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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Bangkok, Thailand (1)

Saturday | December 13, 2014

What a long, but fun, day.

We arrived in Laem Chabang, Thailand, the jumping off point for Bangkok. What was fascinating was the number of oil tankers moored in the water immediately outside port; I may have counted 59 of them.


We hired a private car, driver and guide for the day for an eight hour tour of Bangkok. The ride into town was very nice. Our initial observation is that this part of Thailand is much more advanced and civilized than the parts of Cambodia, Vietnam or even China we had recently visited.

Our guide’s name was James, and he was very informative.

He was also very defensive of Thailand and proud of his king. He shared a few bits of Thai history with us on the way into the city:

  1. Bangkok is the fourth city to serve as the capital of Thailand;

  2. There are 65 million people in Thailand;

  3. 14 million people live in Bangkok;

  4. Unlike all its southeast Asia counterparts such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and others, Thailand has never been colonized;

  5. Thailand was put under a state of martial law a few weeks ago;

  6. It is illegal for a Thai citizen to speak negatively about the king or any of the royals – doing so will result in imprisonment;

  7. There are fascinating rules concerning divorce in Thailand. When couples divorce, they are each entitled to retain 100% of all the assets with which they entered the marriage. All the assets gained or improved during their marriage are split 50-50 between the couple. But the most fascinating thing is the way the children are divided in a divorce. Sons are assigned to live with their mothers, and daughters are assigned to live with their fathers.

Our first stop was Tom n Tom, where we got coffee and pretzels.

We boarded a tiny speed boat for a cruise down the Chao Phraya River.


We were seated only inches off the water, and the boat drew a constant cascade of waves that moistened us.


It would have been cool and refreshing until we noticed the raw sewage pipes leading into the river. We were victims of the awful smell emanating from the water. But alas, James and our driver took us down the river and through the world famous klongs, or canals.

The klongs are far more sophisticated than the waterways we saw in Vietnam or Cambodia. They certainly do have their share of nasty, poverty infected homes along the banks.

But they also have a decent proportion of up and coming buildings. And lots of houses where the owners, no matter how poor, take great care in the appearance and floral appearance of their homes.


We drove by the National Hospital where the infirmed

87-year old king is currently holed up.

As you can see, he is widely adored and revered.


Our first stop was the Royal Barge Museum, recommended by Mr. Buono, my old fifth grade teacher.

It was an amazing place. It is a series of about a dozen of the most beautiful water going vessels you have ever seen in your life.

These 250 year old boats are used only once a year, during the first full moon of November, that celebrates the end of the rainy season. At that time, there is a parade of these vessels down the river, which is flanked by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Thai citizens. The parade is magnificent and ornate, featuring the king and the entire royal family, soldiers and ceremonial people, all totaling around 345, on these boats.

This tradition originated in the 15th century and appears to be truly magnificent.

The detail, majesty and beauty of the boats cannot be overstated.


Along the water, we came across scores of small boats full of women peddling their wares.


Each house seemed to be its own study in detail and culture. This one alone tells a fascinating and complicated story. Note the tribute to the royal family, three flags flying high and three satellite dishes – all among the family’s earthly possessions packed in bags and boxes amidst squalor.


Next, we pulled up alongside a woman selling loaves of bread and James bought five loaves for us. I threw chunks of the bread into the water, and attracted literally thousands of massive catfish. (We even have a video of them!)


Similar to what we saw in Vietnam, the water was full of water hyacinths. James told us that in April, they are so thick that there are times when you can’t even see the water of the river.


Of course, we saw the Thai Coast Guard and Navy, hard at work.


Finally, we disembarked and walked through a typical southeast Asian street mall until we got to a small restaurant where we had lunch. Lunch was both tasty and fast, always a good thing.


Even this stray cat found a nice fish for lunch.


Next, we were off to the Grand Palace.

The grand palace has 283 acres and consists of over 100 buildings representing 200 years of royal history and architectural innovation. King Rama I, in 1782, was the first resident of this royal sanctuary. Today, the palace is used only for ceremonial occasions, but visitors like us are able to survey the grounds and enter four remaining palace buildings. Many of the other buildings are off-limits to the public; some could be viewed through the open gates, while others are totally shut.

Because I was not wearing long pants, our guide had to rent some appropriate clothing. He ran across the street and obtained elephant print trousers for me. I mention this detail because we liked them so much, we went to the same lady on the street and I bought three more pairs of elephant pants for myself!

Some people would say that if you’ve seen one temple or palace you have seen them all. This was definitely disproven today. Originally built in the early 10th century, this entire palace was built by 15,000 people in the span of only three years. Words, poetic as they may be, do not do justice to these amazing buildings.


The themes were shiny gold and resplendent colors, and they were everywhere. Millions of small colored stones and mosaic tiles make the statues and walls among the most colorful I have seen anywhere in the world.


There were also many statues of fascinating warriors and icons, most of them present to ward off evil spirits.



Of course, the police and military are on guard too.


The Temple of the Golden Buddha is believed to date back to the early 13th century. It’s main attraction is undoubtedly the impressive solid gold Buddha image. It stands 10 feet tall and is housed in a four-story marble structure.

Inside the palace grounds, we saw the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha (made of a single piece of jade) is the primary attraction of the temple. Seated on an elevated altar, the figure itself is barely visible due to its golden seasonal royal robes.


There are three seasons in Thailand – summer, rainy and winter. At the beginning of each season, the king enters the temple and clothes the Emerald Buddha in the appropriate golden garments. This is a very important tradition and ritual in Thailand. Our guide told us that even when the king is sick, he makes every possible effort to fulfill this role. Although there are many functions of the king that can be abdicated to the crown prince, this is one the king looks forward to doing himself, no matter how sick he may be.


Our next stop was the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Only slightly less popular than the temple of the Emerald Buddha is the temple of the Reclining Buddha. Modeled out of plaster with a brick core, the Buddha is finished in gold leaf with mother of pearl ornaments set into its feet. The gold leaf is comprised of 24 million pieces of gold! The statue itself is over 350 years old. We were all stunned by the massive size of this Buddha!

Inside the temple of the reclining Buddha are four chapels featuring almost 400 gilded Buddha images. The gold and detail in all of them is truly extraordinary.


And the Thai people go to great lengths to take care of every element of the temple.


Our tour essentially over, James and our driver took us to the Skytrain station where he showed us where and how to buy our tickets for the next day. We passed rows of these open back red trucks that serve as makeshift taxis around Thailand. One simply hails one, tells the driver where he wants to go and climbs in the back of the truck with anywhere from 5 to 15 other people.


We checked in at the Lebua hotel, where we were escorted to our majestic suite, 5726, on the 57th floor with an amazing balcony featuring a terrific view of every part of Bangkok.


We met friends for drinks on the 64th floor. Over a glass of wine, we took the time to look out over the night sky of Bangkok. Then, we walked down a few local streets until we found a terrific local restaurant called Mazzaro. The waiter even bragged of his grandmother’s Pad Thai recipe, which was great. Dinner, then bed.


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