22nd May 2014, 4.30 pm. On television screens throughout Thailand appears Thai army commander – General Prayuth Chan-ocha and announces that takes over rule in the country. Provides that, to make a (19th already in the modern history of the country) coup forced him desire to restore peace in the country, torn by protests, unrest and political quarrels of imminent year. The constitution was suspended, a curfew from 22.00 to 5.00 was introduced and censorship in the media.
When I flew to Bangkok in mid-November of the same year there was no trace of the riots, and the curfew was lifted. However, the military continues to wield its authority in the state. Still was forbidden, under penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment, talking about politics, criticizing the government and the king, which I realized starting conversation with local taxi driver or waiter. On my questions how the political situation today looks like, they only smiled.
For some time in Poland and probably in different countries as well, Thailand, as a Tourist destination has become very popular. Me, as a lover of America Latina, the country hasn’t seem to be so exciting. “Nice beaches and several Buddhist temples similar to themselves” I thought. It took only two-day visit to the capital of Thailand – Bangkok to totally change my opinion.
We arrived in the morning, so we didn’t sleep at all, but excited by the fact that we are in Bangkok! together with my Polish-French companion Mickael and two girls from Germany and Tunisia we went into the city, saying that we’ll sleep other time. We headed to the Chao Phraya River, to get on a water taxi that took us for really cheap to the older part of the city. Mooring and passing out from the boat was so fast that we had to hastily jump on board when it was already a good meter from the mainland. What has the boys done, the girls did not. So, at this early stage of the journey we had to split up. Travel by boat was on the one hand commonplace, just cruise on the old boat, but on the other hand, something incredibly exciting. Such a feeling that suddenly you’re in totally for you new and exotic place. From the middle of the river we could admire with time bigger and bigger amazing in architecture, Buddhist temples and other buildings. And it’s all surrounded by delectable Thai people. Pure joy of traveling! In addition, getting out, we met an Italian friend Veronica, who arrived earlier flight. She, without hesitation, decided to join us.
The first highlight of the 10-million metropolis (the figure would be much higher if numbers of employed persons came from rural areas would be included) we had to visit was the Grand Royal Palace. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be closed to the public. Seeing our disappointed faces, some local came to us and arranged Tuk-Tuk, which drove us among a few temples. In addition to pay a small amount for driving us around the city, we had to agree to enter one store with shirts and suits, for which our driver probably receive some profits. But what that 15-minute visit was compared to the tuk tuk ride, which was an adventure in itself!
The first of the temples we visited was the Wat Benchamabophit, or The Marble Temple. For its construction at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries was used marble from Italy. At the temple is buried the king, who ordered to build this temple.
We visited also one of the biggest statues of Buddah:
The next stop was one of the largest and oldest temples – Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho (full name: Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan). The entire complex has more than 1,000 images of Buddha. The largest – Reclining Buddha statue is 15 meters high and 43 meters long. His feet with dimensions of 3 x 4.5 meters bears 108 panels featuring the symbols, under which may be hidden Buddha, as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and more.
In this temple was also established first public university in Thailand, in which students were educated in religion, science, literature, medicine and special Thai massage. Secrets of the latter can be read in some of the inscriptions on the walls of the temple.
At the end of the day, when the sun had gone down we went to Khao San Road, which is a mecca for backpackers, clusters of cheap hostels, cafes, street food, clubs and places offering visitors a show titled “Ping-Pong Show”. The show involved women who play table tennis, smoke cigarettes, open a bottle and perform many other usual activities. Unusual, however, is with what they perform those activities. And that is what for the gentleman is not proper to talk about …;)
On the second day we went out of the city to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. In the old days when the water transport has played an important role in everyday life, Thais (including Indonesians and Vietnamese) went boating on the market, which took place on the water and buy the products sold from other boats. Over time, when such markets began to become mass tourism attractions, they began to lose its authenticity. Especially after in the marketplace, which I visited were recorded scenes for James Bond, “The Man with the Golden Gun” with Roger Moore. Today, it is a spectacle typical for tourists, with the possibility to be photographed with a snake, eating Thai snacks, or buy one of the thousands statues and images of Buddha. But as I am a James Bond fan , the time spent in Damnoen Saduak, I do not consider as wasted ;)
In one packet with Floating Market was also the second show for tourists – ride on elephants. On the one hand it is a typical use of animals to the delight of tourists. On the other hand, in the days of unbridled expansion of human in expanse of nature, is likely a better life for the elephant than no life at all? Anyway, some ethical questions remain.
In the last few decades, when the 80s economic boom began, the old order staggered Thailand’s cultural foundations. The changes affected especially Bangkok, where skyscrapers began to grow like mushrooms after rain, and Buddhist temples have to fight for space with shopping malls. Well, the charm of money can change even the most enduring traditions. Nevertheless, even such a short stay in this country, as the one described above, can captivate a man. Excitable, helpful, non-aggressive people, exotic, delicious food and low prices! It all makes this country tempting to explore, discover, taste, stay longer. And that I wish to myself and you!