The day was not as I planned. In fact my plan was to wake up early and go to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, one of the must sees in Bangkok. Everyone who visits Bangkok goes there. But Bill had to work that morning. So the kids and I started the day looking for breakfast on the street wanting to avoid the hotel restaurant. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find food on the street for Cat; she’s a vegetarian. But we were lucky and found some vegetarian spring rolls and Thai iced coffee. We walked a bit further and found croissants, the best we’d had since leaving Oakland.
When we got back from breakfast, Bill still wasn’t ready, so without him we headed to a shrine. Bangkok was full of temples glistening with gold leaf, mirrors, and shiny, colored tiles. Even more common, though, were all the little altars placed throughout the city as stopping points for prayer. The shrine at Nai Lert Park was unique, however. Just getting there was different. We walked into the five star Swissotel and got directions from the concierge. He pointed us out the back to the swimming pool. There more hotel employees pointed us out the back gate into the parking lot. Another finger pointed us around the back of the parking lot to the temple.
Like any shrine in Thailand there were offerings of food laid out around the shrine, and the trees were wrapped with ribbons. But there was more to this shrine. We were greeted by a host of phalluses (phalli? phallae?). The first one that caught my eye was a monkey laying on his huge erection. His penis pointed way past his head. There were two penises with legs. Each had a penis sticking out the back with scrotum hanging below. Leaning against the trees were piles of wooden woodies. Some red, some brown, some yellow, some wrapped in ribbon, some studded. Hank loved it, and of course, he had to have his picture taken with several of the features. To my surprise, Cat also enjoyed the shrine.
Hank wanted to go back to the hotel to see if anyone was on Facebook (that 15 hour time difference with Oakland can be difficult), and Cat wanted to go to the mall. (I have two adolescents, no?) So we split up. In Bangkok there were at least four different malls along a two kilometer strip, each at least five stories high. The malls shared many of the same stores with each other and with the malls in America. There were the designer Gucci, Hermes, Versace stores as well as the Gap, Guess, and Lacoste. You could buy a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s or a sandwich at Au Bon Pain. The malls were filled with merchandise, and there were plenty of people, mostly Thai, ready to buy. I needed some things after six months of travel. I thought the mall would be the place. I couldn’t find a single thing. It was time for the next adventure.
It was time to meet Bill and Hank at the snake farm on the Thai Red Cross campus. “The Red Cross and snakes?” were my first thoughts. Those don’t go together. Ah, but they do. The snake handlers at the Red Cross milk the snakes for venom to prepare the antivenom needed throughout Thailand. The Thai live with fear of deadly snakes; there are king cobras, banded kraits, and blue coral snakes. The list goes on. At the snake farm we were hoping to meet them all. When we got to the Red Cross we again had to ask directions from a security guard, follow some small signs past the rabies investigation lab (I so wanted to go in). After the rabies lab we once again asked directions before we got to the entrance.
At the farm there was a wonderful museum with various snakes in cages. The snakes were beautiful. Some were hiding in their shelter, some were floating in the water, and some were coiled in the branches in the cages. Cat and I were amused and saddened by the frog trapped in a cage waiting to become snake food. Upstairs were exhibits with information on snake life cycles, snake anatomy, and envenomation. But the real treat was the snake handlers’ show. These are the handlers who brave the snakes to milk out their venom everyday. The most impressive handler was the grey haired guy who handles the king cobra. This snake was huge and mean. He came on stage being held by two men. When placed on the ground he immediately raised his head and spread his hood. He hissed. He lashed out. He was mad. Luckily his fangs never reached their target. When it was time to get him back in his cage, his handler approached him from the front. Their eyes were locked. The snake couldn’t see the hand that was above him. In a flash the handler struck down his hand right behind the snakes head and wrapped his fingers around the snake’s neck. Another handler came out to grab the rest of the snake as its long body thrashed around. Apparently, all of the handlers have been bitten. More than once. Fortunately, they’re in the right place for treatment.
After the snake farm, Cat and I again separated from the boys. They headed to a phone expo. We headed home. We never got there. The clouds were thick and threatening rain. We decided to walk through a city park (Lumphini) as a short cut. It was so pretty. We came to the lake with paddle boats. No one was out on the lake. We decided to go out. We were worried a bit about lightening strikes but only a little bit. We headed out on a yellow boat fronted with duck heads, one for each passenger. Carp and catfish were jumping all around us. Then a head sticking out of the water swam toward us. We had no idea what it was. We looked closer. A turtle? He was joined by two others. They floated next to our boat looking up at us. They wanted food. When we got back to the dock Cat asked for fish food. For 10 baht we were given a bag of dry, flat slices of bread. We had to go back out. The carp and catfish were once again jumping. This time all over each other trying to get a chunk of bread. The turtles arrived but wouldn’t take the bread that had fallen in the water. The fish climbed over the backs of the turtles, dunking them to get to the bread. The turtles needed to be hand fed the bread. Cat learned to grab a larger piece of bread, lean over the boat, and place the bread in the turtles’ mouths. We had a couple of friends after this.
But then it was time for the movie. We had agreed to meet up with Bill and Hank at the mall one more time. We took the Skytrain, grabbed a bagel, and headed up to watch Tom Cruise shoot guns, drive fancy cars, and beat up the bad guys in Mission Impossible 4. On the big screen. In IMAX. With surround sound. It was a huge exhibition, and there were maybe forty other people in the theater.
We never saw the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew while we were in Bangkok. But we saw things unique and hidden within the city on this day. Penises and snakes. Turtles and boats. The flashy and the simple. Without the crowds. Tourist or Thai. A perfect day of travel.