Day 2 - Rivers, Street Meat, Pagodas and People
Walked out the door and into my new reality. The heat is pervasive, Cameron’s hamming it up with the laundry lady and street vendors whom he’s come to know over the last couple of months and I’m starving. We sit on the sidewalk at a stall and have a delicious bowl of noodle soup while watching a crow swoop in and steal raw chicken from a nearby bowl. The soup is delicious and while some had warned about not eating street food while here I’m not really feeling concerned at all (knocks on wood). Bottled water I get but as long as it’s hot and not covered in flies I’m going to go for it.
First stop Wat Arun Pagoda, a short ferry traversal across the river on the BKK ferry system. An extremely efficient if not chaotic way to go up down and across the giant Chao Phraya river that flows through central Bangkok. Much like a floating metro system there are multiple short stops and trains running up river and down river. Cameron had made a smart move when arriving in hiring a guide to not show him the sites but to show him how the city ‘worked’ from an insiders point of view and expertly traversed the city using the ferry system throughout the day.
282 ft tall, the corners are surrounded by four smaller satellite prang. The prang are decorated by seashells and bits of porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.. This was the first of hundreds of Pagoda’s and temples I’d see on this trip and it was impressive. It’s easy to get confused between the two but a good rule of thumb is Pagoda’s are typically solid and built around a relic such as a monk’s bones or hair or ashes, a temple you can go into after removing shoes and socks and covering your legs if bare below the knee and invariably has many statues of Buddha and beautiful works of art.
A short but steep climb led to the top with great views of the river and surrounding city. The porcelain work was dazzling and while there were some repairs going on it was in great shape despite being exposed to the elements and tourists for so long. 95% of Thais are Buddhists and throughout all of SE Asia it's amazing to see how pervasive it is in everyday life. Note something I’d internalized before I left America. While I’m still learning each day something new and there are a lot of regional differences you quickly go from being intrigued by the novelty of seeing the orange and red robed monks both young and old around you to it being something quite blaise. They can not touch money and rely upon everyday people to provide them with food and any other basic necessities on a daily basis. People do so in order to earn ‘merit’ in their life with the bigger the gesture the more merit earned.
Here you can see a quick-e-mart version of merit earning with a bucket of necessities that can be bought for a novice monk for a few dollars.
Pagoda-ing is hard work so we hopped back across the ferry to a small bar on the river which was run by a hilariously aggressive burly woman and her daughter. She kept stealing my camera and taking pictures of us whilst shouting incoherently at us and other locals.
There are many private boat owners up and down the rivers who have gorgeously decorated skiffs known as 'long tails' with giant truck engines powering a propeller at the end of a 15-20ft prop shaft. These things are quick and maneuverable and after managing to articulate we were looking to explore the back canals of Bangkok our hostess with the most-ess shouted at a local and a boat appeared for us. $10 Later, we’re winging our way through the canals for an hour with a couple of cold ones and getting a glimpse into the simple, everyday life of the people who live on the river.
Next stop the Wat Kalayanamitr Temple, a hidden gem with a giant golden Buddha as it’s center piece hidden away in the middle of the city. The size of the statue was awe inspiring and there was a real serenity to the place as monks, nuns, and everyday people prayed, lit candles and incense and rang the bells in the temple grounds.
Another offering that is common at temples is buying a small piece of gold leaf and rubbing it on to various statues to keep them brightly adorned.
The final stop of the day’s foray into the city was heading back through one of the many supplier markets. Giant halls of tightly packed stalls selling every food imaginable. Pikes Place Market on steroids. Bikes whiz through the same paths as pedestrians carrying loads of goods to smaller vendors and markets. Vendors busy shucking coconuts, sorting peppers, chopping meat, and creating flower arrangements (yellow is apparently big in Bangkok) it’s hard to take it all in but fascinating to people watch and see the laughter, working, sleeping and banter that is universal to any market around the world.
By now it’s rush hour and rush hour is particularly bad in Bangkok and even worse when there are some pretty serious protests, riots and violence going on multiple parts of the city as is the case at the moment (more about that later). To get in a car would be a fools errand and so it’s time to hop on a bike taxi, hold on really, really, really tight and take the ride of your life through Bangkok at hyper speed where traffic rules are practically nonexistent and only the strong survive. I loved it.
Exhausted it was time to chill out a little bit and get something substantial that wasn’t fried. The Millennium Hilton nearby was beautiful inside and has an amazing view over this city of 16 Million people at its roof top bar. Grabbed a cocktail and shot a couple of Panoramas to try and capture the scale of this place before heading down to a new restaurant named ‘Neverending Summer’ which is a new interpretation of the owners mid century high society (Hi So) food he had growing up. Could very well have been sitting in NYC or San Francisco and we were clearly surrounded by some of the wealthier folks around but the food wasn’t particularly great and everyone seemed a little dazed and confused. Tomorrow I’d get the chance to learn to try a spot of cooking myself.