Saturday, January 22, 2005

We got up and ate breakfast at the buffet, which was right down by the river. The view was nice, but every time we went outside in Bangkok we felt like months of our life were disappearing because of the air. Crystal thought the air was “a little better” than that of Manila. We went back to our room, and as we got in the elevator who did we see emerging but the immortal Jean Claude Van Damme. It seemed odd for about 1 second, until we realized that half of the shows Tivo recorded for us relating to “Thailand ” were Van Damme movies. He's a semi-star in Thailand, which seems odd because in all his movies he kicked the crap of the Thai bad guys.

We then took a boat “bus” up the river to the Grand Palace , about a mile or two north of the Oriental. The bus made about 8 or 9 stops before getting to the Grand Palace, and by the time it got there the bus was overflowing with people. As we were walking away from the boat stop some guy tried to stop us to tell us that the Grand Palace was “closed,” and that it would not open until a couple hours later. He was presumably about to tell us about a tour he could take us on to kill the time when a Western tourist interjected and told us the Palace was open and that this guy was a fraud. On our short walk to the Palace there were some signs saying don't trust strangers who tell you that the Palace is closed.

The Grand Palace was very impressive. It's a large enclosed fortress, with a massive wat (Wat Phra Kaew) inside of it, along with the Palace itself. It was extremely ornate, very colorful, and full of decorative artwork. There's really no way to describe it other than to show pictures. Quite a bit of the wat and the surroundings were under construction, presumably restoration projects. The Buddha inside the wat was actually not that impressive – the wat itself was the impressive part. There were also people (lots of Japanese tour groups) everywhere, making it hard to get decent photos of anything, and some tourists were noticeably upset that people kept walking in front of their photos of their families.

We saw the wat and the palace, and then took a short walk south to Wat Pho, home of the “reclining Buddha.” There were hardly any people at Wat Pho, especially in comparison to the Grand Palace. The wat was quite large, but not nearly as large as Wat Phra Kaew. Crystal suggested that perhaps we should have gone in the reverse order so that we would have been impressed twice. The Buddha at Wat Pho is massive, and is laying on its side in a reclining position. It was very hard to see the entire thing, as there were pillars between the viewing area and the Buddha.

We got on the boat at the boat stop near Wat Pho, and went back to the hotel. We saw a couple more people from the train on the boat, bringing the total number of couples we had seen since getting off the train to 8 (3 US couples, 2 French, 2 British, 1 German). We had seen some the day before at the hotel, others at breakfast, others at either Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Pho. Back at the hotel we ate lunch, Justin getting the same dish as he did at Lemongrass, but this time with pork instead of chicken. It was much hotter than at Lemongrass. At lunch we actually saw a few kids – we had hoped we could make it the entire time without being around any. When picking hotels we picked all business hotels, one because they are nice and two because they generally don't attract families. We had seen no more than 5 in KL, no more than 5 at the Shangri-La, and none in Bintan or at the Oriental Singapore.

Since we hadn't done much souvenir shopping, mainly because our schedule had been packed to this point, we went out after lunch. Unfortunately, the neighborhood we were in was near some of the nicer hotels in the city, and wasn't near as cheap as we were hoping for. Most of the stores were tailors or expensive import/export companies. We went in one tailor, didn't see anything too appealing, and stepped out. We were walking back to the hotel when this guy walked by and suggested that we go to another part of town if we really wanted to get good deals, and gave us the name of a tailor in Chinatown that had good merchandise. He said he didn't want us to get ripped off in his country. He flagged a tuk-tuk (basically a motorcycle with a cart on the back) and had the tuk-tuk driver take us to the tailor.

Justin thought this all sounded reasonable, Crystal thought the whole thing was a scam, but didn't tell Justin. At the tailor, Justin picked out some nice fabric and a contemporary style suit, complete with vest, dress shirt and tie. Total cost including tailoring was less than US $400. They said the suit would be ready the next day. When we got back to the hotel, Crystal informed Justin of how “random” people on the street would get tourists to go to stores. This infuriated Justin, who was already irritated because of the taxi driver the night before and the guy at the Grand Palace earlier in the day. Additionally, there were at least a dozen signs in Wat Pho telling people to cling to their valuables. Justin felt the whole country was a bunch of thieves and liars, and just went to sleep. Alas, he slept through our dinner reservations at the Spice Market, the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel. After he woke up, he watched some soccer on TV (it was all that was on besides a boring tennis match) while Crystal went down to the hotel bar.



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