All roads to south-east Asia lead to Singapore. And Bangkok. So though we only plan to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, we got Bangkok as a bonus. That and because our dear friend Ami gave us her condo in Bangkok to stay at.
The flight from Christchurch to Singapore was long – ten plus hours – the same as Dallas to Frankfurt. But it didn’t feel bad – even the kids thought it was a breeze. At Changi airport our inter terminal train gave us an opportunity to gawk at the circular waterfall from the ceiling into the domed rainforest. Then, a short flight and we stepped out into the stifling steamy humidity and heat of Bangkok. It was a bit of a shock after New Zealand.
It took us several minutes to get signed in at Ami’s condo. But by the end of the process my thumbprint was registered to let us in. How cool is that! Here’s a pano view from the 25th floor balcony at dusk.
Bangkok feels like an in between city. It has good roads, an underground metro, an above street train system, a river transit system on the Chao Praya river, and is much cleaner than Cairo or Kolkata. The taxis are good. You don’t feel like you’ve got to look over your shoulder. But it isn’t an sanitized as first world cities usually are. It’s no Singapore.
Food, especially street food is cheap. Foot massages even at nice places are very reasonable and professional. Traffic is awful. One evening while returning from a dinner date night with Jo we saw someone who could be a prostitute. That’s the extent of what we saw of the sleazy side of Bangkok that you hear about.
The next morning we went to see the palace. It was crowded and hot and Vivian and I had to buy MC Hammer style pants to cover our unsightly knees. The pants were conveniently sold right there at the palace and they were cheap, but they only made us less cooler (in all possible ways).
The palace and the surrounding temples especially the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were beautiful in a pretty gilded gold mosaic way. Our entry tickets entitled us to a free traditional dance performance at the National Theater and after finishing our palace tour unexpectedly (we took an exit without knowing) we hopped on a free shuttle to the theater.
We saw a dance enacting a portion of the Ramayana, the epic from ancient India. The rulers of Thailand going back several centuries were Hindu. Their capital city was named Ayutthaya after Ayodhya, Rama’s kingdom in India. Though modern Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, the current king of the country is Rama X, the tenth consecutive Rama. In the Ramayana, Rama is the son of the king of Ayodhya. His scheming stepmother (the king had three wives) gets him exiled from Ayodhya for 14 years and her own son on the throne. Another one of Rama’s step brothers, Laxman, and Rama’s wife, Sita join him in exile. At one point Sita is abducted by Ravana, the ten headed demon king of Lanka (Sri Lanka). Hanuman, the monkey prince joins forces with Rama. His army builds a land bridge to Lanka by tossing boulders into the sea. Sita is rescued, Ravana is killed. Rama returns victorious to a welcoming Ayodhya and becomes king. Incidentally that day is celebrated as Diwali, the festival of lights. Here you see Rama and company from the left approaching Ravana and his demon army who are on the right. Our kids got a free cultural class.
The day after that we flew to Cambodia. Two short days in Bangkok – just enough to give us a flavor of this ancient and modern metropolis.