Travelling in the Far East
25 Sep 1980
Up at 5 a.m. for a splendiferous buffet breakfast of tropical fruits, all carved and cut into flowers. Walking down to the Chaophya River, we saw monks in saffron-coloured robes with their begging bowls (large, for rice and other foodstuffs which householders provide in exchange for a blessing). We boarded a launch and sailed down the wide brown river, passing boats, ships, long-tail “taxis,” a fast police/army launch, frigates, and barges. The latter were pulled by motor boats and many were so laden that we thought they’d sink!
Then into side canals (klongs), where the houses were on stilts and the vegetation was betel nut palms, bamboos and orchids. Most ladies were doing their washing, and some families were eating or cleaning their teeth. All in the river. There were many small flat-bottomed boats piled with fruit, rice, meat, etc. This was the “floating market”, where the shops come to the people (!) We motored past pagodas and many small temples highly decorated with red and gold.
Leaving the klongs, we joined the river again and finally reached the Temple of the Dawn, built in the Burmese style and decorated with porcelain patterns. We climbed to the top of this and saw that it was surrounded by Thai style temples – and souvenir shops.
From there we were taken to a lapidary where we watched men polishing very small sapphires, then were shown beautiful jewellery and rings of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds.
After a quick lunch back at the hotel, we were off again to the Grand Palace. This is where Anna taught the King of Siam’s children. (She was real; he was Rama IV. The film “The King and I” was banned in Thailand – not true to fact, and the king did not wear his shirt open as Yul Brynner did!!) Here is a fantastic conglomeration of different types of buildings; the main palace, fronting onto the street, has British influence architecture with a Thai roof. Really quaint!
In the courtyard are many temples, including the temple of the emerald buddha. All gold leaf and glassy patterns, with incense and offerings of closed lotus flowers, like hearts. And many statues of thin buddhas with pagoda crowns. One great hall of the palace housed a golden throne under a 9-tiered canopy. The lofty ceilings were all hand painted, as were the walls, in patterns which looked like wallpaper.
At 7.30 p.m. in pouring rain which cooled the air just a little, we were taken by bus to a downtown restaurant. Because many klongs were being filled in, the streets
were flooded and there was nowhere for the water to drain off. We were transferred to a microbus which took us down a side street to our venue, which had large wooden blocks in the foyer, acting as stepping stones – talk about customer service! We sat at square tables of about 2m in height, with our legs and feet in a well underneath. There were 5 individual dishes of food for each person, with soup to wash down each course. On two stages girls were doing classical Thai dancing in shiny, ornate colourful costumes, complete with pagoda headdresses and long brass extensions on their fingernails. The movements were mostly with their hands, and very slow, whilst their feet were kept flat, with upturned toes. And the orchestra sounded like wailing cats.
The following day dawned bright and clear – and very, very hot. The Thailand temperature is measured by the number of showers one has to take to cool off (doesn’t work, by the way!) This was a 4-shower day. We left at 8.30 for a tour of three well-known temples.
First we visited the temple of the golden buddha, which is a large statue in a small room. This statue is made of solid gold and weighs 5½tons !! Nearby, young monks in saffron-coloured robes were emerging from another temple. From the age of 20, every male must spend at least 3 months as a monk.
From there we went to the temple of the reclining buddha. This enormous statue reclines on its side, leaning on one elbow and propping up its head with one hand. It is 63ft long!! The top of the headdress is 45ft high!! The soles of the feet are mother-of-pearl scenes from the life of buddha and each toe is whorled with mother-of-pearl,
Lastly, we visited the Marble Temple. There is a quadrangle of marble, lined with bronze statues of Buddha (all sitting cross-legged) - many different styles from many different areas – fat and thin, beautiful and gross, tall and short, and one looking like a Belsen victim.
Back to the hotel for a couple of showers, then were taken to the Rose Garden. This was a large park with houses to let, a dam, green grass and palm trees, horses and carts (with minute hammocks slung under the horses’ tails to obviate mess), elephant rides, shops, and a most beautiful orchid garden. Some elephants were putting on a show by rolling logs into a large pool of water. There were many tourists from many nations and we were taken into a large auditorium on stilts, with wooden benches and a large clay-floor performing area. There we watched dancing, martial arts, Thai boxing, cock fighting, and bamboo eurythmics – all accompanied by a band of different length bamboos, shaken as instruments. We also attended demonstrations on umbrella-making, silkworm de-threading and cotton-weaving on foot and hand looms.
On our third day in Thailand we were up early (as usual) and taken on a 2½hr trip to the coast. It took an hour to leave Bangkok, then we were passing paddy fields, tapioca, palm trees, water buffaloes, and saltpans – and an colossal buddha on one of the hill sides.
We arrived at Pattaya, on the Gulf of Siam, and boarded a longboat which took us out to a double-storied launch. After an hour trip to a coral island, we were taken on glass-bottomed boats to view the undersea life, then deposited on a narrow sandy beach on which were stalls selling shells, souvenirs, dresses and shirts with dragons, etc. We enjoyed a lunch of fish, cockles, crabs, rice, bamboo shoots and watermelon, then we watched paragliding before going on a water scooter. The sea was really warm; and we rode slowly past many people swimming, then small boats and launches. Then out in the clear green deep water we let rip! After a pleasant trip back to the mainland, we boarded the bus for home as the sun was setting and arrived back at 7.30.
The last day - - - flew via Hong Kong, where we able to leave the airport for 5 hours for a last wander around this interesting place, then flew overnight via Mauritius to Johannesburg International – after a most wonderful holiday.
Locations Visited: Bangkok Metropolis