About a week ago, NightLight informed me that August 12th was the Queen of Thailand's birthday, and their offices are closed. Because they are closed on the weekends as well, and I leave on Monday morning, it was not going to work out. I was really disappointed. Nevertheless, I will get the opportunity to spend half the day on Sunday with an organization called Helping Hands that provides residents in one of the poorest communities in Bangkok with the tools they need to start micro businesses (and I get to take cooking classes at the same time, which will be fun). And I'm going to takes some supplies to, and spend time at, an organization in Bali that provides maternal health services for impoverished women.
So instead of spending the day at NightLight, I played tourist. The city was bustling with preparations for the Queen’s birthday. Other than the lifesize portraits of the Queen hanging everywhere, it looked just like any holiday celebration in the States, but I had to laugh - can you imagine the same attention being given to Obama’s birthday? Does anyone even know when Obama’s birthday is? Ok, so I realize this is completely different - presidency versus monarchy. I digress...
I visited the Grand Palace first. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and served as the home of the Thai King, The Royal Court and the administrative seat of government for 150 years. It includes a series of buildings, including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains a small buddha made of jade (not emerald, actually), greatly revered and dating back to the 14th century.
Afterward, I walked through some of the outdoor markets, including the amulet markets, where I watched men studying amulets through magnifying glasses. The amulets have tiny images of buddha and each one is supposed to bring a specific kind of luck. I then visited Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Most tourist attractions do not live up to the hype for me, but the Reclining Buddha did. It was impressive - the pictures do not do it justice. Before entering both the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha, everyone had to remove their shoes. You are instructed not to point your feet toward the buddha. Also, many people were holding flowers which they would dip the petals in water and touch on their heads, kneel before the buddha and burn incense.
After the Reclining Buddha, I grabbed a taxi back to the hotel. Taxis are cheap (everything is cheap in Bangkok), and you can either ask them to run the meter or haggle over the price. The guidebooks say to request the meter when traveling from the airport, which I did, but I haggled over the price when returning to the hotel. I couldn't come to an agreement with the first taxi driver, so I hopped out and found one who would accept my price. Bangkok traffic is notoriously bad, and today was no different. (I would have taken the subway if it went near the Grand Palace, but unfortunately it doesn't.) We traveled down an entire street full of shops selling buddhas - tiny buddhas to life-size buddhas to giant buddhas. Mopeds raced by. Tuk Tuks carrying tourists and spitting out exhaust chugged alongside the cars. From what I’ve seen so far, Bangkok isn’t what I would call a pretty city, but it’s alive.
I had big plans for the afternoon, but my day ended abruptly at 3 pm when jet lag decided I was done. I thought a brief nap might cure the problem and had every intention of waking up at 5:30 to go to a local park to walk around and then go to dinner. Until I pressed snooze and 6:30 turned into 7:30... At which time I realized it was dark and pouring down rain. Oh well. I’ll be adjusted to the time and ready for a full day tomorrow.
As I sit here writing this, I hear thunder. I sat my laptop down and went over to the windows so I could open the blinds to watch the thunderstorm. Instead, I’m greeted by a beautiful fireworks display. Happy Birthday, Queen Sirikit.