Thailand Day 55: Temples, Tuk-Tuks, and Thai Treadmills

I slept in since my cold has gotten progressively worse but that won’t stop me from powering on to see all that I want to see. After some more painstaking research, I finally came to the conclusion that I would be heading north to Chiang Mai but how was another story entirely. Being the frugal, some may say cheap, person that I am, I wanted the best deal out there. I thought I found it, so I went to a nearby Bangkok bank to confirm the reservation as I was instructed but after so investigating they told me it was expired/invalid. Great, pleasure doing business with you, that was a total waste of time. Despite my previous objections, I took the hostel’s overnight bus deal that would depart tomorrow night. The day was cruising right along but I had to meet my host, whose home I would be couchsurfing at, later in the day and I still needed to get to the Grand Palace. Since the palace and the main temple called Wat Phra Kaew, which houses one of the most religiously respected Buddhas in Thailand, sit within the confines of the overall Grand Palace, all guests must wear appropriate clothing. With just some gym shorts on, I had to borrow some long pants so as not to offend the Buddha with my hairy man legs. The temple area is in a boxed shape with the outer walls covering scenes from the history of Buddhism, telling a story like most stained glass windows do in Christianity. At each entrance, two giant sized ogres with thick, menacing fangs and bright red, purple, blue, or green skin stood guard over the temple and its worshippers. While exploring a group of young Thai school girls approached me and asked if I would answer some questions they had prepared. They were cute, giggly, and excited to meet an American or rather anyone willing to be interviewed. I was probably not the best person to ask since I just arrived but they asked me what I thought of the Thai people, culture, and food and wondered where else I would be traveling. Thailand has been great to me so far with the exception of a few heartburns. To cap off the moment, I had to get a photo with all of us together as a group. The area of Wat Phra Kaew reminded me of Wat Pho with its many outstanding displays of color and painted roofs. I enjoyed the various architecture and artistry but I still wanted to know the purpose behind it all. Luckily, free English tours were on offer. The tour guide took me and many other internationals through the sites that I had already seen but now filled in the blanks for me. Railings for the entrances to the various temples are composed of snakes that turn into five extended toes at its base with each of those representing one of the five sins forbidden to commit such as adultery and drinking. The temples have distinct shapes and features that anyone could recognize but only the well-versed could tell you why. Our Thai tour guide told us that the bell shaped ones are features taken from Singapore and the ones that rise up circularly are similar to ones found in Angkor Wat in Cambodian while the square shaped temples that eventually lead up through seven tiers (repenting the seven steps to heaven) are homegrown Thai. Much of the temples are authentically, entirely made of solid gold and after time passes and black soot hardens to the exterior they add true gold leaf to return it to its original state. As for the main temple, it is required to remove your shoes when in the presence of the emerald Buddha, which sits atop a tall golden structure surrounded by other golden Buddhas. At no point should you face the bottom of your feet to the emerald Buddha and show it the ultimate disrespect. Many people were worshipping in a kneeling position and bowing to the floor every few seconds in reverence while in prayer. Although I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, I knelt along with them so as to see the world through their eyes. I always try to see things and places with a new perspective or angle. The emerald Buddha can only have its garments changed by the King and if the King is unhealthy as he is now, his son is in charge of that; the queen may never change the Buddha as with all other women. When departing the temple I tossed holy water on my head three times with the flowers provided, dipping into the basin each time for health, wealth, and happiness. The temples are a place worth pondering, knowing that no matter whether you are religiously or believe in no such spiritual deity that this place is special. Further along sits the Grand Palace itself. The palace reminded me of Buckingham Palace or any other building that may house a royal and in which a balcony extends out towards the courtyards and gardens so that the king and queen may greet their subjects. More temple-like structures filled the compounds but none like in neighboring Wat Phra Kaew. After leaving the Grand Palace I knew that I was running late to meet my couchsurfing host. I ate a quick meal at yet another pop up restaurant before moving as quickly as I could back to the hostel. I would have ran back but since I had no idea where I was going it would have just been a quicker way to get lost and get further away from where I needed to be. Leaving my large pack behind, I departed the hostel with just my daypack to stay light and keep things easier. I had to get to the sky train which would take me out of the city and away from the tourist playground and the only way that was going to happen before nightfall was by using a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a poor man’s taxi; aka no windows, no seat-belts, and no regrets. It is done up with wildly colored paint and lights to draw the attention of tourists and their drivers can be overly persistent to the point of being annoying to get you to come with them. I found a driver to bargain with and we managed to settle on a price after passing the pen like a hot potato to write down the prices we were willing to accept in that moment. Tuk-tuks get their name from the obnoxious sound their engine makes and sadly it is the background music for many of the streets of Bangkok. Despite not having the same road freedom of a motorcycle, he exercised every bit of his right to the pavement. During rush hour when the traffic was at a complete stand still, he pulled off to the right (I just recently figured out that Thailand drives on the left side of the road; who knew? I thought it was only the Commonwealth) and into what could become oncoming traffic passing everyone in front of him to sneak in a gap at the front of the line. Now that ladies and gentleman is a tuk-tuk driver, well worth every baht I bargained. After riding the sky train, I finally met my host who goes by Friendamigo on couchsurfing to keep things easy for everyone else. We chatted while having some tea. Apparently, he is very interested in the study of languages, including learning Chinese right now and trying to figure out a way to convert the Thai writing system into the Roman script so that Westerners may be able understand how to read it better (at first it sounded odd but would be really beneficial if implemented). We walked to his apartment (he is twenty years old and has been living on his own for four years now), which should be fool proof to retrace but I guess I will find out for myself tomorrow. After dumping our stuff off in his room, I told him dinner was on me and so we went to a nearby pop-up restaurant with only the rubble of the streets below our feet. As long as the food is good, I can always make an exception as to where I eat. He told me about a Thai dish that he really enjoys called pad kra prao so I said sure why not, order two. To pass the time, we watched a Thai soap opera on the TV, which had some of the corniest fighting scenes I have seen and heard in my life. The punching and hand to hand combat was all out of sync and the sounds that represented the punches were hardly accurate which turned the whole show into a comedy for us. A dish of mini fried chicken arrived first and was quite chewy upon the initial bite of the cartilage and ligament variety. Next came the main dish. For Thai standards the meal was huge. It had a mound of rice topped by a fried crisp egg with a side of chicken, chillies, and mint leaves. The food was incredible but the fire was too much. I keep thinking it is some sick joke by the Thais to bring a side of pickled chilies with each order in case the food wasn’t spicy enough. When the bill arrived, I couldn’t believe it was only 155 baht for the two of us. Now I can be generous and cheap at the same time. After my tongue licked the fiery depths of hell, I needed a beer. A beer complements a spicy meal so well, just enough to cut the edge. Just outside the 7/11 is a Buddhist shrine; no matter where you go you will find one shortly somewhere somehow. Back in the apartment with still well over half my beer to nurse I expected to relax, take a shower, and maybe catch up on some blogging. When he told me he was going to work out I needed a double take, say what? I could have stayed in the room by myself but that’s not the kind of guy I am, whatever that means. So down to the gym we went. Before I go further, forget everything you think a gym may look like. In a room the size of maybe two normal kitchens sits the gym with a limited array of weights and treadmills. If we put two and two together, we would realize that I was the only white guy in a gym with a max capacity of eight. I went straight for the bench press and when I got close to my upper limit of repetitions a couple of the Thais kindly stepped in to spot me. I got a few curious looks and in return I gave them a sweaty smile or grin. In that small room I really pushed my body, more than I have in awhile, which led me to the treadmill. I ramped up the speed and with each increased kph my pace quickened. Since this treadmill was meant for people half my size, it wasn’t quite ready for the pounding and devastation it was about to experience. The treadmill and thus the tile below rocked with each giant step. I’m sure they have never seen someone sweat so much in their life but I guess that’s the kind of impression I leave with people, a moment and sight they won’t soon forget. After I showered, another couchsurfer joined us. The room actually has no couch at all, just one queen sized bed with me lucking into sharing the bed. Before drifting off to sleep, he tried to teach me some Thai which as you might guess is extremely difficult. As many times as he repeated it I rarely got the unique tones that make the language so difficult to learn. The bed was hard and flat like my bed in the hostel and so doesn’t sink in like a Western bed would but I found it very easy and comfortable to sleep on.

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