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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Songkran in Bangkok (without a raincoat)

Chiang Rai airport was compact, the security staff friendly. We had close to an hour and waited in the comfortable lounge. Our Air Asia flight landed before the scheduled time. As we descended, we wondered whether it would be raining, and whether the water from the Songkran celebration would complement the rain.



We decided to take the fun way into Bangkok, via the Airport - City link train, getting off at the last stop Phaya Thai. We were apprehensive about the 'weather' conditions outside, the Songkran rain, that is. No problem, all was clear. 



A short taxi ride later we arrived at the Courtyard Marriott on Rajdhamri Road, but not before being subjected to the taxi driver vigorously shaking his head, alternating periods of shake - shake - shake - no-shake - no-shake, all of it in sullen silence. We could not figure out what his objection was, but after firmly giving him directions in broken English ("go left, go right" and so on), we reached the hotel. Fortunately I have visited the Erawan area frequently over "many, many" years, and have stayed at several hotels there, so knew the area fairly well. 



Taxis in Bangkok are highly colourful. Many taxi drivers are just as colourful, and unpredictable, as well. After Khao Lak and Northern Thailand, it can be a rather unpleasant experience, however, if you are prepared for it, it helps you deal with it. 



The Erawan Shrine is a well known landmark in the area.  The diety is Phra Phrom, a Thai representation of the the Hindu Lord Brahma.  The shrine had been vandalized in 2006, after which a protective covering was constructed.



Most devotees offer prayers and light incense sticks. The shrine opens early morning and is open till very late.



Some devotees make offerings, and the traditional dancers and musicians perform to make their wishes come true.



A flower seller sits deep in thought in front of the Erawan Shrine.



A similar Phra Phrom Brahma diety is located at the entrance of the stairs of the walkway leading up to the Chitlom Station.. 



The walkway is a very busy hub that connects offices, hotels, shopping centres and restaurants on all sides of the Erawan area.



We rode the Skytrain to Nana Station in Sukhumvit, for another view of Bangkok. I thought that would be interesting. The family was not too impressed. The crowds, narrow lanes, hundreds of stores and many seedy bars were far too unpleasant after lovely Khao Lak, Chiang Rai and the Mae Kok River. We were relieved to find a quiet, family friendly restaurant to eat dinner, Charlie's Kitchen, in the midst of the chaos of bars and restaurants on Soi 4 in Sukhumvit. 



The next morning, breakfast was a good time to plan the day ahead. 



As we stepped out of the hotel, a tuk-tuk driver approached us, smile on his face. Our destination was Chatuchak Market. He offered to take us there "one-stop, ten minutes, look only, no buy, I get points". He showed us a card with a series of round, red rubber stamp marks on it. "No problem", we said. We were on holiday, were we not? We stopped at a Jewellery store where I actually found the raw gems and manufacturing process more interesting than the finished products.  The store lady did not appear too pleased with our response. 



Off we went to Chatuchak, a huge market where you can buy almost anything you want. 



It was a hot day, so a Coconut always brings relief. 



Stores, stores and more stores. We were quite lost, and walked around aimlessly, resisting temptation to buy little things. 



A tuk-tuk ride along several pretty, well maintained Royal Memorials and Royal Gardens and the busy Khao San Road area brought us to the Royal Palace. We peeped in saw about a thousand heads and umbrellas inside. It was a hot, festival holiday. We did not dare venture inside. 



We walked on to the Wat Pho, the temple of the Reclining Buddha, about 15 minutes away. The complex is the oldest and largest in Bangkok, and was the first University to provide public education. It was a centre of learning in disciplines including Medicine. The practice of Thai massage is said to have originated at Wat Pho.



The golden statue is huge, really huge. 



Between the head and the foot of the Reclining Buddha is a little image where devotees offer prayers. 



Extensive "Mother of Pearl" carvings are found at the foot of the Reclining Buddha, depicting 108 characteristics of the Buddha. The number "108" has a major significance in several Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. 



Along the long wall at the back of the Reclining Buddha there are 108 metal bowls. Sets of 108 coins can be bought outside. Visitors drop a coin each into  the 108 bowls as an offering to the Buddha. You hear a constant "ping-ting-ping-ting" sound inside the hall.  

I have an interesting anecdote. While on a business trip last year, our group was brought to Wat Pho as a part of our sightseeing tour (in typical air-con buses). One of my colleagues bought the set of coins and dropped them in one by one. When he reached the end he realized that he had run out of coins and he still had a bowl or two to go. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and we moved on. I guess it's the thought that counts.



A market is situated near Wat Pho. You need to walk through the market to reach Pier #8 Tha Tien.  Public taxi boats and Tourist boats come by at regular intervals.



Wat Arun is one of the well known landmarks of Bangkok. 



Chinatown is located a few minutes down the Chao Praya river from Pier #8. 



Over the years, several large and modern office buildings and hotels have sprung up along the river.



We got off the boat at the pier at Saphan Taksin, hopped on to the Skytrain and again got off at the Rajdhamri Station. The swanky Royal Bangkok Sports Club is located next to the station. Our hotel is a few minutes walk from the station. 



We had heard so much about the MBK Mall that we decided to visit in the evening, after a relaxing swim in the hotel. The tracks of the Skytrain reflected the light of sunset as we waited for the train.



After some 'looking only', and lots of walking, we decided that we had burned enough calories to earn us some dinner: yummy Thai spicy som-tum salad, seafood, chicken and veggies.  




Songkran

We loved the Songkran celebration in Bangkok, as well as in Chiang Rai and the mountains. 'Assault weapons' are packaged and sold all over Bangkok on the streets. 


The "ammunition" - water, often icy cold water - is stored in large containers.



The supply of "ammunition" is continuously replenished using a hose attached to a nearby supply of water. The hose also comes in handy to drench passing motorists and pedestrians. 



The "dangers" of Songkran may be classified into several categories. You never know what lurks around the corner or behind a tree. 

Category A: Fairly dangerous. Typical 8 or 10 year kids are sometimes ruthless, they enjoy soaking you, all the time smiling broadly and happily. 




Category B: Quite understanding. Slightly older kids, about 10 or 12 years, they seem to understand. After spraying you, usually gently, they stop when you smile, bow and raise your hand in greeting. A little girl prepares to strike. 


Since dangers often show up unexpectedly behind you, it helps to wear a light, water proof jacket. 



Category C: Mobile assailants, highly dangerous. Roving bands of teenagers armed with an almost inexhaustible supply of water in large barrels on pickup trucks. They show no qualms at soaking passers by, even if you are seated inside a tuk-tuk. 




Category D: Static assailants, often intoxicated and swaying to loud music, known to suddenly accelerate and run behind pedestrians in a highly unpredictable manner. Notice the bottle of whisky on the table, probably Blend 285, and the green coloured water hose on the right side of the picture. One is the inspiration, while the other is the ammunition. 

Also notice the bloke wearing the orange half jacket. He realized I was clicking the picture, chased me and poured a small bucket of icy cold water water on my back. Fortunately it was water without any nasty additives. It happened in Sukhumvit, and being a warm day, I was almost dry by the time I walked back to our hotel in the Erawan area. 




Finally, Category E: Budding assailants, wondering what this "weapon" is all about. Likely to graduate shortly into the various categories listed above. Watch this space for more. 




Back to Marriott, almost dry, the family was highly amused. It was time to pack up and check out. The family had not gone for the walk to Sukhumvit, preferring the option of a relaxed few hours in the hotel. Finally, we are all packed, ready to check out. 



A little Buddha has been set up at the front door of the hotel, with a small bowl of water, to symbolize the spirit of the Songkran festival. 


Our trip back to Suvarnabhoomi Airport was once again a combination of a taxi and the City Link train from Praya Thai station. Once again, the taxi driver turned out to be a sullen character. 




As we took off, we reflected back on our wonderful holiday, starting with peaceful Khao Lak, then on to quaint Chiang Rai and the colourful Hill tribes, ending with "Krung Thep" (City of Angels). 




The enjoyable part of being in Bangkok (without a raincoat) was being able to participate in the happy festival of Songkran, when sprinkling of water symbolizes cleaning and renewal for the new year ahead.


Related posts:


Khao Lak - a slice of heaven
http://feni-and-amok.blogspot.com/2012/04/khao-lak-slice-of-heaven.html

Similan Islands and the Moo Moo
http://feni-and-amok.blogspot.com/2012/04/similan-islands-and-moo-moo.html

Thailand - Menus - Khao Lak
http://feni-and-amok.blogspot.com/2012/04/thailand-menus-khao-lak.html

Chiang Rai - quaint gateway
http://feni-and-amok.blogspot.in/2012/04/chiang-rai-quaint-gateway.html

Guest House, Mae Kok, Rafting and the Hill Tribes
http://feni-and-amok.blogspot.in/2012/04/guest-house-mae-kok-rafting-and-hill.html



-=-= April 15, 2012 -=-=

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