April 9 and 10, 2017
During our day at sea before reaching Bangkok, we had a “battle of the chefs” with our executive chef and our general manager who used to be a chef in Belgium. It was fun, and Yves, the GM, invited one of our friends, Beverly, up to do some of the cooking!
We also had dinner in Polo with friends Anne and Tom and Norman and Rhoda.
Again, in this port of Bangkok we are lucky to be on a small ship. We get to pass under the bridges on the river into the city. Large cruise ships have to dock 80 miles away from the city and it takes 2 1/2 hours to get into Bangkok from there. We took on our pilot at aboout 9 AM and didn’t arrive at the dock until almost noon, that’s how long the trip on the river took. Once we got near, the bridges were a beautiful sight to see. This is a city that was initially built on the water. Only the temples and royal palaces were built on dry land (mostly right on the river banks) and ordinary residences floated on thick bamboo rafts on the river and canals, even shops and warehouses were moored to the river bank.
It was very hot here and we had a 5 PM excursion to the “ladyboy” show planned, so we initially went out in search of wifi, but didn’t find any so we came back in to the ship and chilled out until it was time to leave for the show. Here, you have to take a small van to the outside of the pier (and it is a long way), then get the shuttle or a taxi to town. When we looked at the map, we saw that the shuttle dropped people off at a shopping center far from the main part of town so unless you were interested in the shopping center you had to take a cab anyway.
A fellow passenger, Suki, arranged the transportation and tickets to the show, so we met and our group of 17 had two small vans that transported us. The theater is in the Riverfront Warehouse #3, a plaza with many shops and restaurants, so we had plenty of time to shop and have a bite to eat. We went to a hot pot restaurant and here is Norm with the now empty hot pot! You get to choose your meal, put it in the pot which is on a burner right in the table, and it cooks for you right there. Delicious.
The show was at the Calypso Bangkok Theater. It was really well done, and you could hardly believe that the performers were men. In fact, Norm STIILL doesn’t believe it. We saw Beyonce, Lady Gaga and many other acts – the number of performers (70) and costume changes was astounding. Here are a few pictures from after the show. The ones in the theater didn’t come out too well.
Thailand’s Ladyboys or katoeys are some of the most beautiful – and convincing – transvestites in the world, mostly accepted and embraced by a highly tolerant Thai society. Some families even believe that katoeys bring good luck to them, an enlightened attitude that was boosted by several Thai movies in the past two decades dedicated to katoey themes.
On our second day in Bangkok (and we have been here twice before), we chose to do the excursion called Canals and Royal Barges. Our tour guide was named Pan. We had already heard and learned a lot about Thailand and Buddhism on previous trips and from John Freedman, our lecturer. We knew that the King, Rama IX, died in October and that the country is in mourning for one year. There are pictures of the King and his son, the new King Rama X, everywhere, and there are drapes of black and white fabric on many of the buildings. They ask that people wear black and white clothing or at least neutral clothing during this period. His body is in a special building in the Grand Palace and about 40,000 people/day visit to pay respects. People wait up to 6 hours. And his picture is everywhere, even projected on the sides of buildings.
Like in Brunei, no one speaks publicly about the Royal family. Here, if you are caught, you receive a 20 year jail sentence. In fact, the movie “The King and I” – about Rama IV – is banned here. King Rama IX was on the throne for 70 years, the longest monarchy in the world.
The population of Bangkok is 11 million and half the population is under 30. There are slums near the cruise port and the government is trying to move the people into housing that costs them $30 US/month. There are many new high rises and lots of building going on. Medical care costs $1, no matter what you have done, in or out of the hospital. They do pay a 22% tax rate.
Our tour took us to board our riverboat on the Chao Phya River. We traveled first to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, one of the most well-known and popular attractions in Bangkok. This temple is made of many mosaics and there are lots of Buddhas of course. Pan told us that men here must study as monks for a period in their lives – for him it was 3 months which is typical.
The Thai people are known as smiling and very tolerant people. They do have some cultural ways – for example, it is considered very disrespectful to touch someone’s head or to point with your feet. This limits the job opportunities for non Thai barbers and hairdressers!
We visited the Royal Barge museum, where we were not allowed to take pictures inside. I did get this one from just outside. The King’s barge, used solely by the King, is made of one solid teak tree in a swan shape and is covered in solid gold leaf. It takes 36 rowers and 6 guides to operate it. In all, there are 52 royal barges – longboats – in the city and they are used on the river in times of celebration. The new year celebration is this Thursday, April 13, and the Thai people have a 5 day weekend! I guess it is good we will miss that. This is the year 2560 here, they start by the date that the Buddha died.
We traveled by boat in the many canals or klongs, which is why Bangkok is often called the “Venice of the East”. Monitor lizards and many catfish inhabit the rivers and canals and we spotted a couple of lizards and fed bread to the catfish. There are many temples, homes and other sights along the river. The floating markets in Bangkok have moved to land. There is still a big one 60 miles north. You only see a few vendors like the one in this picture.
The tuk tuk is a popular way of traveling here, Pan called it the three wheeled taxi. There are also official motorbike taxis. And, there are 1310 7-11’s here in Bangkok alone – we saw them every few blocks.
Our last stop was the Gem Gallery. No pictures were allowed in here either. They had thousands of rings and other jewelry as well as purses made from sting ray skin which were really beautiful. I resisted the buying, though.
Tomorrow we visit Ko Samui, another port in Thailand where we have a small tour – 8 of us – scheduled.