Part One: Bangkok
By Gyn Gerhardt
The greatest thing about
retirement is not just being able to sleep in on Monday mornings,
but that everyday is a weekend day. The worst thing about it is
missing all the friendships and life purpose the workplace offers.
But, that aside, one can fill some of those days with spreading
ones wings and covering our wondrous globe. We are so fortunate
to be experiencing a period that allows freedom to go to all those
far away places with strange sounding names that have been calling
us over our life time. When the travel brochures arrived I was a
kid in the candy store trying to make that perfect decision. The
storybook tales of Siam that I enjoyed as a child and later in life
the movie "Anna and the King of Siam" called me to select
Thailand as my destination. Tour booked, bags packed, and tickets
in hand I was off for my adventure.
capitol city of Thailand (old Siam) is Bangkok and this is the city
most will fly into when entering this country. Venice may be known
for its canals and Hong Kong for its bargains, but Bangkok is both
in one city. Upon arriving at the airport, our guide "Nu"
was there to greet us and take us to our sumptuous hotel. We rested
from the 18 hour flight before taking off on our first adventure.
We boarded a long-tail
boat that took us speeding through the numerous canals with teak
houses on stilts lining the waterways. The homes are most charming
with brilliant tropical flowers spilling from their porches and
reflecting in the water. Our boat stopped at a lovely teak home
with a patio on the river level, for the pleasure of attending a
Thai cooking class. Our gracious hostess taught us how to make various
curries so popular in Thailand while her children furnished us with
bottles of cool water. After enjoying a superb typical lunch with
her and her family, our diminutive hostess allowed us to view her
tropical home and share with us some of the typical Thai family
Spirit Houses are found in front of most every home and business
throughout Thailand. There is always a pair, side by side, with
the taller one (standing about five feet) on a single post and then
a shorter one placed on four posts. The placement of the houses
is determined by the practice of Feng Shui and an expert is called
in to find the correct spot. The houses will usually be decorated
with fresh flowers, some strung together in a chain and candles.
The taller of the two honors the spirit of Buddha and the after-life
and the smaller one honors the dead relatives of the family. If
the family moves or the houses become old with age, the family takes
them to the countryside and places them under an old tree. We later
saw many trees along the road with old Spirit houses resting under
their branches. We also saw many places selling these beautiful
houses. Unfortunately they did not fit in my suitcase and I had
to leave them behind.
Flowers are a very important
part of Thailand and a visit to the flower market will not only
fill your eyes, but your nostrils as well. Orchids are everywhere
in huge piles. How can one choose? The floating market at Pakklong
Talad is also a sight to experience, bargaining for treasures or
flowers from your boat to theirs as you both float along the canals.
And speaking of markets,
the night market is a must for the hardy, as it gets quite crowded.
However, we found the most interesting souvenir: socks with five
toes. This was also a great place to get Thai kitchen items if you
like to cook.
is a beautiful city and one cannot leave before visiting the many
decorative temples (referred to as Wat). The Vimanmek Teak house,
extraordinary Marble Temple, National Grand Palace (Palace of the
King Rama IV who Yul Brynner portrayed), sumptuous Wat Phra Keo
with the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Po with its gigantic golden reclining
Buddha, the largest in Thailand and over 1,000 years old, will all
boggle your eyes.
And oh, the bargains!
I recently traveled to Hong Kong to find that since it has been
given back to the Chinese, the bargains no longer are a reason to
go there. Bangkok is now the place for getting custom clothes made.
One should visit a recommended tailor upon arrival. Be sure to bring
a picture or drawing of that wonderful custom made suit or dress
you have been dreaming about. Early in your trip you will want to
head off to select from the gorgeous Thai silks and be measured.
I chose a delightful 2-piece lined silk suit for under $100. I had
a couple fittings and the result was a tailoring marvel. We also
visited several jewelry stores where I found a wonderful 18K ring
with diamond-eyed elephants trumpeting around the wide band for
Later in our travels,
our guide took us to the home of a woman who dyed traditional Thai
design cotton outfits with the indigo plant. We watched as she boiled
the leaves in huge clay pots and dunked the clothes up and down
in the dye. They were a green color. However, when she put the clothes
out on the line to dry, they turned a deep indigo blue. We then
all gathered upstairs in her showroom, eagerly trying on our treasures.
Everyone came back to the bus with bags full of jackets, pants,
and shorts for only about $3 each.
The Thai people are the
kindest and most gentle and respectful of others. They deeply respect
their King(s). This is the reason they will not allow "Anna
And The King Of Siam" to be shown in their country. They feel
it is disrespectful to exhibit anything considered adverse about
their Kings. By the way, Yul Brynner does resemble Rama IV who he
portrayed. The current King, Rama IX moved out of the luxurious
Grand Palace (a must see for it's unequaled splendor) into a simpler
home where he built research centers to develop a better life and
economy for the Thai people. He and the Queen devote themselves
to projects that will improve the conditions of the country.
Part One: Bangkok
Part Two: The River Kwai
Part Three: The Golden Triangle
Part Four: Saffron Robes
Part Five: Reflections