After a super early and mercifully short flight from Kunming to Bangkok, Beth and I stepped out of the airport into the incredible balmy weather of Thailand. We grabbed 1,000 bhat from an ATM and made our way to the cab station. As we sped away from the airport, I admired our cabby's dashboard, which was lined with dozens of miniature Buddhas.
Yeah, I thought to myself, I think I'm going to like Thailand.
After recuperating in our hotel, we pulled out our travel guides to find a good spot for dinner. It turns out one of Bangkok's most bustling outdoor food markets is. . . its Chinatown!
All of our friends who had been to Thailand said they didn't much like Bangkok, because it was so overwhelming and chaotic. For Beth and I, however, the packed city blocks, street vendors, flaming woks and bright neon signs felt oddly familiar.
Unfortunately, even in Bangkok's Chinatown they still speak Thai. Suddenly finding ourselves back in the unfortunate position of being ignorant tourists confined to our native tongues, we muddled our way through ordering dinner with hand gestures and lots of nouns, and took our seats.
Unlike the atmosphere, our first Thai dinner turned out to be something completely new to both of us— a hotplate of lightly fried noodles doused with a simple soup.
The broth had a flavor that neither of us could really identify, but it's safe to say that it was novel and delicious. We shared a set of condiments with the Thai family seated next to us, which consisted of chili powder, white sugar, something with jalapenos floating in it, soy sauce, and some chili sauce. Taking our cues from our neighbors, we spiced up and dug in.
We spent our last day in Bangkok visiting Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Built in the 1700's to house a small jade Buddha which has bounced between various nations in its 500 year lifetime, the temple is covered in ridiculously intricate tilework and gold.
It is also one of Thailand's most sacred sites, and as result one must dress respectfully, wearing pants and clothes that cover the shoulders. Regretfully, my one pair of jeans was in the wash, so I was forced to put down a 200 bhat deposit on these awesome MC Hammer pants to cover my shameful calves.
As an observant Buddhist-Quaker existentialist, for me the main draw of big Buddhist temples like this is the opportunity to supplicate before an image of The Truth given physical form. Even though the trappings are different, with fierce beaked warriors to guard the image of the Enlightened One rather than dragons and immortals like I'm used to, the sensation is the same.
As Beth and I shuffled into the main hall, barefoot along with the mass of Thai come to pay their respect, we were awed by a massive golden structure, topped with a glass case containing the image of the Buddha carved in jade, cross-legged and bedecked in gold. The building and the throng of believers bowing all around me felt like a living testament to the simple truth of Siddhartha's life.