There is tenderness to learn in these mountains:
from bushes planted wild
on the Shan hills; harnessed decay
in jars of shrimp, or grassy mustard leaf;
Dearness dressed from mud
as julienned Watercorn or threaded
Inle lotus, graped
into Ayethayar wine, or kilned
in Pa’o villages as water pots
from soil of reddest blood –
Trimmed, trained, or trellised,
but only in the shape of this land’s
untamed kindness, harnessing
the vigour of bamboo shooting skywards
to strum the songs of waterfalls yet to flow,
echoing the healing hush of streams
on this ever wounded earth.
That pain can be taught as wondrous thunder
to little children, metaphored
from the tenor of gunshots
in their war-torn villages,
That their precious breaths
can be wrapped at ease
in the most delicate wild-leaf
– Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar
(En route to Myanmar for the Cardoner Volunteer Program I spent three days in Bangkok with my two fellow volunteers, Darl Undag and Datu Uka, and with Program director Karl Ebol. Here are some thoughts on the Great City of Immortals and Home of Gods Incarnate Erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s Behest).
- It’s pronounced ‘suwarnabum.’ Suvarnabhumi International Airport smells like Macau but looks a bit like Changi in Singapore, with less buying options and more expensive products.
- But it’s still a gorgeous airport.
- My soundtrack for Thailand and Myanmar:
And this pavilion inside Suvarnabhumi Airport is just perfect for it
- Bangkok is a clean, culturally rich and alive version of Manila, minus the gutless scalawags
- Duterte is popular throughout Southeast Asia. Our travel agent Frankie, a Burmese based in Bangkok, loves him.
- The Thai love their king and royal family. That cannot be said enough. Pictures are all over Bangkok.
- Monarchies, come to think of it, are very convenient. The monarch becomes the face of the country.
- To that extent, the Philippines has always been a Monarchy.
- Krung Tep’s angels are the trannies – they really are everywhere!
- When in Bangkok check in the Astera Sathorn. Just a walk away from the Main Pier, the hotel is clean, comfortable, and has a very friendly bell hop.
- But yup, Filipinos are better in English than Thais. The bell hop is very good in it though.
- Just a walk away from Astera Sathorn is Wat Yannawa, a buddhist temple famous for its prayer hall (viharn) in the shape of a Chinese ship. Built to commemorate a Chinese ship that brought a buddhist statue by the river, it is little known to tourists, and is open for free to the public.
- Thai temples are overwhelmingly gilded. The gold and brightly coloured tiles will be dazzling.
- The Buddhists are also very friendly – in Wat Yannawa we were kindly accommodated by the head monk and a visiting monk from Sri Lanka.
- There are celebrity monks in Buddhism. you can buy pictures and posters of them
- There are pangasius fish living wild in the Chao Phraya River!
- Thailand is what an Asian country would look like if it were not conquered by Western powers: its culture untouched, and its soul unbroken. The past feels as alive as the present.
- Which is not to say it is free of influences: Thai culture, from architecture to food, is heavily influenced by Indian and Chinese
- The Chao Phraya river is a model of how a river should be developed for tourism. But don’t judge it as just another sellout: it is a river steeped in history.
- Rides through the Chao Phraya are ridiculously cheap, but the view upstream is lovely
- Go to Rattanakosin early – the canal-moated island and historic center of the city is centered on the Grand Palace complex, and that closes at 3pm.
- But go explore the area though, and wonder around southwards. wat Pho, the Temple of the RECLINING BUDDHA is just beyond the Palace, and it closes at 10.
- The RECLINING BUDDHA is a huge piece of gold, so huge you wouldn’t do justice to writing it down without doing so in all caps.
- Yes, that’s mother of pearl toe prints on the Buddha’s feet
- If you know how to read and understand Thai, Wat Pho is the world’s biggest encyclopedia: all over the complex are ancient tablets with inscriptions on all kinds of sciences, from classical Sanskrit and Thai literature to Traditional Medicine.
- It also has a traditional Thai Massage parlour. No, that isn’t commercialization, Wat Pho is considered the oldest school in Thailand, and still one of the centers of Traditional Thai medicinal studies. Thai Massage may well have been invented here.
- The RECLINING BUDDHA may be the most popular attraction in Wat Pho, but the most important item is on the unassuming little pavilion just beside where the statue is: a two hundred year old seedling of the Jaya Maha Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka (itself a cutting of the Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha attained Nirvana). The temple may well have been built to house the tree: ‘Wat Pho’ means ‘Temple of the Bo’ (another name for the Bodhi Tree).
- Of course I got a leaf to keep
- Of course, Wat Pho was gorgeous
- Hearing Tagalog being spoken abroad has always been unpleasant. But it turns out not if it’s Davao Filipino! I overheard a group of tourists taking pictures by the giant Chedis (ornately decorated stupas) of the temple, and one of them said ‘sandali kay ginaayos ko pa.’ I am so proud to be from Mindanao.
- After a violent allergic attack, I have hopefully added bamboo worms to my bloodline’s continuing evolution against allergies. Bamboo worms taste crustacean-like, and my father became the first David to be immune to crustaceans when he bravely shocked his allergies with a one-week binge.
- The entrance fee into the Grand Palace Complex is expensive but very much worth the money
- Entrance into the complex will begin with Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is a gilded and bejeweled masterpiece of Thai architecture.
- When they call Bangkok the Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, they weren’t kidding
- One of the best things about Thai Architecture – and about Indochinese architecture in general – is the pavilion: an ornately roofed dais of polished stone where people can just sit and relax.
- The Emerald Buddha is a magical thing. It is made of waxy green jade that has a dull luster, but like the golden raiments that adorn it, the myths that shroud it give it a fantastic glow. The fact that you can’t take pictures of it just adds to its mystique.
- The three great spires of Wat Phra Kaew are ridiculously ornate and gaudy mountains: The golden Phra Sri Rattana Chedi housing relics of the Buddha, the Phra Mondop library, and the Prasat Phra Tep Bidon with the statues of the previous kings of the current dynasty (all three were closed when were there though).
- If you’re in Wat Phra Kaew do not be stupid like me and miss the chance to see the miniature model of Angkor Wat by king Mongkut. I had the steal the image below from the internet:
- The naga is a strangely familiar motif: the phaya nak ornaments in the buildings really have striking resemblances to the panolong of the Maranao Torogan
- Wat Phra Kaew just seamlessly transitions into the Grand Palace, but there is a marked change in architecture
- Phra Tinang Boromphiman is the first building you see in the compound. A purely western designed exterior makes it contrast sharply with the previous buildings you have seen so far. This will be Duterte’s official residence if he visits Bangkok, but I doubt he’d accept the offer.
- The Phra Maha Monthein group of buildings, steeped in history and the most important part of the palace, was unfortunately closed to the public.
- One disadvantage of Bangkok’s tourist attractions is that everything is so glorius you don’t know where to take pictures – I didn’t even get a picture of the Phra Maha Monthein buildings!
- The centerpiece of the Palace is the Chakri Maha Prasat, a gorgeous fusion of the distinct gilded Thai architectural motifs and European palatial architecture. This brainchild of the great king Chulalongkorn is overwhelming demonstration of how Thai culture can be better than Western.
- The weapons museum in the Chakri Maha Prasat can be rather dull.
- By far the most beautiful demonstration of pure Thai architecture in the Palace is the Dusit Maha Prasat. Its perfect combination of gold, lapiz, red, and white are gaudy without being overwhelming.
- Vajralongkorn may be the heir to Bhumibol, but Princess Sirindhorn seems to be the genius in the royal family. Because she has a Master’s in Archeology, the king commissioned her to oversee the restoration of Wat Phra Kaew, and not only did she do that, she even restored another old building and made it a museum to display the temple’s discarded parts.
- In the Emerald Buddha museum there is a precious legless seat called the Phra Thaen Manangsila. Belonging to great king Ramkhamhaeng of the Phra Ruang dynasty, who ruled when the center of Siam was still in Sukhothai. Ramkhamhaeng is credite dwith inventing the Thai writing system, and Some kings have since used this chair for coronations, hoping to gain his wisdom. It is ridiculously full of history.
- Thai food is intense, a bombardment of very spicy, lime-sour, and aromatic pungent. One gets full not because of the heaviness of the food but because the overwhelming plethora of flavours.
- There are more simple tastes: breaded and deep fried enoki mushrooms wrapped in wheat or tofu wrapper is such a simple but gratifying bit of streetfood you don’t know why Filipinos haven’t thought of it.
- Thai milk tea is served cold, and like all good teas the really good and strong ones are the ones sold on the street
- In this part of the world they use loads and loads of coriander, even in some sweets.
- Duck noodle soup, bought from a random street vendor, is both strange and familiar, a perfect way to end a tiring day walking.
- This gilded City of Angels is full of some of the friendliest and kindest people on earth, a people whose warmth hints a culture deeply rooted in the ancient tradition of refined welcoming. In two days, I have seen in it Asia at its unspoiled best.
For more pictures see my Bangkok Album on Facebook