We got up early so we could have breakfast before we set out for our long day in Bangkok. The navigator told us we were passing the islands of Ko Khram and Ko Lan and then heading into the harbor at Laem Chabang, the port city for Bangkok.
From the pier, it was a little over 2 hours to the city so we sat back in our relatively comfortable bus to enjoy the scenic drive through tropical countryside, passing tapioca fields, rice paddies, coconut palms, and rural towns and villages. Every little village had a beautiful temple.
As we approached Bangkok, we got the sense of a massively sprawling city deeply steeped in a rich and ancient culture. The landscape is dotted with a magical mix of temples with gold-leaf spires, which house priceless Buddhas. Bangkok is Thailand’s capital city, and is situated on the Chao Phraya River. Riverboats cruise the river and the maze of klongs or canals, which aptly give the city the moniker of “Venice of the East”. King Rama 1 founded the city in 1782 and today more than eight million people call it home. It’s proper name is Krung Thep, The City of Angels, shared with Los Angeles in the U.S.
Royalty and religion dominated our first stop. The Grand Palace was built by King Rama 1 in 1782 as the royal residence. The complex, with its elaborate and ornate courtyards, crowns of glittering spires and elegantly decorated colored-glass mosaics all bring together a mix of Thai art, architecture, and history. Even though the royal family no longer lives at the Palace, the complex is still used for regal and state events. Judging from the crowds, it is a must-see prime tourist attraction.
The next attraction was Wat Phra Kaeo or the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha, which is the centerpiece of the Palace grounds. As its name implies, the chapel is home to the Emerald Buddha and is a sacred, revered and celebrated site in Thailand. To gain access, strict dress codes are enforced; shoes must be removed and shoulders, knees, and ankles must be covered. Joe slipped on a pair of long pants over his shorts. I was dressed OK. It was almost comical to see ourselves dressed like this when the temps were approaching 100 degree F. We were all hopping around to avoid blistering the bottoms of our feet. Anyway, once we got inside, photography was strictly forbidden and the guards confiscated cameras from anyone who broke this rule. The focal point is the 66 cm-high Buddha perched on a gold altar. Despite its name, the Buddha is actually jade and there’s a wardrobe of costumes changed to reflect the three seasons. Summer attire is a crown and jewelry, winter brings on a gold shawl, and a headdress and robe for the rainy season. The Thai King does the honors of changing the costumes. Every shrine glittered and was surrounded by mythical creatures, serpents, lions, half-man, half-bird images; very interesting indeed.
We enjoyed this area immensely but we were ready to shed the long pants, get our shoes on again, and escape the enormous crowds and the stifling heat and humidity.
From the Palace, we walked to the river to board the riverboat for our scenic cruise. It was fun and refreshing to catch a nice breeze, drink a bottle of cold water, and wipe down with a cold washcloth. Then we were off for our float down the canals of the city’s Thonburi district. We saw several other temples, including Wat Arun, known as the Temple of the Dawn, which once served as the Royal Chapel. Another interesting sight along the river was the Phra Prang, a 260-foot high pagoda. Life on and along the river is bustling and colorful. We floated past Chinatown, the Flower Market, rafts and barges, museums and spirit houses, all existing harmoniously.
Next stop brought us to Wat Trimitr, known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha. The Buddha image, at 3-meters high and weighing in at more than 5.5 tons, is the largest solid gold Buddha image in the world. The statue is over 700 years old but it was encased in plaster stucco until the mid 1950’s. The disguise was believed to be a ploy to conceal it from invaders. While being moved to be enshrined, it’s said the poor Buddha escaped the grasp of a crane and landed in the mud. An observant abbot noticed a sliver of gold through a crack in the plaster and the fabulous work of art was revealed.
We had a wonderful buffet lunch at the Ramada Hotel and made our final stop for the day at a Jewelry Factory for shopping…….Joe’s least favorite part of the day. Luckily, the small factory had a nice, air-conditioned lobby and complimentary cold water; we hung out there until it was time to board the bus for our return trip to the ship. Thailand is a nation of smiling people and, without at doubt, some of the most dense traffic and congested streets in the world. We were glad we weren’t driving the bus or any other vehicle; it would definitely be a challenge.
We had a light dinner, showered off the day’s grime and sweat, and relaxed on the balcony with a glass of wine while we sailed away to our next port of call.