A river, the Chao Phraya, runs through Bangkok from north to south, into the gulf of Thailand. Taxi boats run up and down the river and through the canals (called khlongs) that branch off of it, running tourists and locals around and avoiding Bangkok street traffic.
We bought an all day pass for one of the tourist boat taxi lines up and down the main river and decided to check out what we could from there. Our first stops were to two of the temples right on the river, Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
Wat Arun is named for a Hindu god whose arms represent the rays of the sun. When the sun rises and sets, it’s rays reflect off the temple, giving it its name.
The temple itself is made of plaster and cement (it was restored in 2017), with different tiny colored porcelain tiles of red, green, blue, and yellow, set in it in really intricate patterns.
Around the temple, on the outer walls and on the steps, are statues of guardians, soldiers, and animals made of stone.
These guys were so cool
Surrounding the temple are several courtyards, smaller pagodas, and other buildings used for prayer or education, or to house artifacts, making the whole place more like a complex than just one temple.
In some of the buildings, huge murals had been painted on the walls. They were, surprisingly, one of my favorite parts. One area of a mural showed a battle for the temple, with soldiers riding war elephants, and monks and priests hiding underground.
Other areas of the mural depicted life around the temple when it was built, in the 1500’s (or maybe even before). If there was a description for the mural, it was in Thai, so I’m not 100% positive of everything it showed, but it was damn cool.
Across the river is Wat Pho, with an enormous reclining Buddha in it. It’s literally a HUGE gold statue of Buddha laying on his side, propped up on one arm, smiling, like we do when we’re watching tv or something.
The complex at Wat Pho is huge, with a lot of surrounding buildings used for education. We saw young school kids in uniform going to class, ignoring the tourists and horsing around with each other. I would have taken a picture but thought that might be too creepy. I can’t really think of anything comparable in the US, where we have a religious site of tourism, worship, and education. If one of you readers can think of something, let me know!
We couldn’t go on a trip to Thailand without checking out some Muay Thai fights. The Mecca of Muay Thai, Lumpinee stadium, is located in northern Bangkok.
The fights were scheduled to start at 6:30, so we hopped in a cab around 5:00 pm, figuring it would take an hour in rush hour traffic.
Two hours later we pulled up to the stadium after crawling across Bangkok at a snails pace. I was afraid we might miss some of the fights, but Joe wasn’t.
“Don’t sweat it, the fights will start later than posted, just like everywhere else in the world.” He said. I don’t know how he knew that, but he was right. The first fight was just starting when we walked in.
It was two young kids fighting, they looked maybe 12 years old or so. They did not wear shin guards or headgear. They threw elbows and knees, and neither ever changed their expression. Each fight was 5, 3-minute rounds, including theirs. Those kids fought an extremely technical, badass fight that had the crowd on its feet. The families of each fighter were standing near the ring, in each fighter’s corner, yelling and waving their arms. You could tell how proud they were to have fighters so young fighting at Lumpinee, and to fight so well, at that.
Afterward, each fighter went to the opposing corner, and the coaches put flower garlands, called Phuang Malai, around their necks, in what I assumed was a show of sportsmanship.
The rest of the fights were just as amazing. There were two knockouts, one from a rising elbow out of the clinch, and one from a knee to the liver. It was fascinating to watch the fighters start slowly and pick up the pace each round, bringing the level of violence and intensity to a crescendo over 15 minutes.
For me, watching the fighters in the clinch was one of the most fascinating aspects. It’s not like MMA where the clinch can be a stalling position or bore the crowd; here every knee landed received a loud “OOOOYYYYY” from the audience, and the fighters stayed constantly busy looking for foot sweeps, elbows, and knees.
A few fights in, the Fight of the Night happened. Both fighters showed a lot of heart (and violence), with the winning fighter making a steady comeback over the last three rounds. The whole crowd was on their feet, everyone was yelling and waving their hands.
After the winner was announced, he got down from the ring and limped toward the back. Even though he had won, he was crying. Fights are emotional things, and he’d just had one of the best I’d ever seen. I felt like crying along with him.
I also noticed that not every fighter received a flower garland every fight. Sometimes only the winning fighter did, and not always from the opposing coach. I don’t quite understand the system there, so if any of you readers want to fill me in on what I’m missing, I’d be happy to learn a thing or two.
Before leaving Bangkok, we also braved the metro rail system (not too hard to figure out, because a lot of it is in English and a lot of people speak English, thankfully for us). We took it to check out a large street market in Northern Bangkok, stopping off to hang out at a huge mall along the way. The stuff in the mall was pretty dang expensive. Nikes for $100+, bath bombs for $10+, after that we stopped looking at prices. Living like a king in Bangkok takes a kings wages, as well.
The market was much cheaper, but so were the things being sold. It reminded me of a swap meet in the US. Lots of knock off stuff, cheap goods, and tourist souvenirs. Most stalls sold the same kinds of clothes and trinkets and stuff, but you can haggle with the vendors to knock off a couple hundred baht if you want to buy something, which was kind of fun. A ton of food stalls, too.
Joe tried squid on a stick and we drank out of coconuts and had some really good Pad Thai (which I couldn’t eat, because there were eggs in it, god damn it). Several people told us not to eat the meat from vendors after 1:00pm, because after that, they stop cooking and just serve whatever they cooked up that morning.
We wandered around and bought stuff, not because the things were so great, but because when you buy souvenirs, (as Neil Gaiman said) you’re buying the story instead of the item, really.
So we bought a lot of stories in Bangkok to share with our friends and got ready to head to Koh Samui, our next stop.