Sunday, January 19
Up an at it early for the trip to Bangkok. There is a haze in the sky, most of which is typical for this time of year, and some from pollution near Bangkok. This is the cooler season, but the 90 degrees and high humidity doesn’t feel like winter to me!
It was a 2 ½ hour drive to Bangkok, most of it on freeways. We passed industrial and farm land, including ponds for fish farming. Our guide, Sam, gave us a lot of the history of Thailand, including the long succession of monarchs. Thai means ‘free’ and this was the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized. They became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and the monarchy is still active and well respected. It was interesting to view signs and billboards in the Thai alphabet and try to guess what they were advertising.
Once in the city (which is huge) we drove through Chinatown and by the flower market before we made our first stop at the temple of the Reclining Buddha. This figure is 40 meters long and fills a large and ornate building within the temple complex. There are a wide array of other traditional Buddhas, fierce guardian statues, and several ornate buildings. Shoes come off when you enter the temple, but they give you a shopping bag to carry them with you. Good thing, as I wouldn’t have wanted to try to find them again with the big group of visitors! My favorite part of the reclining figure was the toe prints on the bottom of his feet.
Our next stop was at the Grand Palace. We had to park the bus some distance from the entry, and the steamy weather was really draining. When we got in, I elected to go on my own and meet up with the group at the end. Think of the busiest tour sight you have been to, and multiply by two! The buildings in the complex, including the temple of the Emerald Buddha, were fabulous and elaborate. They were extremely crowded too. I walked on through other parts of the grounds and got to the exit on time, but our group wasn’t there. I had the phone number of the guide, and got a local woman to call it for me. They were still inside making their way through! We got together, and I was ready to go to the hotel in a taxi and get lunch there, but the guide talked me into walking on to the pier where we caught a little boat to cross the river to a restaurant that was lovely. We had a full Thai lunch with some delicious food. It was great, and only the green curry was a little too warm for me.
Boating back across the river, we had some bounces in the water from the wakes of other boats and even got splashed a bit! Back on the bus we proceeded to the usual obligatory shopping stop of all organized tours. I was disappointed as it was fine jewelry, and I wasn’t in the market for any of that.
Next stop was the hotel, the Sheraton, where I now sit in air conditioned comfort drinking a bottle of water to re-hydrate! We will meet for dinner and a dance performance in a couple of hours. I am in the Silver group. There is also a Gold group, who is paying a higher price for a gourmet meal. I’m sure it will be excellent. I noted there are some promising looking gift shops in the lobby, so I may get a shopping fix there.
I looked around the shops in the lobby. There was lovely stuff, but I was strong! The group walked to the hotel landing stage where we were picked up by the restaurant shuttle boat and trundled down the river to the restaurant. The menu was lengthy—I didn’t even count the courses. They were very interesting and (mostly) tasty without too much spice. I was reminded of my former boss who’s advice on Asian food: ‘taste it and if you like it, eat it, but don’t ask what it is’. We started with an appetizer served on a lotus leaf, and ended with coconut ice cream, with the option of sprinkling corn on top, and a little doll house cupboard with Thai sweets on the shelves. In between each course, we were entertained by traditional dances. There were lovely costumes, interesting stories, and incredible hand motions. None of the women at our table could begin to move our hands any way close!
After dinner it was the boat ride back with lots of brightly lit party boats going by. It was 10:00 by then, and the wake-up call is at 5:30, so I’d better get busy posting this. We will see more here in the morning, then back to the ship in the afternoon to set sail again.
Not sure where my next internet opportunity will be--somewhere in Vietnam!