Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – Arrival in the land of smiles
Greetings from Bangkok!
Arrived just after new years, having watched fire works from above as we decended into the city. After a hair-raising taxi ride from the airport (no seatbelts!) i arrived at my hotel to find that there had been ‘a mistake. Sorry no room!’ They kindly accomodated me in another hotel (for free) where i was able to at least stretch out after 24+ hours of travel. I was just starting to drift off when someone started pounding on the door. Phone call, at 4am!
Ah, my beloved husband had tracked me down having heard news of the bombing in Bangkok! So that’s what the taxi driver was talking about when he said New Year’s ‘bomba’. (I had laughed and thought he was talking about fire works!)
Suffice to say that all is well. Were it not for the news media (and Spencer) i wouldn’t even know about the bombings. Everything seems calm here, tho there are police and soldiers around, perhaps more than usual.
Having gotten plenty of rest on the plane i set out yesterday morning to explore, with no particular agenda. Everywhere the streets were swarming with yellow-shirted Thais. Yellow is the color associated with the king’s birthday, and he is much loved by his people. Along with these identical yellow polo shirts with the royal insignia where the alligator would usually be, kids wear yellow shirts that have “love dad” written across them, and people of all ages wear plastic wrist bands (like the ones recently popular with American youth) that say “long live the king”. His image appears on most every street corner, and within many shrines in his honor.
Much of the public trasportation here is by boat, so for 18 bt (about 25 cents) i hopped on one to tour the city. First stop for me was the flower market, where there were acres of stalls filled with women weaving ornate decorations made from banana leaves, marigolds, roses, lotus flowers and orchids that sold for pennies. These are largely bought and offered with prayers at the numerous wats (temples) that are ubiquitous across the city.
I spent much of the rest of my day at wats, starting with the famous Golden Reclining Buddha, which is awe-inspiring in it mere size and the reverence with which it is received by the Thai people, who crowd around it in prayer. Wherever there is a Buddha image, there are flowers, incense and other gifts to the All-knowing One.
The beauty of the wats is indescribable in terms of the ornate, intricate craftsmanship and also the attention with which they are cared for. Although these are tourist attractions, they are also everyday places of worship. Monks in robes intermingle with the populace, lending a sense of reality to an otherwise otherworldly feeling. Whenever i tired of strolling the streets, i ducked into a wat to sit in silence and peacefulness.
Near the end of the day, jet lag was catching up with me, as was the horrible air pollution which was adding to the remnants of a head cold. Spotting a green canopy across a busy boulevard, i stumbled into a park which was (appropriately for me) the site of a shrine for the forest guardian. It also happened to be the venue for a cultural fair that was under way, so i was treated to several hours of free entertainment -traditional thai music, dance, boxing and sword play.
Already i feel like i’ve been here longer than a day. I understand now the reputation that THailand has as the Land of Smiles. Without exception, every Thai person i have made eye contact with has shared a smile, even the soldiers and police. I haven’t heard a raised voice or sign of anger at all, anywhere. Perhaps it is this seemingly nationalized Buddha nature, along with undying respect for their leader (the king) that has kept this country from ever being colonized. I see why farangs (foreigners) like myself, fall in love with this place and its people..
best wishes and happy new year to you all, my beloved friends and family!