Sunday, July 12, 2009

outings and aboutings in bangok

Petra and I have had a few unexpected free days recently, and made an attempt to see more of this city we’re living in. The first stop in our hometown tourism was the Golden Mount, a tall man-made hill on the edge of the old city topped by an ancient gleaming golden temple and stupa. Our guidebook promised panoramic views and peaceful quiet: the mount didn’t disappoint. While it’s theoretically the monsoon season, we’ve had a spate of some of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen, and the previous rains washed away much of the pollution, so the view from the hill showed off a gleaming, sunny cityscape hardly resembling my experience of Bangkok. Surrounded by a tight ring of trees and lifted as high as the skyscrapers, the comparatively fresh wind and lack of traffic noise was a welcome relief.

One of the most famous sights in Bangkok is Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. Built in the Ayuthaya period (1600s), it’s one of the oldest buildings in the city, and has a noticeably different shape and decorative motif than any intact structure I’ve seen in Thailand. While in most photographs is appears monolithic and pinkish, it’s actually many separate structures, each distinct, and comprised of many bright colors: orange, green, grey, brown, you name it. The entire temple complex is ornately decorated: the older structures are obsessively carved, while the newer buildings are mosaiced to within an inch of their arguable lives. I hadn’t looked forward to visiting the temple, instead considering it an obligatory visit as a Bangkok resident, but found myself thoroughly enjoying the temple itself, the quiet neighbourhood surrounding, and the view across the river to the palace area.

We reached both mount and wat by boat: the mount via the klong (canal) that runs near our apartment, and the wat via the central Chao Phraya river. The waters are high and filthy, thanks to the accumulated runoff of the entire Mekong Peninsula. Even with the displeasures of stench and overactive minds imagining dunkings and virulent infection, it’s still a superior form of travel within the city: it’s fast, there’s no traffic, there are more trees and fewer obnoxious foreigners, and it allows a glimpse into otherwise inaccessible neighbourhoods. And on these trips, there were bonus cool clouds and rainbows. Plus traveling on painted long boats somehow adds romance and adventure to otherwise mundane commuting. :) And who would turn down romance and adventure?

After visiting the wat, Petra and I retired to a very posh but hidden restaurant called The Deck that is right on the bank of the Chao Phraya, directly across from Wat Arun. We sipped tasty cocktails while watching the sun set over the temple, then watched the barges push their way against the current to reach northern Thailand. Ma, I sang the obligatory ‘Barges’ song for you. Couldn’t ask for a nicer evening.

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