“One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster”
Before I’d even started writing this blog, I knew I was in for a challenge. How am I going to write succinctly? This one night and day in Bangkok was packed. Jim Thompson’s House, Wat Pho, Grand Palace, Riverboat trip and Chinatown. Each one of these could have been a blog on their own. Right, here it goes…
Jim Thompson’s House Museum
It seemed that we all had Jim Thompson’s House on our wish-list. Tim and I had first heard of him when we were in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. On Sunday, 26 March 1967 he was on holiday there with friends, and he went for a walk on his own, never to return. I could have written a whole blog about him and his mysterious death.
Jim Thompson was famous for several reasons; he was a retired army officer and one-time spy for the CIA. He was renowned for saving the Thai silk industry from extinction, with his fabric being used in the musical “The King and I” giving both his business and the trade a massive boost. He was an ex-architect and an antique collector and constructed his home from six Thai wooden houses that most were dismantled and brought to Bangkok and pieced together. And this is where we were visiting.
The whole place was beautiful. The traditional Thai buildings were amongst a lush tropical garden with brick paths weaving around palm trees and other exotic plants.
We joined an English group with a lovely guide telling us about this intriguing man and his unique touches he’d made here. The wooden staircase was inside the main home instead of outside; window openings had been converted into alcoves for some of his treasures and, after spending his weekends hunting for antiques, she showed us a few ancient statues, which all had something missing from the original, but somehow worked in this environment.
After the tour, we stopped for brunch at the café here, and all agreed that it was definitely worth coming — a stunningly beautiful place.
Within a few minutes, we hailed two tuk-tuks. The driver was zooming down the carriageway so fast that my Pura Vida cap flipped off, never to be seen again. After a rapid, fun journey, speeding in and out of the traffic, we arrived at our second destination – Wat Pho, known for its Temple of Reclining Buddha (and included in the Lonely Planet’s top 500 places in the world. There are four in Bangkok!)
As we entered one of the largest and oldest Wats in Bangkok, the intensity of all the vibrant coloured chedis hit me. There are 95 chedis in the grounds of which 71 contain the ashes of the royal family and 20 contain the relics of Buddha. These are all beautiful, covered in mosaics of flowers and I felt quite overwhelmed by them as well as the Buddhist images scattered everywhere; there are over a thousand here!
We agreed a time to meet, so Tim and I decided the first thing to see was the Reclining Buddha. We found the temple, taking our shoes off and joined the long queue, walking passed two young monks, spraying water over us with their brushes. I am sure that they were especially aiming at the tourists as we all got rather wet, quite refreshing though. We picked up a bracelet to add to our collection. and walked in.
The huge 46 m long golden image of Buddha representing the entry into Nirvana was jaw-droppingly astounding. His head is 15 m high covered with twirling curls. We slowly made our way to the feet which are inlaid with mother-of-pearl and divided into 108 panels.
There are many reasons that 108 is an auspicious number. An example is that we have 108 energy lines converging to form our heart chakra with one of them leading to the crown chakra, our path to Self-realization. At the centre of each of the reclining Buddha’s feet was a circle representing a chakra.
Along the back wall was 108 bronze bowls and visitors could purchase 108 coins and drop one in each of these. From seeing the monk scoop coins into each dish, I doubt there was the correct number.
Time was ticking, we needed to get to our agreed destination, so we quickly trotted around a few more chedis, and saw some giant Chinese statues, guarding the perimeter walls. I have read that these stone statues originally came on ships used as ballast from China. We saw a smidgeon of this fascinating place; I reckon we could have spent a whole day here, exploring each of the 24 small rock gardens, the pictorial encyclopaedia engraved on granite slabs, and even book in for a Thai massage here. Yes, a fascinating and beautiful place.
The Grand Palace
After a much-needed refreshment, which we had on a rooftop bar overlooking the Chao Phraya River, we walked along to the Grand Palace. The dress attire was even stricter than at Wat Pho. Even though Laura and her Mum, Katie, had shawls covering their arms, the security guards said “No”. They demanded that shirts were purchased from the hawkers just outside the gate. Mmm… being cynical, we did wonder whether a little bit of collusion what taking place.
The Grand Palace was the official residence of the Kings of Siam and then Thailand from 1782 until 1925. Similar to Wat Pho, as we entered, we were greeted with a cacophony of colour, but also of crowds of visitors. Tim and my focus, as well as hundreds of other people, was to see the Emerald Buddha which used to be located in Chiang Mia. We queued up and slowly shuffled along the side of the royal chapel. A lady kept trying to overtake me and my British elbows at a sharp angle prevented her from achieving her goal.
Unfortunately, photos inside The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (or Wat Phra Kaew) were not allowed. I was tempted, but couldn’t bring myself to disobey at taking a photo of the famed 66 cm tall figurine. It’s not even made from emerald but jasper and cloaked in gold, so you can only see its little head sitting high on an elaborate multi-terraced altar.
We continued our shuffling and climbed down the stairs. A few more photos taken and we spotted George, Laura and her parents. We all agreed that the volume of people here was overwhelming and it was time to go.
We met up with Rosie, Laura’s sister and decided to get a boat to Chinatown for our evening meal. On the way to the Pier, a man asked if we wanted a boat ride, and after some great bartering by Rosie, we agreed on a price for a 90-minute ride on a longboat. The seven of us gingerly stepped in and away we went, riding the waves and eventually cutting down to a canal off the river.
I love boat rides, seeing areas that you cannot see by road. The variety of lodgings was fascinating, old wooden shacks, some nearly collapsing into the water, next to smart timber stilted homes with gabled roofs and overhanging eaves to protect the owners from the sun or the rain.
We stopped for 10 minutes waiting for the lock to rise, and by the time we got through, three other boats had joined us and somehow entered the lock before us. We were relieved when we squeezed in between the others, so we didn't need to wait again!
We continued our journey, and suddenly Rosie shouted for us all to look. A massive monitor lizard was hauling itself out of the river and squeezing its huge body into a drain hole. What a sight! It happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to get our cameras ready — a missed opportunity.
We reached Chinatown, the largest in the world, where the migrants from southern China flocked here to escape from starvation over 200 years ago.
Joining the merry hordes of people strolling along Yaowarat Road, we saw a smorgasbord of culinary delights; stinky durian fruit, dumplings, plenty of sea creatures and vegetables, noodles and the not so delightful shark fin soup. But we had a schedule to adhere to.
Delicious cocktails first at a rustic rooftop bar, Wallflowers Upstairs, one of the coolest Cocktail bars in Bangkok. We climbed spiral stairs with small rooms leading off decorated with rows upon rows of modern lightbulbs. No wonder the cocktails were so expensive, they needed to pay for all that wasted electricity!
We walked back to Yaowarat Road, with its coloured neon signs glowing with Chinese characters, ready for our 7 pm booking at the Shanghai Mansion’s Jazz Lounge.
As we sat down, well-known songs such as Summertime were being played, giving the place a very relaxed feel, so much so that the waiters seemed too chilled to serve us. After inspecting the menu in detail, you can imagine our disappointment to find that quite a few dishes were no longer available. New Year celebrations had cleaned them out. Lawrence spotted a Singha Tower of beer on another table. Luckily this was still on the menu and good fun to drink from.
Thankfully, the meal arrived all to our liking, ending our whirlwind, yet delightful day on a high.