Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thailand Part 1: Getting Acquainted With The King

Thailand. What an awesome place.

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We flew into and spent the majority of our time in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. Wikipedia translates the ceremonial name of the city to: "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam". It holds the world record for longest place name.

The day of arrival is always fun. I feel especially cool. Of all the people I saw that day, how many of them had been rockin' out in Hong Kong 5 hours ago? Not so many, I think. In your face, Thailand!

Clarence and I left almost 2 days before Mike and Allison, so we were on our own for the moment. We hadn't even left the airport before we got taken for suckers. I was a bit worried about how things were going to be outside the airport. I had already read in my Thailand Lonely Planet guide about the legendary shadiness of some of the cab drivers, so when we saw a legitimate-looking taxi company doing business on the safe side of the airport doors, I was interested. I was new to Baht, the Thai currency, so I don't remember the extent of how bad we got it, but I think we paid 2 or 3 times what Mike and Allison paid for the same trip.

On top of that, the taxi driver was super lost for quite some time. While that was a bummer, I enjoyed the tour of the city that our wandering provided.

The first thing I was struck by was the huge amount of king-related monuments everywhere. I've been to London and Tokyo, both with some form of royal people, but I've never seen anything like this. Thailand is covered in pictures of the King, from small portraits in people's houses to giant billboards on highways. I found the nature of the pictures interesting as well. They often depict the King as a very approachable kind of guy, not a triumphant warrior king or anything like that. Thailand has pretty serious punishments for lèse-majesté, the crime of insulting the royal family. An interesting Christian Science Monitor article covers the subject and the story of an Australian novelist arrested for the offense here.

Here are a few little shots of royal-looking stuff I saw. I took them through the window of a moving cab so give them a break, will ya?

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