Saturday, August 29, 2009

2nd Stop - BANGKOK

Alright - here we go - our first entry from Bangkok!!

We arrived at the new airport, Suvarnabhumi, in the early evening. Our guide book was written before it opened so we were on our own for finding transport to the city centre. Our only advice was to avoid the people and info booths that looked official . . . because they probably are not. The touts have figured out that travelers will follow their advice if they are wearing a uniform and badge. We stood our ground and refused many offers for rides / hotels / etc. and made our way to the actual 'Airport Express' bus stop.

The bus dropped us off at Khaosan Road, which is the backpacker centre of the universe! Millions of bars, restaurants, and guest houses. Hippies getting henna tattoos, Bob Marley cover bands, and even Captain Jack Sparrow made a brief appearance. A street built for foreigners - not exactly what we were after . . . but a fun and bustling area anyway.

We ate our first Thai dinner and, as you can see, someone was a brimming with excitement. . .

The food in Thailand was cheap and delicious. Just what we were hoping for. Once our stomach's were full we wandered around Khaosan and then back to our guesthouse. We needed a good night sleep because we had a big day of sightseeing ahead of us.

We started our morning with the Grand Palace. The monarchy is of significant importance in Thailand. When we were there it was the Queen's birthday. There were giant billboards and altars set up around Bangkok to honour her. The Thai people are very proud of their monarchy and its history. Construction of the Grand Palace began in 1782 by King Rama I. All of his successors have contributed since then and now it is a sprawling compound of elaborate statues, buildings, and artwork. The palace is still used regularily for ceremonies with the royalty.

The surrounding walls of the palace were covered in murals depicting the Ramayana. They were amazingly detailed and are constantly being restored to keep from fading.

They even had fierce guards protecting the entrances. "Can I have your ticket, please?"

Shawna was in charge of route planning and historic detail so, in this photograph, you can see what she looked like for most of our trip.

The palace buildings were massive and not a square-inch of space was left without detail. A veritable feast for the eyes . . .

It was actually quite difficult to get pictures without other people in them. The place was full of tourists . . . most of them competing for silliest photograph.

King Rama IV (played by Yul Brynner in The King and I. . .remember??) built a replica of Angkor Wat in the temple grounds. When he was in power Thailand owned it. We will be able to verify its accuracy in detail next week.

In the North-East corner of the palace grounds lies Wat Phra Kaeo which houses the "Emerald Buddha". The most important religious article in Thailand.

Politicians accused of corruption traditionally come here to assert their innocence in front of the most precious and legendary Buddha carvings.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the temple but you can see the Buddha perched in the background above Shawna's shoulder. (you can click on the photos to see more detail) The legend of its origin goes like this. It was originally discovered in the 15th century when lightning hit a stone tower in a Buddhist temple and cracked it open. Inside was a Jadeite Buddha (originally thought to be Emerald). Since then, it has been taken (without permission) all over South-East Asia dispensing miracles wherever it goes. It now lives safely and permanently in the palace. The King even changes his clothes for each season.

Here is the throne room. Once again, no pictures inside but you can take my word for it that it was nice.

Rama V employed a European architect to build a Neoclassical residence but other members of the Royal family complained so the put a Thai-style roof on it. The building was named "The Foreigner with a Thai hat".

Well, we've done a lot of sightseeing and its time for a break. Even Buddha himself will be reclining in our next blog post.

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