It pays to have obscurely distant relatives living in the far reaches of the earth. Had I known the orney, laughing little boy I used to see every other year or so at family get-togethers would wind up giving us a five-star tour of Bangkok a couple decades down the road, my teenaged self might have paid a little more attention to him.
“Cousin Bart”, or rather “Third-Cousin-Twice-Removed Bart”, was hugely helpful before we even bought our airline tickets for Thailand, giving us advice on areas for housing and the best way to schedule our short time in Bangkok. With him as our tour guide, we saw parts of the city we never would have found ourselves and caught all the major highlights.
Our tour began with a trip down one of Bangkok’s many canals on a loud, no-frills long boat. As the engine roared in our ears, we sped by colorful tenement buildings, dodged splashes coming off the murky canal and felt our nostrils burn with the odors emanating from the water (hence the dodging of splashes). It was a memorable ride showing us a side of Bangkok we likely wouldn’t have seen on our own.
The first stop on the Bart Tour was Wat Phra Si Rattanasasadaram, known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This was the biggest, busiest and most expensive temple we saw. Before we could enter, we needed to borrow clothing to cover our legs and shoulders – note the snazzy button up shirt and wrap-around skirt I’m sporting in the photos. While the key feature of this temple is a large Buddha carved out of a solid piece of green jadite, the highlight for us was the massive mural encircling the perimeter of the grounds. The girls, particularly Alison, loved seeing bits and pieces of the historical story reveal itself through the paintings.
Next we took a quick tuk tuk ride over to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This one was by far our favorite. I preferred it due to its quieter atmosphere, interesting focus on the science of Thai massage and the incredibly impressive Buddha sculpture stretching over 135 feet in length. The girls liked this temple the best because it gave out free bottled water and had cute little kittens sitting among the shrines at the base of the massive Buddha. See if you can spot the cats in the photos.
We took a short break from the temple tour and got lunch at the famous backpacker area of Khoa San Road. Strolling down this street of young carefree party people with our three girls, we could tell children were not a common sight around this part of Bangkok. Not a lot of other five-year-old’s were skipping down Khoa San Road, I can assure you. We stopped along the way to have lunch at a little place which pushed our American understanding of “spicy food” to the limit.
The last stop of the day was Wat Arun, known formally as Temple of Dawn and informally as The One with the Crazy Steep Stairs. Jutting up into the skyline and offering only awkwardly steep, narrow stairs for accessing the upper viewing areas, this temple provides visitors with a bit of an adrenaline rush. Brian had taken our three tired girls back to the apartment, which was just as well. Their certain desire to climb to the top of it and my maternal instincts to keep my children from tumbling down precipitous pagodas would have clashed sorely on this part of the tour.
After catching the view of the river at the top, I was on my way back down when I came upon an American woman saying “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” as she clung to the hand railing with a white knuckle grip, trembling with terror. Her sympathetic friend called up to her from the bottom, “What’re ya gonna do? Live up there? I told ya ya shoulda stayed down here, ya big dope!” The tough love eventually got her friend moving again.
It was a great day in Bangkok, ending with a boat ride along the Chao Phraya river, which runs through the heart of the city. The only downside to seeing these beautiful landmarks was the fact that Brian’s nice camera died shortly before we arrived in Thailand due to a “flaw in the motherboard”. It was bought new for this trip, but Sony won’t honor the warranty in other countries. Cell phones and the point-and-shoot will have to do for now.
We can’t thank Bart enough for taking time off work to show us his eclectic town. Not being big city people ourselves, five days was the right amount of time to see Bangkok and adjust a little to the Thai culture. Before too long we found ourselves back at Suvarnabhubi International Airport awaiting our quick flight to the southern end of the country. Time to get a move on, or as they in Thai “Pa! Pa! Pa!”