Bangkok, Thailand; Day 7

As we prepare to leave Thailand tomorrow we were up and out early for our Covid tests so we could get same day results. We got a recommendation from our hotelier for a private hospital that is reliable and affordable and it was exactly that. The hospital seemed to take things more seriously than our tests for travel in the US. We all had our vitals checked prior to the test (btw no change from when we had them checked Monday at the dentist, must be a Thailand thing).

Then the test was administered by a nurse behind a glass partition with 3 layers of PPE. Before we left the US, we were handed the swab kits out the window of the CVS and told to administer the test ourselves sitting in our van. Hmmm…not the same.

We’ve mentioned a few times how 7-Eleven is ubiquitous in Thailand – it’s literally everywhere – which was confirmed by seeing an outlet this morning inside the hospital.

An hour after we left our hotel we were back having breakfast and then it was off to the showcase of Bangkok – The Grand Palace.

Built in the 1780’s by King Rama I, it was the base for the King, his Court and the government until 1925 and it is still used for several royal ceremonies and state functions each year. It was here that Anna Leonowens was governess for the children of King Rama IV. Her memoir ultimately inspired The King and I.

The Palace complex includes two areas open to tourists – the temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the outer/middle Court and a third available only to the King – the inner Court.

We hired a local guide when we arrived to make the most of our experience and started with the temple of the Emerald Buddha. We have been looking forward to seeing it since we visited our first big Wat in Chiang Mai – Chedi Luang. The Buddha was housed there for almost 100 years before it was moved to several places and eventually came to Bangkok in 1784. It has long been one of the most sacred Buddha images in Thailand.

Although it is called the Emerald Buddha it is actually made of jade and is about 66 cm tall (2’4″) and about 48 cm wide (1’7″). It wears seasonal clothes and we saw it wearing the Winter clothing which included a diamond-studded gold headpiece and a gold-threaded shawl which covered most of the meditating pose.

The Temple housing the statue and the surrounding statuary is spectacular – befitting an object of this regard. The colors are vibrant, the gold is shining and tourist entrance fees keep everything well maintained.

This Wat features many more demon guards than previous Wats we’ve been to – the detail was very interesting.

It also features a full and huge model of Angkor Wat which is located in current day Cambodia. At the time it was made, the Angkor Wat complex was part of Siam (Thailand) and it was commissioned by the King to show what wonders were part of the Kingdom.

The Middle Court had an interesting mix of Western and Thai architecture – sometimes in the same building. We weren’t permitted to go in any buildings but enjoyed seeing the buildings from the outside.

To our surprise, our entrance ticket included a Khon Thai Masked Dance at the nearby Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre. Desperate for a seat and some air conditioning after wandering the Palace in 90 degrees and high humidity, we decided to go but with low expectations since the poster made it look like a cheesy tourist thing.

We did some research after the show. Thailand’s Khon performance is one of it’s most significant performing arts. It is inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, where it is described as “a performing art that combines musical, vocal, literary, dance, ritual and handicraft elements.”

In our case, the Khon was used to dramatize a portion of the Ramakien – one of Thailand’s national epics which we’d just seen depicted on a 178 panel gorgeous mural at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

The performance was truly an unexpected pleasure and very interesting for all the Adventurers. The costumes were beautiful and the dancing well executed. CreeperKitty was disappointed it didn’t include Tosakanth -a multi-headed, multi-armed demon King, his favorite character from the mural. He’d seen that character on the poster outside the Theatre but we saw a different scene instead. We didn’t take pictures during the show but grabbed a couple from the internet to give an idea what it was.

The only negative was that the audience was only about 20 people in a theater that seats 600. The audience, in fact, was a smaller count than the cast members that took a curtain call. After the show we grabbed some lunch at a place with a Jenga set. The kids were so inspired by the day that they started building Wats. They were just as excited about naming their creations as they were about building them.

We walked a lot today and found ourselves at the Giant Swing. This structure was originally built in the 18th century but was moved to its current location and re-built in 1920.

The swing ceremony would pay homage to a Hindu epic with the swing pillars representing the mountains and the base representing the earth. Four men would mount a board tied by ropes to the top of the swing (25m/80+’) and use their body weight to swing the board to ever-greater heights.

Their goal was to reach a bag of gold coins in a sack which was on top of a pole suspended 50 feet off the ground. The ceremony was canceled by the King after 1935. Apparently the number of reckless injuries and deaths among the enthusiastic participants became too significant to continue the practice.

The kids felt that they could have left the swing part for kids to play on. It is a Giant Swing.

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