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Ko Ratanakosin

December 21, 2008

I was being ambitious and lazy. If you’d like to know me, that may be the best two adjectives to describe me.

Forcing myself to wake up at 7 AM, I only managed to drag myself out of the bed at 7:30 AM to arrive at around 8 AM at the nearby sky train station to head into Lumpini Park–sort of the Central Park of Krungthep. I though it would take me more tahn two hours to go around the park, just to check around to see what’s there and where. After 45 minutes, I knew my bearings and decided to check around for more. It’s kinda nice to actually be in the greens without having to actually climb a mountain like what I just did three weeks ago somewhere in Myanmar.

After an hour or so hanging around in the park, not really exercising like the rest of the park’s visitors, I left, went across the street and while trying to locate an escalator up to the sky train station (sorry, it was Sunday morning and my feet still refused to work), I recognized the street across where I was standing. Thanon Patpong, I presume! The morning lights washed its innocent alleys. I planned to go take the “Klong Taxi” to Wat Saket then off to Ratanakosin, but that would involve a lot of walk, waiting and haggling with Tuk-tuk. I opted for the sky train and the River Boat. The total damage shouldn’t be that much of a difference.

Below Saphan Taksin, I was aiming at the express boat, but the ticket ladies prompted me to pay and hop aboard the good-looking tourist boat which is less faster but noisider. Heck, the thing came with a guide in English and you know lah.. Instead of getting off at Tha Chan, we got off at Tha Maharat. I was a bit confused since I ended up in a different stop than what my guidebook says. I followed the crowd, ended up on a street packed with people selling amulets! All those good luck charms and whatsnots. I wonder whether they have something that will make you bullet proof or knife proof. Or rather, in modern age, “tear gas proof”.

The crowd emptied into a large T-juntion, where later, I noticed as an entrance to Ta Chan’s pier. The sun was blazing. I again followed the pack and disregard my guide book. I’m actually a quite good map-reader, but I’m also a pack-follower 😛 My eyes, with the love for any cool-looking architecture, bumped into a row of western-style building similar to those in Europe. In the end, right in front of the entrance to the palace complex is a cute coffee shop. I decided not to indulge myself and stick to my plan to become a tourist for the day.

As I entered the palace complex, I was thinking whether I would really have to pay to see a king’s palace? I don’t have a king back home. The only king is somewhere in some island and entering his palace costs a dime. To the right was a handsome European-style building and to the left was a huge well-kept lawn with conical trees and some pagoda-looking building. Am I in the complex already? Nay, until you see the ticket counter!

Sadly, I have to pay. Quite hefty for my local pocket. The price can feed me for two days and it includes a seven-day valid ticket to another touristy place. Yay for now! The authority gave me a brochure. I guess the royal publication must be cranking as I saw boxes for fresh brochures at the entrance gate.

Trying to get my bearing, my sight seems to stuck at something that sounds so stud-like: Prasat Phra Dhep Bidorn (The Royal Pantheon). Since my personal dictionary is taking a break on Sunday, I’ve got no idea what is a “pantheon”. A crowd of people took off their footwear to enter a building in front of the pantheon. Having been “payaed out” in Myanmar, I smell “Buddha” and “Pagoda”.

The shoeless crowd would like to see the “Emerald Buddha”. I was wondering, how would the Buddha actually look like. Mind you, I hardly do a prep-reading before going into a touristy places. I’d like to know and learn on the spot and not wanting to hate surprises and handle disappointments when the actual thing turned out a lot different than the references. At the temple’s lobby, a lot of people are cleansing themselves before praying in front of the Buddha. You pray, pick a lotus bloom, splash water with the bloom on your head and you’re ready to talk to the Budhha inside. If you don’t like to wet your head, fine, just go ahead.

Inside, don’t let your sight blinded by gilded thrones and whatsnots in front of you. Don’t take any snapshots and the culture forbid you from pointing your feet towards the Buddha. Means: Don’t stand and stare, sit down, fold your feet inward and read your guide book or brochure so that you get to know the objet d’art in front of you: the so-called “Emerald Buddha”.. It’s 75cm high, not made of emerald, but jasper quartz or nephrite jade and it only became famous after it’s “coming out” six centuries ago. What you need to observe is the murals that blankets the inside wall of the temple.

I finally stepped out and trying to actually locate the palace building. Though the pantheon still amazed me more than the temple. I thought that I’d see the King, knowing that the palace complex was loosely guarded. Time to check the book! Ouch! He’s not there. The actual royal family residence is a place called “Chitlada”. The palace complex only serves as a reception arena for state guests. No wonder it’s so open..

I went around the area, trying to find a building with another royal-stud name of “Chakri Maha Prasat”. I bumped into a guard in white uniform and a hat similar to Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”, a closed iron gate and a French-mansion looking castle. Now, is that THE palace? Wrong! That’s a mansion, where head of states would stay for a night or two. Whoa.. lucky them. The Chakri building is actually on the right side of the mansion. That’s THE palace.

To my surprise, it looks a lot like some King’s summer palace anywhere in Europe! If you’ve spent a week or two touring Germany and France, you’d know what I mean.

The Chakri building is actually a grand palace hall, built by British architects! As quoted from the guide book, “the exterior shows a peculiar blend of Italian renaissance and traditional Thai architecture..” The latter must be those “mondop”, a heavily ornamented spire representing a Thai adaptation of the Hindu shrine.

I stared at the building, had a long look at the guard’s gun and shiny boots, enough to note that the magasin is actually removed. Long enough to notice how Europe everything is. The lawn. The windows. The structure. It was King Chulalongkorn V who completed the Chakri in 1882. Having checked the short history written in the guide book, to my assumption, the whole design and architecture may have something to do with King Mongkut (Rama IV) innovations and reforms. He had begun diplomatic relations with a few European nations when he took the throne in 1851. The reform was carried over by his son, Rama V. IMHO, the reform must be the main reason behind the European-looking complex, which made you feel you’re in the middle of summer somwhere in Versailles. Though the big bonsais in the front lawn of the Chakri Hall will remind you that you’re in Asia 😉

I wish everything would look like the Pantheon and the Dusit Hall, the Ratanakosin-style building with high pillars, gilded tall doors and mondops.

When you’re done ogling the Europe house, you may want to join the rest of the European crowd for a scoop of US$ 1.5 Haagen Dasz. A brief look at the Wat Phra Kaeo museum will open your eyes how do they actually do the restoration work of those old buildings. After a puff or two, I found myself cooling down the sweat at the plush souvenir’s shop. You may want to shop somewhere else, but believe me, trust the taste of the royal family when it comes to souvenirs. The goods sold in the shop are produced by the Queen’s project and they’re darn adornable, if not expensive. A US$ 30 for a piece of silk garment with dark hues colors of chocolate, a spritz of cornflower and yellow ochre caught my attention, but not my wallet <g>

I went around the palace wall and stumbled into something called “The Drum Tower”, a place to signal danger to the palace and turned right to the quirky Wat Pho. The guide book said something about “nook and crannies”, which I don’t get until I threw myself in and found those towers and the so-called “9 Wonders of Wat Pho”. Ha! Not to mention the gilded 46 meters long reclining Buddha! I think I’m well reclined by Buddhas in Bago and Yangon, Myanmar. The hanger in Myanmar were larger and more visitors-friendly. The one in Yangon had pretty eye lashes and new par of eyes donated by a local glass-made company. The one in Bago was simply huge and a good shopping place too.. In all honesty, I prefer the Myanmar one, because there was an air of simplicity and less tourists. So, people actually go there to pray and not to test their cameras, like me.. *sigh*

Watted out and spent, I hopped on a tuk-tuk to take me around Khao San Rd. to find May Kaidee, a well-known vegetarian restaurant in Banglampoo area. You should give it a try 😉 It’s technically behind Burger King of Khao San.

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