Chapter 34: Bangkok revisited

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
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34
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Trip End Nov 2004


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Where I stayed
Khao San Palace Hotel

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Saturday, April 24, 2004

I checked e-mail on Sunday from the BKK airport as soon as my flight landed (thanks for all the messages!), and learned that my Aunt Kathy wanted to meet up with me the following morning. I grabbed a room at the Khao San Palace hotel and called her in the morning; she agreed to take a cab from her airport hotel and meet me in town. While waiting, I picked up my letf luggage from the travel agency; thankfully the fact that I had relatives in town prevented any awkwardness with Didi the travel agent (the one who'd wanted to go out for coffee when I returned from Myanmar).

Aunt Kathy showed up around 11, and we set out on foot to explore some of the nearby tourist sights. The National Museum was the closest stop, so we spent an hour or two wandering around learning about Thailand's history, culture, and art, and then we moved on to the Grand Palace & Wat complex. Getting in was a minor fiasco because I tried to wear my Myanmar longyi over my shorts to cover my legs, but the guards just laughed at me and pointed and said "lady clothes!" So I had to walk back to the main entrance to borrow some nasty green (but light and cool) elastic-waist pants.

The royal religious buildings were beautiful - especially the Monastery of the Emerald Buddha (although the sight of this tiny jade Buddha sitting on top of a mountain of gaudy gold trinkets was kind of funny). There was also an interesting model of Angkor Wat, and there were plenty of menacing statues of angry demons. We wandered around snapping photos for an hour, quickly walked through the Palace grounds, and then retreated to a tiny modern air-con bar/restaurant for some refreshments.

After recuperating from the heat we walked down to Wat Pho and sat for a while watching the monks go through their prayer routines. It was very atmospheric, and less tourist-filled than the Emerald Buddha Monastery. The 45-ft tall reclining Buddha housed in the complex was pretty amazing, and the grounds of the Wat were peaceful and relaxing. We checked out the riverside markets and the nearby ferry stop next, and then decided we'd had enough walking for the day (it was 5 or 6pm at this point), so we agreed to meet at 9 the next morning, and Aunt Kathy headed back to her hotel. I spent the evening apsorbing every word in the two recent issues of "Entertainment Weekly" that my aunt kindly brought me from the U.S.

On Tuesday we spent the morning at the Dusit Zoo checking out the monkeys and snakes, and then we tried to go to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion; it was closed for Lunar New Year. Or something. So we altered our plans and walked down to the river instead, and took the Chao Praya River Ferry all the way down to the end of its run south of Chinatown, and then took it back up and had lunch in Thonburi, across the river from the Banglamphu / Khao San Road area. After lunch we collected my bags and took a taxi out to Aunt Kathy & Uncle Ralph's Asia Airport Hotel, where they had invited me to spend the next few nights with them in their suite. After all the walking around in the heat, the pool at the hotel was the perfect place to relax! Ralph didn't return from the work he was doing up in Bang Pa-In (20 minutes north of Bangkok) until 7-something, and he was tired, so we picked up some pizza and spent the evening hanging out in the suite.

Aunt Kathy and I wanted to check out the Bang Pa-In and Ayutthaya areas on Wednesday, so we took an early morning cab up that way with Ralph, and he dropped us off at the Royal Palace at Bang Pa-In. The palace was primarily used as a residence 100 years ago (I believe), but the grounds are still immaculately maintained, and security is tight, because supposedly the royals sometimes use the place. Oddly enough, the gorgeous buildings seemed to be in every architectural style BUT Thai; the main palace was Victorian, another house was an ornate Chinese design, and there was even a Dutch-looking tower. We walked around the peaceful, park-like area for 90 minutes or so, had some beakfast/lunch at a dive right down the street, and then hired a tuk-tuk to bring us to the Bang Pa-In bus station. From there we found the local sawngthaew (pick-up truck bus) heading for Ayutthaya. I was so impressed with Aunt Kathy's stamina and her tolerance for these hot & dusty local methods of travel... she kept up with me step for step through the heat as well, and I've been conditioned to it for months! We sweated our way around some of Ayutthaya's impressive old Khmer-style temple ruins on foot for a few hours, and then we hired a tiny sawngthaew to drive us around for another 45 minutes for some highlights. My favorite sights were the famous Buddha head embedded in tree roots at Wat Phra Mahathat, and the large reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaya Sutha. To add yet another method of transportation to our day, we took the 20 Baht train back to the airport, and promptly jumped in the hotel pool. That night the three of us ate dinner at a Korean Barbeque restaurant in the computer mall attached to the hotel, and then we called it a day.

Thursday morning I explored the IT mall, and took care of some errands like burning a CD of my camera's memory card, and buying a CD wallet. I also packed some things I no longer needed (mask & snorkel, longyi, bootleg dvds, etc.) in a duffel bag; Aunt Kathy generously offered to bring some things back to the states for me. On our last afternoon together, the two of us took a taxi back into Bangkok. I re-checked in to the Khao San Palace Hotel (although the room was crap and overpriced compared to my last one there), and then we went back to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion. The huge building has great sentimental importance to Thais, as it was the post-turn-of-the-century (last century) home of King Rama V, who is something of a national cult hero. The mansion was beautiful and interesting on its own, but the tour tried my patience, as it was kind of like walking through a Newport mansion with a guide whose English is sketchy at best. At 4pm we walked to the Democracy Monument and had an early dinner at Vijit Restaurant, and then Aunt Kathy and I said our "goodbye"s and she got a cab back to her hotel.

I was sad to see Aunt Kathy leave for a number of reasons. First, I had an amazing time exploring greater Bangkok with her, and it was awesome to reconnect with her. It felt like we always had something to talk about. It was also great to hang out for a few days with someone who already knew me, as there was no pressure to meet new people, and I got a reprieve from the same old "where are you from?" kind of small talk. Even just being away from the whole backpacking "scene" for a few days was a much-needed break for me. At the heart of it, though, just being with family again after 6 months was a welcome feeling, and it was important for me to remember the... well... importance (for lack of a better word) of family.
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