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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bangkok Trip - Day 2

Our second day started with a great view of the busy freeway and a heavy breakfast at the hotel, after which we were almost thinking of getting back to the room for a nap.... but then we recluctantly set off to find the taxi we had hired for the day. At the lobby, we met our driver and guide for the day Mr. Keno, who turned out to be a valuable source of info abt the local life and culture. Armed with the map of Bangkok, water bottles and sunscreen, we started for our first destination the Wat Phra Kaew or the temple of the emerald buddha.

From the net I had gathered that this temple housed within the Grand Palace was the largest in Bangkok and the most popular tourist destination, so we were quiet excited to see for ourselves the beauty and grandeur of the temple. Enroute to the temple we noticed a lot of monuments like victory monument, democracy monument on the wide main roads and numerous dedications to the Thai King. From our limited 3 day stay itself, we could make out that the Thai people are dedicated towards their king and treat him with the same respect as that of God. The Thai king was under medical supervision during our visit and you could see people really wanted him to get better...there were huge hoardings and placards placed all over the city wishing for his speedy recovery. [Below : Grand Palace]

So after a quick 20 min skim through Bangkok traffic, we reached the Grand Palace. Our driver left us at the entrance and promised to meet us after 2 hours, we went in hoping 2 hrs was ample time to look around. At the entrance were royal guards giving a once-over to all the visitors, some tourist who were not properly attired (sleeveless or feet exposed or sexy tops) were directed to borrow sarongs from the conviniently placed booth by the entrance. Once inside, the temple chedis or mounts on the left and the palace towers directly ahead along with the well manicured lawns and trees make a spectacular view, transporting you to a different era. It is not hard to imagine how it would have been some 100 years back.

[Below: Murals depicting Ramayana on the walls of Wat Phra Kaew]

Next, we lined up at the ticket counter, paid 200 bahts for entrance to the temple. Incidently the entrance is free for Thais, and there are plenty of guards to make sure non-thais dont pass off as locals. Inside the temple first thing we noticed were the lovely murals on the walls, we gathered later that these were the scenese from Ramayana and in the courtyard are these huge statues of demons each vibrantly painted with a ferocious face. Looking around the temple we realised we would be wasting time not hiring a guide so immediately we signalled for a english speaking guide. The guards introduced us to an retired army officer who for a price of 500 bahts guided us through the temple.

[Below: Temple decoration, Wat Phra Kaew]

The temple has many areas with lots of statutes and smaller shrines strewn across the courtyard. Some architectural features like the edges of the roofs are inspired by Naga, the king of snakes and Garuda, the king of birds. Throughout the temple influence of Ramayana is very evident, in fact the Thai ppl even call their king Rama. The temple decoration is done mainly on wood with gold leaf and porclein to add the vibrant colors. An interesting feature of the temple is that three different styles of buddhist architecture are seen here - the srilankan solid gold chedi, the thai style chedi and the camodian or khmer style chedi. Another interesting feature is the seals of all the kings and the white elephants owned by them are also represented in various corners of the temple. There is also an replica of the Angkor Wat here, so for me it was half dream come true. (I hope to visit Angkor Wat some has always fascinated me...maybe i was born there in my previous birth...god knows!!!) Next we went into the inner scantum housing the emerald buddha, actually the idol is made of jade, it was quiet a spectacular room with floor to ceiling murals and numerous buddha statues.

[I can keep writing abt the Wats....and this post will keep growing so me cutting short the descriptions...maybe will write a detailed post later...]

[Below: Reclining buddha at Wat Pho]

Before we knew it one hour was up and we bid goodbye to our guide. We spent another half hour walking around the palace grounds and I even got to click a snap with the palace guard! IAnd soon it was time for our next stop Wat Pho, this temple is in walking distance from the Grand Palace. The speciality of this temple is that it housing the largest reclining buddha. I didnt expect much when I went in but the scale and beauty of the reclining buddha at Wat Pho took my breath away. It is a small shrine but it has some interesting chedis built by the first four kings Rama I through Rama IV. Each of these chedis is a tapering structure with lovely porcelin adornments. One thing I noticed about the buddisht temples is the omni present lily pond and bells. Lovely water grand favourites....everywhere around the temple. Had a great time taking snaps of bees in those lillies...drove my husband crazy!!! Btw I almost forgot.....that day being my bday I wanted to do something special, so I lined up to get loose change for 20 bahts and dropped coins into the 108 urns kept there.

[Below: Wat Arun]

Our next stop the grand Wat Arun. After seeing the temple outline at dusk, I was more than eager to visit this temple. Lots of surprises awaited us! The central chedi is a tall structure with intricate workmanship, the structure wows you in a different way in daylight. And when u climb the really steep steps and see the view from the top terrace, you get a broad view of the city, the river and the life around the temple. Simply marvelous. Btw this temple is dedicated to Indra and most of the work is covered with broken porcelin.

Moving to the next temple location, its the Wat Saket, temple of the golden mount. When we saw the spiralling staircase, we almost decided not to go ahead but then, what's the point if you dont see all the places. Anyways off we went climbing the steps of Wat Saket, and pleasantly after 10 mins the spectacular view of the city just made it so worthwhile. Just to keep my mind off the climb, I rang every bell I saw on the way to the mount...! The actual shrine is very small and houses a golden mount but the best part of the temple is the killer view of the city.

It was already 5 and time for us to head back to hotel and our taxi hire ended at 5:30. But on the way, we did hope into one of the handicraft "showrooms". Surprising the range of handicraft we found were very less so we settled for a peuter mask of a king. Then we headed back to the hotel. Actually we were quiet glad to get back as we were quiet tired and sweaty. And then I had a special surprise, the hotel staff had placed a cake and card for me in the room....I was so happy! It really made my day so special.

After a quick change, we were back out again, this time we took a taxi upto the night bazaar. It was this huge shopping area that reminded me of Ranganathan street at night....fully packed with ppl mostly tourist. We spent a lot of time visiting the stalls but didnt find anything spectacular...and to make matters worse, we found the same artifact we bought in the showroom for less than half the price! I was so pissed, but then its all a learning experience!! Anyways we got a glimpse 0f the vibrant night life and the best part was the live band at the hawker centre style eating place.

It was a very eventful day with some of the best moments of the trip. I was specially happy to have spent my bday visiting beautiful temples and doing the things I love and exploring temple architecture. An unforgetable birthday for me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bangkok Trip - Day 1

Well, the day finally arrived in style, we were packed and raring to go on Saturday morning. Checking in 2 hrs earlier, ours being a budget carrier, we killed a lot of time in Singapore's budget terminal. Atleast I was feeling good that we chose the afternoon flight instead of the 6 am flight...I cant imagine walking around the place at 4 am!!!!

After a quiet flight and a lot of scenic island views later, we landed at Suvarnabhoomi airport. The size of the airport wowed us even as we were landing. The place is huge, a literal concrete jungle. Once out of the plane, we scrambled for the visa on arrival counter....well, things were not that easy as most officials operate on minimal english mode! Finally we did figure out the procedure and joined the long line. Our turn came a full 45 min later, and the questions were bit strict....why r u here?, how much money u have? show me the money, show me singapore id, etc...I can understand the strictness considering the fact that many ppl come there to work illegally. But this being my first such experience I was feeling a bit scared. Luckily nothing much happened and we got our visas and had our photos taken for that.

Next we located our hotel transport and soon we were on our way to the hotel. The airport is some 30 km from the city so we had a splendid view of the city scape. The huge road and massive flyovers are really stirking. Took us some 25 mins to reach the hotel....most of it through a expressway. Unlike singapore where all the sky scrapers are at one place, bangkok is full of sky scrapers vanishing into the horizon.
We had booked at the Majestic Grande hotel, a decent 4 star hotel. After checking into the hotel, we booked ourselves on a dinner cruise along the Chao Praya river. We were picked up at the hotel at 6 pm for the dinner curise which was at 7:30 pm. We realised later that one whole hour we were to spend in one of the shopping malls that hosted the pier. Nice tactic to get us to spend money at the mall. Anyways after wasting an hour, we finally boarded the Grand Pearl Cruise. It was a big and neat boat which could accomadate about 150 ppl.

The total cruise time was 2 hours, the boat took us through some famous landmarks of bangkok including the Wat Arun, Grand Palace, the rama VIII bridge and many other some spots. We had a lovely time taking pics and videos of the Wat Arun at night. Its a spectacular view, better than the day time. The rama bridge is also a very good sight....its a suspension bridge but with a difference and its huge. [Photos below: Wat Arun, Rama bridge]

Dinner was ok, a lot of variety but we hardly sat down continuously to enjoy dinner...all the time we were running from one side of boat to another taking snaps. There was also in-house thai dance. Two very bored ppl dressed up as thai dancers came danced and ran away....previously during our 1 hr wait at the pier, we were all given orchids and this thai dancer took snaps with us..... later during the end of the cruise, they came around selling the photos as souveniors...nice trick. we already knew this so didnt bother with the snap. It was a bit to commercial for my taste...the sense of hospitality vanished once they abruptly turn away to catch other ppl for the photos. Even when dancing, they were just doing their jobs without passion.

Anyways it was a very exciting start to our 3 day trip, and already one day was over. I was dying to see the beautiful temples or Wats, we had just seen along the river.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Burnt memory

Forgetfulness has always be a part of me. I sometimes feel like a 70 year old trapped in a not-yet-30 body. But something that happened 2 days back, just jolted me to the seriousness of this habit.

Being the lazy bum I am, I generally look forward not to making dinner. And so that day, I went out with hubby to get dinner, blissfully forgetting that I had put a saucepan with soup on the stove.

When we came back some 20 mins later, smoke and burning smell engulfed us as we entered. Only then it struck me something was wrong, but I thought I had put something in the microwave, that being the latest addition to our kitchen and the appliance am least aquainted with. But as I rushed into the kitchen I saw bellows of smoke coming out of the saucepan. Quickly, I switched off the gas and looked inside, the contents were red hot and the sides were fully black.

It took quite some time for me understand, this could have been quiet bad, I have heard of huge fires being caused by such acts of forgetfulness. At that moment, I just thanked god nothing serious had happened. That day in the morning, I had accidently ripped off the Cltr key from the keyboard and was feeling foul about it, this incident just made the whole day a lot worse.

After that it took us almost and hour or two to get all the smoke and smell outside. I was also hoping the neighbours dont notice the smell, and luckily they didnt. It was a huge lesson learnt but I sure do hope I dont forget such important things in future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our little weekend get-away!

Last month we celebrated our 2nd anniversary and to reward ourselves for being such good spouses [:) phew! its hardwork!!], we took a quick trip to a little resort town called Bintan in Indonesia. Its your usual resort place with hotels on the beach, water sports, loads of holidayers...but a lot quieter and fun.

So we started on a Saturday morning by ferry, which took abt 40 mins and in an hours' time we reached Bintan. The ferry was in fact a it was big and lots of fun. Every time the boat hit the high waves, we could feel the thundering drop. Thank goodness neither of us had problems of sea sickness. And btw it was pouring outside, the fact that we couldnt see much outside made the trip much more exciting!

Well when we arrived at Bintan, a big eagle statue stood with its wings spread to welcome us. Known as "Garuda" as in our Ramayana, the eagle is the official symbol of Indonesia. From here our hotel bus picked us up for a little trip through what looked like forest area to the hotel itself. Looking at the dense cover, we were a bit apprehensive about how the hotel was going to be like...the area looked nothing like the photos...but once we reached the hotel, it turned out to be just perfect. In fact, we were welcomed by traditional Indonesian dancers and a cool refreshing drink.

Well, once inside we first hit the beach...and then after a bit of lunch, we changed and went straight into the lovely pool. Am very frightened of water, but only when I need to submerge. My husband tried his level best to teach me swimming but I, being the coward I am, didnt learn much. Anyways the only achievement for me is I learnt to submerge for 10 secs after an hour!!! Drum rolls.... my hubby was too exhausted to teach me anything further [:)].

Later in the evening, strolling by the wonderful beach, we came across a beautiful rocky part littered with corals. All sizes and shapes, so we climbed over the slippery rocks and retrieved some of the bigger corals we could find. Hopefully I will someday use them in decorating an aquarium. And did I mention the beach sand was a so soft and fine...and so white! I wanted to carry some home to use in handicraft but the thought of explaining this to the customs put me off.

That night we were treated to some fine Indonesian dance-song sequences at the hotel. After a cocktail, my husband settled to have the barbeque buffet while I sheepishly stuck to my sandwich. After dinner, we went back to the beach, by now everyone had left so we felt as if the beach was totally ours. Spending some time sitting in the dark, hearing the soft waves hitting the shore was a the highlight of the day for me.

The next day, we decided to take the Bintan Mangrove tour. A 2 hour ride in a small boat along the river into the thick mangrove trees. It was a wonderful experience on the speed boat. We did see 2 species of snakes, one poisonous and another non-poisonous and a monitor lizard. The banded black and yellow was the mangrove python, this we saw atleast 3-4 and one was nicely coiled and looking down at us. The boatman took us right under the snakes just to give us the scare. As we were having thoughts of jumping out of the boat to escape the snake, our guide told us about the fresh water crocodiles in the water. Phew!

Back from the trip, we just had time to checkout. And then it was a quick trip back to the ferry terminal and before I could realise it, we were already on the ferry back to Singapore. This time too we couldnt see much outside as it was already evening, but we were treated to a good display of nature's fireworks. With loud booms and bangs, we could see spectacular lightining in the horizon.

On the whole the trip was very memorable. A short but sweet trip. Am already looking forward eagerly to our next trip.