Aug 25, 2010

Visiting Bangkok and Cha'am, Thailand

John and I have been to Bangkok a dozen times and each time there is something new to experience. One of our all-time favorite hotels is the Peninsula. It is located right on the river and from our room and from the pool we can watch the mesmerizing Chao Phraya River. The Peninsula hotels have a program called The Academy whereby tourists can experience the local culture. We have taken their cooking class in Bangkok and in Hong Kong. This time we decided on a cultural klong trip.

The long-tail boat picked us up at the Peninsula dock. Long-tail boats have a huge engine with a long shaft to the propeller hence the name but it is the James Bond movie that really added to the mystic of zipping around in a long-tail. Our first stop was Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. Most guidebooks say it is called the Temple of Dawn because it faces east; but, Chakie, our guide, said it is because King Rama II landed there at dawn. One of the fascination aspects of the temple is that the mosaics and designs are made out of dishes that broke while being transported from China to Thailand. Also, the Chinese statues that are on either side of the steps were actually used as ballast in ships coming from China. Great recycling. The temple is beautiful and so are the views from the top.

We entered the nearby klong and discovered a fascinating world. Many people live along the klong. Elegant houses are next to very basic homes. Mosques are near churches which are near temples. It seems to be very harmonious. Everything people living along the klong need is delivered by boat. We saw boats vending noodles, coffee, meat, and even the mail. Fascinating.

Our last stop on the two-hour tour was at the Royal Barge Museum. Several years ago when we were in Bangkok we saw the royal rowers practicing on the river for an upcoming ceremony. The water parade must be incredibly beautiful based on the royal barges in the museum. The museum has eight of the country's most unique and stunning Royal Barges. They are reserved for auspicious ceremonies and state occasions. Chakie said he has only seen two such ceremonies. Each barge is made from huge pieces of teak with prows carved into mythical creatures, gilded in gold and intricately decorated with pieces of glass. Up to 50 specially trained oarsmen are needed for each barge.

From Bangkok we traveled south to the Holiday Inn Resort in Cha’am where we spent a week walking the beach and lazing by the pool. On the last day we started feeling a bit guilty about our life of leisure so for $15 the hotel car transported us to the nearby Royal Summer Residence.

The beautiful expansive Summer Residence was built in 1923 by King Rama VI who had been advised by his doctors to spend time in a cool place. Built on stilts, refreshing air reaches every room of the robin’s egg blue and yellow teak residence. A series of open halls connects the various rooms. A long covered walkway leads to the king’s beach where, at 5 in the morning surrounded by 40 servants to make sure nothing happened to him, he took his morning swim. A similar walkway led to a swimming area for his wife.