Thanks for visiting!
Ha. No, really.
I really do want to finish blogging the amazing trip we took through Thailand and Vietnam (check here for older posts) before I forget absolutely everything about where we went and what we saw. Luckily, this means only 4 or 5 more posts, and they're about amazing places, including Ayutthaya, Koh Samet, and the Seattle airport.
Unfortunately, six months on, I've already forgotten a lot about a culture which, admittedly, I didn't know so much to begin with. So, join me once again on my voyage of cultural insensitivity and ignorance! (Hey, I don't think it's as bad as all that.)
Bangkok's Royal Palace is part of a huge complex of wats and chedis and stupas and tourists and cannons. You know immediately upon walking up to it that this is going to be quite a visit.
This mess of buildings was begun in 1782 and has presumably been continually restored ever since then, to keep the luster and sparkle on the gilded mosaics and murals.
The heat, I remember, was oppressive, and we were for some reason there during the worst part of the day. Topping that, we learned as we entered that one of the site's main attractions, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo) would be closed for the day. Well, we'd slogged our way over to the temple complex, braving the taxi drivers of Bangkok and the insane tuktuk drivers, and we weren't about to turn around and go back to Siam Square, so screw it.
It's not like all of the other buildings of the temple complex were mud huts.
Here's one view of a spectacularly enormous chedi and what I think was the library, the Phra Mondhop. We had popped for the audio guide, but you've never heard anything drier in your life, and honestly the heat drove much of the monotone straight out of our heads.
Besides, we were so impressed with just looking around that it was difficult to take time out from staring to listen.
The scale here was really not to be believed.
And not only were these buildings enormous and of a style completely outside of our experience, they were also superbly detailed.
We spent a lot of time with our necks craned. I'm sort of surprised we didn't wade into a passel of Thai schoolchildren, many of whom were there on school trips.
Of course, not only are there these amazing mosaics - and here's a closeup so you can see the unflinching attention to detail -
there's also a huge mural running the length of an enormous building, telling the saga of Rama - the Ramakien.
It looked so fresh it could have been painted yesterday. It's apparently likely that parts were; it's under almost constant restoration to keep it shining.
And there weren't just mosaics and murals - what about the giant model of Angkor Wat? So what if we hadn't made it to the real thing! We could stand by the model!
For some reason, I think the experience of going out into the jungle to see Angkor Wat is probably a deeper experience than seeing the model on the grounds of the Royal Palace.
We also spent some time admiring what I've just read are garudas strangling nagas, or perhaps just holding them lovingly by the neck. Naga, sure - snake thing. I don't really know what makes a garuda.
I do know that the Thais praise serenity above many things, and certain of the statues scattered around the complex really reinforced that message.
We were still disappointed that we wouldn't be able to see the Emerald Buddha, so we peered across towards the wat housing the statue.
Wait a minute - there are people inside!
We walked over to take a closer look - turns out the wat had only been closed for a ceremony earlier in the day, but was now open to visitors. Word just hadn't gotten back to the ticket windows yet.
You can't take pictures of the Emerald Buddha from inside the wat. I assume it's because people would be using the flash, like idiots, and perhaps because the Palace administration wants to sell postcards.
The list of things you couldn't do didn't end with pictures, though.
In reading up on Thai culture, we'd read that Thais consider the feet the lowest portion of the body, and unholy for that reason. For this reason, you don't point your feet at people - it's considered rude. How rude on a scale with 1 being yawning while someone's talking and 10 being flipping someone off while screaming obscenities about their mother, I don't know.
Just don't test it our by showing your dirty soles to the Buddha.
We got a tiny, blurry shot from outside. At least you can see our fellow tourists.
Having now seen a good chunk of what the temple area had to offer, we left that section and made our way over to the administrative and government buildings, grabbing a sincerely refreshing lemongrass drink on the way. I can't say it was delicious, and it came out of a can, but I was getting tired of the constant inflow of lukewarm water.
We took a look at the Chakri Mahaprasart, a decidedly odd building that served as the palace for about thirty years. What a strange mishmash of styles; columns and a gold tiered Thai roof?
Very earnest guards were keeping a keen eye on all the tourists. It was difficult to get a shot of one of them by himself, due to the relentless press of tourists desperate, for some reason, to pose with their arms crossed next to these serious-looking men.
This portion of the grounds also housed several small museums. There was one full of weaponry, with giant Mauser pistols tucked in next to armor and spears, and then one large room that contained my new favorite Thai artifact:
The nine-tiered umbrella of state.
Which was of course placed reverently over a very heavy-looking throne.
We were exhausted by the heat and, lulled nearly to faintness by the droning of the audio guide monotone, we left the complex. A taxi back to our hotel was fairly simple to find, and, once there, we collapsed. Well, to be fair, I collapsed... Husbear went outside in search of something to eat for an early dinner.
He was successful, finding the delicious and ubiquitous morning-glory leaves, a spicy red pork curry, and a hot and sour soup. And a beer, and about seventeen bottles of water that aren't in the picture.
And then we didn't leave the room again, because even at night it was really hot and we were totally run down.
Plus, the next day we'd be taking an early bus to an early boat to Koh Samet! Beach island paradise, here we come.