Monday, October 17, 2011

Bangkok Day 4 & 5 - Vimanmek Palace, Queen's Gallery, Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

Whilst not a sewer, Green House is possibly the worst place I've ever stayed in. Beds as hard as concrete, pillows uncomfortably lumpy, a dangerously rusty bathroom door in a fairly grim en suite, and worst of all, it faces a street which has "singers" performing until around 3:30am. If it wasn't hard enough to get to sleep with all of that, I was woken at 4:30am by some American pillock trying to get one of his friends to come out with him. She wasn't too keen, but was still more than happy to give him a rundown of her day's events, the highlight apparently being when she bought a taco. "They're like sooooo AMAZING!!!" Super.

We trekked over to Vimanmek Palace in the morning, which was built by King Rama V, the most beloved and progressive king that Thailand had, and it was crazy. Acres of sprawling gardens filled with magnificent buildings, all glorifying the Thai monarchy. Two of the buildings were photo galleries comprising pictures the reigning monarch (Rama IX) had taken. The blurb accompanying these photos was sycophantic to the point of propaganda. Every shot he had taken was for a reason and allegedly incorporated one moral or another, or showcased his wonderful ability with a camera. Apparently he was so technically proficient as a photographer he developed his own camera filters and revolutionised Thai photography. He also plays about 5 different instruments. What a guy. The centrepiece of the Vimanmek Palace was the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, a ridiculously decadent building filled with more gold treasures than the mind can comprehend. For his 80th birthday/60th year of reign hundreds of artisans spent 1 - 2 years crafting each piece, from a golden latticed longship, through to gold carriages, intricately carved wood panels stretching up 15-20 feet high, huge tapestries studded with diamonds, emeralds, and other gold and silver gubbins. There was literally tens of millions of pounds worth of gold on show, all in glory of this chap on the throne. I half expected to find the Ark of the Covenant stashed away in the corner. Sadly photography was forbidden, and I didn't want to risk stealthily snapping a few things in case the King's guard got mean.

We also hit a few arty places in the last few days. I love galleries. A lot of modern art doesn't do much for me; a couple of lines on a bit of canvas with a splodge in one corner isn't something I could enjoy looking at. Realism and some of the more fantastical paintings though, that's another story. Both the Queen's Gallery and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre had these in abundance, and they were fantastic. I'll be sticking some of the more eye-catching paintings up on Flickr soon. The upload speed for Flickr isn't great so I'm probably going to be playing catch up for a few months.

Yesterday we went to the Golden Mount, a huge bell-shaped temple which still houses monks in the surrounding area. Monks are everywhere in Bangkok, and anachronistically can be seen riding buses, smoking fags, calling people on mobile phones, and fiddling with MP3 players (Note to Dad - an MP3 player is like a Sony Walkman but smaller and without the need for cassette tapes). All very bizarre.

Following that, we went to Jim Thompson House, a wonderful collection of houses interlinked and made from teak, all meticulously preserved. He was an American entrepreneur who got rich from the silk trade and was adopted by Thailand as a hero for helping promote their export business. He then disappeared one day, aged 61 and was never heard from or seen again. There's a bit of a legend surrounding him simply because of this. Some say he went to a Buddhist temple, in a Rambo-esque fit of pique. The guidebook optimistically suggests it was more likely he was hit by a car whilst out walking and buried at the side of the road. Either way, it was all a long time ago now so he's probably not in the best condition whatever happened.

We checked into Thai Cozy House for the next couple of nights, which was a lovely change to the last dump. For an extra 2 quid a night, we got free bottled water, a 15 minute Thai massage each (I'm going back tonight for a full hour as my back is killing me) and breakfast. Nice room, nice bed, nice pillows. Woke up today completely refreshed.

Food-wise it's been too hot for us to feel hungry in the day so we've taken to eating breakfast and then getting a decent meal at night. The last two nights we have eaten at the same place - Lotash Seed on Rambuttri Road. Run by a local family, it has fantastic Thai dishes made by the owner's sister who gave us some good recommendations, and the owner (See) who spoke excellent English and spent a good hour talking to us about Thai life. It's a wonderful place to eat amongst the lasagnes, chicken and chips and other English garbage food offered in the tourist district.

Tomorrow we're getting a minibus to Kachanaburi (home of the River Kwai), and staying in a guesthouse there for a couple of nights. From there we'll try and get to Ayutthaya, but it depends on the floods. It has rained consistently and persistently every day we've been here which has broken the humidity nicely, and hasn't actually bothered us that much. However, I think we're ready to move on from Bangkok. The constant harrassment from tuk-tuk drivers, people asking where we're going and trying to direct us to one flavour of Buddha or another (we've had Black Buddha, Golden Buddha, Big Buddha and Lucky Buddha to name a few) and more recently tailors. Every other shop on the Khao San road is selling tailor-made suits. Even two streets along in the hotel complex we're staying at has a bloody tailor attached to it. One of the guys running it tried to pitch to me this morning as we were eating breakfast. Incredible. Obviously where tourists go, hawkers follow. I'm hoping for a bit of a break from the hard sell in the next destination, but won't hold my breath.


Anonymous said...

Time to invest in some foam earplugs mate - an essential for every modern traveller! For planes, hotels etc., they allow you to cancel out the noise from squawking children, which is mildly preferable to killing them, and silence loud, thoughtless Americans.


Rob said...

Got some chap, but they're useless against the shrill cries of the itinerant Yank, sadly.