Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Exploring Bangkok

Written by Karen.

For such a big city, Bangkok awakens slowly.  Perhaps because it is so hot and humid here people take a more chill approach to starting their day.  We’ve been here for a few days exploring our neighborhood, walking the streets, poking into tiny alleys, wandering into markets and shops and only finding respite in the shade or air-conditioned cafes.

 This morning, it was still pretty quiet on the main street that is fairly close to our Bed and Breakfast. The shops that lined both sides of the street were mostly closed, although there were a few pop-up food stalls that were selling breakfast.  The smell of the burning wood fires that were heating up various containers of noodles, broth, or fish - as well as the empty woks ready to cook something wonderful - all flavored the air with steamy, smoky and complex smells. We were starting to get hungry.  It was time to start walking back to our place for some breakfast ourselves.  

As we were walking back, I saw a lone Buddhist monk on the other side of the street wrapped in orange, clasping two nestled large aluminum bowls to his chest.  He was walking quickly - purposefully - and we stopped to watch him for a moment.  

The color orange always catches my eye as it is one of my favorite colors. I had recently read that the reason the Buddhist monk’s robes were orange was that orange - or saffron - was the color of illumination, the highest state of perfection.  And, that wearing the robe with the orange color is a sign of renunciation of the outside world and a commitment to the order.

A young man on a motor scooter also saw the monk and quickly pulled over and got off.  I don’t know what he said to the monk, but the monk shifted the aluminum bowls in his arms.  The young man took off his helmet and placed it on the banana shaped seat and stepped up onto the sidewalk.  The young man bowed his head and placed his hands together in a prayerful fashion facing the monk.  The monk reached over and spoke to the young man, and the world became still around them. 

I considered briefly about taking a picture of the simple scene that was unfolding in front of us.  The early morning sunlight had peeked out from the clouds and the monk was simply glowing in the daylight.  But it was the intimacy of the moment that dissuaded me from snapping a picture.  

And then it was over.  The young man bowed to the monk again, stepped off the sidewalk and put his motor scooter helmet back on, swung his leg over the scooter, and then he was off winding his way in and out of the increasing traffic.  The monk re-positioned his aluminum bowls and he, too, was off.  Still walking quickly and with purpose but not too fast to stop, be in the moment and be of service to another person.  

I stood for a few minutes watching the orange-clad man fade into the waking morning.  Soon this street would be pulsing with people, vendors, pop-up food carts and stalls, and non-stop traffic.  Somehow, though I thought that the type of interaction that I had just seen would - could - happen even in the midst of that busyness.  Just a brief interaction touching a life in need.  Who knows?  I turned around and walked quickly to catch up with Adam.


One of the waterways that link Bangkok neighborhoods together
There are a lot of people who live on the waterways throughout Bangkok.  Many people make their living on the water - not just by piloting boats, but by selling food and goods. It is a richly diverse kind of neighborhood life.  

As we started looking for areas outside our immediate neighborhood that we wanted to explore, we came across an interesting sounding cluster of museums that included Forensics, Parasitology, and Pathology.  We are both interested in forensics, and the others sounded interesting as well, so we looked at each other and said, “Absolutely!”

As the museum complex looked to be about 30 minutes from where we were and was close to the Chao Phraya River, we opted to take the orange-flagged water taxi.  It’s one of the water taxis the locals take, and that’s the one we wanted to take as well. 

The Chao Phraya River is the largest river in Thailand and it runs through Bangkok.  It is a working river, with tentacles, waterways and canals that spread out and link up throughout the City.  As such, traveling by boat is often the best choice to get from point A to point B.  

The boat dock looked to be a part of a Buddhist Wat (temple).  But, it didn’t look like it was in use.  We weren’t sure if we had wandered into the right place or not.  It was part market place, part Wat, part parking lot, part street food stalls, part people hanging out, and part shops and homes.  

It’s only when we are really lost that we’ll ask for help, otherwise, we’ve found that if you wander around eventually you’ll figure it out, someone will notice that you’ve walked by three times and ask if you need help, or you’ll find what you are looking for.  

That particular boat dock did turn out to be a part of the Buddhist Wat.  There were now a few people waiting for a water taxi.  We all smiled at one another.  We hung out in the shady overhang of the temple next to a reclining Buddha and looked for the orange flag on the water taxis.  We all jumped up when we saw the orange water taxi coming.  We had watched the other water taxis come and go, and they did not linger near the dock at all.  

The loading dock was a flat metal raft with no rails, and reacted immediately to every wave that pushed it or each person that came onboard.  I stepped on the dock and it felt like I was stepping into a canoe.  I wondered just how many people had fallen into the river over the years. 

Earlier, Adam and I had enjoyed watching people stagger around these loading docks trying to keep their balance.  Now I knew that we looked just as funny.  

PHWEEEEE     PHWEEEEEEEEEEE   The whistle of the water taxi guy who tied the boat to the dock in order for passengers to embark and disembark pierced the air.  This was how he communicated with the pilot of the water taxi.  PHWEE    PHWEEEEEEEEE     PHWEEEEEEEEEE  The pilot pushed the water taxi loudly into reverse, churning the river water into large wakes as he edged the back of the boat closer to the loading dock.  

The loading dock was pitching and rolling, but we all had big smiles on our faces.  This was fun.  We were all just trying to keep our balance.  

The whistle guy jumped off the boat and pulled a large rope around the wooden post to tie up the boat.  Seconds later, a few people jumped off and then we jumped on.  The driver was still pushing in reverse to stay as close to the loading dock as possible, loudly revving the engine, churning the water and creating wake. There was just one corner of the boat that abutted against the loading dock.  PHWEEEE    PHWEEEEEEEEEEE   And then we were off.  The boat was jam packed.  We pushed ourselves through the crowd until we could find a place to stand out of the way.  

A woman walked by shaking a metal canister full of bills and change.  She stopped in front of us and we handed over our 28 baht (about .80 cents USD) for our one-way ride.  She pulled off a paper ticket, ripped it in several places and gave it to Adam.  

We gave each other a high-five.  It’s very satisfying to do something for the first time, not really know what to do or how to do it, but just to try and eventually find yourself having completed that goal.  

We eventually found the museum complex that we were trying to find.  It took us two days of walking, getting lost, having a major GPS fail, but on the way to finding those most interesting and memorable museums, we found plenty of markets to explore, met plenty of friendly and helpful people, saw a lot of neighborhoods, ate lots of lovely food and drank fresh fruit smoothies.  

It all works out in the end. 

For awhile, it was just Adam and I...and this sleeping Buddha at the boat dock.
It's just another day of commuting!  
When we first started seeing all these green plants on the river, Adam said, "It looks like we are about to drive into a floating salad."  It reminded me of an icebreaker chopping masses of green ice.

It turns out there is an incredible amount of water hyacinth floating on the Chao Phraya River. The Thai government has commissioned the removal of several hundreds of thousands of tons of water hyacinth over the next few years.  We saw pictures of entire canals covered with water hyacinth, which causes problems with flooding during the rainy season.  We saw several barges on the river scooping out huge amounts of the water hyacinth and putting it into large dumpsters.   
The Thais have a lot of respect and adoration for their King and Queen.  There are pictures of the Royal Couple throughout the City.  
A colorful longboat piloting up the Chao Phraya River.  These boats are available for private charter.  What I found to be unusual about these long wooden boats is the long pole at the end of the boat has the propeller and is used for steering.   These boats can go very fast and look very elegant as they fly down the river. 

Just as busy of a commute on the way home!  Regardless of the crush of people, I loved traveling on the boats.  It is much cooler on the water.  There's usually a breeze and I like just watching the life on the water unfold in front of me.  
There's an unique blend of old and new architecture built along the Chao Phraya River.  I saw a lot of construction and big buildings going up.  I wonder how long these little guys will be able to keep living here?  Right next to these houses, there's a new condo building going up.  
The Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) under construction
The end of the line.  Our boat is making a u-turn and will drop us off at the same boat dock where we got on earlier today.  In the distance is a tiny bit of the Bangkok skyline. 


Gunnlaug Aae Tjåland said...

Fantastisk interessant å lese. du skriver så bra. takk. hilsen til begge to. klem fra Gunna

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hei Gunna! Takk! :) Hi Gunna! Thanks so much for your comment. And, thanks for following along with us on this journey. Big hugs. Klem, Karen.