Not much of interest to report yesterday apart from my discovery that Tom has just managed to write off another car! Apparently some bastard pulled out right in front of him whilst he was in the fast lane on the M5, so it was a choice of crashing into the bastard and subsequently causing his car to spin across the motorway, taking other cars off the road in the process or crash into the barrier) So Tom crashed into the central reservation whilst doing 80mph and managed to walk out of it without so much as a scratch – thank God! Makes my tales of Asia pale by comparison!
I had planned to catch the bus down to Trat and then catch the ferry across to Ko Chang today, however the bus was fully booked by the time i got around to enquiring about the possibility of booking a ticket. Instead, through distict lack of anything better to do, I decided to head back into Siam : there was a small art exhibition of the ground floor of the Siam Discovery Centre. As good as most of the paintings were, there were only about 15 of them, so even if I examined every painting for a minute (which is actually quite a long time unless you’re a bit of an art critic and start to delve into an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses) it would still only have taken me 15 minutes to view the entire exhibition!
Subsequently I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks (i know but it’s one of the few places you’ll get proper coffee in Thailand, and after drinking Vietnamese coffee every day for over a month, I was starting to get withdrawl symptoms) and then headed back to the boat, figuring that I could quite easily spend the rest of the afternoon reading Amy Tan’s “Saving Fish From Drowning”, a book i’d only started yesterday and was already a third of the way through. However, when I boarded the boat, it got as far as station number 5 (which is the jumping off point for Chinatown) and everyone was told to get off the boat. When I enquired when there would be another boat to take me to Phra Arthit, I was simply told “no more boats” and that’s as far as the lady’s grasp of the English language went. The gentleman onboard the boat did however kindly walk me to a place at which I could catch a bus the rest of the way, and told me the bus i needed was number 53.
Not more than 5 minutes later, the bus arrived. It was packed with yet more Thai people in bright yellow attire, in celebration of the King’s 60 year reign. Among the people that got on with me was a monk. As soon as he boarded, a lady and her child gave up their seats for him (that’s another thing I noticed on the Chao Praya River Boat Express : instead of seats reserved for the elderly as there are back in the U.K, there are seats reserved for monks). After the monk sat down, I tried to move out of the way so that some one else could take the seat next to him, but the female conductor grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the front of the bus. I don’t know whether she thought I was going to sit down next to him myself – as it’s forbidden for women in Thailand to sit next to monks – or whether, unbeknownst to me, it is also forbidden for women to stand behind monks. Whatever the reason, it all seemed a bit ridiculous to me considering that in Laos, it’s apparently ok for a monk to grope a woman but here you get rebuked for standing within metres of one!
Nevertheless, I got off the bus, eventually found my way back to a part of Bang Lampu that I recognised, and decided to eat some more of my favourite fish cakes at Roti Mataba on my way back to Khao San. The place was heaving, much more so than it usually is (and it’s normally the case for there to only be a couple of seats available) and when I left I found out why. Right opposite the restaurant, gathered in a small area of greenery along my the riverfront and next to the old fort, were hundreds upon hundreds of Thai people, all in yellow t-shirts. They were like bees : everywhere you looked, there were swarms of them. They were perched high up on the branches of trees, sitting on walls, hanging over the balconies of the adjacent building, as well as crowds of them lined up behind barriers along the riverfront itself. You’d think they were waiting for a huge celebrity or rock star the way they were all pushing in front of each other, cameras and video cameras poised. As I tried to find an opening in the crowd myself, to decipher what was going on, I glanced across the other side of the river and the sight was much the same. I then saw what – or rather who – it was they were all waiting for : the king, as well as many of the important men who serve him were seated in decorative long boats, which were being rowed down the river in all their glory. It was like something out of a history book the way the soldiers were dressed and the way the boats were adorned with bright colours and intricate designs. As soon as the guards on the site blew their whistles and opened the gates which lead down to the riverbank, there was an enormous surge in the crowd. I really did feel like I was at a huge gig, especially when it became overwhelmingly hot amongst the crowd and I tried to retreat back to my original standpoint and couldn’t physically move, no matter how hard I struggled! So, after seeing the Queen during my last visit to Thailand, I’ve now had the priviledge of seeing the country’s King as well.
The king and his men in longboats upon the river, Bangkok
Thai’s sat on a wall in an attempt to get a view of his majesty, Phra Arthit, Bangkok