We thought we would start with the basic tourist stuff, spelled WAT, and see if we can get our bearings to wander the city tomorrow and the next day. At the suggestion of the hotel clerk we took the sky train to the river and then boarded a river boat to the dock closest to the Royal Palace.
There is a demonstration planned for today and the hotel guy thought the traffic would be tied up and the best way into town would be above street level and on the water. Neither of which is likely to be affected by the large crowds expected to gather to protest the new amnesty law being debated that would allow politicians from a previous government to come back from exile without punishment.
We found the tourists. Every tourist present in Bangkok is at the Royal Palace. I have a sneaking suspicion it is like this every day, much the same as the Forbidden City in Beijing. We should have learned from that experience and arrived right at opening. I think the crowds would have been less. The first 300M of the route has a person standing or moving on every square meter. There is a chance to divert from the obvious path and Debbie and I take the alternate route. It is much quieter and we can move along at our speed and take in the sites. This palace and its grounds are the center piece of Thailand’s monuments and it is easy to see why. The detail and ornateness is mind boggling. The Thai people have also understood that maintenance is very important to the life of this national monument. This is something that we will see all day long as we visit other wats.
There are very strict rules on what can be worn in the Royal Palace compound. Debbie had on long shorts but they were not long enough for the regulations. She had to borrow a sarong from the textile museum before we could proceed to the ticket booth. As I stood waiting, one lady had an argument with the guard because he said to her a scarf draped over her shoulders was not acceptable, she must obtain a shirt from the clothing distributor. I do not know why she thought arguing will change the situation; she is not going to win.
After departing an area far too crowded for our liking we create our own route that allows us to see some wats (temples) I had marked of interest in my pre-trip research. Every one we stopped at was very well maintained and extremely detailed. There is a lot of gold glittering but I think a good majority is paint not gold or gold leaf as is claimed in Myanmar. The places are for the most part active places of worship and they are very impressive indeed.
The oddest thing about today is the protest. Debbie and I had discussed that if we ran into any masses of humanity gathering on the street we would head in a different direction. Unfortunately, a couple of times when we head in the direction of this place or the next we have to cross an area where protesters are gathering. The first time it was an impromptu gathering right near the Royal Palace. We walk through the edge of the crowd at double time. There are only a couple of hundred people and it all seemed rather peaceful.
The second time we cross paths with the gathering mass is passing by Democracy Square. We later find out this is the spot where the protest is to be. Again we skirt the edge of the group and double time it. Once passed we think we are in the clear and continue our journey to the new palace. The new palace is in an area where a good lot of government buildings are. We cross a canal, on the other side is coils and coils of ribbon wire. It looks pretty scary. Just beyond the ribbon wire is a policeman peering over a tall concrete barrier. I thought this odd and assumed it was some sort of military establishment beyond and it required some sort of special protection. We walk the block and as we approach the next intersection there is more ribbon wire, more concrete barriers and an entire phalanx of police dressed in riot gear with shields propped on the concrete. The first intersection was scary but this is down right intimidating.
Each street we pass has the same setup. We realize if the protesters start to move this is the street they will follow, it is the government buildings they will head for and these guys dressed in blue are the ones here to protect them. We arrive at the corner we must turn on to get to the new palace and it is blocked by yet another wall of concrete and police. I ask one of the officers if the palace is down this road and he says yes, yes go ahead. Both of us thought it strange we should be let in behind police lines but in we go thinking if we put enough distance between the barrier and us we would be safe. The palace is closed on Mondays, which we did not realize and walked a long way for nothing.
So we walk in the direction opposite to the street of potential danger. The blocks are very long and it is not possible to see from one intersection to the other. As we get to the end of the block we start seeing more police vehicles. There is a barricade protecting the other end of the street in case a riot is started on the street parallel. Debbie and I realize we have just passed through a DMZ. Never been in one of those and as we did not know we were in one it wasn’t even scary.
Our next destination, the marble temple, is also in another DMZ on the next street over. The wat is faced with imported Italian marble, quite beautiful and I would imagine quite expensive. We get there as soon as we can, rush through not giving it the time it deserves and again try to head in a direction not likely to be involved in any trouble.
Wats till the end, with a little DMZ thrown in. We intend to take a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel but Debbie looks at the map and realizes we are within walking distance and we hoof it back to a room with AC and a spot to lay prone. There is one more wat to see and that should be it for the next two days.