Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Thailand and Laos 1998: Day 2

Day Two, Tuesday 3/2/1998After a filling breakfast from the Thai buffet we were ready to start our official tour of Bangkok. This began with what , by and large, a repeat of yesterday's boat trip but this time with fifteen of us on two boats. This morning the light glinting off the temple roofs made them look like gems set in the green and brown of the banks. Having taken my pictures yesterday I could relax and just take in the view. The riverside community was busy about its morning tasks. In spite of the surface scum and the floating rubbish people were bathing in the water and even washing the breakfast dishes. We came to one of the talàat náam, the floating markets. This was not Wat Sai market which is the one illustrated on all of the postcards but another less tourist oriented one where goods were being sold from a mixture of buildings built out over the water and long narrow boats moored at the edge. It was still early and not very busy although there were a few customers, also on their boats, doing their shopping.
We went on, eventually returning to the main river and docking at Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn on the western bank. This temple, which looks extremely impressive from the river even with the scaffolding being used in its renovation, is a little more drab close up. Nevertheless it is still fairly grand. Outside its grounds there is a thriving market of tacky tourist stands and photographers with snakes that, for a few baht, they will drape around your neck. If reptiles don't appeal you can pose instead with alluring Thai women wearing traditional head-dresses and costumes. Should you prefer to buy something there are plenty of cheap pieces of jewellery or masks or carvings.

I strolled along chatting pleasantly, if inconsequentially, to the guide. As we talked the others gradually gathered around us and when everyone was there we took the ferry across the river. Here we walked through a noisy, smelly food market where the stench from great wicker baskets of fish combined nauseatingly with smell of blood. When we were finally through it, it was a relief to be out into the dust and the petrol fumes of the street. Across the road from us was Wat Pho, a substantially more impressive temple than Wat Arun had been. Wit led us around the side and into the main entrance. Inside he gave us a quick run down on what we were looking at. Here, he told us, we would find the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, the largest collection of Buddhas in any single temple and the national school for teaching Thai massage. Before we went off to explore he took us into the wihan where the reclining Buddha is housed. It is certainly impressive. Forty nine metres long and fifteen metres high - the foot is twice the height of a man - it is made from brick and plaster and covered in gold leaf and mother of pearl. It completely fills the wihan leaving just a narrow footway around it for worshippers and tourists. The rest of Wat Pho is no less impressive. There are dozens of incredibly ornate towers and what appear to be thousands of statues of the Buddha filling the galleries between them.  

In the afternoon I wanted to see the Grand Palace, a structure that I had so far glimpsed only over its tall white outer wall. The temperature had climbed another couple of notches and combined with the humidity the heat was stifling. I spent fifteen minutes trying to cross the road and then walked down to the Palace. Inside it was magnificent. I ignored the guide book and just wandered round taking pictures and looking at the architecture. This random strategy has its good points and its bad points. Chief among the bad points was that I didn't get to look at any specific attractions, in particular missing the Emerald Buddha entirely. On the plus side motion without purpose leads to the pleasure of the unexpected. On a series of galleries that most other visitors seemed to have missed there were walls filled with murals of epic mythological scenes of battles and palaces, heroes and princes, demons and animals. These depict the story of Râma rescuing his abducted wife, building his Empire, battling evil magicians, waging war on his enemies and so on. All of them were executed in a painstaking stylised form that appealed to the comic collector in me more than the art critic. As for the architecture, well all Thai temple architecture makes the most ornate of western cathedrals look drab and the Grand Palace is ornate enough to make even Thai temples dull by comparison. The predominant colours are red and gold with a substantial amount of green and white. The overlapping roofs look like the scales of some great animal and the statues and carvings are so abundant and so detailed that any individual piece becomes a work of art. With a shock I realised that it was three O'clock. I had to be back at the hotel for four to drive to the railway station where we were catching the overnight sleeper to Chiang Mai. Reluctantly, and with four fifths of the palace unseen, I hurried back.