hospitalised in recent times, and so the Crowned Prince does it for the king. Photography within the walls of the chedi housing the Buddhist statues are not allowed, to show respect to the Buddhas and the devotees who come to pray.
Every single structure and statue in this complex has so much historical meaning, and to be honest, after seeing them and getting a taste of what they were about, I felt curious enough to find a good, entertaining book about the history of the royal family and the Palaces. I am yet to purchase one, but in the meantime, I have the photos to tide me over.
Another sight that amazed me, or made my jaw drop rather, was the extensive wall murals found along the long halls of the outer area of the Wat Phra Kaew. It recounts the Thai national epic Ramakien, or the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana.
I wouldn’t retell the story here as I wouldn’t know where to start and where to end, being that the epic is as thick as an encyclopedia, and I’m no expert on the subject matter. All I know is that these murals are an amazing and extremely intricate set of artworks, complete with golden highlights. (I suppose that’s what the Thais are well-known for, their extremely detailed structures.) I photographed some of my favourite parts, but you would have to see with your own eyes to be astounded by the beautiful detail on these walls.
Other parts within the Grand Palace include the Outer Court; the Middle Court; the Inner Court; and the Siwalai Gardens quarter.
All of them were a marvel, with all the intricate buildings, temples, and statues; painted in gold and encrusted with stones and jewels.
My favourite palace in this whole complex is the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat, below.
It was built in a blend of European (walls and foundations of the Palace) and Thai architecture. Small parts of the lower floor are open to the public as a museum housing old weapons. The upper and middle floors are closed as they are State floors, divided into several reception rooms, throne rooms and galleries displaying royal portraits of every monarch, as well as portraits of Kings with foreign representatives. I believe this is where foreign dignitaries live as well when they come for State Visits.
While I was reading about this Palace, I came across this great description of the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat:
The incongruous make up between the Western lower half and Thai roof has been compared with a… Western lady clothed in Victorian costume while wearing a Thai crown. The symbolism of this juxtaposition was the emphasis of the superiority of Thai architecture (as a crown upon the head) over those of the West (the lower half of the body). This stylistic innovation was more than an artistic coincidence, as it was suppose to convey a significant political message of Siamese resistance over Western imperialism, both of sovereignty and style. Another perspective of this combination is the view that the building itself epitomizes the internal political struggle between the ideas of Westernization and modernity (lead by King Rama V) against those of the traditional ruling elites (as lead by some of his early ministers). -From Wikipedia
For lunch, we finally had a taste of bangkok street food! If any of the food we’ve had in restaurants (or even the cruise!) was half as good as the food here, I would’ve gained so much weight! It’s ironic that we should end up here because our tour guide had forgotten to reserve a table for us at a nearby restaurant. We didn’t want to wait and decided to try the food in this bustling area behind the restaurant. There were a lot of choices, and I would’ve explored the area fully, but our tour guide was hurrying us to order and finish eating. I had a bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup (left, lower photo) and my brother had a very yummy-looking bowl of Tom Yum Noodle Soup (right, lower photo).
The food here was cheap, with a relatively large but surely delicious serving, and the fruits were amazing. I bought packs of crunchy mountain apples and super sweet pineapples for after dinner, and they were perfect dipped in chili salt or chili sugar, and plum sugar. Oh I am feeling nostalgic now!
After lunch it was straight back to sightseeing, and this time we visited the very famous and gigantic Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho. It was under renovation when we went there, but most parts of the wat were still open to the public. The wat is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived. Adjacent to the building housing the Reclining Buddha is a small raised garden, the centrepiece being a tree which is a cutting of the original tree in India where Buddha supposedly sat while awaiting enlightenment.
You really have no idea how large this Buddha is (15 metres high and 43 metres long!) until you go in there and see it. The Buddha is not made of gold, but rather bricks painted in gold. The Buddha’s 3-metre high, 4.5-metre long feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, with 108 arranged panels full of several images and symbols.
The inner courtyard was large but had less people compared to the crowds that gather around the Reclining Buddha. There were a lot of lovely and colourful things there and it was a nice place to wind down for the afternoon.
The next few days we had left in Thailand were spent shopping. And to end my series of posts about my Thai adventures, I leave you with these delicious coconut rolls from Thai Duty Free King Power. Inside the shopping centre, they had jars laid out for free samples, and among myself, my family and our friends who traveled with us, we must’ve consumed a whole box and a half’s worth of coconut rolls! No worries though, we ended up buying more han a dozen boxes anyway. If you don’t get to visit the King Power Complex, these rolls are available in the airport’s Duty Free section, and yes, you can have a taste before you decide to buy them!
I hope you enjoyed my Thailand series! Stay tuned for another post in the Wanderlust series, hopefully soon! And with any luck, I will to get my hands on some travel writing books so that I’ll know how to do this right in the future. 😉
Other posts in this series: