We went to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace, from 1782, the first ear of Bangkok rule by Rama I. A line of tuk-tuk drivers waited outside. “It’s closed,” they all said. “Reopens at 1PM. Come with me, I’ll take you shopping, have a friend with an amazing sale on gems…” We walked past them into the palace. The place was like Disneyland. Very baroque temple architecture: Adventureland, Fantasyland, it was sculpted with tailfins and was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Although I’d passed a travel test by not listening to anything a tuk-tuk driver tells me, I failed one by getting the CD audio guide (the rule is, never get one for anything that’s not an indoor art museum). It was useless, and trying to find my way back to return it took forever. The temperature soared to 105 and we had to wear long pants. It was the first place in Bangkok where we saw tourists – either nobody goes during the hot season or Bangkok’s so large it absorbs them all nicely – lots of Japanese tourists and not much else. The sun was three inches from my head. I drank a gallon of water. We then went to the Vimanek Teak Mansion, the world’s largest golden teak building, a 3-story 81-room mansion from 1910, a nice complex where the prince and his sister lived for awhile with some fine displays of old photos of turn-of-the-century Siamese ceremonies. Dilek and Cos left the house without telling us to buy ice cream. We searched the entire top floor, where the temperature was more like 205 than 105, and finally we left and found them under a tree happily eating ice cream, and I screamed at Dilek. I really let her have it. Cos always wanders off, partly because he’s an idiot and partly to get away from Dilek, but Dilek should know better. We saw some boring Thai dancing in an outdoor pavillion there. We ate in an outdoor restaurant on the grounds which was for the workers and groundskeeps. The food was amazing and far too spicy. I have no idea how people in hot climates eat spicy food.
We went to the Dusit Zoo, which on the map looked like it was next door, it probably was, but we couldn’t find it and it was too hot. We asked some people where it was, and they couldn’t understand. They couldn’t read the Thai in my Lonely Planet. I pointed to a billboard advertising the zoo and then shugged my shoulders and asked “where?” and they still didn’t understand. The Thai people are very nice but completely thick when it comes to body language, sign language, barely mispronouncing words, etc. (Their language has five different tones, rising and falling, and if you don’t say the word with the correct tone, forget it.) We found the zoo and it didn’t have much in the way of animals, though we were very impressed by the multicolored monkeys (Pythagrix Nemaeus: the Donc Langur (Douc Langur?). We sat down in a park there and a family gave us all mangoes and helped us cut them. We told them we were from Turkey. Such nice people.
We went to Lumphini stadium to see Muay Thai boxing. We arrived early and the windows were closed, but official-looking sellers came up to us in yellow “VIP” jackets and asked us if we wanted to sit or stand. I recognized this as a scam immediately – there were cheap standing areas, and there were sitting areas, and there was ringside, and I knew they’d say that the only area left to sit in would be ringside, and it was a weeknight and there was no way it was sold out, so I said I’ll buy tickets later. They got confused and followed us for awhile, but we waited. We gave up on being vegetarian just for this vacation and bought spicy meatballs on a stick from a crazy guy who sang to us. They were yummy and he asked where we were from and we said Turkey and he said Galatasaray. Soccer makes the world go round. Eventually the window opened and we bought non-ringside seats.
The preliminary bouts were the hardest to take, for they start out at the lowest weight categories, which meant we were watching a couple of 15-year-olds beat the crap out of each other. After the first round, the betting starts, and middle-aged men stand up and scream out their bets. The first bout had one kid beating another kid, and he was clearly the favorite. Then, suddenly, he gave what looked like a nice kick to the other guy’s head, except instead of the other guy falling down, he himself fell down, flat on his back, from exhaustion, and was carried off on a stretcher. The second fight was also two boys, one of which was like Randall “Tex” Cobb. He never connected and always got hit, and kicked, and hit, but he would not fall. It was disgusting. Finally, he did go down, and was carried off on a stretcher. In fact, most of the fights ended in a knockout, and most of the knockouts ended in one guy completely immobile, carried off on a stretcher. It was great fun. I ate roasted watermelon seeds and spit them on the floor. Life is good. It’s time to head north.