After a grueling 400-mile mountainous, hot, and humid bike ride in Sulawesi, Indonesia, I chose to stay in Bangkok for 8 days of relaxation and recuperation. With very effective air-conditioning in the 35th floor AirBNB studio, I finally cooled down enough to get a full night of sleep. Sauntering out and about in the city returned me to the steaming, sweltering heat of Southeast Asia at a whopping 104F. Every time I write Sally and report the weather, she reports intense personal happiness that: 1) I am having fun; and 2) that she has avoided a return trip to Thailand’s intense heat and humidity. Once was enough, it seems.
Tuk tuks are the taxis here but were too slow and hot when stalled in ridiculous, thousand-vehicle traffic jams. Luckily, Uber had introduced a new pilot program, “UberMoto”, a speedy motorbike requiring helmets for both driver and a rider. I booked/paid rides using my iPhone’s Uber app. It was a blast! – guaranteed breezes and fast, convenient and accessible transportation throughout the city. Best of all, it was a huge bargain by North American Uber standards.
Shopping malls are more than just malls – they are social hubs, due to the icy air-conditioning. The malls have their own specialties as there are many within the downtown shopping area. They offer cheap knockoffs from cameras/phones, shirts, and DVDs to malls for upscale shopping (including Ferrari & Rolls Royce vehicles) to amazing delicious food courts, and 4D movies (rain, wind, strobe lights, and vibration included). I replaced my iPhone’s faulty camera with a tiny waterproof Canon “point-and-shoot”, perfect for my scuba trip (shooting in 25m/82ft depths) and shockproof, just right for my rough travel handling…at a bargain of course!
Thailand is perhaps the only country in the world where the King is constitutionally required to be a Buddhist and upholder of the Faith. Buddhism in daily life is observed by the saffron robed, shaved headed monks in the streets and businesses like Starbucks, and in shrines set up on small traffic islands surrounded by gnarled traffic jams. Maybe it reminds people that road rage would be silly as…the traffic, it too will change….
The monks enjoy historical discussions (and disputes) about the definition of Buddhism and when it reached Thailand. THAILAND IS UNIQUE. It’s the most Buddhist nation on Earth, with around 95% of the population identifying as practicing Theravada Buddhists, following the teaching of the Pāli Canon, a collection of the oldest recorded Buddhist texts. Some monks teach that Buddhism was introduced to Thailand during the reign of Asoka, the great Indian emperor who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from 268 to 232 BCE and sent Buddhist missionaries to various parts of the then known world including today’s Thailand.
There are an estimated 40,000 Wats (Temples) in Thailand; many characterized by tall golden stupas, official religious sites and otherwise. At sunrises, cooler and with almost no tourists afoot, I visited a number of fabulous temples. At that time of day the mendicant monks accept offerings of food and alms in their bowls. It is the only way the mendicant monks eat and survive. It was where I had educational and engaging conversations with those willing to chat, usually led by the oldest monks at the front.
Here are two of my many favorite Wats:
“Wat Saket, the Golden Mount of Lord Buddha”, is one of the city’s most visible landmarks, rising about 250 ft above the only manmade hill; it is crowned with a huge gleaming gold Chedi, a Buddhist stupa. I was drawn up the 300 steps encircling the temple complex, by the sound of murmured prayers, scents of incenses and candles, and the musical ringing by hundreds of bells/gongs by worshippers along the way. Inside the complex, sits a huge golden Chedi, circled with large demon guardians. Followers walked round and round the Chedi, ringing smaller bells and giving their offerings. It was a moving glimpse of culture and spirituality both inside with the worshippers, and outside overlooking a 360-degree panorama of monasteries and pagodas, old canals, and the downtown skyline. Mind you, this site was once the highest point back in the 19th century.
Beyond the main room is a cloister containing over 50 bronze Buddha images representing every mudras (spiritual gestures) and style, representing various Buddhist countries and regions. Behind the cloister is a large Bodhi tree, brought from Bodhgaya, where the Buddha found Enlightenment. No wonder, this temple is revered by the King, monks and citizens. It is stunning.
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