I started my trip in Bangkok. For some reason I was slightly overwhelmed by being in a strange new country where I could neither speak the language nor read the writing (you'd think I'd be use to that by now), so when my roommates, three middle aged flight attendants, asked if I wanted to spend the day with them, I jumped at the opportunity. We started the day by taking the Chao Phraya River Taxi (the second coolest named mass transit system in Bangkok, right after the Sky Train) to the aptly named Grand Palace (it's both grand AND palatial) and Wat Phra Kaew.
The Grand Palace was built by King Rama 1 in 1782 and it's one of the most ostentatious displays of wealth I've ever seen. It's just, wow, all gold and glitter and statues and very large gilded buildings and, like I said, wow. Within the same complex as the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha, which is actually jade, was discovered in 1434 incased in stucco. It's one of Thailand's most sacred Buddhas and is housed in a gilded temple covered in red, blue, gold and silver mirrors. It's quite obviously a very sacred place to the Thais; the temple was full of kneeling Buddhists, including quite a few saffron clad monks.
After the Grand Palace, we went to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok, and home to an enormous reclining Buddha. As we walked out of the temple and to gather our shoes (you never wear shoes in a Buddhist temple), I wondered aloud what would happen if someone stole your shoes while you were in a temple. I mean, you would be stuck in the middle of the city without shoes, and Bangkok is not a place one wants to walk around barefoot. Of course, when we got to the shoes, one my companions (whose name I never did catch) couldn't find her shoes. Luckily, there were only pushed underneath a planter, not stolen, but it's still a worthy question.
I would like to have spend more time at Wat Pho, but my companions, who weren't really history people, were tired and ready to go shopping. I was willing to split up with them at that point, but we did the whole "Oh, if it's okay with you we'd like to leave now" thing were they weren't going to leave me and were willing to wait for a little bit, but were also obviously ready to leave. I was a bit tired myself (jet lag woke up me up after four hours of sleep), so I gave in without fight, but determined to do things on my own for the rest of the trip.
We rode the river taxi (heee!) to Chinatown, where we walked for an hour or so, looking at stalls, before heading back to the hostel. The hostel, Lub-d, was hands down the cleanest and nicest hostel I've ever stayed in. I shared the bathroom with 39 other women and that place was spotless. There was free internet in lobby, all sorts of quirky decorations and it was a very laid back, friendly place. Plus, there was a stall selling fresh pineapple just down the street from it, and oh man, do I ever love fresh pineapple. I spent the evening at the bar, drinking a beer and talking with a couple who had just moved to Thailand to teach English. It was a lovely day, and a nice way to start my trip.
The rest of the photos are here. Coming up next, Cambodia!