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Cycling in Bangkok

Friday, May 2, 2014

After more than 16 months on the road, riding in some of the worlds most congested cities, you’d think I would have no problems with traffic. At least those were my thoughts as I decided to explore Bangkok by bicycle, but the reality was something quite different and I was genuinely afraid. It’s not just the volume of traffic (though this is horrendous and the roads are gridlocked most of the time) but the motorbikes which zoom into any available space. They don’t consider bicycles have a right on the roads (include the taxis in that statement too!) and were constantly forcing me over. Consequently I started to use the Skytrain and metro – it’s not like me to give in, but I would not have made it out of Bangkok in one piece otherwise.

So once more, camera in tow, I set off to photograph the local tourist attractions. After all this time in Asia I thought I was getting a little jaded with some of the temples, but those here in Thailand changed my mindset. Lonely Planet guides will warn you about the numerous scams in Thailand and I had first hand experience when approaching the temples, being told the complex was closed because of a royal gathering and offered a tour to other tourist sites (for a price). I ignored the tout and sure enough everything was open.

Wat Pho

My first stop was one of the largest and oldest Wats in Bangkok, Wat Pho. It is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived and is also known as “The Temple of the Reclining Buddha” because it houses a 43 m long reclining gold Buddha. The temple is thought to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and a massage school is still in operation in the complex.

The ‘Reclining Buddha’ at Wat Pho

Not just a home for one of the largest Buddha’s, Wat Pho also houses more than one thousand Buddha images.

Each Buddha is uniquely different.

There are sixteen gates to the temple, each one guarded by Chinese giants carved out of rocks (these were originally imported as ballast on ships trading with China) and there are also many royal stone statues scattered all around the grounds.

One of the gate guardians at Wat Pho

Royal statues are dotted around the temple.

Stupas (or chedis) are also very much in evidence and these contain relics, typically ashes of Buddhist monks and the royal family.

Stupas in the courtyard of Wat Pho

Just around the corner from Wat Pho was the Royal Palace and the Emerald Buddha. The fact that you cannot take pictures partly influenced my decision not to pay for this particular tourist icon, especially as entry to the grounds was free.

The Royal Pace in Bangkok

A little further towards the city centre and I passed the city pillar shrine and a rather unusual looking roundabout with three elephants on. Certainly one of the most colourful traffic calming statues I’ve come across.

The City Pillar Shrine, Bangkok

Three elephants in Bangkok

Wat Arun was across the river and most tourists take a boat to go there. I would probably have gone given more time but after speaking to another backpacker, the Wat is undergoing major restoration work (you can see the scaffolding in the picture) I decided this photograph would do me. The ideal of course is to return to the river at night, when it is lit up.

Wat Arun undergoing restoration work.

And that just about concluded my whirlwind tour of Thailand. I had a flight out the next day to Hong Kong and then onwards to Canada. Getting the flight had been a nightmare, as once again my bank (TSB) let me down, my credit card not being authorised for use in Thailand. So by the time I got it sorted I ended up paying a lot more than I could afford for the flight out. Things were going to get interesting when I finally get started cycling across Canada and my “Goodwill Tour” would have to work for me.

I’ll tell you about the flight and being looked after by a lovely Warmshowers couple in my next blog – stay tuned.

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