First impressions were very purple and pink, I think they must be Thai national colours. Even the taxi that took me from the airport to the hotel was pink. Another magical thing was the alphabet, which I thought came from Sanskrit, how wrong was I. According to the myth it was the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great who invented it in 1283. More likely it derived from the Old Khmer. It was the first script that invented tone markers to indicate distinctive tones – as per Wikipedia. Aesthetically it looks amazing and it feels completely alien to me. In Cyrillic I can at least differentiate the letters and words. None of that here. A line of Thai symbols is translated into English by two words, seems unbelievable.
I have started my sightseeing with Wat Pho temple, or rather temple complex. Starting of course with the big Reclining Buddha – 46 meters long. The statue is indeed huge, but in a way it looses a lot of impact by being squeezed inside one of the temples. Before you enter, everybody has to take their shoes off and the monks even had special robes for people who were dressed inappropriately.
The whole complex makes a rather pleasant impression. You can easily find a spot just for yourself, so it’s a great way to get away from the crowds. Plenty of cats wondering around that are being fed by people who live there. The exact date and name of the complex’ founder are apparently unknown, but the temples already existed in the 17th century. There is also a school of Thai massage, supposedly the place where it originated and you can actually order a massage there, on the spot, although there is obviously a bit of a wait. So of course, I ordered one. It was a weird experience. Everybody, and by that, I mean about 20-30 people, is in the same room with slightly dimmed lights. The are no massage tables but mattresses on the floor, always in twos. And you don’t lye on your belly but on your side, first on one then on the other. It was the first time someone actually found knots on my calves.
The walk back to the hotel was also quite an experience. Plenty of people that seemed homeless. One was lying along the pavement – it crossed my mind he might have been dead, until he moved his hand. The traffic on the streets reminded me a bit of Cairo, the cordon of cars had no end, and of course you have to add all the mopeds. Green light takes ages, so people just cross whenever they see an opportunity. Some drivers will slow down, some won’t.
Another interesting experience is the Khaosan Road. It’s full of people, mainly tourists of course, of the backpacker and hippy kind. I don’t mean they are all backpackers and hippies, it’s just what they seem: dreadlocks, clothes that look like they haven’t been washed in weeks, constantly under the influence of something. You can buy almost anything there, from fried scorpions to varied forged documents like driving licenses, student cards and diplomas. Apparently, it’s known as “the place to disappear” – I’m guessing an urban myth, although having been there, I can believe it.
Then it was time to go and order something at a restaurant. Ordering things was an adventure in itself. Most of the time I wasn’t sure what I was going to get and most of the time I really enjoyed it, so a big fan of Thai food right now.
The next day I decided to have a look at the Grand Palace. The crowds however turned out to be a bit overwhelming for me. So, I only admired it from the outside. Officially it is still the king’s residence and although the royal family doesn’t live there permanently anymore, they use it every year for many state occasions.
It’s very difficult to say if I can treat Bangkok as a good example of Thai culture. Capital cities usually differ from the rest of the country. So, I will make an assumption that Thailand is a lot more than just Bangkok. However, what I have seen from the city, I can safely say I won’t be staying there anytime soon. Bangkok seems to have grown out of proportions without any regard to an infrastructure of any kind. Compare to what I’m generally used to, which is Europe, it’s very dirty. There are dogs, cats and rats everywhere, rummaging through the garbage. The streets are packed not just with traffic but people as well. And the omnipresent smell. On one hand you can smell all the great and tasty food so you get hungry. And second later you get hit by something reeking of putrid flesh and you want to throw up. Another problem I’m guessing are homeless people, there were plenty of them sleeping on the streets among all the garbage. And yet I have seen a lot of people walking barefoot – not just the Buddhist monks.
A quite new and interesting thing for me was to see a lot of people with whom I wasn’t able to define gender. It occurred to me suddenly after seeing few couples that I wasn’t entirely sure if they were straight, gay or something totally else. No one seemed to care, which is good and I understood why Thailand, especially Bangkok, is the capital of the third gender.
Apart from that you see big devotion to the royal family. The king is supposed to be the moral compass of the whole nation. He shows them the way they should live their lives in order to proudly represent their country. The royals are almost regarded as saints. Of course, I can only tell you what I was able to observe and understand, which was mainly sort of marketing campaign for them on the English radio.
After few days in Bangkok I’m pretty sure I’m done with the city, but I would love to see other parts of the country as I’m pretty sure I haven’t even scratched the cultural surface.
The border crossing was even more of an adventure. Pass control was more or less normal but the little town where it is, was needless to say a thing of a nightmare. The smell was worse than in Bangkok, the garbage was everywhere, one could hardly walk. The small bit of no man’s land between the countries is covered with stalls that sell everything and of course this is the only place you can find a casino. They are illegal in both countries, so everybody who wants to gamble comes to Poipet.