I can’t really say I visited Bangkok, but rather I stayed in Bangkok and visited temples. This sprawling, smoggy, noisy city of ten million people contains about fifteen percent of Thailand’s population and probably 80% of cars. With permanent gridlock it takes forever to get anywhere and I spent much of my time in transit. Motorcycle taxis that dart in and out might shorten travel time, but I did not dare try one.
2 December – an enjoyable chat on a long car ride
Siriporn, a friend of a friend of Judith’s, picked me up at the airport (we connected with the location feature of WhatsApp). After waiting for the airport police to document the scratch another driver put in her car, we spent most of the day on the road. Siriporn wanted to avoid driving in Bangkok until after commute hour, though as far as I can tell that never ends. Along the way we snacked on Thai fast food and shared stories about our lives, families, and spiritual practices.
She drove me all the way to Pattaya, a tourist destination on the Gulf of Thailand. It was crowded and dirty and we didn’t even get out of the car. Apparently, its reputation as a sex capital is totally deserved; I suggest staying far away. Our next stop was much more peaceful, a monastery where Siriporn volunteers. I met with Ajahn Suchart Abhijato, an English-speaking monk who has published a handful of YouTube videos and books about Buddhism; he gave me one.
We made a few brief stops, including a visit to Siriporn’s home. It’s typical of what I’ve seen in my lodgings, white walls and white ceramic tile floors, cool and easy to clean, but hard on my bare feet. She bought me some spicy Pad Thai, and we began the long drive back to Bangkok. It was after 8:00 pm by the time I reached the disappointing Airbnb where I stayed, near the Thong Lo BTS station. I was exhausted.
3 December – gaudy splendor
With the help of Google Maps, I planned my route on public transit: two lines of the SkyTrain (similar to BART, but cheaper and more crowded; fortunately, we don’t yet have annoying video advertisements playing on the trains), and a fast, bumpy boat ride with a driver who yelled at passengers. A friendly German tourist helped me find my way from the dock to my destination. It took about an hour door-to-door.
Wat Pho is home of the famous Reclining Buddha, a 46 meter (150 foot) gilded statue of the Buddha entering Nirvana. He looks very peaceful. It fills the entire building and is hard to photograph. I arrived shortly after it opened and had plenty of time to explore the lavish, colorful structures that fill the temple grounds.
I was not so lucky at the Grand Palace. My capris were deemed not long enough, so I had to buy a skirt to cover my calves, and busloads of tourists filed the grounds. Everyone wanted to see the 26” (66 cm) Emerald Buddha, I was relieved to see the line moving quickly; photographs weren’t allowed inside the temple so everyone wasn’t stopping to take a selfie or group shot in front of it.
After wandering amongst the fantastical spires and figures, I was too hot and weary to continue to other sites, or retrace my steps, so I sought out a café with WiFi, not as easy as elsewhere. I settled for a grilled sandwich and a delicious berry yogurt drink, and used the Grab App to call a taxi. I knew it wasn’t going to save me time, but figured it would be more relaxing. Unfortunately, the driver dropped me off at the wrong place and I didn’t realize it until he drove off. I walked to the closest SkyTrain station and got back that way. An hour-and-a half door-to-door.
I was looking forward to reconnecting with Judith and Siriporn for dinner, but sadly the Bangkok doctor told Judith that her bones are misaligned and he recommends surgery. She is making plans to fly home and has decided to spend her remaining time at a meditation center. It looks like I will be traveling alone for more than anticipated on this trip. Instead of dinner, I treated myself to a nice massage at a new place nearby using a 50% off coupon I found online.
4 December – Ayutthaya, an ancient city
I went to Ayutthaya and toured more temples today. Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, as Thailand was formerly known, for about 400 years, until it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. In spite of the fact that half our time was spent in the van, getting out and back into Bangkok, I had a good time. I was the first to be picked up, at 6:00 am, and ate breakfast and napped in the van. My fellow passengers hailed from the Philippines, Germany, France, and Greece. I got back in the late afternoon, taking the SkyTrain for the last segment to avoid some of the endless traffic. A late lunch was included with our tour, so I picked up a snack at 7-Eleven, skipped dinner, and spent the evening in my little apartment, making plans for the next setp in my adventure, Chiang Mai.