Today’s forecast: 33° C, sunny ☀️
Mosquito bite tally: 4
Cruising along the khlongs
Today was our first full day in Bangkok as part of the Intrepid tour. We awoke early in the morning for breakfast, and then met our guide for a river cruise. Bangkok is sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, because of its similar network of canals and waterways. The major body of water running through the city is the Chao Phraya River, which flows into the Gulf of Thailand. The river is a bustling hub of activity, serving as a major transportation artery for a network of river buses, cruise ferries, and water taxis (“longtails”). It branches off into a series of man-made canals (khlongs), which have existed since the late 18th century.
We were taken to the river docks by our guide and loaded onto our own longtail boat. We then set off on an hour long cruise around the khlong network, where we were able to see some of the waterside homes, many of which remain inhabited. Some are in pretty rough shape, but as per our guide, the Thai philosophy is very much in line with ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Mr. Chuckles’ contribution to this blog entry:
When I told my dad I was going to school, his response was Wat Pho? 🤓
Following the khlong cruise, we headed off on a tour of Wat Pho. This is a Buddhist temple complex near the Grand Palace, best known for its giant reclining Buddha. It is indeed giant.
There are also four chapels housing 394 gilded Buddha images and golden statues collected from different parts of Thailand.
In a courtyard you can find four great stupas each measuring 42 metres high, honouring the first four Chakri kings.
Our final stop was the ubosot, or ordination hall, where Buddhist rituals are performed.
There’s also a massage school located within the temple complex where you can get an authentic Thai massage. We didn’t get a chance to do this today but I’ll have to take up some opportunities to deal with my crinked back later in this trip!
Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn
Next stop was across the river to Wat Arun. Its name is derived from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as radiations of the rising sun. Its other moniker, Temple of Dawn, comes from the story of this temple being the first point of arrival for King Taksin after he fought his way out of Ayutthaya during the Burmese occupation, just as dawn was breaking.
The ferry shuttle across the river costs a meagre 4 baht (about 10 cents). Admission to the temple is 50 baht for foreigners and free for local residents. You can also rent clothing from a booth outside the entrance if you don’t have appropriate attire; see my temple tips below.
This is a very impressive looking temple which doesn’t look quite like any other. You can climb some steps to go partway up the stupa.
As for my temple tips, here are a few things I learned about appropriate etiquette when visiting these holy sites.
- Dress code: Cover the shoulders. Men’s shorts seem to be acceptable. Sandals are allowed on the grounds but shoes are removed when going inside.
- Etiquette: Never point your feet toward Buddha. Women cannot touch monks. Never touch anyone’s head, as this is the most sacred part of the body.
Aboard the overnight train to Chiang Mai
By the time we finished up at Wat Arun, it was mid-afternoon and we could not tolerate the heat any longer. We ended up back at the hotel to freshen up and now we are on the overnight train that will take us northbound from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
I was a bit wary about this train ride but it’s turning out pretty decently. The carriages are open berth, lined on both sides with bunk beds that the conductor puts down when you’re ready for bed. They supply clean sheets, along with clean blankets and pillow in a plastic bag. There is a meal service on board, as well as free WiFi in the dining carriage. The shared toilets are western style, and so far they are being kept fairly clean. However, you should bring your own toilet paper and note that there are no shower facilities.
Time for a snooze. Next stop, Chiang Mai.