Saturday, May 14, 2005

Auld Acquaintance

Even though I am travelling on my own and prefer to do so, a familiar face every now and again is still welcome; so I was happy to be able to meet up with Martin and spend a couple of days in Bangkok with him.

I know I was rather critical in my last post, but Bangkok does have a good deal to offer tourists, and even the Khao San Road has its uses, as I managed to find a stall yesterday that helped satisfy my insectophagic tendencies (pictures, courtesy of Martin, should be up in a few days). The architecture of the numerous wats and palaces dotted around the centre of the city are stunningly beautiful, with characteristic many-tiered gable roofs and ornately carved eaves. And since Thailand is a buddhist country (apart from the Muslims in the south and some animist hill tribes) there's no getting away from the ever-present image of Bud, usually sitting, and almost always golden. There are three however, that really must be seen when visiting Bangkok: the Emerald Buddha, the Golden Buddha of Wat Traimit, and the Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho. The Emerald Buddha is a bit of a misnomer as the little guy is really made of jade, and he's not even that much to look at as he is quite small and you can't get that close to him. But because it's the most revered Buddha image in the country his house is incredibly ornate and filled to bursting-point with all sorts of golden objects, so much so that the temple seems to glow from within. The Golden Buddha, however, is exactly what it says on the tin: the world's largest solid-gold Buddha. The statue is 3m tall and weighs in at a hefty 5.5 tonnes and, because it's solid gold, is the shiniest thing you will ever see. And finally the Wat Pho Buddha impresses by its sheer size. At 46m in length and 13m in height it completely fills a huge hall specifically built to house it, which makes taking photographs of the statue a right pain in the ass.

Of course Bangkok has more than just temples and Buddhas and getting around to see the sights is great fun in itself due to the many different modes of transport available to you. Apart from the aforementioned tuk-tuks there are also (very cheap) buses, a metro, a (overpriced) skytrain, motorbike taxis (great fun) and, the most quintessentially Thai mode of transport, boats. The boats mainly ply the Chao Phraya river and some of the major canals and are the quickest means of getting around.

And of course no visit to Bangkok would be complete without an evening watching Muay Thai kickboxing. Actually, Jean-Claude Van Damme has a lot to answer for as he really built up my expectations for brutal violence and litres of blood, or at the very least hands being pressed into shards of glass. Instead the spectacle was a rather tame affair, with most of the entertainment coming from the wild gesticulations of the locals sitting next to me and the frenzied betting that accompanied it. Only the last bout (a title contest) proved more than just mildly interesting. But generally I found it difficult to take seriously throughout due to the preliminary ceremonies that precede each fight in which each boxer performs his own, personal routine, or in other words, a poncy little dance. Of course I'm sure there is a deep, underlying symbolism that eludes me.

Now, though, I'm finished with Bangkok, and, armed with my Laotian and Cambodian visas acquired here, I can zig-zag my way up the country towards Chiang Mai and the Laotian border.

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