You know it’s hot in Bangkok when the locals start complaining! Over the past two days the air’s been humid and heavy with a breeze that teases more than it helps. Today the clouds have arrived, closing in over us to set the stage for a thunderstorm – which would actually be a relief if it ever broke. Instead it’s just tantalised with the possibilities.
The problem is that it’s not great for what I had planned. The fresh concrete of new elevated metros can really stand out against deep blue skies – but against uniform grey cloud? Bugger that for a game of soldiers.
The day started well enough. I rose at 6am kick-started my system with the free coffee in the hotel lobby then ventured across the road to Hualampong station to get shots of the morning rush-hour. I was after photos of the old GE diesels from the 1950’s (also known as a ‘Shovelnose’ – for obvious reasons). Apart from their roles as station pilots the only time they appear is on early morning passenger services – although now even this seems to be hit and miss. Today wasn’t a good day to find them but I did manage to get some close-ups of one of the locos. They’re an ecological disaster – a ‘Torrey Canyon’ on bogies. The engine room in every loco is deep in oil. In some the cab floor is just as bad. You’d never be able to get away with it in Europe but here no-one seems bothered.
Still, it’s been an interesting couple of days. On Wednesday I caught a train out to Lat Krabang on the Airport Rail Link to visit a Thai friend and his family. The family is traditional Thai with 3 generations living at home. Back in Europe, Granny (at 83, bedridden and unable to speak most of the time) would have been farmed out to a ‘home’. Here, she still has a real one.
Mum doesn’t speak any English but Dad was happy to see me as it gave him an excuse to use a language he’d once learned but not uttered for 15 years. What we couldn’t say in words we got away with in sign-language, mutual incomprehensibility or key words like ‘football’, ‘Liverpool’ and ‘John Barnes’. Some languages are international. I was treated to some Thai home cooking, spicy curries and delicious rice, which made a lovely change from the cheaper varieties you normally get in restaurants.
In the evening Chris and I came back to Bangkok to visit a number of the temples. Doing this with an ex-monk working in architecture and design is always informative. The concept of monkhood is very different here to Europe. In Thailand you can be a monk for as little as a fortnight (rather different to what most people choose to do with their annual holiday, Centerparcs it ain’t). Chris had been a monk for more than a year so he was well placed to give me the lowdown on temple life.
Our first stop was Wat Benchamabophit. As temples go it’s relatively new. It was built out of Italian marble on the order of King Chulalongkorn in 1899. It’s Chris’s favourite temple as he loves the symmetry of the design. Because today was the Makha Bucha holiday the Wat was busy with people praying or walking clockwise around the shrine before leaving offerings of lotus flowers and money.
From here we took a taxi to one of my favourites – Wat Sraket, or the ‘Golden Mountain’. It’s perched on the only hill in Bangkok which makes it rather special. The crowds had thinned by the time we arrived which made the climb up the multitude of steps to the top far easier. There were some lovely views of the city from the top, the contrast between old temples and the skyscraper skyline of modern Bangkok is very evident here. There was also a very welcome breeze although it played havoc with the streams of paper money devotees had stapled together as offerings. Most of these devotees were young people, the sort of teenagers that wouldn’t be seen dead in a church back in Europe, but in Asia religion is part and parcel of everyday life – and a lot more fun it seems...
I’ve added a small selection of pictures from the day to the Asia travel gallery. Enjoy!