06.03.2014 - 07.03.2014 -29 °C
We had been warned. Our reading and the shipboard presentations all told of the traffic in Bangkok, and it is true: expect heavy, wild traffic in Bangkok. We left the ship slightly before the appointed time, and already our guide, "Sam," and our driver were waiting for us with a large Toyota van with a wheelchair lift at the rear. I don't really need a lift, but the steps into the van were high, and the wheelchair had to be lifted into the van anyway, so I accepted the convenience and then transferred into a seat in the van. A new highway into Bangkok had been opened only in January. It takes about half an hour off the trip, so we made our way into the city in about two hours, observing a wide variety of vehicles and commercial establishments along the way. There were cars, trucks large and small, buses, motorcycles, motorscooters, pickup trucks made into small buses, and three-wheeled tuk-tuks.
We went directly to the Temple of the Golden Buddha. For centuries, the nine-metre-high statue was covered with plaster, and it was only in 1955, when it was being moved, that it was discovered to be made of gold. Its smooth, polished surface now sits serenely in a temple which has an elevator that allows easy access for visitors who have difficulty climbing steps - a welcome accompaniment to the statue which is over 700 years old.
From there, we went to Wan Fah, a riverside restaurant where we had a buffet lunch and then went out onto the veranda to see the active river traffic. Then we went to the President Palace Hotel, where a very comfortable and attractive accessible room awaited us. I accepted the hospitality of the comfortable bed and took a nap.
At six we met Sam and our van for transport to the Siam Niramit dinner and show. We had experienced Bangkok traffic on our way to the noon restaurant and to the hotel, but that had not prepared us for the evening traffic between our hotel and Siam Niramit. It would have been only a short distance as the pigeon flies, but it took us a good hour and a quarter, giving us plenty of opportunity to watch the way that motorscooter and motorcycle drivers dart in front of stopped vehicles to pass from the narrow space between two lanes of traffic to the space between other lanes. By the time we reached our destination, we saw the elephant that was greeting the guests, but we had no time to see the entertainers or artisans in the "village" there. We went directly to the buffet dinner and from there to our seats in the theatre.
The show itself is spectacular. Its different scenes represent different areas and ages in Thai history, but it is not a history lesson, at least for those who read only English. It is colour and movement and dance and beautiful costumes and special effects. What is at first the part of the stage closest to the audience soon turns to an area of water into which one performer dives and others travel by boat; even when it is not used as water, from our very good wheel-chair accessible seats it provided beautiful reflections of the action farther back on stage. In some scenes, performers drifted through the air, and yes, there were two elephants in the show (as well as several goats and at one point a few chickens). At the end, Sam led us back to the van, and the return trip to our hotel took only about fifteen minutes.
The next morning after breakfast, Sam and the van met us at eight o'clock, and we went to the Grand Palace. What an extraordinary place it is, with the occasional smooth golden surface providing visual relief from an amazing variety of decorative shapes and colours! At the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, I took went in my stocking feet up the first set of steps to have a distant view of the jade image, while Hugh went on up into the main chamber. Otherwise I was content to see the dazzling sights from my wheelchair, and visually (as well as historically) there was entirely too much to process in a single visit. Toward the end of our stay, we went into the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, and its serenity was a welcome relief from the sensory overload on most of the palace grounds. Incidentally, Sam had bought bottles of cold water when we entered the site, and the temperature was not as high I had feared. Of course we were wearing our Tilley hats, and we got along more comfortably than I anticipated. By making the visit earlier than specified in the original itinerary, we were on the site before it became as crowded and hot as it would have been a bit later in the day.
When we left the Grand Palace, another ride through traffic awaited us as we drove to the highest building in Bangkok for lunch at the Baiyok Sky View restaurant, on the 76th storey of the building. We were seated at a table for two by one of the windows, so we had full advantage of the view as we ate our buffet lunch. Then with Sam we made the descent in an elevator with an outside view. Back at ground level, we met our van and driver and headed back to the cruise ship. We looked through the shop area in the terminal building but bought nothing. Then we boarded the ship and returned to our stateroom to decompress after experiencing the stimulation of the busy and exciting city.