Crystal did an good job of spacing out the rigorous ports of this cruise. We had a day at sea after embarking in Hong Kong, a day at sea after Chan May and Da Nang, and a day before and after Bangkok on the way south to Singapore.
We spent the day at sea listening to the excellent lecturers, eating, and napping. One of the lecturers suggested that we not wear red or yellow shirts into Bangkok since the two fighting factions are the yellow shirts and the red shirts. Sounds like gang wars back home rather than political battles. We signed up for a ship's tour to Bangkok, so I was not worried about traveling into the city.
We were off the ship by 8:15 and on one of three buses on our "Day in Bangkok" tour. We rode on really nice buses -- up high and with a bathroom -- for the long ride into the city. Bangkok looks much different than Saigon, with cars, taxis (mostly in hot pink), and tut tuts (small 3-wheeled open, covered taxis) clogging the streets. We had heard how awful the traffic jams were in Bangkok, and the stories were true. The city has a lot of smog, with many tall buildings and luxury hotels. Not being on the ocean, it wasn't as dramatically striking as Hong Kong or Singapore.
We did a short driving tour of the downtown area, passing dozens (if not hundreds) of jewelery shops, featuring mostly gold (even 24K) and gemstones -- Thailand mines its own gold and gems, but has to import diamonds from Amsterdam. We also saw many flea markets, and a fresh flower market, with stalls lining the street. No time to stop, but fun to look at from the relative coolness of our air conditioned bus.
Our first stop was at the Grand Palace built in 1782, where we stayed an hour. We could have easily stayed two, since we didn't explore the whole site. None of the kings has lived there since the early 1900s, but the government. maintains the palace grounds. It covers hundreds of acres, so we only saw the highlights, including the famous Wat (Temple in Thai) Phra Kheo.
This temple holds the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred religious object. The Buddha is 26 inches tall and made from a solid piece of jadeite, not emerald. Interestingly, the Emerald Buddha has 3 sets of golden clothes, one for each of Thailand's 3 seasons -- hot, hotter, and hottest (actually rainy, winter, and spring). The 80-year old King Rama IX, who is the world's longest reigning monarch having been crowned in 1946, changes the Buddha's clothes himself at the change of each season.
King Rama IX and his wife are much beloved by the Thai people and their photos are everywhere in the country, adorning the currency, buildings, road signs, billboards, etc. The buildings in the palace grounds are covered in gold leaf or jewels, making for an absolutely glorious site. It was very hot and humid, and we sipped water as we toured the grounds. Of course, we were there during a very hot part of the day, around 11 am to noon. As they say -- only mad dogs, Englishmen, and tourists on a schedule are out in the midday sun. We had to remove our shoes to enter the Wat Phra Kheo, and a sign said to not put our feet towards the Buddha. Those not dressed appropriately (no shorts or sleeveless tops) were given pants or a pareo to wrap around themselves as we toured the complex. We were also told to wear closed shoes with socks since we had to remove our shoes when entering the Wat Phra Kheo.
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