Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thailand Trip: Watpo Temple Complex

We flew with Thai Airways to Bangkok. Bangkok is 7 hours ahead of UK time. Just before we landed, all the ladies were given, by the cabin staff, an orchid to wear, we thought that a lovely touch.

We stopped at The Royal Orchid Hotel which has 775 rooms and is on the banks of the Chao Phraya river which means that there is a cooling breeze most of the day. The exchange rate in June 2000 was 52.7 Baht to the $1.

After recovering from the overnight flight we went for a ride in a traditional long-tailed boat which is a long narrow craft propelled by a noisy car engine with a long propeller shaft. This was fun, but not the most comfortable way to travel. There are spray dodgers along the side of the boat, and at times they were needed. We were startled to see that on some of these boats, the engines still have the cooling fan attached. So the driver is sitting just in front of this whirling blade. They didn't tell us what to do if our driver gets 'blended' !

Kok means village on water, Bangkok means village of Plums, on water.

We soon left the main river and cruised down the canals which are called klongs. This was really interesting and we passed rickety houses on stilts where the inhabitants were going about their daily business of living, washing, shopping or just relaxing. I wondered how long these houses stay up on their poles, some looked like they were falling over. We went very fast along the klongs, except where it was so narrow we had to slow down.

We then transferred to an old rice barge and slowly made our way up the klong and into the main river. The rice barge dropped us at the staging of our hotel.

After a nights sleep we went out on a tour of Bangkok. Our first stop was at Wat Pho. Wat means temple in Thailand. Wat Pho is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, and it was built in the 16th century. It is in fact a series of temples, set within eight acres.

In the left-hand corner of the compound is the temple which enshrines the enormous Buddha image which gives the temple its popular name. This is Thailand's largest statue of the reclining Buddha.

The statue measures 145ft long and 50ft high. It is made of brick covered with plaster and gold leaf and is impressive but very difficult to photograph.

We went into several Wats and saw lots of Buddhas, and saw lots of people praying to their favourite statue. They give to the statue of their choice a lotus flower, joss sticks, a candle and a piece of gold leaf. The gold leaf is about 1" square and they stick it on the Buddha they are praying to. They light both the candle and joss sticks as they pray and lay the lotus flower at the feet of the Buddha. The candle symbolizes the light of understanding, the lotus is considered an exalted flower. For the incense there must be three sticks, which represent the Buddhist Triple Gem, standing for the Buddha, his teachings (the dharma) and the monkhood (the sangha). The square of gold leaf; it is believed that he or she will receive certain benefit. There are three especially important places to put the gold leaf; on the mouth so that the giver will be blessed with good speech or sweet talk; on the head so as to become more wise; on the chest over the heart to ensure a good heart in the sense of both health and kindness.

At this site at the western end is a traditional Thai massage school. We both booked a massage, the massseur will come to our hotel later on today.

It is very hot and humid, making yomping around temples pretty uncomfortable.

We went onto Wat Phra Keo, this is the temple of the Emerald Buddha. All very impressive, but I was getting very hot and sticky and could only think of getting in a shower.

The last call of the afternoon was to the Wat of the solid gold Buddha, Wat Traimit. This was pretty impressive; the Buddha is 10ft high, weighs five and half tonnes, and is solid gold. It was discovered by accident on in 1953. Being moved to another temple it slipped off a crane and the outer stucco cracked realing its secret. It was probably encased in plaster to prevent capture by the Burmese in the 18th century. This Buddha is in the Guinness Book of Records.

When I got back into the coach I discovered that I had somehow picked up a piece of gold leaf which I found sticking to my arm. Maybe someone thought I looked like a Buddha!!

At 4pm two masseurs arrived. A real professional job they both did. They charged about $15. It was a bit painful at times but I felt better afterwards. The masseurs are not meant to come into the hotel as the hotel has its own massage parlour, which is a lot more expensive than $15! My masseur discovered I had a stiff neck and tutted a bit. I have booked him again tomorrow. Ralph wasn't so keen and once was enough for him.

After dinner I had my palm read by an old chinese gentlemen who was sitting out on the hotel terrace. He told me to hold on to my money - then took $15 from me!! He gave me a run down for the next ten years with the good and bad months and years. He drew all the information on a scrap of paper which is really quite difficult to understand now.

We watched a show of Thai dancing which is very slow and deliberate with emphasis on hand and foot movement.

Today we have a relaxing day swimming and sunbathing by the pool. In the late afternoon my masseur arrived. His name is Onee. He concentrated on my neck and back; it was a bit painful, but it is doing some good. His son, who is 12 years old is already learning the massage skills.

There was a young woman in the reception area playing an instrument like a zither, the music was certainly oriental. She sat cross legged on a large cushion playing and looked like she was in a trance.

After dinner we set off to find the night market on the PatPong Road. We went by Tuk Tuk (motorized trishaw). The Tuk Tuks are cheaper than taxis and much more fun, our fare was 40 Baht, which is just over $1.

The market was all very noisy and colourful. There are lots of bars behind the market stalls offering everything under the sun to do with sex shows and Thai boxing. Everywhere, smooth young men were trying to persuade us to go inside. "Check it out, boys" - all I could think of was the Engineer in the West End Musical Miss Saigon.

Eventually, after much discussion and plucking up of courage, we went into one. It was the most un-sexy display one could imagine. No pretence at artistry, not even erotic - just undignified and utter sleaze.

We did all the wrong things; instead of going into a bar that led straight off the street, we were taken up some wooden stairs into a room. There was a stage of sorts that measured about 12ft x 8ft, where girls were doing things with darts and razor blades that were to say the least - surprising! And a novel way of blowing out candles!! We stayed about 15 minutes. We were presented with a bill for 980 Baht. We refused to pay as we had been told by the pimp outside on the pavement that it would only cost 60 Baht. We were told 60 Baht was for the show, another 60 for a couple of beers, and the rest was "membership fee!"

One girl was barring the door and we couldn't see what money we had. Ralph suddently discovered that, while he was trying to sort out some money to pay them, 1000 Baht had gone out of his wallet - or out of his hand, he wasn't sure which. We threatened to call the police and wouldn't pay them any more, as they had already stolen 1000 Baht. Just how they stole it we couldn't figure, it was centainly very slickly done.

I was getting cross and I pushed the girl at the door out of the way, luckily the door opened outwards, and we got out into the fresh air. We hurried down the stairs onto the pavement. We had been well and truly "engineered," but we put it down to experience. If we hadn't gone in we would always have wondered what it was like inside - now we know! Neither of us regret going in, it was a pity there were not four of us, it would then have been more 'fun'.

We hailed another Tuk Tuk back to the hotel. We got a bit worried when the Tuk Tuk driver didn't know the way, he had to stop and ask. He didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Thai. The Bell Captain at the hotel had given us a card with the hotel's name and address on for just this sort of occasion. So we got back in one piece - older and wiser - and relieved to be back.

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