Floating market and Grand Palace

The alarm goes off at five. I switch it off and go back to sleep. Luckily the hotel wake up call comes half an hour later. We need to leave promptly at seven this morning. After breakfast the coach leaves for our first whole day of packed itinerary. We leave the city and it’s high rise buildings behind and join the highway. As we leave the city the buildings take on a similar look to any other Asian country. The only reminder that we are in Bangkok is the monuments with the pictures of the monarchy lining the central carriageway and the occasional temples.

We pass water logged fields near the only salt water river in Bangkok. Here the land is at a lower level than the sea and depending on the tides the fields are flooded with salt water which is then processed to extract salt.

In the nearby city of Mae Klong we pass the ‘Railway market’. We get a glimpse of the market as we drive past it. The market is located on a railway line. Food stalls line the track and people are happily doing business. When the train is about to pass the track the vendors need to swiftly get out of the way with their wares. The train slows down at this section. Not a very safe arrangement but so far nothing drastic has happened.

We stop off at an orchid and coconut farm for our first comfort break. Next stop is the floating market. We get off at a pier from which we get on a ‘long tailed’ motorised boat, also known as ‘James Bond’ boats as it was used for filming a scene for ‘The Man with the Golden gun’. We whiz along the narrow canal past houses and shops on stilts lining the route. The houses are mainly wooden and has its own canoes and boats moored to them. Coconut trees thrive along the route and so do banana plantations. The boat takes us to the floating market. Here men and women are busy selling food, which is cooked on board, fruits, vegetables and other items from their boats. There are souvenir shops along the canal banks where bartering is compulsory. We get a bit of free time here to walk around and do some shopping.

Lunch break is followed by a visit to our first Buddhist temple of the afternoon. The Temple of the Golden Buddha or the Wat Traimit. The story goes that the golden Buddha made of 5.5 tonnes of gold was hidden in another Buddha to prevent it from being looted. It was accidentally uncovered when it was dropped while being moved and the outer covering cracked open. The exact date of origin of the statue is not known but from the characteristics it is thought to be dated from the 13th century.

The temple is situated in the Chinatown part of Bangkok. There is a vegetarian food festival going on in Chinatown and the road is lined with vegetarian food stalls.

We make our way to the Grand Palace next. The Grand Palace Complex is a collection of buildings which include the royal residence, government offices and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The monarchy doesn’t live in the palace anymore although the building is maintained so that they can move in any time they wish to do so. The temple which houses the Emerald Buddha is located in the outer palace. As we walk through the entrance into the complex, and the buildings come into view, it is one of the most jaw-dropping sights. The outside of the buildings and temple are covered in coloured glass and mirror mosaics. The reflection of the sun’s rays from these mosaics make you feel as if you are in another planet. We climb the stairs into the temple. The inside of the temple is covered in paintings from top to bottom. The Buddha carved from a single Jade stone occupies prime position. Legend has it that the statue was discovered in 1474 in Chiang Rai, when lightning struck a temple. York takes us around the palace complex and along the gallery where the Thai version of the Ramayana epic is explained through murals. From here we walk the short distance to the temple of the Reclining Buddha or the Wat Pho.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the late King’s death and the temple is being decorated for this national event. The Prime Minister is visiting the Temple and we have to wait till he leaves before we are allowed in to see the statue. The Reclining Buddha represents Buddha during his last illness and is the largest statue of Buddha in Bangkok city. It is an imposing sight at 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. There is a function going on in the grounds of the temple complex. As we are about to leave dancers come on to the stage to reenact some scenes. We wait to watch it before we leave. I have a bit more idea today as to what the dancing entails and York fills in the rest. I find the dancing much more interesting now that I understand it better. The sun is about to set and we have a long drive back to the hotel.

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