The King of Thailand Died
We planned to go to Vietnam. Vietnam is the only Asian country on our list that requires a visa. Until August 2016 a fifteen day visa cost $35. When we went online to obtain the visa we discovered that we could only obtain a one year visa to Vietnam, and it was (with the airport stamping fee) $325 per person. *Aside* Apparently Vietnam asked the United States to make it easier for businessmen and students by offering a one year visa. The U.S. agreed and Vietnam reciprocated, but removed all the other visas at the same time. I’m sure they will eventually work it out, (in fact it seems they may have already done so) but we don’t want to see Vietnam that badly, so we took it off the list.
We intended to stay on Bangkok for five days, but with Vietnam off the table it opened up more time in Bangkok. *Aside* This worked out as well. When I booked a hotel room for Bangkok I inadvertently booked seven days instead of 5. Those extra two day will now come in handy!
On Thursday October 13, 2016 we arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. Our hotel is great: the room is big; we have a kitchenette with a microwave oven; a big wardrobe; a make-up table; a chest of drawers (haven’t seen one of these for ages); plus a couple of comfy overstuffed armchairs. However the bed, though large, is as hard as a rock. It is seriously like plopping down on a sheet of plywood. They bring some extra bed padding which makes it tolerable (barely).
Also on Thursday October 13, 2016 King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died. The King ruled for 66 years and seems to have been much beloved by the people of Thailand. He had been ill, so it wasn’t unexpected, but we had no idea how it would impact us. *Aside*His death didn’t impact us at first, but then . . . well back to the story. Our hotel was a little off the beaten path, so to speak, in the far eastern part of Bangkok. But there was a tuk-tuk provided free by the hotel that ran a route between the hotel and the Tesco-Lotus Mall right next to the BMT Skyway Train Station: very handy. *Aside* When tuk-tuk or taxi driver would want to take us back to our hotel, we would ask, “How much to Waterford Suthumvit 50?” Their eyes would widen slightly and they would back away a little, saying, “Oh, that’s really far.” We know it’s really far by taxi but it’s only about fifteen or twenty minutes from anywhere on the skytain. Our first full day in Bangkok we take a taxi to Venus Jewelry. *Aside* Fifteen years ago while in the Air Force Tom bought jewelry for the first Mrs. Zelanin from Venus. It seems appropriate that the present Mrs. Zelanin should have something from there as well. Resisting most temptations, I finally chose 14mm peacock colored freshwater pearl choker necklace and earrings. *Aside* Venus shipped the pearls to the US for me so I’ll see them again when I get home! Sounds like incentive to come home!
That bit of shopping out of the way, we walk through Lumphini Park, one of the lovely green spaces in Bangkok. We see a woman and her children feeding the fish (and a turtle). We see cats and dogs wandering the park and also a small water monitor lizard swimming happily in the pond, but inking below the surface when it spotted us! Passing through the park and the statue of some war hero, we head on uptown to the small Erawan temple park. The temple park is
crowded with people offering prayers for their dead King. We watch for awhile then walk on up to Siam Paragon, a seven story premier mall, to go to the movies: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children. *Aside* I read the book (actually the books - there’s a series) and really wanted to see the movie. At 200 Baht per person (about $6.00) it was a very affordable afternoon of entertainment. Next day we decide to conquer the train system. We buy a day pass for $4.00 each which allows us to get on and off the train all day until midnight. On the train we head to the connector at the Chao Pharaya River for another day pass, same price: same principle, for the Tourist River Boat (the boats only run until 7:00pm). We go to Chinatown.
*Aside* This day is a series of misses. In the morning we miss the tuk-tuk to Lotus-Tesco and have to walk. We get to the River Boat too late to get a seat and have to wait for the next boat. We get to the recommended restaurant in Chinatown just after they closed for lunch service. (Don’t worry we didn’t go hungry.) When we got back to Lotus-Tesco we waited for the tuk-tuk and thought we missed it. We started walking, then saw it turning. We raced back to its stopping point to find it was already full of other people. Leaving Chinatown we get back on what we think is the Tourist River Boat but discover is actually the “local” boat. *Aside* Let’s just say they treat the locals, and anyone who is mixed in with them, like cattle. This includes screaming at them through bull horns to move fast. Not the pleasant experience we had on the “tourist” boat.
The water in the river is high and the current screamin’ fast. We see one restaurant that is half submerged. Luckily the sights all along the Chao Pharaya River are not washed away: historic buildings, modern buildings, malls, tugboats and skyline.
Next morning we decide to make our way across the city to the Taling Chan Floating Market. It’s only open on Saturday and Sunday so this is our last chance! We buy both passes (train and boat) and head out again. When we get on the boat it is packed: even more than packed. *Aside* A lady on the boat says that if we are interested in going to the Grand Palace we should go now as it’s only going to get busier: everyone who can is going to The Grand Palace where the king is lying in state. Luckily we don’t want to go to the Grand Palace today, but we suddenly realize we will probably not be able to go to the Grand Palace at all. The sky cries rain all day for the King. The King’s body will be in the Grand Palace for several of days then after October 28th his ashes will be on display for the next 100 days for the public to pay their respects. *Aside* The manager of the hotel tells us that there are about 70 million people in Thailand and that probably half of them will make their way to Bangkok to pay their respects to their King. All citizens are requested to wear black for the next thirty days. All government employees will wear back for the next year. Over night the stores are flooded with black attire. Businesses spring up to dye clothes black for a fee. Others spring up to dye clothes for free, saying that they know poor people cannot afford to buy a new wardrobe, but want to show their respect. Every business has a tribute display for the King. The sale of alcohol is stopped for several days.
Okay, back to the Taling Chan Floating Market. It’s awesome and we’re delighted we went. We ate some delicious stuffed grilled fish, grilled right in front of us on a boat floating on the water. If we had gotten there at 9:00 in the morning we could have gone on a tour of three floating markets, but this one was great. Although the water is muddy and looks dirty, it is teaming with fish!
Next, deciding to avoid the Grand Palace area, we go to the National Museum which is in an area near the Grand Palace, but we hope far enough away to not give us problems. We were wrong. The park around the Museum is packed with people and vehicles. There are literally hundreds of people on foot, and other people in bumper to bumper vehicles. All around the park people offer the thousands of mourners free food and water while they wait to go to the Grand Palace or rest on their return from the Grand Palace. The sky continues to cry rain turning much of the park into a shallow lake, adding to the confusion and discomfort. After we visit the museum we walk out of the park and down to the river to catch the ferry, then the train back to our hotel. The Grand Palace, Wat Arum and Wat Pho (The Reclining Buddha) are now off the list for visitation as they are all close together and obviously it’s going to be nearly impossible to get there. We take a day off and plan the rest of our time in Thailand, booking hotels all the way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We are less than two weeks away from our month in Bali, Indonesia so we start looking forward toward that.
Next day we take the train to the Jim Thompson House Museum. Jim Thompson probably was responsible for putting Thai Silk on the map. He manufactured and exported tons of Thai Silk as attire and flat goods. He bought several traditional Thai houses then moved them to his lot in Bangkok to create a large house with traditional Thai materials and appearance that functioned more like a conventional Western house. In 1967 While vacationing in Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, Jim went for a walk in the jungle and was never seen again, but his house and garden are still beautifully maintained for tours! It is a garden oasis in the middle of Bangkok. *Aside* There are huge koi (up to two feet long) in the ponds surrounding the house. Additionally there are fish in almost every container and vase with the accompanying water lilies. After the Jim Thompson House we went back to Siam Paragon for another movie: “The Girl on the Train.” *Aside* We decided it’s what you do when everyone is mourning in way of what you really want to do. At least it’s what we did. *Aside 2* There are dealerships for all the high end cars in the mall. If we had about a million dollars rolling around our pockets, we could have picked up a McLaren, a Rolls-Royce, Mazerati, or a Lamborghini while we were at the mall. I guess that’s what the rich people do when shopping at Siam Paragon.
Last day in Bangkok we do our laundry, getting ready to move on. We enjoyed Bangkok, mostly because we were able to navigate through the city on our own. It was fun to jump on the train and avoid the taxis for a change. However we didn’t get to take that big juicy bite of Bangkok that we anticipated. Perhaps one day we can visit Bangkok again when the city isn’t mourning its King. What I’ve learned in Thailand: There are many temples and pagodas , but not everywhere you look. There are modern trains and old trains and they don’t all go to the same place. Bangkok looks like most any modern city with a few exceptions (those would be the temples and pagodas). People in Bangkok are not terribly friendly. In the Philippines people smile at you before you smile at them. In Malaysia people smile at you if you smile at them. In Thailand, and especially Bangkok, you can smile at someone and they may just look at you suspiciously. Wow! We got to visit Bangkok. “One Night in Bangkok” keeps playing in my head! How did I not know that song was about chess?