Thailand Update #1

Lisa writes:

Thailand!  The number of new things we’ve seen and done has already been fantastic. Though no description could be complete, I will do my best.

Coming off the plane was like entering any major city, though the Bangkok airport was surprisingly alive at 1:30am.  Getting through immigration, money exchange and bathrooms took so long that a United Airlines rep came looking for us wondering about the 13 bags still going around on the carrousel!  That was a great and unexpected service.

Some friends of Coop met us and hustled us through to get our taxis to the Shanti Lodge. Unlike in many other countries, there is a notable lack of pressure from drivers and venders to use their service. No mobbing, yelling, or haggling!  This is very nice and lessens the anxiety and hassle of negotiating transport.

We didn’t get to bed until nearly 2:30 am. Sleep was slow to come, despite weariness, as we needed to settle our minds, organize our bags and shuffle about a bit.  The firmness  of the beds was welcoming but the real pleasure came from simply being stretched out and horizontal.

It is hard to say whether morning came early, late or not at all.  Most of us had our sleep interrupted with all the new sounds and excitement pulling on us.  The Shanti lodge has 40 rooms along three corridors and three floors. Its clever design hides that number — the only way to know its true size is the seemingly endless passing of new faces. Even so, it has a small intimate and homey feel.

We gathered at several tables for breakfast and between us our order ranged from a traditional broth soup with veggies to western omelettes.  The rough teak tables and the lights’ yellow glow hid the bustle of the nearby street.  We savored fresh juices —  orange (tasted like tangerine), pineapple, carrot, watermelon and even mixtures of these!

We struck out winding through a market to a bridge across the canal to the main pier. We boarded a large water taxi and exited past the grand palace.

The street along the backside of the palace was lined with vendors with wares like sunglasses, pendants, shirts, and food. Again, the pressure to buy and general hawking was absent.  One man did engage us and with an air of interest and helpfulness informed us that the tiny side road coming out of the palace grounds marked “no entry” was the main gate and was closed for two hours. Quite coincidentally he could arrange to take us on a 2 hour tour of the city… we were not fooled.

Weaving in and out of the displays and carts we rounded the corner and proceeded to the main gate of the spectacular palace.  Once through the line to buy tickets and through a narrow archway, we entered a fabulously decorated hall. We stepped off to the side and had a quick intro to the grounds and reviewed the background of the Ramayana.  This story originated in India some 500 years BCE; in Thailand it is called the Ramakian.  Thai King Rama I began building the palace after the Burmese sacked the capital at Attathaya in 1667. He and his successors translated the Ramakian story and had murals painted to depict it.  We were able to identify familiar characters and scenes from our reading in the murals, which was very cool.

The halls of the palace are decorated with small, thumb-sized mosaic tiles. Many are mirrored which changed as the light hit them  The colors are resplendent — teal, reds, blues and greens offset by golds and silvers. Images of monkey demons, Buddhas, flower motifs, gold chedis, an emerald Buddha… Wow!  At each turn it was more beautiful, with intricate details and glorious colors everywhere.  It did not take long – walking wide-eyed — before many of us became overwhelmed.

Hunger necesitated our departure.  We set out to find food, and agreed to a boat tour along the canals with the understanding that we’d passing a floating market of food venders. This did not happen, but the boat tour was wonderful nonetheless. The boat was about 6 feet wide and 20 feet long with the driver in back aside a huge engine.  Flowers adorned the bow and an umbrella roof protected us overhead.  From the canals we saw lizards 3 feet long, friendly people, amazing trees in bloom, and homes ranging from well-kept mansions to dilapidated hovels.

Coming off the boat tour we finally found a lunch spot – rice and chicken – and with students navigating, we walked back to the pier for our water taxi through a university and narrow-aisled covered market.  In the canals we crossed, we noted fish, eels and even an alligator.  Women were cleaning fish, and trays of dried fish lined the way as well as bins of catfish, turtles, frogs & toads, snails and mussels.  A few students recognized durian fruit and papaya.  Our senses were full!

We had some relaxation time back at the Shanti Lodge, and after dinner and a class session, we headed to bed early for welcome sleep.  Tomorrow we head for Chiang Mai!

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One Comment on “Thailand Update #1”

  1. Keith D'Angelo Says:

    Wow Lisa deserves a Thai Pulitzer for that entry , the writing was so descriptive I felt that I was there. All under the influence of Jet Lag , heat , and a group of travelers to shepherd. LIsa you are truly amazing . Keep those descriptions coming , family and friends are eager for news

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