Don Khone

How wonderful it was to wake up and amble out onto the balcony of Pan’s Guesthouse.

I took a look around “town”.

It was a lovely day today not in the sense of beautiful sunny weather but in the sense of cool weather that made it easy and comfortable to pedal around the island. I headed out of the little village, pedalling slowly and enjoying the panorama. It was a rough road and on either side were banana trees, bamboo trees, frangipani trees, chickens, water buffalo, rice paddies, and all manner of thick tropical vegetation. It was gorgeous and tranquil: laid back Laos at its best.

I first went to see the Li Phi waterfalls around which was a park and viewing station. I found it comical that they were in the process of constructing a rotunda which evidently was going to house cafes and maybe a souvenir shop but to access the waterfall viewing station there was only a narrow plank slapped down across a ditch.

The Mekong was browner that I expected but, as it was the end of rainy season, the swollen river gushed frantically over the rocks.

A path followed the river downstream for a bit.

I got back on the trail and biked down to the beach which was actually sandy and right along the Mekong River. Then it started to rain. So I hung out in a cafe which was on stilts along the beach.

Pretty soon a couple came along and we fell into conversation over a pretty good lunch of fried noodles. He turned out to be an American aid worker with his Cambodian wife, living in Phnom Penh and over here on a break.

They had a lot to say about the political scene in Cambodia all of which was bleak. The extravagantly corrupt Hun Sen and his cronies pillaged the country and have recently consolidated their power by banning the opposition party. It was a bold step and one that probably would not have happened under the Obama administration, according to my companions. Knowing that our current government can barely deal with North Korea and chew gum at the same time, Hun Sen seized the moment and turned Cambodia  into an openly authoritarian state. “I have no hope now whatsoever”, David (not his real name) said.

I remarked on the extraordinary thinness of the Cambodians. They have a peculiar attitude towards food, his wife pointed out. It’s just not important to them. Many will go hungry in order to save money to buy a house. Their children are poorly nourished, not necessarily because they parents can’t afford to feed them but because they don’t see the importance of feeding them well. They know little about nutrition and care less. Hence, growth is stunted. Cambodians are short and extremely thin.

After a while I got back on my bike and pedalled down to the extreme southern part of the island. Somehow I wound up getting off the track and onto a narrow, rocky little path through the jungle, ducking under banana trees and bouncing over pits.

By late afternoon I reached the southern part of the island which the French had turned into a giant engineering scheme.

Intending to bypass the Li Phi waterfalls, they devised a plan to disassemble steamboats at this particular harbor and transport them by train across the island where they would be reassembled and put back into service on the Mekong River. It sounds wacky but transporting goods through Indochina was central to their colonial project.

By late afternoon I headed back . The bicycle was starting to become quite uncomfortable and I was glad to reach town. I had cocktails and dinner with an extremely interesting Danish woman who is staying next door to me. It started to rain in earnest at night but I couldn’t complain. It had been a very relaxing day.


From Siem Reap to Don Khone

The tuk tuk driver showed up promptly at 7:30 a.m. We went to the head office of Asia Van Transfer where a Spanish hippie explained  exactly how it was going to work getting across the border to Laos. He had a binder with photos of the border crossing, the minivans, the rest stop and explained the process in excruciating detail. So much the better.

I piled into a minivan with about 8 other people all backpackers and we set forth to the Laotian border. The road was good but it was crowded. I prefer a bus to a minivan, I decided.

We  made a rest stop after 3 hours and after another 2 hours stopped for lunch in Stung Treng.

Despite the morning briefing, no one remembered every detail of the plan but together we pieced it all together and remained absurdly confident it would all work out.

Back in the Day

Once upon a time, backpacking was a more convivial experience where you swapped stories shared tips and bragged about how cheap your last hostel was. No more. Now everyone is lost in there own digital world, their heads buried in their smartphones, not talking or interacting with other people on the trip.

The Border Crossing

After about an hour we left for the Laotian border packed into another minivan with even less space. We bounced along for about another hour over a road that was not so good at all. Then it took about another hour to exit Thailand and enter into Laos with a lot of formalities stamping of passports and extra fees that were clearly not official. The Spanish hippy had warned us about this though.

The embarkment point for the boats to the 4000 islands was a dusty disorganized strip of riverfront. We finally got it sorted out which boat I should be on I climbed into the boat.

Sunset on the Mekong

Gliding down the Mekong River at sunset surrounded by innumerable lush islets and islands was unforgettable. It made the whole uncomfortable day more than worth it.

Night had just fallen when we docked in Don Khone. I was happy that a local stepped up to call the guesthouse as it would have been tough to wheel my suitcase on a rough road. I remembered the advantages of a backpack.


Angkor Wat: The Jungle Wins

Although exhausted from the day before I had bought a two day pass and I intended to use it. Besides, I was determined to see Preah Khan.

This time I left at 8.30am, a more reasonable hour, and headed for the “grand circuit”. No guide today; just me and a tuk-tuk driver.

Preah Khan

The first and best stop was Preah Khan, an extraordinary spot where the full meaning of “jungle kingdom” became evident. Stretching over 50 hectares, Preah Khan was an ancient city of 100,000 people and included a monastery and a buddhist university.  There weren’t even that many other tourists. It was pure enchantment

The interior was not as rich in sculpture as the temples but there were still some fine examples..

I spent some time just outside listening to the symphony of bird cries emanating from the giant trees devouring the crumbling stones.

Neak Pean

Affiliated with Preah Khom, Neak Pean is a temple in the middle of an artificial lake, accessed via walkway over a real lake.

Ta Som

Dedicated to the Kings’ ancestors, tiny Ta Som is also a striking contest between stone and jungle.

East Mebon

It’s from the 10th century. Khmer builders learned a lot over the successive centuries!

Pre Rup

Also dating from the 10th century and constructed of brick, laterite and sandstone, Pre Rup was a Hindu temple. No, I did not climb up.

Party Time!

I was back at the hotel at 12:30. I ate, took a rest and then headed down to the river for another festival. It is the famous Water festival, which not only celebrate the full moon of early November but also celebrates the water that has brought such fertility to Cambodia. It’s also a celebration of Cambodia’s ancient victory over the Cham empire.

The whole town turned out. The big event was the boat race where teams from all over the region row frantically down the narrow river.

Everybody was selling food of one sort or another.

I’m guessing caterpillars which I did not try. I did try the spicy beetles though! At least, that’s what I think they were. Even though my stomach had been dicey the last few days, who can pass up a tasty beetle?

 

There were people strolling and munching, hyper-excited kids running around like little maniacs and the thump thump thump of electro music from a dance party across the river. As soon as night fell, the fireworks started.

As soon as the fireworks ended, the rain poured down. Monsoon hadn’t yet ended.

 


Angkor Wat: Jungle Kingdom

The guide picked me up at 5 in the morning which was an ungodly hour. As I suspected, it was cloudy so there was no sunrise over Angkor Wat. I felt kind of dumb waiting around with the rest of the tourists waiting for the sun to rise for the perfect shot. It was worth the wait though.

Shortly after 6 we headed over to the glorious temple itself but first had to wait in line for about a half hour. The climb was steep but my legs were still fresh and the temperature was quite cool. Later on, was another story. My guide did not enter with me. None of the guides did. I believe it was not allowed.

Angkor Wat

It was good that visitors were limited to 100 at a time which allowed for a slow and steady examination of the halls, niches, statuary and squares within. Dedicated to the god, Vishnu, this majestic temple was said to involve 300,000 workers (or slaves) and 6000 elephants (definitely slaves). The central tower represents a phallus, Vishnu’s symbol and the outer walls represent the mountains around Mount Meru which was the centre of the universe for the Hindus. The construction began in the 12th century and lasted 37 years. It was directed by King Suryarvarman II. Later on, it was “Buddha-ized” and statues of Buddha replaced those of Vishnu.

Buddha seated on a Naga

 

Apsara

One of the galleries contains friezes depicting the mythical Ramayana battle.It was the first of several portrayals of this legend which reminded me of the Trojan Wars. Both involved the abduction of a beautiful woman.

From the “Bakan” or interior sanctuary, it was possible to appreciate the intricate and harmonious design of the temple as well as its grandeur.

The temple is still a place of worship and even pilgrimage.Although I did not know that Vishnu enjoyed Coca-Cola. I thought he was a Pepsi man myself.

Angkor Thom

After rejoining my guide we headed to Angkor Thom, the royal city, exactly 1700m from Angkor Wat. Those entering the city must have been wowed and intimidated by the lineup of big heads. On the left side were the nice-looking Gods; on the right side the ugly Giants (bad guys).

The Bayon

From Angkor Thom, we proceeded to the Bayon, built by Jayavarman VII after the Khmer victory over their arch-enemy, the Chams. Here the giant heads adorn 37 towers (originally 54, representing the provinces of the Khmer empire). There are four on each tower, perhaps representing the Buddhist virtues of sympathy, compassion, equanimity, benevolence.

I wonder if living in a city with hundreds of calm, benevolent faces looming over you would make you feel calm and benevolent. Or, would it make you want to take a chisel and hack off a nose?

Even with tourists swirling around each tower, the eerie magnificence of the site shines through.

Then, there are the incredible friezes on the exterior galleries that recount the victory over the Chams, showing the preparations for battle as well as the fighting itself. The friezes are detailed portraits of the warriors, their wives, animals, clothes, hairstyles and habits. For some reason, it reminded me of the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy.

Baphuon

This was the temple that did me in. My guide declined to climb up all of the steps and he did warn me that there was not too much sculpture  to see on the inside. I wasn’t going to climb up but then I thought what the hell. By this time it was sunny and quite hot and humid. The stairs were steep. So steep. The temple is notable for its unusual pyramid shape and the “reclining Buddha” on the western side. The structure was complex with a number of terraces and other, modern steps leading down from the eastern side.

View from Baphuon

 

Phimeanakas

Built in the 10th century, this Hindu temple makes an interesting stylistic contrast to the later, more elaborate temples.

Elephant Terrace

This impressive terrace is still used for festivals and when the ruling party wants to show off their power.

 Terrace of the Leper King

The moss and mold splotches on this statue reminded people of leprosy. The terrace was a cremation site and its walls are adorned with an astonishing parade of carvings that represent the finest expression of Khmer artistry.

Ta Phrom

Our last temple was particularly evocative. The magical and mysterious Ta Phrom, nearly strangled by banyan and kapok trees, served as a backdrop for the Angelina Jolie movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.The vegetation seems like a malign force reaching out from the earth to eradicate these prideful monuments.

 

Speaking of Angelina Jolie, the actress is somewhat of a local heroine here. In fact, the country would certainly be a lot better off if she simply came in and ran the place. She has done a lot of good works here and not simply standard superficial movie star stuff. She’s saved forests, created jobs, housed the handicapped and more.

 

I was totally charmed by my guide, Wan, who was clearly an exceedingly bright young man.Over the course of the day, I learned his story. He was recipient of charitable aid from an international organization that helped send him through University for training in the technology sector but he didn’t like it so we decided to become a tour guide. Not only was he highly knowledgeable about Angkor Wat but I enjoyed hearing about his life as well.

What they don’t tell you about Angkor wat is that it is really a physically demanding experience. This was not even a particularly hot day with temperatures hovering around 28C but I still found it exhausting even with many regular rest and rehydration stops. I don’t know what I would have done if it is actually been a few degrees hotter as is normally the case. The swarms of tourists everywhere did detract from the experience somewhat particularly the incessant selfies. There were endless opportunities to take dumb photos and half of China seemed to be there to take advantage of every single one.

Of course the quality of the sculpture was astonishing. I particularly liked the friezes at Bayon which in chronicling preparations for war actually gave a detailed description of everyday life. But all of it was outstanding. From the Elephant Terrace which is still used by Cambodia’s current Kings to the Leper Terrace, it was fascinating to see how Hinduism and Buddhism inter mixed  and how one would supplant the other at times.  So the day lasted until about 3:30 and believe me I was pooped at the end of it. I even wound up with some ugly condition called “golfers vasculitis” which comes on from exercising too much in heat and humidity.


Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

I boarded the Giant Ibis bus at 9:45 this morning and was pleased to find that the bus was new, modern, air-conditioned and not crowded. It even had WiFi

We headed out of town and eventually found ourselves heading north on a two-lane paved Road.

It was a great way to see a bit of rural Cambodia from the comfort of the bus.

On the Road

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Bright new mosques. Could they be courtesy of the Saudi Arabians?
  • Fish farming
  • Every village seem to have a bright new two-story building painted in bright colors. I suppose it may have been courtesy of international Aid agencies but the buildings looked curiously empty.

(N.B. In a later conversation in Don Khone, I learned that they were probably constructed by the villagers with money from the sales of logs. I learned that Cambodians will sacrifice everything, even proper meals, to build a home.

  • Cambodian People’s Party signs were everywhere. They certainly weren’t campaign posters because this is a one-party state. I suppose that it was to remind the villagers that the Cambodian people’s party was keeping an eye on them.
  • Very skinny cows and very sturdy water buffalo.
  • Chicken farms
  • Marshland with houses on stilts
  • English schools

A lot of water lilies and extensive rice patties. It was clear that the Cambodian countryside is made up of fertile land as there was an appealing variety of tropical trees.

We stopped twice. The first stop was an impressive spread clearly designed to capture tourists on buses between Phenom Penh and Siem Reap. There was a lot to lot to buy and a lot to look at. I imagine this is where villagers come to celebrate a wedding or holiday.

We made another stop for lunch and then pulled into Siem Reap at about 4.

Hima Boutique Hotel

The Hima Boutique Hotel sent a driver to pick me up which was convenient. The common areas and room were outfitted with wood panelling which made a nice change.

It took quite some time to ask the front desk to arrange for a tour tomorrow. Big tour? Short tour? It took a while to understand that the “short tour” was actually longer than the “big tour”. Half day? Sunrise? I finally settled on a tour that will begin at 5 in the morning tomorrow! But I will get a two-day pass so I could return the following day and see more temples.

Jomnan’s Kitchen

By the time that was all arranged there wasn’t much time left to explore the city. I took a short walk, looking for a place to eat I took a short walk, looking for a place to eat and finally landed at a lovely looking place just two doors down from my hotel. It was Jomnan’s Kitchen, extravagantly decorated with lots of wood and goldfish swimming around in illuminated canals. It look it looked as hell it should be pricey but it wasn’t. I learned that the restaurant was created by an Cambodian woman whose Journey took her from a refugee camp to life in America where she apparently did quite well. She opened this place as way to give back to her country. A percentage of the proceeds go to charitable endeavors. The Khmer food was delicious.


Phnom Penh Sights

Today was breezy as well but I still decided to take a tuk-tuk to the Genocide Museum or Toul Sleng. The ride there took me through a different port of Phnom Penh, more modern and with wide boulevards.

Toul Sleng

Toul Sleng or Camp S 21 served as a torture and interrogation Center for the Khmer Rouge. Some 20,000 people passed through there before being executed in the Killing Fields outside of town.

 

After being arrested by the Khmer Rouge the detainees were taken to this former high school now a detention center where they were photographed, thrown into cells, chained, interrogated and tortured, sometimes to death.

It was gruesome. The audio guide was excellent and explained the purpose of each room and how the Detention Center operated. It also gave background on the people involved in running the Khmer Rouge and this particular detention center of which there were dozens in the country perhaps hundreds. The audio guide also allowed you to hear the stories of actual survivors of which there were few.

Although the audio guide warned listeners at various points that the testimony and the visuals were going to be difficult, I somehow hadn’t realized exactly how difficult it would be. Sometime near the end of the visit when it got to the particulars of the torture implements and techniques and pictures of emaciated corpses I really couldn’t take it anymore.

Fortunately the grounds was a peaceful place to continue listening to the narration.

The image that stayed with me the most was of prisoner 261. There were several hundred “mugshots” of prisoners taken as they arrived in the Detention Center. I found myself wondering what they must have been thinking as these photographs were taken. Some seemed almost defiant, some looked as though they thought they were going to get through this, some seemed resigned.

Prisoner 261 had longish hair, almost sensual. I wondered if he was a hairdresser, an artist or a musician. Anyway he was looking off to the side, unlike the others, and his mouth was open as though in shock. His eyes were terrified. He knew, he unquestionably knew that he was entering the gates of hell.

I found a few more photographs like that. The people that seemed a little odd as though they might be misfits seem to have the clearest idea of what they were in for.

It it is impossible to understand modern-day Cambodia however without understanding these events. I left nauseous and with a throbbing headache and went bouncing back to town in a tuk tuk.

I decided to invest in a pedicure which calmed me down a bit at least enough to have a nice noodle soup for lunch.

Royal Palace

After lunch I visited the Royal Palace which sprawls over enormous acreage in the center of town on the riverfront.

The palace was designed by French architects as it was under French colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the basic structure was Khmer, there was so much gilt it reminded me of Versailles.It was where Louis XIV would live if he were Khmer.

At any rate it seemed emotionally and spiritually empty.The best part was the murals.

 

It also annoyed me that there were no explanations in either English or Cambodian of any of the exhibits or rooms. You’re supposed to buy the services of a guide for $10. I wonder how Cambodians are supposed to be able to afford this. They should have a right a right to see and understand their own Palace. God knows they paid for it.

Dinner

Tonight I went to the night market and did a little shopping followed by a wonderful dinner at Bophus restaurant, a sprawling colonial style place right on the river. With such a perfect location and its upscale look, I was sure the food would be mediocre. Wrong!

I began with papaya salad which was exquisite and followed up with the best stir-fried vegetables I’ve ever had in my life.

There’s some kind of strange unnamable spice that I love and I must find out what it is.

I finished the evening with a final stroll along the river. I shall miss Phnom Penh.


Phnom Penh

The first thing I noticed this morning and looking out the window was that wind was blowing through the palm trees. The breeze got stronger as I walk to the river. What a pleasure! I felt that I could finally explore the town on foot which, after Bangkok, I didn’t think I was going to be able to do.

Travel Arrangements

I immediately decided that I would stay on an extra day in Phnom Penh and take the bus directly to Siem Reap on Tuesday.

First stop was the tourist office on the river. The gentleman couldn’t be more cheerful and helpful, like all Cambodians I have met so far. The city map was extremely well done and he was well-versed in events around town. I learned that the Kings Coronation Day, although important, did not mean that museums & sites would be closed. Good news! He also advised me to be down at the riverfront at 7 p.m. to see the fireworks.

Work before pleasure though. I needed to arrange my bus ticket to Siem Reap and the ticket office was a couple of kilometres away near the river port.

By the River

The Riverside Promenade was busy with people engaged in various projects. There was fishing, repairing the fishing boats, dragging branches out of the river.

 

That last one perplexed me. Ladies were gathering all of these branches piling them up and stripping them of their leaves. I made a questioning gesture and a young boy mimed drinking from the branches. I don’t know. There was also a pumping operation going on and I don’t know what that was about either.

I picked up the bus ticket, had a very mediocre fish Amok along the waterfront and made my way back along the Promenade stopping to shop and look around before getting to the National Musem.

I was going to look for an English bookshop to read more about Cambodia. It seemed incomprehensible that people so sweet, charming and adorable could set about killing each other with such ferocity. I mean Germans okay. The word sweet and adorable don’t leap to the lips. But here? I just don’t get it.

Fortunately I ran across a bookseller who was selling what appears to be a wonderful book called Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley. The subtitle is “the modern history of a troubled land.”

The national museum is in a wonderful traditionally styled building built by the French.

I wanted an overview of the Khmer civilization in preparation for Angkor Wat and that’s what I got. There were excellent explanations in English that outlined the history of the Khmer Empire and it added a great deal to appreciating the sculptures. I felt good looking at the beatific Smiles of all of the Buddhas. They reminded me of the Mona Lisa. They also greatly resembled the Cambodians that I saw around me who are exceptionally attractive people.

By now it was about three in the afternoon which is about the time I become undone by heat and humidity. I headed back to the hotel for a shower and a rest. I resolved to do less walking and more riding in tuk-tuks.

My original plan was to eat in a restaurant called Fat Passion, recommended by an expat newspaper. I walked round and round but couldn’t find it so I went back down to the riverfront and waited for the fireworks to start.

 

 

They were spectacular! I was impressed that they went on for a full 20 minutes which must have cost a fortune but it’s certainly pleased the throngs of people milling around the waterfront. The atmosphere was even more festive than it was last night. It was great to be part of such a happy occasion.

But hunger was setting in. I walked along the back roads, not too far from the river while dodging motorcycles tuk-tuks and cars. Like all third world countries the streets or rugged and unpaved. You really have to watch your step.

Finally I found my happy place. David’s! Pulled noodles! À Chinese guy was working the dough, pushing and pulling to make the noodles.

 

It was crowded and obviously very popular with locals and expats alike. My dish of fried noodles with vegetables tofu and an egg was absolutely divine.

I put out all thoughts of even trying any other restaurant as long as I’m in Phnom Penh.

I finished up the evening in the FCC Club which was as atmospheric and evocative as everyone says. It’s kind of like Rick’s Cafe but in Phnom Penh.

I gazed out over the river and then examined the framed photographs taken by photojournalists who were covering Cambodia during its most turbulent years.


From Bangkok to Phnom Penh

With a mid-afternoon flight scheduled, I couldn’t plan to do much today in Bangkok. Rather than battle with heat, humidity, crowds and traffic, I decided to do something close by and cool. A shopping mall! The nearest mall was Terminal 21 only two stops away on the SkyTrain. There was definitely enough to occupy me for 2 hours. There were seven floors about three of which were devoted to food courts. I wasn’t hungry and so bypassed the many delicious items on offer and occupied myself haggling over the price of some very lovely silk scarves and earrings.

Fortunately the Don Muang airport also had a food court and I had time to chow down a spicy noodle soup with fish balls.

The flight to Phnom Penh was uneventful but immigration was a hassle. The unsmiling immigration officers were like the progeny of the Khmer Rouge.

On the long taxi ride into town through the outskirts, Phnom Penh displayed all the grim poverty of the third world. Unpaved streets, chaotic traffic, motorcycles, stores filled with cheap clothes, tire stores, auto parts stores, people dressed in rags sitting next to steaming bowls of soup or smoky grills selling their Wares to passers-by.

Villa Silk Road Hotel

That Villa Silk Road Hotel gave a good first impression displaying their major highlight, a swimming pool, right in the hotel lobby.

It was definitely a step up from the hotel Atlanta in Bangkok with much more decoration and amenities in the room.

By now it was nightfall and I took a stroll down the wide Boulevard to the riverfront.

Phnom Penh Riverside

What a scene! The king’s Palace was ablaze with light, glittering like a spacecraft from a wealthy planet. The atmosphere was festive. People were picnicking on mats stretched along the wide Promenade.

The Promenade was well paved and a cool breeze from the rippling river made for an extremely pleasant walk.

Kids were playing, there were food sellers, people ambled along or sat on the banks and gazed out over the river. What a delight.

 

 

I thought it was curious that there were no westerners strolling the waterfront. They were all camped out in a series of bars cafes restaurants and pizza parlors on the other side of the road. I soon figured out why. They were afraid to cross the street! It’s true that traffic was a nightmare. There were no rules, no traffic lights, no crosswalks. It was a free-for-all. It was terrifying. The first few times I hung out behind the local and tried to figure out what their technique was for getting across the street in one piece. Finally I figured it out and was happy and proud to cross the street by myself. Victory!

I grabbed a pad thai and a local beer at one of the restaurants along the riverfront, wondering how I was going to stay healthy when the guidebook went to such pains to warned me about eating almost anything. I decided to go heavy on the spices all the time figuring that the capsicum would burn up any bacteria. Go hot or go home.

Back at the hotel I asked about the extraordinarily lively scene at the riverfront and learned that yes, it was yet another holiday. The king’s coronation day! It’s followed by a festival of water which will take place around the full moon next week so basically everybody has just given up on work and is going out to party. It looks like my museum program will be foiled once again but it should be fun.


Thonburi, Bangkok

So I left the hotel at about 10 this morning. Most museums & sites were still closed: the Grand Palace, the national museum, the emerald Buddha – all closed.

Seemed like a good idea to head to the river and look for a river tour. So I took the Metro to Saphan Taksin trying to figure out the complicated boat system. It turns out that the water was too high to take one of the Long Boat Tours that would go into the canals. It certainly looked very high. I don’t know what Bangkok will do with sea level rise.

Anyway I wound up taking the orange boat line up the river. I wasn’t sure where I was going to get off but then I saw the striking towers of Wat Arun and decided to disembark there.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Before before touring the temple I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood which was on the other side of the river in the Thonburi section.

Old Bangkok

It was  a revelation; a surprising step into old Bangkok.

I walked up one of the Khlong (canals).

It was quiet and overgrown with plants and trees. All you could hear were birds chattering and roosters crowing. There were a few people outside chatting, repairing bikes, frying dumplings.

 

 

The canal opened on to a much busier street lined with various stores and shops selling sundry goods such as garden supplies, auto parts, household supplies, etc. I stopped for a coke in a local cafe which, blessedly, had AC.

It was along here that I found a gold pendant for my necklace.

I headed back to Wat Arun for a look around.

Wat Arun

I think they were more people than usual because so many other temples were closed, at least the most famous ones. I’ve never seen a temple like this before, completely covered in porcelain.

 

 

It was not possible to go inside but there’s a great deal to examine on the outside, particularly the exquisitely painted porcelain.

The Big Melt

 

 

After this visit which took place around 2pm things slid downhill quickly. I was melting from the heat and kept getting on the wrong boat before I finally found myself in the Chinatown section where I stopped for a very long time in the beautifully air-conditioned Starbucks before heading back.

Once again the hotel swimming pool was a lifesaver and I had a wonderful Egyptian meal down the street at a place called Arabesque.

I’m getting a little burned out on the Atlanta hotel. The pool is glorious and the hotel has history and a lot of personality but the rooms are quite bare and the location is just a little too far from everything.


The Kings cremation in Bangkok

This is the biggest day in Thailand since Anna met the King of Siam. King Bhumibol was kind of like God but less divisive. I don’t know what figure in America, dead or alive, could inspire this kind of unqualified devotion. Maybe George Washington? When I asked at the hotel where would be the best place to participate in this commemoration, I was directed to go to flower park (Pak Klong Talat) which I did. I got at the end of an extremely long line but I didn’t know how long at the time. The goal was to pay respects at a temple that only appeared to be close. Everyone was in black and I appeared to be the only Westerner among about a quarter million mourners. People were incredibly nice, smiling at me and offering signs of encouragement. I think they’ve been working on the organization of this event for about a year. It’s extremely impressive. There are young people offering iced water, offering sticks that seem to be smelling salts, offering even food to eat and all of it free. As it is incredibly hot and humid there are ambulances all over the place just in case people are overcome. Everything is closed so I really had nothing else to do. I took a moto taxi here and found that traffic was in fact very light. Everyone seems to be either home watching the ceremony on TV or in this very very long line. I’m glad I brought a lot of black things to wear and because my allergies are bothering me, my eyes are red and swollen, as though I had been crying. I fit right in.
After about an hour as I saw that the line was snaking through many streets, I decided to leave. It looked like an all day affair. I headed into the grand Siam Plaza Shopping Mall which was aggressively air-conditioned. What a relief! I wandered around for a little while examining the clothes and grabbing a few snacks but most of the stalls were closed. I found myself following the crowd to Wat Ratchaburana Ratchaworawihan (Wat Liap), an extensive Buddhist temple.

What a scene! Tables were laid out with every variety of hot and cold snacks, fruits, salads, fried dumplings, rice topped with spicy chicken, vegetables, and washed down with an astonishing variety of cold drinks. I found a seat at a table underneath the canopy which was fortunate because the monsoon started soon thereafter. It rained and rained. Fortunately a monk opened up the temple and many of us headed inside to pray, listen to the chanting, and stay dry. When the rain let up, I followed the crowd again and wound up on Memorial Bridge.

On the other side there was apparently another temple with another line of people waiting to pay their respects. Crossing over again I noticed that there was a perfunctory security check. Back in the vicinity of flower Park came the highlight and most beautiful part of the whole experience. The flower sellers had set up a tunnel of flowers, beginning with white and ending up in the colors of the flag of Thailand. Called “Flowers for Dad”, it was gorgeous. Getting back to the hotel involved a lengthy negotiation with the motorcycle taxi driver who didn’t know where the hotel was and a security guard who also seemingly could not read the name of the hotel in Thai. Eventually this all straightened out and I arrived back at the hotel and very happy to take a dip in the beautiful swimming pool.