Monday, February 23, 2015

Chinese New Year brings crowds to Bangkok sights

We arrived in Bangkok, the final stop on our tour of Southeast Asia. Everything was incredibly busy. It was Chinese New Year, and 500,000 Chinese had descended on Bangkok, many on cheap holiday packages.Our tour that day began with Wat Traimit, the home of the Golden Buddha. Unfortunately, it took us a long time to move into the complex because of the huge number of people. We were told that 100,000 Chinese a day were visiting the site. At 5.5 tons of of pure gold, the Golden Buddha is the the world's largest gold statue. Some lucky people touring with us had been here before when no one was around.
Next we visited the Emerald Buddha, which is less than two feet tall but carved in solid jade and perched on a pedestal of gold. We tried to admire the sight without getting in the way of those who had come to pray and make offerings, but it was a bit of a scrum and I was just about knocked over a couple of times. Outside a priest was sitting on a pedestal blessing people with water. I went in line and got splashed and blessed. Some people got hit on the head with the twigs for extra good luck. I think they donated more.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Grand Palace, an intriguing mixture of Thai and European architecture started by Rama I. The Palace Complex contains over 100 buildings including a Coronation Hal, Throne Room and Funeral Palace. Rama l was played by Yul Bryner in the musical "The King and I". He and many of his brothers attended Eton. The movie is banned in Thailand because it is considered highly disrespectful to depict he king in a form of entertainment.

Next we visited the oldest temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho, to see the famous Reclining Buddha. This statue is 15 metres high and 43 metres long. The feet of Buddha are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. 108 panels display the symbols by which Buddha can be identified: flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories. In the corridor 108 bronze bowls represent the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People paid for small containers of coins which they then distributed into each bowl as they walked by, to bring good fortune. It was lovely to see but we kept also seeing signs warning us to be wary of pickpocket gangs, which seemed incongruous here surrounded by reminders of Buddha's teachings. We were assured that these gangs came from other countries!

The temple is also the home of Thai massage. For Thai massage therapists, the medical inscriptions inside the temple act as a base for treatment. There are 60 plaques inscribed, 30 each for the front and the back of the body. Full research on the plaques is still ongoing. You can have one of the therapists come to your hotel for a two hour massage.

After a very long shower we revived ourself with a late lunch, and then wandered around nearby shopping malls. Things seemed quite expensive even by European standards. In one mall we saw a very colorful Chinese dragon dance. Outside we wandered through the street market stalls selling clothing and leather.

At dinner time we decided to go to a Food Court that was really like a huge Thai Movenpick, where you went from stall to stall picking what food you wanted. There were so many cooking areas that it was hard to decide what to eat.There were vegetarian, seafood, food from the north, central and southern parts of Thailand and many other cooking areas. I ended up with a very nice clear soup with some vegetables in it and a dish of rice with crayfish and some salad. Unfortunately, it was so hot that my mouth just burned. I ate a little bit, but it was all too much. It was my own fault as I had gone to the chili paste stall.



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