Bangkok is a six-hour flight from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and there are four direct flights a week. So I decided to take a ten-day vacation, dividing my time between Bangkok near the center of the country and Chiang Mai in the North, surrounded by jungle and rice paddies. I thought about heading South to one of Thailand's beautiful beaches but decided that ten days wasn't long enough to divide into three destinations. Saturday morning I left Tashkent on an Uzbekistan Airways wide-body Airbus that was only one quarter full and at dusk we landed in Bangkok.
The Bangkok airport is far from the center of the city, traffic is heavy and taxis for that distance are expensive so I waited for a shuttle bus to take me to the neighborhood of my hotel. My internet reservation was successful and I checked in. Though the hotel was surrounded by sidewalk cafes and street vendors, I decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. I enjoyed my first of many spicy soups and a curried shrimp -- chicken was on the menu but the waiter explained that the restaurant was not serving it because of concern about the bird flu. After dinner I wandered back onto the street busy with tourists and Thais looking for bargains from street vendors. One kiosk offered student ID's, press cards and British drivers licenses at low prices. Tashkent is quiet in the evening, so it was a real change to see thousands of people wandering the streets at midnight.
The hotel included a buffet breakfast and they was ready for tourists from anywhere. I had bacon and french toast with croissant, fresh pineapple, tea and orange juice, but I could have had rice with stir-fried vegetables or numerous other dishes that for my taste were more appropriate for dinner than for breakfast. Then I took off to begin exploring some of Bangkok's temples. The first challenge was to cross the street. Traffic was heavy, driving very fast and there were few traffic lights or cross-walks.
I survived the traffic and spent most of the day wandering around the old part of Bangkok and checking out the temples. All were colorfully decorated inside and out. Many had a large stature of Buddha in the center and many had small statues surrounding the central temple. Many people were visiting the temples, some western tourists like me and some Thai visitors who knelt reverently and prayed to Buddha.
Temples always were guarded, sometimes by elephants but often by bizarre monsters.
The next morning I headed off to one of the Royal Palaces. Inside the gates were acres of greenery and a wide variety of buildings. This palace claims to be the largest building in the world constructed only from Teak -- they did not even use nails, only pegs made from Teak.
Following a lengthy tour and an ice cream break, I watched a performance of traditional Thai dancing on a porch outside the Teak Palace. I have never seen dancers move so slowly! Perhaps it is because of the hot weather? They were graceful and well synchronized, but the whole thing seemed to be done in slow motion.
Besides the regular tourists, there were hundreds of families accompanying young men and women who were celebrating their graduation from the university. I guess there was no reason for Thailand to adopt a school calendar from September through June, so their school year finishes in September. Lots of happy families were taking pictures and enjoying picnic lunches on the palace grounds. In addition to their diplomas, many of the new graduates were carrying stuffed animals. I never heard the explanation but apparently that was a traditional gift.
Usually I enjoy walking around cities I am visiting, but by the end of the afternoon I wished I had taken a taxi back to the hotel for a swim. It was a hot day and I was glad to see temples, canals, monuments to democracy and souvenir shops selling huge Buddhas, but I ran out of energy. I was glad that many street vendors offered large servings of freshly squeezed orange juice for 50 cents.
The next day I was determined to do less of my exploring on foot. I started by walking up Bangkok's only a hill. The guidebook explained that the hill is artificial. Several centuries ago a king decided to build a big temple on the site and the ground was so soft that it collapsed. The rubble created a hill and now a small temple sits on top of it all.
Then I found a canal bus boat to take me to Siam Square in the center of the city. I wandered around and marveled at the five story mall filled with computer shops then jumped on Bangkok's new elevated train. It was quick and modern (like Washington's Metro) and I went to the end of the line by the river. There I boarded a boat and headed up the river. Traveling on the river is relaxing.
I got off at the Royal Barge Museum. Thai barges are more artistic than the barges I have seen being towed up the Hudson River!