It’s impossible to see all of Bangkok in one day, and I know, for I have tried it.
With my family we went around some of the more shopping-focused bits – they’ve been before and had seen most of the stuff I was interested in – and then I split off and wandered in search of Bangkok.
I like cities an awful lot. I live in London, but mostly I live in London because I moved to Sunderland and realised that everything I’d never liked about living in a small town wasn’t an absolute. Then I moved to Cambridge and found new things I liked about cities, and now I live in London because I like there being more people and culture and stuff and things than I will ever live to see.
So I walked though Bangkok and small a small fraction of that.
I saw a city dragging itself upwards. The monorail extends though the central city like a giant overpass, all concrete and functionality, over the top of shopping malls and snaking around massive skyscrapers dedicated to international companies. It’s busy, and it’s big, but it’s not.. full. Between belts and areas very close to the centre are large footprints with the forest reclaiming burnt-out old buildings, cheap housing butting against sleek western-focused condominiums.
I spent a couple of hundred Baht (four quid) on a Tuk-Tuk (You know how in some cities you get the cute little cyclist-taxis, with a two person seat behind the cycle? Like that. Only with a motorbike instead of a bicycle. Terrifying at medium speed, useful in traffic) across the river to the more traditional tourist bits. I saw, and dutifully photographed, the Giant Swing, which is suitably giant and impressive, but distressingly Health & Safety’d.
Next to it appeared to be something interesting, so I went and looked. It turned out to be Wat Suthat (Which my brain parses as “What? Sue That!”) which I looked around the outer courtyard of, but couldn’t get inside because those tricksy Buddists were using my tourist attraction as a place of worship! It’s the saturday of the week long celebrations for the Buddha’s Birthday, which is apparently a big day. The outer courtyard was surrounded by a covered walkway on all four sides each with statues of Buddha (When I refer to Buddha at any point here, unless specifically mentioned, I mean Gautama Buddha. Not to be confused with Budai, the short, fat, and misspelt “Laughing Buddha” image). I still don’t know what the horses mean, either.
Talking to a tour guide outside – we bonded over my ability to pretend to be interested in the FA Cup Final – he asked how much I paid for my 10 minute ride from the centre. He fell over when I told him, marched over to the nearest Tuk-Tuk driver, and told him to charge me 100 Baht – native rates are that per hour – to take me here, here, here and here and wherever I wanted to go. Which, considering I didn’t really know what the key things to see were, I agreed to. What the heck, it was two quid.
He was as good as his word, too. We went to a temple dedicated to Bhikkhuni, Female Buddist monks, and how the Buddha ordained a thousand, but they don’t exist anymore (which turns out to be a political question, but that’s what the sign by the temple said). The main temple has, surrounding the traditional gilded statue, several dozen Bhikkhuni before him, rather than the more traditional place for the priest to speak from.
We went to the Marble Temple, Wat Benchamabophit, which was beautiful, and has 52 statues of Buddha from all over the world. It’s always interested me that statues of Buddha – once I could separate them from statues of Budai, which is distressingly recently – are usually in one of a few poses, and I wondered if they meant anything. They do. The cross-legged most common pose (left palm up, right pointed down) is called “Buddha defying Mara“, for example, and represents a specific story/happening/thing.
There’s a Billy Connoly monologue about music lessons, where he laments “Music Appreciation” classes where his teacher would play something on the piano and shout “APPRECIATE! APPRECIATE!” at them, as if merely thinking about the music hard enough would impart some meaning without some kind of guidence as to what they are listening to or for. Well, kind of. The monologue itself kind of devolves into discussing the breasts of the teacher in question, but that’s because comedy is only partly philosophy. It’s kind of what I felt wandering around the temples, as important as they are I only have a vauge understanding of Buddism as a concept (It was half a lesson in R.E. at school, between a week on Judism and another half a lesson on Sikhs), and as I allude to above, the difference between the handsome, calm and collected Buddha and the more visibly iconic and sort-of-corrupted “Laughing Buddha” was a bit of a confusion to me until recently. The experience made me feel stupid and touristy, as I wandered around important holy relics with my fujifilm digital camera and my laced trainers. I don’t like feeling stupid, so I need to learn more about what I’ve already seen. Travel broadens the mind, possibly, but I’m finding more it shows me places it isn’t broad enough already.
I learnt important lessons also. For example, my shoes:
Entirely inappropriate for wandering around temples in, which require taking them off to go into important bits. When I was doing all the photos of the statues in the marble palace, I took my shoes off to go under the walkways – as you’re supposed to do – and then made the mistake of attempting to go barefoot across the clear, smooth and recently-rained-on marble courtyard. I nearly went arse-over-teakettle several times. It was not a shortcut.
My Tuk-Tuk driver took me from place to place, and occasionally to places I hadn’t asked for but thought I might be interested in (From the temple of female monks mentioned above to a place where he said straight out that he’d get a commission if I bought a suit. I nearly did, too, the prices were very good), and eventually to the Skytrain – the Monorail – which took me back to the hotel.
The hotel – The Tai-Pan hotel – is nice, and the breakfast is good. It’s kind of in a ex-pat area, so walking down any street you can find traditional English Pub Grub, the finest Italian restaurants, french cuisine or anything, unless you would like to eat Thai for your final meal here. We eventually found decent Thai food in a dutch bar which prided itself on its Aussie steaks.
I’d say we fly out tomorrow but at this point – it’s 00:30 – that’s later today, so I really should sleep. At some point when I get back I should wrap this up into some soul-searching and life-affirming conclusion, but right now I’m pretty sure it doesn’t extend much further beyond “Remember how you like travelling? Do that more, you stupid bloody moron”.