A new day, a new mission – Wat Po and the Teak Mansion were on the agenda for today.
After breakfast we walked from the hotel to catch the Canal Taxi, accosted along the way by some Indian guys who wanted to tell us how lucky we were – we told them that we already knew as we were blessed with three adorable children – although Luca was in a less than adorable mood at the time as he whined about how he wished he had never been born and that God hated him. And so we take the rough with the smooth! He was better after a heart to heart and by the time we reached the dock was back to his usual self.
The canal taxis are fun! Narrow waterways that are shot along at breakneck speed, only slowing where it narrows still further and the bow waves overtake the boat, like a tidal wave preceding us until the canal widens again and the speed can be ramped up again. The stops are brief, just enough time to loop a rope, rev the engines in reverse to bang against the dock, and as the propeller churns the filthy water to keep the boat alongside, the passengers jump off and on before the rope is loosed and the boat is on its way again. After two stops we all had to get off and transfer to another waiting boat for the onward journey – the boat people had done their best to communicate this when we had bought the tickets, but it was more a case of follow the crowd as everyone suddenly got off.
From time to time, the spray lashes against the side of the boat and the covers are raised using ropes and pulleys to protect the paying customers. The downside, we can no longer see the ramshackle buildings and dazzling displays of flowers hanging from the fences and houses along the canal.
The boys loved it, water, boats and speed, what is there not to excite them! For us parents too, it was a chance to see life from another perspective, and to get from A to B at a much cheaper rate – 15 baht for the entire journey and the kids didn’t pay.
Having consulted the tourist map it had suddenly dawned on me that although the canal itself carried on as far as the river, the boat service did not. Time for Plan B. Just a stone’s throw from the terminus was the Golden Mountain. A man-made hill upon which stands a temple with a huge golden stupa sitting atop the temple and shining out across the city like a beacon to the faithful to mount the steps on their pilgrimage to enlightenment.
We had no real idea as to the aesthetic merit of the temple. It appears on the map, but there is little information in any of the guides. Nevertheless, we intrepid explorers set off to find out for ourselves. Along the way we passed a fire station which was a big thumbs up from the boys
And then we were there. A large leafy hill up which wound the stairs to the temple. Along the climb there were various bells and gongs to chime or sound, and emerging from the tree lined path near the summit into glorious sunshine, we bonged and clanged until we ran out of bells and then spiralled (or is it helixed?) our way up the last of the stairs, the temple reminiscent of a lighthouse.
The temple consisted of a large room which contained shrines and stations for the monks to offer prayers for you. In the centre was a single room that housed the main shrine and a queue of faithful entered by one door and left by another, like a spiritual conveyor belt. On entering the temple, the first shrine was a mass of people lighting incense sticks and laying flowers. Our boys love the ritual of this and soon they joined the throng with their own offerings.
From this platform there were views across the four cardinal points of Bangkok, which were already pretty good, but once we climbed again up to the roof they were amazing. The steps up to the roof were very narrow, the aperture small enough to feel hemmed in which made the emergence onto the roof like a release from oppression, from dark into light. And as we stood there blinking in the sunlight, the giant golden stupa filled our vision completely, strings full of money surrounded its base suspended from multi-tiered metal frames. Here there were gongs too. School children, tourists, and the faithful all mixed together in an intricate dance around this glittering structure.
The view was quite good too… did I mention? The Grand Palace through the haze; the old and the new, from slum to skyscraper; and a nice bridge!
And then we were off back down again, past the bells and gongs for ringing and sounding, which of course were rung and sounded and at last we arrived at a tranquil garden cum courtyard which surprisingly contained a large Buddha statue encased in glass.
Having not really known what to expect from this monument, we were actually pleasantly surprised. Although some tourists make the trip, there are mostly Thai people here offering devotions and it lends a earnest spirituality to the place, a vibe that you can feel in the air. Indeed, I saw one lady running up the steps, pausing only to ring the bells before continuing her race to the top where she offered up her prayers and meditated a while at the base of the stupa.
Pausing in the garden we tried to figure out where to go next. China town was one option, but a bit of a walk from where we were. There was a park nearby and a shortish walk to Memorial Bridge and its night market. The park would let the kids burn some energy, and the night market provide a feast for the eyes and hopefully the stomach. So we set off along streets lined with workshops and the odd food vendor – one lady was selling fried insects but was charging for photos too, and another we stopped to buy some BBQ chicken for the boys, which turned out to be chicken bottoms according to Tania, or the parson’s nose perhaps? Whilst it gave us a good laugh, the boys were less than appreciative ;o)
As we crossed a bridge over the canal towards the park one eagle eyed member of the party spotted a giant monster resting on a wooden beam floating in the murky water…
It was well over a metre long, quite a sight to behold and easily the largest lizard we had seen – including the mythical beast of Malaka the Tania claimed to have seen. We left it in peace and continued to the park where the boys ran around like mad things in the late afternoon sun, and Tania and I watched the park life going by. As time moved on we walked around the park finding exercise equipment and even an aerobics class in full-swing in the outdoor amphitheatre.
Leaving the park in the hope of reaching the river for sunset we continued walking down the road perpendicular to Lizard Bridge, dodging the traffic at interchanges – one has to brave or stupid to cross the road, and waiting for a gap in the traffic could be a long time indeed. We rounded a corner to Memorial Bridge where stands a monument to the fallen of Thailand and stumbled upon a temple as the sun sank low in the sky.
To our right we could see the tell tale sights of a night market, and in search of a bite to eat we headed that way. What awaited us was not a feast for the tummy, but a feast for the eyes as we found ourselves in the midst of Bangkok’s flower market. Stall after stall of sumptuous colours and perfect petals, the photos show it better than any words….
Unbelievable pageantry that stretched for blocks, quite amazing. Having feasted our eyes we left for the nearest River Boat dock and headed back to the hotel for some street food before retiring to bed. Another day of adventure and discovery behind us. What would tomorrow bring?