CHAPTER 4: THE GOLDEN SUN
I woke up on Saturday morning surprisingly hangover-free. I guess my liver had finally manned-up and learnt to process alcohol quickly. (or maybe I just didn’t drink that much, the night before)
Anyway, I had to be dressed quickly today; we were headed for the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace or Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang as it is called in Thai is a sprawling assortment of buildings surrounded by a beautiful garden. Apparently, it has been the official residence of the Kings of Thailand since the 18th century and was built in 1782, by King Rama I, when he moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The Palace has been expanded over the years and new structures continuously added. The present King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose picture can be seen on more or less every street in Bangkok doesn’t live there though. He resides at another palace.
Full details for those interested are here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace
<End of History Lesson>
Once I had I breakfast, I met up with the rest of the crew, hopped into our cabs and headed out. The sun was blazing overhead with the vengeance of hundred angry volcanoes, though it made things uncomfortable, it also made everthing look more beautiful. When we arrived, we were informed by a friendly looking con artist outside the gates that the palace was closed till 1pm for the day and we would have to wait till then. He then proceeded to tell us about a snake farm and some other sights we could go see while we waited and of course offered to help arrange all this for the meager sum of 2000 Baht per person. As per sharp guys and things, one of us (he was French) decided to actually walk into the palace to check. He came back and told us that the guy was trying to scam us and that the palace was actually open. It was a pity though, this con artist, like all Thai people was actually very friendly and some of us (me) didn’t want to believe he had lied to us, but the evidence was clear. Confused and disappointed slightly, we left him and headed into the palace.
Shorts, miniskirts, armless shirts and other clothes that expose flesh were not permitted in the palace (Since, well… I guess they didn’t want people distracting all the serious, contemplative statues of Buddha from their introspection)
Once we entered the grand palace, we were struck by a constant barrage of gold and light and color. Everything was so ancient, so beautiful, it was almost overwhelming. From the statues of ancient Thai gods and demons, to the gold-tipped spires and rooftops with images of dragons sculpted on them, it was all very….impressive. I doubt I have the words to adequately convey the beauties which my eyes witnessed in the grand palace, I will simply show you.
Once we were done being amazed with all the sights we had beheld in the palace, we headed out to the biggest market in Bangkok – Jatujak market. I have never in my life been to such a huge market before. Simply put, that market was insanely gigantic. So gigantic that we needed a map to navigate around and our party of 15 got lost several times. After trying desperately to decide what to buy and what direction to go in order to please everyone, we eventually split into groups.
One group stayed on to further explore the market while my group (mostly Nigerians) headed out for the Chao Praya River. We had heard we could get boats going toward the “snake island” and the “floating temple” from the pier so we decided to go there. Now, two of our friends decided (against my advice) to take the “tuk tuk” while the rest of us went in a cab. This little bit of foolhardiness eventually led to comedy of errors as the following ensued:
1. Our taxi arrived at the pier first and we found out that not only was the boat to the snake island closed for the day, the pier we had come to was a private pier and would be much more expensive than public piers which, by the way did not have boats to go to the snake farm anyway. So, we would have to come back the next day.
2. My friends in the tuk tuk went to another pier and did not know how to tell the Driver where the rest of us were to come meet up because well…his English was about as good as my Hausa (embarrassingly terrible)
3. We left the private pier and went to the nearest public pier with the intention of just taking a boat to Chinatown. We asked the other group to meet there.
4. They told the driver where we were: ‘Chao Praya’ boat pier. Unfortunately, the entire river is named Chao Praya and so he took them to yet another wrong pier.
(At this point, I’m sure you can see how all this was going and imagine the rest)
To cut a long and irritating story short, we wasted 2 hours trying to reconstitute our group. By the time they arrived it was 6pm and the sun was about to set. Somehow it seemed fortunate that we had wasted all that time because Bangkok by boat at sunset is a most glorious sight to behold.
Whilst waiting to get onto the boat we ran into the most interesting fellow: Jacob. Jacob is a German Jew (yes, you read that correctly) that had come to Bangkok to interview for a job as an English and German teacher for an upper class school in Thailand. He had also been a teacher in Kenya, Brazil and many other exotic locations and he was just 26. Fun, friendly and very trusting, Jacob immediately took a liking to us and joined our group. We planned to take the boat ride together and have dinner at Chinatown. I sat next to him throughout the boat ride asking ridiculous questions like “how does it feel to be a German Jew?”, commenting on the beauty of the Temples at sunset and the make-up of the Thai architecture as compared to other exotic cities. It was a delightful conversation, so much so that we decided to stay on the boat all the way to the end of its rout and then come back before alighting at Chinatown. That was a mistake.
The boat ride was much longer than we expected and after one and a half hours riding without reaching the end, we were tired and had run out of conversation. We were also getting anxious because it was night now and we were far away from mainland Bangkok. We asked and were told that we had to get off at the next stop and return or else risk being taken very far away ( I for one was sure that boat was headed for Vietnam or Laos or some other not so awesome place). Once we got to the next stop, we jumped off the boat like it was a molue on fire. It took a while for us to realize that Jacob was not with us. I guess he got carried away with the boat ride or maybe he just wasn’t quick enough. If he were a lady, I’d remember him as the potential P that was never set, you know the nice movie-type chance encounters that just start and end suddenly… anyway #NoHomo.
This was also the night I had to rush off to the tailors and get my suit fitted. We did that quickly and returned to the hotel exhausted. We immediately finalized plans for the next day as it would be our last full day in Bangkok and we had to make it count. My group of friends was a bit skeptical about the plan but my mind was made up, nothing would stop me from heading to the infamous Snake Island.
To be continued…
Coming next… CHAPTER 5: SNAKE OF BUDDHA