Bangkok: Gateway to SE Asia

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We touched down in BKK at approximately 6pm and collected our bags. We were pleased to find out we did not have to go through immigration since we were allowed 30 days free in Thailand. As soon as we left the baggage claim area we were greeted with multiple kiosks setting up new arrivals with SIM cards and data plans. Welcome back to the world of internet at your fingertips.

We made our way to the hostel we had booked online via the new Airport Link lightrail followed by a quick bus ride. Along the way, we could see tons of people covered in the national colors (blue, white and red), wearing nationalist t-shirts and with mini flags in hands. These were the protesters for the opposition party that is boycotting the February elections. It so happened that we arrived on the Sunday of a large protest gathering.  We had read some about the protests before arriving, but here in person, you could see there is a very jovial atmosphere to the entire thing. Neither of us got any sense of anger or hostility.

Amanda Party - BKK

When we arrived at Lilly’s Hostel, a drunk owner with his two year old daughter (Lilly) in his arms greeted us in his own, slurry manner, and told us someone else would give us a key. We were let in, and found our way to an 8-person dorm. After a quick, freezing cold shower (and yes – it was COLD in Bangkok when we arrived in December) we changed and headed downstairs to the street where the hostel had some tables and chairs set up outside. As the change in culture, scenery, and lifestyle began to sink in we grabbed a couple beers and quickly made friends with the homeless drunk who was harmless enough (to others), and a couple other of the guests. After an hour of listening to the bum talk about everything and anything, Ben headed to bed. Amanda however had a newfound energy. Two hours in Bangkok and a new found freedom to roam the streets like a cat at night was similar to an injection of Red Bull for her. While Ben slept soundly she decided to join the other travelers, as well as Steve the hostel bum, for a night out on the town. A little bit of wandering from one place to another, a little bit of beer consumed here and there, a few dance stops at various clubs, food on the way home, and in bed by 4:30am before the sun came up. Sound like a typical first night in Bangkok?

The following day, being unimpressed with our dirty and insecure accommodation, Ben went scouting for a new home. We waited all morning for the hostel staff who were nowhere to be found. Finally around midday we left for our new hostel, leaving the key on a chair out front. Our new spot, Feel@Home Hostel, was a couple bucks more but worth every penny. Clean, comfortable, working internet, friendly and helpful staff, safe. This hostel became our ‘go-to’ place when arriving to and passing through the megacity hub of Bangkok, which we did a lot. Over the next three months we would pass through this city a total of more than five times. Below are some of our Bangkok highlights.

 

Public Hospitals

Now that we had left Africa, it was time to shake its ill effects. Ben was pretty much recovered from his dance with malaria, but he had been told by the doctor in Johannesburg that he would need a follow-up blood test done in Bangkok when we arrived. Amanda’s mom had even gotten a recommendation for an international hospital to visit in Bangkok as well. After our arrival though we discovered that the nearest hospital, Siriraj Hospital, was just across the river, a quick ferry ride away. Since it was the oldest and largest hospital in Thailand we figured it would be simple to get our need taken care of here.  Getting there was easy enough and for our first day in Bangkok it was fun to jump right onto the ferry system.  Getting the appointment to see the doctor was an entirely different story.

Hospital Paperwork - BKK

Siriraj Hospital is one of the largest hospitals in SE Asia servicing over one million outpatient visits a year in addition to the inpatient visits and med school. We later learned that this massive hospital also housed the Siriraj Medical Museum (aka the ‘Museum of Death‘), which has such wonderful features as the mummified body of the first known ‘serial killer’ of Thailand, among other treats.  We still are on the fence if it is a good or bad thing we missed out on this hidden treasure.

As soon as we got off the ferry we were immersed in an outdoor Wang Lang Market, and appeared to be the only ‘farangs‘ (read: caucasians) in sight. Not many tourists cross to the other side of the river, where there are fewer ‘main attractions’; and the Siriraj Hospital is definitely not a sought-out destination listed in the many tour books. Not surprisingly, then, there was virtually no English understood in the building. We made our way to the hospital complex and it took us quite a while of wandering and asking person after person to track down the department we needed. After about an hour, we made our way to a nurse in the right department who spoke decent English, and directed us to get Ben registered with the hospital, and come back with paperwork. So off we went and after a few minutes, “Mr. Benjamins” was registered with the hospital. Now we spoke with the nurse again, and he told us we could a) wait for about 4 hours, or b) come back at 6am. We chose the latter.

Day 2: We woke up at about 4:30am, grabbed our paperwork (including doctor’s instructions and notes from South Africa), and headed back to Siriraj Hospital. Unfortunately, the ferry doesn’t start until 8am, so we ended up taking a tuk-tuk. While most people were stumbling home from a night out on the town at 5am, we were headed to the hospital. We were back at the same department by 6am, where there were no crowds, and seemingly only night cleaning staff plus one line of people. Again, there wasn’t a single English speaker about. We tried to explain that the nurse told us to come at 6am, and we were halfheartedly greeted by staff that was not yet on duty – wait until 7am. At 7am, we were told to go up two floors and wait in a different line. We went upstairs and waited by the room they said, but waiting by room 201 without any reassurance that the person who told us to do this understood what we needed, and without a sign on the door or anyone to tell us when the doctor would be in, we got anxious. There was also a line of about 60 people that stretched down a long corridor, should we be in that line? New staff members were working by now, but they just told us to sit down and wait, not caring what our need was. So we waited until 8am, as they now advised us. And after 8am, we started getting frustrated and Amanda was on the verge of tears. It felt like we were trapped in a bad scene of Lost in Translation. We had been told to be here at 6am, so weren’t we missing our window? We began pestering different nurses and after a while, someone apparently noticed and a woman came up to us, and asked us to come with her. She listened to us, and in limited English told us where to stand in a particular line (more lines had formed by now), and that we could be seen by the doctors based on the order we checked in at a certain desk. The doctors would be in at 10am. So we stood in another line, and got a time to come back to be placed on the short list to be seen: please return at 11:30am.

Almost to window #2!
Almost to window #2!

Now with a specific time to come back, we felt a bit better. We were then ushered to another line of people waiting to have their blood pressure and wight taken on three machines being worked by one nurse. She promptly took Ben’s stats and wrote them on his time ticket. We decided to get some food, since we’d not eaten while we were loitering and waiting for 3 ½ hours without knowing when we would be seen.

Malaria Free!
Malaria Free!

When we returned things began to slowly fall into place as we were now directed to hall and were officially in line to see the specialist. Twenty minutes later we were sitting in a simple room (maybe 6′ x 6′) talking to a bright, young, infectious diseases specialist who had actually done his studies at Duke University. He was very helpful in answering our questions. He also explained to us that this was a public hospital which was the reason for the chaos. Most foreigners choose to go to private hospitals, which cost a bit more (maybe $10). He was impressed with our ability to navigate the system and in a few minutes had given us a slip for a new blood draw test and another dose of meds to take, promising to email the results of the test to us that evening. With that we left the small room, waited for the meds from the in hospital pharmacy (another series of windows), and went downstairs to have the blood drawn. All of this took maybe ten minutes and our total bill including the blood test/draw, medications, and seeing the doctor came to a whopping total of $5. What was even more surprising was when we actually got an email from the doctor that evening as he had promised. Wow Thailand, we are impressed! Figuring out the medical system of this part in the world may have been a chaotic mess that almost brought us to tears but man was it worth it. Top notch care at an unbelievable price.

And what was even better than this? Ben was officially malaria free, just in time for Christmas. Reason to celebrate!

 

Christmas Eve Present

Our first run in with an unexpected friend from the US was with Jared Stankowski, one of Ben’s younger fraternity brothers from UC Santa Barbara. Jared had been working for the big accounting firm, Ernst & Young, in San Francisco. Disillusioned by the idea of knowing exactly what the next 40 years of his career were going to look like, he had chosen to quit his job and travel. After two months in China we crossed paths with him on Christmas Eve in Bangkok.

Thai Santa - BKK

The evening started with beers and catching up in the luxurious Nap Park Hostel. We were surprised to find that Thai Santa had stopped at the hostel on his way to deliver presents through the region!  This was perfect for Amanda, who has a pact with her mother to get a photo with Santa every year (probably a tradition started while en-vitro). Soon Santa was off to do his business and we were off to celebrate.

Christmas Eve would be our first night out on Khao San Road. It was a real shocker for us. We knew that Thailand and Bangkok had a party vibe to them, and Amanda had experienced it a bit already, but now on Christmas Eve, this tourist street was like a grimier version of the Las Vegas Strip. First of all it was fairly warm, so small cafes opened up onto the street with large seating areas where people were eating and drinking. There were tons of people out on the streets drinking, and vendors everywhere selling clothes, travel gear, souvenirs, and other obscure items like tickets to “ping pong” shows. Amanda came across a fried scorpion on a stick, and bought it. This was as much a party favor for her as a snack, which she was non prepared to eat, but Ben tried. Jared was craving a bucket of Mai Tai, so we sat down and ordered one (big enough for four people) for about $6. After this, the desire to dance seemed to be overwhelming Jared and Amanda, so we made our way to The Club down the street, and had a drink nearby while waiting for it to get busy. When we did enter, we got in for free, and by this time had met a couple other of our new friends from our hostel. We had a pretty good group of about eight of us, all in the festive Thailand Christmas spirit. Inside, the music was good, the dance floor was now packed, many foreigners and locals alike were wearing Christmas hats and themed gear, and the party was hopping. We danced here until it rang 12am, officially starting one of the most bizarre and random Christmases we’ve ever had.  At about 2:30am we began to lose steam. With a street-side Thai-style kebab in hand we headed for our new clean beds awaiting us.

Christmas Eve Duo - BKK

Embassies and Indian Food

For one of our ‘Bangkok layovers’ we relocated ourselves from our favorite resting spot in Phra Nakhon district (nearby Khaosan Road) to Bang Rak district (nearby the infamous Silom Road). The primary reason for this was our intention to go to the Myanmar embassy, which wasn’t far away, for a visa. Online we had booked the cheapest hostel in the area (and probably in all of Bangkok), Cenatur Inn. We discovered why when we arrived. While it wasn’t awful, it was exactly what you might expect to get for $2 a night. Hidden down an alley it was exhausting to find the place, but eventually, after unintentionally exploring most the small streets in the area, we arrived. It was completely different from the Khaosan Road crowd of college-age and mid-20’s to 30’s backpackers. The place was dark and it wasn’t extreamly clean (although it didn’t really scream dirty either). It existed in this median where it just was. Simple and cheap. Another funny little thing we noticed is that it was also run by an all-Indian staff, and most of the guests (which we assumed were more long-term residents) were Indian as well. This stirred a dormant desire in Amanda – Indian buffet!

Being that the Bang Rak district is known for its larger Indian population, there are many Indian restaurants in the area you can choose to eat from. You can find places such as Indian Hut (intended to be confused with Pizza Hut we are sure) and Little India within a block of each other. With a little hint from a paper taped to the registration desk of Centaur Inn we discovered Swaad (this place is so secret there is no online presence). It is a small golden nugget hidden in the folds of Bangkok. The food here is by far some of the best Indian food we have ever had in our lives and the price is the cheapest you will find in Bangkok. For 125 baht ($3.75)  you can have as much food as you want from their menu (which changes each day) including five dishes, dessert, lassis, rice, rotis, and sauces. It is basically buffet-style. We loved this place so much we made a point to make the trek to this part of town when we passed through two months later, and it didn’t disappoint.

Other than our trip to the embassy (which wasn’t too exciting and involved lots of waiting around) and finding the best Indian food in town there wasn’t a whole lot to do in this area.  Since we were nearby we did check out the Silom Road, known for it’s parties, gay district, and ping pong shows.  In many ways it was just an older version of Khaosan Road at night.  There wasn’t too much exciting or new going on in the area.

Lazing in Parks

Tucked between the traffic and hustle and bustle of life, Bangkok has a few good parks hidden away. We spent some time relaxing and watching life go by in a couple of these parks.  The first park we enjoyed exploring was Lumphini Park.   After strolling down Silom Road during our short stay in this area we happened to find this park.  It isn’t hard to find since it is one of the larger parks in the city.   When we arrived in the evening we understood why it was one of the more popular parks.  The location was about as center as you can get for Bangkok.  There appeared to have been a running event there earlier in the day, and now, around sunset, there was a free classical/traditional Thai music concert going on. We stopped and listened for a while, before walking over a little bridge past a pond where we found an enormous group of people apparently doing an outdoor fitness dance class. Just watching the life pass by here was such a different pace from the fast moving street life that surrounded this wide open green space on all sides.

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Our other favorite park was Santichai Prakan park. This smaller park is located smack in the middle of Phra Nakhon district which is full of tourists. The park has a small temple, grassy lawns perfect for laying out and reading or socializing, a swath of real estate right no the Chao Phraya river, and the main feature is the ancient Phra Sumen Fort. In comparison to Lumphini this park is just a small blip on the map, but it’s location is what made it a top hangout spot for us.  Being on the river and nearby the area we stayed in while in Bangkok it was a perfect get-away for us.  We would usually find a few tourists coming to enjoy the river views, along with hippies juggling or playing hackie sac, and local school kids gathering after classes here.

NYE in BKK with Tony

Even party kittens get cold on New Years Eve!
Even party kittens get cold on New Years Eve!
– Photo from Tony Coelho Photography

Just as with Christmas, we were surprised by the amount of hype and energy we could feel in the city for a westerner’s holiday. New Year’s Eve is an international event of course, but Thailand has a separate calendar and new year. It is currently the year 2557 on their calendar. But being the international hub and melting pot that Bangkok is, there were thousands of foreigners in town for the event as well. While we were excited for New Years, there was not a sense of urgency for us around 12:00:00am the way there often is. Our friend Tony had just adjusted to the new timezone and we were all in a bit of a lazy mood come 9pm. Amanda did decide to put on make-up for the occasion (the first time in several months) just to make it special, regardless of what we ended up doing. After finding a street food dinner of pad thai on Khaosan Road we headed toward a bar on the river nearby we had spotted earlier, the Flapping Duck and asked if anyone knew about fireworks on the water. We aren’t sure if people were already drunk or just weird – but everyone seemed pretty strange and self-interested, so we opted to leave.

Adjacent to the Flapping Duck, is our little hangout park Santichai Phrkan with the old fort. We went there, as it was close, and right on the water, and found a few other people sitting about waiting for midnight, despite having to cross a mini barricade. There was no countdown, but as we were nearing 11:59pm on Ben’s new watch, another group started cheering, and we made it official. Afterwards, we wandered past Khao San Road, but it was pretty apparent that we weren’t drunk enough to be feeling the vibe going on there. Amanda was also put off by the firecrackers kids would set off in the middle of the crowded street. She kept saying something about nightmares of crowds trying to run with nowhere to go and being trampled. Not quite ready to call it a night but also not in full party mode we floated in the limbo of small back alleyways. Here we found cats upon cats–all dressed in their finest sweater-getups (that had been personally sewed for them) because of the cold weather Bangkok had been having at 60 degrees at night. Tony photographically documented the cats, Amanda rubbed their bellies, and the slightly inebriated Ben chased the one that was playing basketball with tbe corpse of a mouse.

While it was not what we had expected for our New Years Eve celebration in Bangkok – it was unquestionably one we will never forget.

Chinatown, Thailand Style

One of the places on our friend Tony’s ‘to see’ list in Bangkok was Chinatown. Officially, Chinatown is in the Samphanthawong district of Bangkok. Unofficially, it is very much a sprawl and Chinese-infused neighborhoods can be found in many parts of the city. To fully immerse ourselves though, we headed to the official boundaries to experience the true depth of Chinatown in Bangkok.

Our journey started on Yaowarat street, which has many famous shopping alleyways branching off of it. As we entered, we saw shuttered stall after shuttered stall, and we thought it may be closed because it was January 1st. This quickly changed when we took a turn around a corner and saw that life was in full swing. We managed to inch our way along the narrow passageway, that was filled with locals buying food, textile goods, anime covers for their iphones, or any other household good. We picked up a couple unidentified snacks (one of bamboo and the other of olives in syrup) and some socks. Tony spotted some wigs that looked exciting. After about thirty minutes of Chinese commerce mayhem we were getting claustrophobic and needed air. Eventually we flowed through the masses of people to the middle of Chinatown. There were many street vendors selling all kinds of food which we eagerly visited to make a mix mash lunch of what they had to offer, all sharing as we stood in the street.

Chinatown Lunch - BKK
Enjoying street food in Chinatown. Not sure what it was, but it was good!

With the crammed street behind us and the needs of our bellies satiated, we continued our wandering, choosing random alleys and blind tuns to take. We stumbled upon a place offering massages at 150 bat / 45 minutes (about $4.50) and decided to treat ourselves to our first official massage in Thailand. Amanda went for a foot and leg massage, while Ben and Tony got their necks, backs and shoulders done. No English was spoken, but none was needed, and we all walked out with a little more spring in our steps, now fully aware why everyone says you should get a massage everyday in Thailand.

Nearby, we found one of the oldest Chinese temple in Thailand. Ben managed to get a free fish massage out here too. This freebee was a steal compared to the many places in Thailand selling fish massages at twice the price comparable of a normal Thai massage. This type of “massage” is actually just rolling up your pants and putting your feet in a fish tank. They fill the tank with a certain type of fish that find skin interesting, and will nibble at it. We never forked over the money for a fish massage but we did experience them a few times while swimming in various lakes or waterfalls. Despite the tickle and initial reaction that your foot is being eaten, it is quite relaxing. Ben sat at the edge of a little pond here at the temple in Chinatown and opted to stick his finger in, and after about 20 seconds, the second “massage” of the day began. As we exited this area, we found more interesting and precarious cats. Watching the cats of Bangkok were becoming a favorite hobby of ours.

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Our grand finale of our visit to Chinatown came as we sought to head back toward our hotel on the ferry. We found some small New Years festivities underway in the back of an open marketplace where veggies were taken off trucks, washed, and distributed. The market space was mostly empty at the time and there had been a large offering area set up complete with flowers, rice, whisky and other goodies. This was toped off when some dancing dragons came through and jumped around some firecrackers. We weren’t expecting this loud and up close performance. While hiding behind boxes and covering our ears we were able to capture this random dragon battle-off in action. The funny thing was that not really any people were around in this deserted part of the market. But the dragons didn’t seem to mind one bit and after eating some money at the end of the now exploded firecracker string they continued on their march through Chinatown celebrating the (western) New Year.

 

Protests in the Capital

Protests at Democracy Monument

Our visits to Bangkok happened to correspond with anti-government protests. The protests are centered in Bangkok, although there were some demonstrations in Chiang Mai as well. Protests began in Thailand in November, after the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (sister to the previously ousted leader) called for a snap-election in February. The main reason why people are protesting is because the 2nd largest party feels they have no chance to win an election under the current system, which happens to be a democracy. The protesters are in favor of getting rid of the “one person one vote” system they use in the constitutional monarchy, as they are primarily wealthier people based in the cities, and are well outnumbered throughout the country by those living in more rural areas, with different concerns and interests.  Everyone still loves the king, though.  The protesters, therefore, said they would not participate in the elections, and want to shut down Bangkok so the government has to do something. This has meant that people have been rallying and camping out in public spaces in Bangkok since November. The protests have been mostly peaceful, but the protesters have been attacked a couple times by people throwing grenades from the back of motorcycles, etc.

We happened upon the protesters camps a couple times. As we mentioned earlier, the anti-government protesters have strategically placed their camps in major public spaces, including Victory Monument and the Democracy Monument, which are also major arteries for driving through Bangkok (we nearly missed a bus to Southern Thailand one time because of the traffic-flow disruptions and the bus stop being absorbed into the protesters’ encampment). It seems that the government is fine letting the protesters stay on these streets, as at the entry to these areas there are armed military members, sand bags, and barbed wire fencing. Inside, though, is a different story.

Outside Protest Camp - BKK

Everything is covered with the national colors of blue, white and red, especially in ribbon format. Purses, pins, t-shirts, hats and face painting in blue, white and red are everywhere, giving it a festival-like atmosphere at times. There are large, semi-permanent shade structures set up over large stretches of roadway in the middle of the camp, where rows and rows of tents are set up. Food is also everywhere, as well as any other shopping you may want to do. And, at the center of the campout areas, there are stages with amplifiers and huge speakers, where sometimes you hear political discussions and rallies, and otherwise you may be able to catch a live band playing covers of Thai and American hits. Overall, you do not get a sensation that this is a gripping issue that is being stood up for by the under-represented members of the community. No, this is nothing like a refugee-camp or hardcore political extremist camp. The carnival-like atmosphere might be necessary in order to keep people happy in their multi-month campout, or it could just be the way Thailand does things.

 

Ferry Rides

Boat and Temple - BKK

Bangkok is known for it’s extensive water system that includes the Chao Phraya River and the many canals that branch off of it. To visit Bangkok without taking some form of ferry or boat ride would be missing out. From day one we discovered the ease and joy of getting from point A to point B in Bangkok via the ferries. In addition to being cheap (the regular ferry is only 15 bath per ride), we have found they are normally much faster than road transport (which often involves traffic), cooler (with the open air breeze), and offer much better views. Not to mention they are fun! Jumping on and off the boats as they speedily stop at the dock and just as speedily take off is all a part of the fun. So is the cramming onboard with tourists and locals alike during peak hours. Any time we had to get somewhere we would first consider if it was possible to travel via ferry. The catfish in the waters nearby many of the ferry stops are another bonus. Watching the swarms of these creatures swim over each other is entrancing. You can usually buy old bread crumbs as well from vendors nearby to feed the fish and add to the frenzy.

Catfish - BKK

 

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

We had heard and read a lot about the floating markets in Bangkok. They are supposed to be really neat to experience, and we thought it would be a good thing to do while Caryl and Allyson were in town. We were able to easily book a tour to see the floating market through our hotel at a reasonable price. We had read that the best days were on the weekends, but we were assured that they go on every day and it would be good experience. On paper it all looked great.

Floating Market General -- BKK

In the morning we met downstairs in the lobby for our pick-up at 7:45am. The van then continued on around the area to various other hotels picking up people for the market. It took about two hours to drive out of Bangkok to Ratchaburi. When we disembarked we were at a mini-bus terminal with other loads of tourists. Keeping our positive vibes up we loaded onto the longtail motorboat (which was the first portion of the package) and enjoyed a quick ten minute motorboat ride winding through a town made by ethnic Chinese who wanted to be surrounded by water. “The Venice of Asia” our guide said to us.

The ride ended at the edge of the Damnoen Saduak floating market, where we disembarked the boat. We were all a bit confused at this point, as they were having us get out of the boats. Our guide then collected us, and told us to meet back at that specific spot in 90 minutes. We were free to walk around, and to get in a slow traditional boat (at an additional 150 baht ($4.50) per person) for 30 minutes. She also added that there’s not much you can see on foot other than shopping (hint hint, buy the boat ride).

 

At this point we realized it was not the experience we had envisioned from the details on paper. But we were determined to make the most of the experience. Together we (the Scharpf girls and Ben) walked around and checked out the sights. It’s true the whole village was built on stilts so the roads were indeed waterways. The market, though, consisted of three blocks worth of vendors in their boats selling items to mostly tourists. Much larger was the network on land of locals selling all kinds of souvenirs to tourists. We have been told that if you come early in the mornings (maybe around 5-7am) you can see the market in it’s local state. At this hour of 11am though there wasn’t a single non-tourist there to buy anything at the market, and aside from the food, there was nothing there a local would want.

With time to kill, Caryl and Allyson took advantage of the opportunity to sharpen their bargaining skills and get some gift and clothing shopping done. For lunch we sat canal side for some local soup served out of one of the boats in the market. With still more time on our hands we continued to stroll well beyond the boundaries of the ‘tourist zone’. Here we discovered a coconut farm that was planted nearby that had a similar canal system for irrigation which was covered with a brilliant green moss. By the time we had finished exploring it was time to escape the hoards of tourists and decompress from the commotion before our ride back to Bangkok. Ben used his sixth sense to find a big Chiang beer that was not marked up for tourists, and Allyson agreed it was well-timed. And as a treat to top off the trip, we grabbed an ice cream in a mini coconut on our way out, which was simply delicious. The bus ride back was probably the same length as arriving, but no one could keep their eyes open, and we found ourselves back in Bangkok in no time.

Floating Market Duo - BKK

Overall it is worth checking out at least one floating market. But with that said it also probably pays to do your homework before and have a few specific floating markets in mind.  Damnoen Saduak is probably the most well known – this also makes it one of the most touristy floating markets around. It is also a bit far from Bangkok center, making it hard to reach without a car or tour.

 

National Museum: Learning the History of Siam

We aren’t going to lie. Museums aren’t usually at the top of the list for things to see and do unless it is maybe raining outside, free, or have   incredible, unique exhibits. However, there is something to be said for learning the history and culture of a country beyond just reading a guidebook or talking to locals. When Caryl and Allyson were in town they expressed interest in visiting the National Museum. Given all the tourist activities one could do in Bangkok, this was one we really didn’t mind doing.

 

Historical artifacts from popular culture in Siam
Historical artifacts from popular culture in Siam
One of the many royal "floats" that could be paraded down the streets
One of the many royal “floats” that could be paraded down the streets

 

Together we all saved our dollars and skipped the crowded, tourist ‘must see’ spots like the Grand Palace (at $15 a pop), Wat Pho containing the laying Buddha (which we have been told you can barely enjoy over the sea of cameras, hands, and heads), and Wat Arun. But we thought it would be nice to get a better perspective of the history of Thailand/Siam, so we headed to the National Museum. The museum is located a block or two from the Grand Palace, across from the large grassy field that conveniently lends itself to parking for the hundreds of tourist buses that invade this district every day. The streets are packed with foreigners armed with cameras, waiting to shove their way into a site and get “the photo.” As soon as we stepped onto the grounds of the National Museum, surprisingly all of this faded away, and there was quiet and calm once again. The National Museum consists of several buildings and sections, covering the history from the Neolothic times to today, the many battles with the Burmese, the lineage of the kingdom, and featuring many of the cultural aspects of Thailand. None of us were too sharp on our Thai history beforehand (something that seemed to be sparse in our western education) so it was fascinating to pick up the history and understand more of why the Thai are who they are today.

Additionally, there were many artifacts and old sculptures showing the varied influences. From Hindu images to Buddhist, French to Chinese – there was a lot to check out.  After two hours we had only completed a portion of the many exhibits. Two hours full on of any history, let alone a new one, is exhausting though. We decided to quit, absorb all the info we had learned, and head out for some lunch when Amanda stumbled onto the room featuring the portable wooden chariots/floats. These were all different handcrafted pieces varying in size from about ten feet to 50 feet, all serving for different celebrations and religious symbolism. The space was very large, yet it still appeared that due to the size of some of the pieces they must have built the hangar-like shelter around them.

 

 

 

Over the 5 weeks we spent in Thailand, we spent many days in Bangkok over several trips.  And while we knew this wasn’t the last we would see of Bangkok, these experiences have been the most interesting thus far and have given us a healthy understanding (and respect) for this large, wild, tumultuous city.

 

For the rest of our Bangkok photos, click HERE

(Plus a special thanks to our good friend Tony who has shared some photos with us: Tony Coelho Photography)