On Tuesday night we left Singapore headed for Bangkok, Thailand. Once there, we checked into the Intercontinental Hotel. This hotel was excellent - orchids on the pillows at turndown, amazing buffets for breakfast and lunch, and fabulous service. The dragon here adorns the roof top pool and overlooks the entire city.
Thailand was a completely different experience from Singapore. Whereas Singapore was very Westernized, Thailand was in many respects a melding of modern and the more traditional. There was very little English spoken, and everything was written in Thai script which is beautiful, but wholly undecipherable to a non-speaker (with 26 vowels alone, the language is very complex!) The city boasted extremely modern areas filled with skyscrapers, but on the outskirts still uses working elephants to accomplish many tasks.
The country is also a mix of liberalism and conservatism - you can make reference to some of the sexual activities and reputations for which Thailand is most commonly known, but you cannot discuss anything relating to the beloved King. Thailand is known as the Land of the Smile, and its people are unfailingly gracious and hard-working. Racial tensions don't exist, primarily because the main religion, Buddhism, is very open and tolerant. Thus you see Moslems and Hindus and Buddhists (Arabs and Indians and Thais) living and working side by side as brothers.
We didn't have a lot of free time in the city until Saturday, as much of our time was spent visiting companies in the city. Many time we had occasion to avoid the gridlocked traffic (worse than LA!) and use the BRT, a clean, quick and effective subway. Here are a few of the billboards with Thai script that we saw everywhere.
Another thing we noticed wandering the city were the spirit houses everywhere. The Thai people believe in ghosts and spirits. Whenever you build on property in Thailand, you must erect a spirit house on the property where the spirits that dwell there can live. Even in the poorest areas, properties and homes have spirit houses in the front yards, decorated with ribbons and gold leave, and the Thais leave offerings of fruit, incense, candles and flowers at the houses.
The Thai also love to decorate nature areas with ribbons and flowers as can be seen in this tree.
Saturday was our main touring day in Bangkok. Our wonderful tour guides arranged a day of walking and bussing around the city to see all the sights.
We began in Bangkok's Chinatown by seeing the Golden Budhha.
After the Golden Buddha, our tour guide led us through the flower and fruit markets. Because Thailand is in such a tropical area, the flowers there are amazingly gorgeous. Everywhere you looked, street upon street, there were fresh flowers and women making garlands and boquets for homes or offerings.
The whole market was fragrant with so many different kinds of flowers and fresh fruits. Here you could buy strawberries and guavas and mangos by the pound, and people cooked satay and fish and noodles on open grills.
Next stop on our tour was the Grand Palace of the King. The Grand Palace sits on the Chao Praya River, and is comprised of many, many buildings encrusted with gold and jewels. The red and green and blue rooves dot the 60 acre property, and statues and ornaments fill every nook and cranny.
The Grand Palace is also home to the Emerald Buddha which is located within the larger building in the background. Inside you can sit on the floor and medidate with the monks, or just enjoy the peace and quiet.
The Grand Palace is the summer home of the King of Thailand, but today mostly serves to house foreign dignitaries and visitors.
After the Grand Palace, we walked over to the Chao Praya to take a river and canal cruise.
Life on the canal varies from the very rich to the very poor. We saw numerous rickety shacks that looked like they would barely hold together, as well as richly developed properties that the guides informed us were worth millions of dollars. It was a sad contrast between the rich and the poor in Thailand, where the national average income is approximately equal to 100 American dollars per month.
On the canal cruise we also had the opportunity to see a floating market. This is where the locals meet to purchase food and chat. Many dock their boats and climb aboard the floating platform; still others pull their boat along side the market and eat there.
My photographs don't do it's immense size justice, but this is just a part of the Grand Palace from the Chao Praya River.
All in all, Thailand was amazing. I loved being immersed in the culture, even though at times it was scary being in a place where I couldn't even understand the simplest parts of language. I had gone to Thailand with some fear for my safety and where I would be able to eat, but what I learned is that it was a beautiful country, rich in history and kindness, and I would definitely return to enjoy more massages, amazing food and fun shopping.
P.S. No trip is complete without a little knitting. For this trip I opted for something small and light - socks! Not bad for my first attempt, I give you the Thailand Sock (on the left) and the Singapore Sock (on the right).