It's hard to have a bad day when it starts out with two-hour His & Hers Thai massages. Especially when the masseuses show up in your bedroom. Life does not suck!
Thus began our weeklong adventure in the gravitational pull of Ma Tuk's universe. Maids showed up in the morning with breakfast, which we nibbled in the sitting room/kitchen next to our bedroom. Then the two-hour massages. Then an amazing four-course lunch down at the main house with Zoe and Ma Tuk. Then we got driven downtown to do some siteseeing. Independent travel? Not this week.
Still reeling from our luxurious morning, and clutching a loaner cell phone with Pop the driver's number, we exited the van in the middle of the downtown Bangkok tourist district. The first thing we noticed was the lack of oppressive humidity a la Singapore. The second thing were the hoards of locals dressed in black, paying homage to the king's sister who'd passed away in January. There were pictures of her all over town, and some kind of setup for a big party near the government buildings. They do reverently love their royal family in this country, which is a bewildering thing for an American to process.
The Grand Palace, a sprawling complex of building comprising temples, gardens, and government buildings, is one of the must-see items for anyone who travels to Bangkok. Tucked into the middle of the busy downtown area, the whole complex is a bit Disney-esque and quite surreal. Bright shiny buildings sparkling in the sunshine, throngs of camera-toting tourists... it's hard to know where to start and how to make sense of it all. So we mostly just wandered around and snapped tons of photos. The centerpiece is Wat Phra Kaew, the temple that houses the Emerald Buddha, and the dazzling structures that surround it. The amount of detail packed into a small space is just amazing: a giant gold chedi, temple walls covered in porcelain mosaic, strange pointy architectural accents, miles of murals depicting Thai historical and mythological scenes, juxtapositions of menacing demons and benign buddhas and tranquil gardens. And people everywhere; regular tourists in street clothes alongside saffron-robed monks with digital cameras. Oh, and a model of Angkor Wat in the middle of it all... cuz, y'know, why not?
The grounds of nearby Wat Pho provided a soothing contrast to all that chaos. The main attraction here is the giant gold reclining Buddha, a 150-foot long gold-plated statue with inlaid mother-of-pearl on the soles depicting 108 auspicious scenes from the Buddha's life. Behind the statue are 108 metal pots; worshippers drop one coin in each for blessings. So as you're passing in front of this enormous gold Buddha, you can hear a rhythmic clanging coming from the other side. Wat Pho is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, but since we'd already had two solid hours today, we skipped that part.
Pop eventually came in to fetch us. He seemed anxious to get back, and when we saw the traffic, we knew why! Bangkok traffic is legendary, soul-numbing, and unavoidable. It took us almost an hour to get back to the house.
That evening was a continuation of the cavalcade of culinary capers. First: dinner at a sukiyaki restaurant, where we challenged the concept of "all you can eat." Then, a trip to the cavernous Paragon Mall, which used to be Asia's largest shopping center but has somehow been eclipsed. (I shudder to think of an even bigger mall than this one.) We made a beeline to the high-gloss food court, an endless assembly of snack vendors stretching as far as the eye could see. Zoe and Ja navigated through the various stalls, picking out treats for tomorrow's breakfast. It was hard to know which end was up... the snacks just kept on coming! Armed with fruits, pastries, and completely unrecogizable food items, we headed home. If every day is going to be as jam-packed as this, I'm not sure we're going to last the week!
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