Today I hung out with Charles Russo, a fellow adjunct faculty member, and his wife, Debbie. The day began about 10:00 a.m with a request that a member of the front desk staff write the name of the tourist site and its address in Thai for the taxi driver, and then asking the security guard to tell him where we are heading. A part of the reality is that in addition to not speaking English, several taxi drivers are often not able to read Thai. We then asked for a card from the hotel that had its address written in Thai -- this card we would show to the taxi driver when we were heading back.
With all bases covered we set out to tour the Grand Palace http://thailandforvisitors.com/central/bangkok/ratanakosin/prakeo/. Built in 1782 when the capital was moved from Thonburi, the Grand Palace housed the King's residence (he will be 80 years this year, and no longer lives there) as well as some governmental administrative offices - then and now. Traffic is horrendously slow, and we came upon a road block created by/to contain protestors. Our taxi driver speaks very little English, neither one of the three of us knows more than Khwap Khun Ka (thank you very much) in Thai, so we could not ask about nor learn the reason for the road block. Finally, about 1 hour later we arrive at the Grand Palace.
As we move toward the entrance we are approached by a young man who tells us the palace is closed until 2 p.m. He did not know that we were informed of this strategy to divert us to take a tuk-tuk to sites in walking distance, but would allow the driver and his "lurer" to take us to shops off the beaten path at the request of shop owners willing to purchase gas for them in exchange for bringing in customers. We were able to ignore these ploys and enter the Grand Palace without incident and purchase tickets, thanks to the stories shared by group of colleagues who had that experience yesterday and quickly spread the word.
Palatial took on new meanings as we toured the buildings. At one point we had to remove our shows to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. I was ready with a pair of socks brought specifically for that purpose. Photographs and video-taping were also forbidden in this temple.
Next it was to the Jim Thompson House of Silk http://www.jimthopmson.com/. Here again we had to remove our shoes. The guide told us that traditional Thai meals are served family style on the floor so the custom of leaving shoes outside helped with ensuring that the floors were always spotless. As an aside, the housekeeping staff at the hotel always remove their shoes when entering the rooms/apartment of a guest. American born Jim Thompson did a lot to reinstate the then waning art of hand woven silk, built a large house in Bangkok, collected Asian art, and evntually disappeared without a trace in 1961 while visiting Malaysia. Looking for beautiful handwoven silk items? The store here is the place to shop!
A 10 minute walk away is the Siam Center, a mall for all mall shoppers! http://www.bangkok.com/shopping-mall/siam-center.html High end mall shoppers, that is!Until 1939 Thailand was known as Siam. The name change is associated with an early coup - several have taken place since then. East meets West here as all the US and British stores have branches here, including NYC's Musem of Modern Art! It is also the hangout for teenagers. They were there in droves, wearing uniforms, gathering in several restaurants, McDonalds included, chatting, socializing, and just having fun!
We enjoyed the final day of the orchid show -- WOW!, and did we sample fruits and other goodies in the gourmet food court!!! I felt homesick for Jamaica as I saw and sampled guava, sweet sop which they called custard apple, mangoes, tamarind, and coconut. We enjoyed dessert before dinner tasting gelato, pastries, and other sweets. Finally the trek home began after a scrumptious Thai meal.
The BTS works like the DC metro - fare stages, entering and exiting using the fare-card, and a fare-card that gets "eaten" when the money is used up. The last leg of the return journey mirrored the first leg of this morning's journey -- with a cab ride hampered by traffic. It allowed for a wee bit more sightseeing -- so many food places, so many 24-hour 7/11's, and so many female pillion riders sitting side saddle on motorcycles that are furiously bobbing and weaving through traffic. Needless to say we were relieved to disembark at The Kantary House.