Friday, June 27, 2014

highlights from thailand: bangkok.

Over a year ago, I went to Thailand for two weeks. And then never blogged about it. Oops. But I am now! Since it was so long ago, I'm just quickly sharing what I remember, but if I remember it, that probably means these thoughts were the important parts, right?

I've broken the trip into three parts: Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and islands Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. 

After playing with elephants in Chiang Mai, Alanna and I flew to Bangkok for a few days. Everyone I've talked to either loves the city or hates it, and unfortunately, we didn't love it. I think this is because the city felt dirty and loud, and not that different from Beijing. (I might also think of it negatively because it was on my last morning there that I found out my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.)

We might also not have loved Bangkok because we stayed on Khao San Road. Neither of us was in a partying mood, so we wished we hadn't taken the advice from friends to stay here. Oh well. Our hotel was actually pretty nice and had a rooftop pool and a little cafe with delicious croissants. 

And! This lady was right out front! I ate many plates of pad thai and spring rolls. Delicious and so cheap! The pad thai was only 30 Baht, about $1 CAD. 

There were photos of the king everywhere

There were also tuk-tuks everywhere. 

We used tuk-tuks to get to most of the touristy places we wanted to see because getting a taxi was difficult. 

We went to a lot of random temples and saw a lot of buddha statues and I never got over the beauty of them. I'm not buddhist but I just felt something while I was there. 

I think my favourite "sight" in Bangkok was Wat Pho, also known as "The Reclining Buddha." 

It was just so huge and majestic. I stared at it in pure awe. 

Another favourite place was the Grand Palace. Alanna didn't go in (she sat outside watching people be turned away—your shoulders and knees had to be covered to enter) so I wandered around by myself. 

I think what struck me most was the detail. Intricate paintings, gold everywhere, stone work. 

One thing I will say about visiting all of these temples was that I did not like the crowds or the "touristy-ness." And I know, I know, I was a tourist. And part of me felt like I shouldn't be there. Yes, I was in awe of the temples and thought that they were beautiful, and I know that tourism has its place and reason in an economy, but I felt like the crowds—including me!—with their cameras and posing and staring cheapened the temples and what they mean. 

As peace signs spread like wild fire, hoards of tourists scurried through the ruins behind a bellowing guide, his voice amplified by a squawking speaker box on his hip. Between these silly groups and the locals selling t-shirts inside the temples, the potential for a religious experience seemed laughable now...

I wondered why I was here and began to feel like a major asshole. I, an agnostic at-best, was part of the problem, traipsing around these hallowed grounds which should be left to those who worship them. I felt terribly for the few people who had come from far and wide to quietly experience this place, the Mecca of Buddhism. On the rare occasion that I visit a Christian church, I stand quietly, careful not to disrupt the environment or the people there. But these temples have signs and arrows forcing you on a track, "This Way Please", and suddenly you find yourself standing, disrespectfully, at an altar or in an inner sanctum once reserved for only the most-devoted.
I've visited temples since my time in Bangkok, and I probably still will, but I have far less patience for touristy gimmicks, crowds, and taking posed photos. I'm certainly way more aware of my presence, behaviour, and possible disrespect. (And now I'm cringing as I remember photos I posed for in Datong. Oh man.)

Okay, enough serious talk. This Pepsi stand is where one of my favourite parts of the trip began. Alanna and I decided we would do a river tour that included a floating market. Ha! We were totally ripped off and we totally deserved it. But I've never laughed so hard in my life. 

We bought our tickets at the stand (that and the sketchy boxing ring just out of the frame should have been clues we were being duped) and waited for our boat to pick us up. 

We were the only two on the boat and we didn't know whether we should laugh or be scared. We laughed. Of course. 

We passed a lot of homes like this one. It was interesting and beautiful seeing where people lived, signs of lives being lived like potted plants and clothes hung out to dry. 

The "floating market" turned out to be one woman with a boat of cheap trinkets and souvenirs, as well as some snacks and beer. Alanna joked that our "captain" probably said, Hey, Ma! Get out in the boat! I got us a couple of suckers! She bought each of us a beer, including one for the "captain," which he didn't drink and probably gave back to his mom to sell to the next group

We could have been mad at ourselves or at the guys involved, but we weren't at all. Seriously, we laughed and laughed—at ourselves, at the situation, at everything. Memories, guys, memories. 

We passed a few other boats and laughed harder, wondering if their passengers had been tricked too. 

Annnd we stopped at a snake farm. Sketchy and scary and sad. Other than the few people working, we were the only ones there and the animals (they didn't only have snakes) didn't seem well cared for. 

Our "tour" ended at Wat Arun, also known as The Temple of Dawn. 

Again, the details were incredible. Breathtaking, really. 

And that was Bangkok: a hotel with a rooftop pool and a cart of pad thai out front, temples and temples and more temples, and touristy sketchiness. I know that's not everyone's experience, but it was ours. And it was fun memorable. 

P.S. See highlights from Chiang Mai here and check back soon for Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. 

P.P.S. Highlights from Shanghai, Boracay, Vermont, and Montreal.

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