Bangkok in a Day

We are the Schaeffers, and we travel to win.

We had only one day in Bangkok before leaving for the beach; led by my fearless father, we felt the need to conquer the entire city in the given 24 hours.

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And we did a pretty dang good job, if I do say so myself.

We started off the day at the Grand Palace, which is actually a gigantic compound with all kinds of things.  We hired a tour guide, Mr. Prakeet (I have 100% invented this spelling), who was fantastic and helped us to understand infinitely more about the temples and history of the place than we ever would have on our own.

The temples had actually just been opened to the public about a half century prior to our visit; before that, they were the private temples for the king.

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The entire place is breath-taking on both the macro and micro level.  As for things that are impressive for their sheer size, we noticed the unbelievable amounts of gold, coating buildings that tower above the tourists below. There are three main spires reaching into the sky, each with different influence.  Mr. Prakeet explained to us that you can always tell temples with Cambodian influence because “they look like ice cream cones.”

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We were all a bit scared about how Andrew, at ten-years-old and not exactly begging to study the culture, would do with the long, hot day at the temples.  Although he may not admit it to you, he was actually quite taken by the sheer amount of gold and entertained by playing photographer with my camera.

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On the micro level, I was enthralled by the attention to detail.  Everything was tiled, hand-painted, or carved beautifully.  At one point we were convinced that the walls inside an older palace were covered by intricate wallpaper, but later learned that it was, in fact, all done by hand.  Supporting pillars consistently resembled the photo below, and the tower depicted is covered by flowers made from recycled Chinese porcelain.

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Some of the statues were “supported” by monkeys and demons underneath.  There was a lot of symbolism in the way their shoes or lack there of, their faces, etc.  Basically, some were happy to be helping Buddha and others were in constant torment.  We decided to help.

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The culmination of the temple portion of the visit was going to see the Emerald Buddha, which is the most sacred religious figure in Thailand.  It had once been encased in cement to protect it from enemies, and the Thai discovered true figure underneath, made entirely of Jade, when the encasing began to crack.  The Buddha has three outfits that he dons depending on the season, which the King changes himself.  He is currently in his winter garb.  There were no pictures allowed inside, but the throne, if you’d like to call it that, upon which the figure – probably a foot and half high – sits is indescribable.  It is Thai custom to make a journey to worship here once in a lifetime, much like the Islamic trek to Mecca.  While it was fascinating to see all of this, it was sad at the same time to think of all lost people putting so much hope into this small idol.

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Having completed the temple part of the tour and found the shoes that we had removed before entering the temple, we headed to the palace for a much quicker tour of that area.  Mr. Prakeet was obviously quite proud of his religion and his country, and hearing his take on it was neat.  Obama had recently visited the palace, but what grabbed my attention was the fact that they had filmed The King and Ia favorite childhood film of mine, here.  The newer palace was built taking into consideration both Thai architecture and inspiration from Buckingham Palace.
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We also saw the palace in which they go through the coronation rituals and the elephant mounting post.  How legit is that?  When I rule the world, I will have an elephant mounting post.
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After the Grand Palace we told Mr. Prakeet kah-poon-kah, bid him goodbye, and raced over to see the temple of the Reclining Buddha. This Buddha is enormous – 15 meters high and 43 meters long.  He’s gold, his giant’s feet inlaid with intricate mother of pearl designs, and he sits in a temple just large enough to house him.  All the cool kids drop coins into each pot in a long line against one wall, creating a constant clinking that echos throughout the structure.
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The rest of the afternoon was spent a bit outside of the city at an elephant and cultural show.  I would compare the area to a Thai Hale Farm for those of you from Ohio; it is full of small workshops and such that showcase traditional Thai life, from silk-making (which we were all fascinated by!) to painted umbrellas to traditional instruments to pottery to basket weaving.
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The show was a montage of depicted cultural practices, that could probably be best described as a history lesson melded into a circus.  While it was all quite scripted, it moved quickly and really was an informative account of Thai culture.
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Finally, as we headed home, we requested that our driver could stop somewhere for dinner.  He consented, and we ate at an extremely Thai restaurant.  We’re talking no English on the menu (or anywhere), nothing that resembled the things that we were used to, and some surroundings that definitely made us question the safety of the food that we were eating!  Thankfully we found a picture of Pad Thai, pointed to it, and enjoyed the beautiful view of the river.
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