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Thailand : Bangkok - Spirituality Backdrops Modernity

We took off from Phuket right on time for Bangkok, on Thai Airways flight. The flight was another example of hospitable Thai courtesy which offered us refreshments on board a one hour flight. The attendants approached us if we needed second servings of the sandwich as they had some extra Asian Vegetarian ones which we had ordered as part of a special meal. They took two rounds of serving drinks, all in the short span of time that they had to offer meals and performing other safety procedures. We landed on time at about 2:00 PM on the domestic terminal of the Suvarnabhumi Airport of Bangkok. After collecting our luggage we moved towards the exit to meet the MakeMyTrip representative. The meeting point is located at the international terminal of the airport.

While we met the representative, we got a chance to experience a traditional Thai dance performance at the arrival area of the airport. There was a troupe consisting of 5 performers and supporting crew of drummers who had assembled there to welcome some dignitary. We were unconcerned about who was coming in but focused our attention on the performance. The half an hour presentation showcased the subtle artwork of hand and feet movement no the local rhymes which kept us engaged throughout. Once the performance ended, we moved to our car and began our journey towards the hotel. In about an hour, we were entering the fourth-floor reception of The Golden Tulip – Madison Suites.
Sky Train Coming Out of Concrete Jungle
It was a nice facility located in Sukhumvit area, midst of all the activity of the city. This is a happening place of this metropolis and the hotel was right beside Bangkok’s iconic Sky Train – next to Asok station - which could take you across the city in minutes. The location is close to many shopping malls, nightlife, and restaurants. The reception was on the fourth floor of the building and had a tempting pool across at the same level. There was a full-service restaurant on one corner by the pool. Contrary to the hotel in Phuket, this was a full-service four-star facility and we entered our Suite to be pleasantly surprised. The hotel had made meticulous attempts to ensure the special occasion we were celebrating had a mark in each part of the room. We unpacked our stuff and settled in the room. Meanwhile, I contacted the concierge and finalized plans for the next two days. I booked a dinner cruise on the same night and a trip to the suburbs of the city the next day.

After freshening up and slipping into our party dress, we left the hotel at about 5 PM and took the cab to River City Mall located by the Chao Phraya River. After checking into the cruise and blocking our seats, we spent time exploring the shopping mall. It was pretty big set up but still under renovation. There were quite a few Thai specialty outlets, including those of clothes, food, and souvenirs. Nyara, one outlet of souvenirs, was particularly interesting for the handicraft wallets – both for ladies and men. After spending time there we reached the boarding pier right on time to see herds of people waiting to get on the boat. The boat – Chao Phraya Princess IV - docked at about 8 PM and we took our seats on the upper deck. The set up mimicked any upmarket buffet restaurant over two stories. The upper deck was an open-air facility while lower deck had an air-conditioned buffet on offer. Both the setups had live DJ music playing popular numbers on the PA system. As people settled in the seats, we were served welcome drinks which were a pungent fruit mix which we took a pass on. As the boat sailed past the pier and began the journey the dinner service started. The food was good and had plenty of options on the menu to meet everyone’s taste. As the vessel crisscrossed the city on the waterway, the trip took us through all the iconic monuments of the city – Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, other temples, State Tower and malls. We could see multiple small piers in front of many buildings on the riverfront which were stoppages for regular water taxis that plied on the river. After a couple of hours on the boat, we finally anchored back on the pier and disembarked. We took the cab back to the hotel and called it a day.
Views Across River Chao Phraya
Next day we had a really early start and were at the restaurant right at 6 for the breakfast. By the time we finished with the breakfast, the pick was ready to take up for the day-long trip. After about a couple of hours of a drive, we stopped at our first location, the floating market. This was a unique market - the shops and shoppers, both are onboard water vessels. The maze of narrow water canals spread far and wide and each channel abounded in small boats loaded with stuff – souvenirs, clothes, wallets, hats, food items and other memorabilia – ready to woo the shoppers. Shoppers, mostly tourists, were themselves on small boats carefully maneuvered by the skilled boatman. The boatman was ready to stop at as many shops as you want and would not hurry a bit to end the trip as they had their commissions set for each sale they facilitated. We picked up a couple of items and ended the trip in the interest of time. The experience was special and novel for both of us and worth the trip.

The Floating Market - Shops on Boats
Next spot on the trip was the River Kwai’s bridge in Kanchanaburi - right near to the Myanmar border - which is a live monument of World War II. During WW II, Japan constructed the meter-gauge railway line from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat, Burma. The line passing through the scenic Three Pagodas Pass runs for 250 miles. This is now known as the Death Railway. The railway line was meant to transport cargo daily to India, to back up their planned attack on India. The construction was done using POWs and Asian slave laborers in unfavorable conditions. It was an iconic project in the sense that a wooden bridge across the river was set up within 7 days. While the wooden bridge was subsequently replaced by a permanent metaled bridge which took about a month – again a challenge by any standards. There was a World War Museum near the bridge which contained items from the item – weapons, war-dresses, documents, and other curios. We spent an hour and a half at the point and then proceeded to our next point of interest. The Tiger Temple was a forest monastery and we spent some good moments amidst tigers and monks for about an hour and then left for the hotel. We reached the hotel after a long three-hour drive and took our time to relax. 

Later in the evening, we proceeded to experience the city on our own. Guided by Google Maps, we strolled to the Benjakitti Park. It was a great evening place where locals and tourist enjoyed the lake equally. There are separate walking and cycling tracks for those venturing into this park for their evening exercise. We sat across for about half an hour and absorbed the evening charm of the city and its people. The freshness of the surrounding and views was simply great. We had an awesome view of the Bangkok Skyline across the lake and enjoyed every bit of it. From there, we took a walk up to the famed shopping mall in the area – Terminal 21. This mall has an interesting theme running through it – each of the 9 floors is designed based on one of the famous cities from across the world. You travel from San Francisco to Paris to Rome to the Caribbean just by riding an escalator. The mall boasts of almost all international and national brands along with plentiful eating and entertainment options. We spent time until late at night and then took the ride on the famous tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

Next was the last day of our Thailand trip, and the usual melancholy of ending a great trip gradually set in. We packed our bags and had a heavy breakfast to take us through the day. We checked out of the hotel and went ahead with our plans to explore the city – our own style. We took a cab to the Grand Palace, the symbolic center of royal power in Thailand. Built-in 1782 - and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government - the Grand Palace of Bangkok is a grand old dame indeed, that continues to have visitors in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. One needs to be conscious of the fact that visiting monasteries, temples, and palaces in Thailand come with certain restrictions. You are not allowed to wear revealing clothes and cannot put on certain colors – yellow, brown etc. which are considered to be colors reserved for monks. Monks and priests have a special place in Thai society and there are special provisions for them at every public place – reserved seating in public transport, special lounges and security pass through at airports, respect among locals, and other privileges. From the palace, we walked to Wat Pho, an artfully decorated Buddha temple. The solace is to be found only in the atrium of such temples and the place is ideal for moments of peace, away from worldly worries, in the lap of spirituality. It's one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 meters long and is covered in gold leaf. The temple compound is also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage, a mandate legislated by Rama III when the tradition was in danger of extinction.
Army Procession out of the Grand Palace
Grand Palace - An Insider View
We took a cab from this point to the Sleeping Buddha, also known as the Golden Buddha. A climb of over 1000 steps, small and well maintained, is definitely worth the views on offer from the top. From the temple room, you have a panoramic view of the city across the Bangkok skyline. All these views, when you right in the devotion of the god, really provide a divine experience. We spent a good half hour in the temple and then descended back for a second trip to Terminal 21. The purpose, this time, was to catch a good lunch at one of the thousands of food outlet in this mega-mall. After lunch, we took a short ride on the Sky Train to experience the famed public transport system. The ride was very similar to what we have on Delhi Metro and things like these are enough to realize the progress that India has made in many terms. Post this we returned to the hotel to pick our luggage and took the transfer to the Airport. After check-in and immigration, which was quick and smooth, we explored the airport which is comparatively huge in its expanse. The area, especially the shopping halls, are bigger than many airports I have seen – including Delhi’s T3, Chicago’s O’hare and Abu Dhabi’s International Airport. We took our flight to Delhi and landed at about 9 PM on May 16th to mark the end of our Anniversary trip. It is back to the daily routine of life but the memories we picked during this special trip would remain with us for long and we would reminisce the time spent together for life.

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