Thursday, 31 December 2009

Bangkok -- Rattanakosin: ISLAND IN THE STREAM

Ok, the mystery has been solved: I now why Rattanakosin -- the former capital of Thailand established in 1782 -- is called an island ... but you'll need to keep reading till the end to find out why. Rattanakosin was deemed an easier place to defend in the old days, after Sukhothai and Ayuthaya, hence its choice as capital. (These days, it's just easier to keep all those shower-challenged backpackers contained inside here, away from the general population.)

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I've been travelling to Bangkok for 22 years now and today marked my first visit to Wat Po. (By contrast, most tourists have ticked this off within a couple of hours of touching down on their first visit. I can vouch for this, because I think most of Thailand's 14 million tourists were there when I visited it this morning.)

The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, the oldest and largest temple in Thailand, really is something to behold: it is roughly the same size as an Airbus A-380, but being gold is probably way more expensive.

Also took the chance to research the massage service there. You see, Thai massage is said to have its origins at Wat Po. I'll do a blog specifically on the pummelling I received at the hands of what looked like a young and dainty Thai lady. But they tell me it's good for me and I should be fully recovered by mid-January.

Still no sign of the ocean or a bridge or why Rattanakosin is called an island.

Then onto the Giant Swing (see photo), a 30-metre relic from hundreds of years ago when the Brahmins used to swing on this thing, higher and higher and higher, while bags of gold coins were thrown in the air and they had to catch them in their teeth. If they caught a bag, they were allowed to use the money to pay for their dental repairs. The swing has had ups and downs over the years, literally, with cracks, and renovations, and ultimately so much bloodshed (well, it is messy when you get thrown from a swing at full tilt at the top of its trajectory and loop-the-loop onto the concrete below) that it was decided to close it down as recently as the 1930s.

Opposite is Wat Sathat, one of nine temples included in the Nine Temple Crawl (ok, it's not called that, but there's a tour you can do that takes in the magic lucky number of nine temples in a day on Rattnakosin to garner maximum merit).

I graciously declined, as I get templed out after ... well, actually, one temple is about enough for me which is strange given I live in Chiang Mai with around 311 temples on offer.

Instead, after a good strong coffee or two, we took in the National Museum and National Gallery, housed in lovely buildings in the tree lined streets of Rattanakosin. Yes, if you've just tuned in, this is Bangkok we're talking about here.

Returning to the hotel, it dawned on me I still hadn't found out why this is Koh Rattanakosin, an island. So  -- summoning all the resources available to me as a card-carrying fully-accredited professonional travel journalist of several years standing -- I asked the hotel receptionist. The charming Khun Whatsername pulled out a tourist map, and pointed: 'Because of the canals.' And there they were, clear as daylight. Two canals, an inner one and and outer, that stem from the river, and do actually separate Rattanakosin from the rest of mainland Bangkok.

Oh! You'll find me at the bar if you have any more questions.

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