Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bangkok: A Day on the Chao Phraya River

After 20 hours of travel, Toronto -> Zurich -> Bangkok, we arrived to Winter in Thailand...and this I can certainly deal with, a balmy 20+ degrees for WINTER! Our first day in the city was perfect for sightseeing: not too hot or humid. We wasted no time and set on our way to power through our jet lag with a busy day of exploration.

The Chao Phraya River is central to the way of life, and so it was only appropriate that we embarked on our day of sightseeing by getting a boat day pass to hop-on-hop-off, much like bus tours in other cities. We started with the Grand Palace, also home to Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The temple grounds were extraordinary - from the murals surrounding the grounds to the colourful and intricate halls and monuments, it was all beautiful and picture perfect. We found the Emerald Buddha seated high in the main hall, dressed in "winter" robes and surrounded by spectacular murals - the King himself changes the monastic robes draped on the Emerald Buddha every season.

Next we made our way to Wat Pho, featuring a 46m reclining gold Buddha! It was quite impressive in person and definitely worth the visit. A little more time in the area would allow indulging in a massage at the temple, but hunger simply took over so we head on our way. We found ourselves at the food stalls right outside Tha Chang pier. After a quick look around, we settled where a nice lady waved us in. I was sold on the duck noddle soup, which unfortunately ended up being sold out; but, it took me no time to settle on the too-honestly named "gastric fish stew." The lady at the front was sweet and took me over to the simmering fish maw stew to ensure I knew what I was getting into - no problem at all! It was a bowl of gooey goodness with vermicelli. Tony had shrimp paste fried rice with seafood, which was hot out of the wok and realy hit the spot after our hours of temple wandering. The best part, was that our meal (plus a bottle of Pepsi), cost $4 CAD! Amazing.

After the food energy boost, we decided to contiue our day of exploration. As dragonboat nerds, we decided to make our way to the Royal Barge Museum. This was an interesting adventure - our "river guide" was a little off describing where exactly the museum was. It ended up being quite a zig zag trek through a riverside neighbourhood, although we were encouraged along the way by signs telling us we were not lost. It allowed us a glimpse of how some local Thais live. The modest museum (I'm being generous here) showcased some of the famous royal barges, still used for traditional processions along the river. The boats really were beautiful, but our trek to the museum was probably more interesting given that there were only 5 or 6 barges parked for us to walk around and admire. There were some "survivors" of the world war...which I think it would have been obvious that the teak boats wouldn't hold up well to guns and canons??

We decided we still had energy for one more stop before we head back to our hotel, so we made our final stop for the day at Wat Arun, a temple very different from the lavishness of Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Pho. Truthfully, Wat Arun was more impressive from afar because of its architecture, similar in style to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We were able to climb the stupa and get a great view up and down the river; plus up close, I could see the interesting china detail. The stairs were a short but steep climb, worth the careful effort.

As the sun was beginning to set, it was time for us to put our feet up on a day of historical sightseeing along the river. We hopped on the express river boat with tourists and locals alike and made our way back to central pier. We were grateful to have seen some wonderful sights, ate some delicious food, and experienced the gentle kindness of the Thai people along the way.

Thanks for a great first day Bangkok!

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