Thailand (1): Entry 1

11 May 2003: Bangkok, Thailand

Subject: Thailand (1)


Bangkok is a big busy hot city with lots of great cultural sights to see. Of course the first comparison that I have to make is with the big latin ammerican cities that I visited like Mexico City, Lima and La Paz, and generally I think I prefer it here. The traffic is not as mad as in those places and there are plenty of narrower lanes off the main streets where there are only a few vehicles to contend with.

The next thing that has struck me is how much more difficult things can be when you can't even read the alphabet let alone speak the language. Fortunately very many of the important signs are either transliterated into the roman alphabet or translated into english, and numbers are written in "international" form 99% of the time. You wouldn't know that they have their own digits at all unless you'd looked at the banknotes and coins, which use both. And a lot of the people speak some English. In many cases they seem to have plenty of vocabulary but are hindered by poor pronunciation.

The main tourist sights are the buddist temples. Yesterday I went to Wat Pho where the main attraction is an enormous "reclining buddah" statue. It really is vast and the way that it is contained within the temple building made me think of Guliver's Travels. It was as if we were the liliputians and had constructed this huge building that is only large enough to accomodate the giant if he lies down on his side!

Here is one of the main temple buildings:

And here are a couple of lovely statues guarding a doorway:

As well as the temple buildings there are various courtyards with dozens of gold-covered buddah figures in various poses around the inside walls. Then there are various structures that I wish I knew the right term for! They are somewhere between an obelisk and a pyramid (probably close enough to a pyramid to get the pyramids-from-space crazies interested) and varying from, I guess, five to twenty metres tall. They're mostly decorated with coloured glazed tiles and panels with geometric and floral designs; here is a close-up:

This morning I went out to a market that must be one of the world's largest. They seem to sell just about everything. First there were dozens and dozens of places selling things for the garden: lots of fabulous orchids, water lillies, other plants and seeds, fountains, silk flowers and so on. Then there were acres of pet stalls, mostly selling fish including some reef fish. There were quite a few caged birds, some squirrels, a few guinea pigs and some puppies. Then there were streets full of places selling clothes (with not quite as many fake designer labels as you might imagine; the most popular trademark to rip off seems to be Manchester United. You can even buy an M.U. doggie hat.)

Then on the way back I had a look at a few more temples, including one with a 70m tall standing gold buddah. After that, for some variety from the taxis (air conditioned, metered and generally good), the tuk-tuks (moto-tricycle taxis that are unbelievably more expensive, for tourists at least!) and the swish Sky Train rapid transit system, I took a boat down the river. From the boat you get a different view of the city and some of the river traffic, including very overloaded barges carrying sand. But the most incredible sight was from the quay just before getting on the boat. People were throwing enormous amounts of bread into the river to feed the fish. (It's possible that they do it for good luck.) They've probably been doing it for a while and I wouldn't be surprised if a new species of fish has evolved that can survive on a diet of only bread and with almost no oxygen! The big fish, most well over 50cm long, lurk just under the surface coming up to take a gulp of air from time to time until they sense the ripples of half a bag of white sliced bread being tipped in. Then the surface of the water errupts as a solid mass of fish fights over the food.

In a few days I'm off to Cambodia to see the even more famous temples at Angor Wat. But first I'm going down to the coast for a few days with a couple of Norwegian friends. Watch this space!