1 Jan 2015

Thailand Mission Trip 2014 - Part One: Bangkok

Introducing, a new series on JessePædia: Thailand Mission Trip 2014. You can read about the mission meetings and the work we put to prepare for this trip on 'Volunteer Forever'. In this series, I aim to post every two weeks, sharing about my experiences during the mission trip, with each post being about a theme or a place. Without further ado, here is part one — Bangkok:

After a nine-hour flight we arrived in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Even from the plane, we saw it was busy and full of life. We disembarked the plane and felt the tropical humidity, which was nice considering it was winter in Melbourne. Then, we were taken to the YWAM base to spend the night. 


Flying over Indonesia
Arriving into Bangkok
In the morning, we woke to the heat and sound of Bangkok. Our breakfast consisted of a variety of tropical fruit and toast with jam. I was late to our early start of a cultural tour of Bangkok because I was held up by an interesting conversation with an American couple. They were surprised when I told them it was winter in Australia, because they came to YWAM Bangkok on their summer. Rushed, I quickly packed my bag, grabbed a water bottle and we started to walk.

Bangkok smelt like a combination of a dodgy pad thai with egg and rubbish, which was evident on our way to our first attraction. We visited Gold Mount (Wat Saket), a popular tourist attraction for Buddhists, by bus, foot and river boat. Bangkok is full of canals and river boats, just like Venice. 


River boat
We could already see the poverty in Thailand. 
Gold Mount was full of tourists and school-children. The note on the stairs to the temple said '250 steps', I decided to test that. The temple was golden and had a great view of Bangkok. We could see everything from houses to sky scrappers to farm areas. We saw many Buddhist travellers paying their respects to Buddha. 





We climbed the second storey of the temple, there was the golden spire, at least five metres in diameter. Around it was a red carpet and a statue. People took their shoes off and bowed down to the spire. This confused me, I thought Buddhists bow to Buddha images. So, I asked the translator what was going on. She told me they believe Buddha's bones are inside there. Then, I asked her how old the temple was and she said it is about one-thousand years old. This puzzled me because Buddha died more than two thousand years ago and this temple is around one-thousand years old, how can they be sure it is really Buddha's bones.  




People praying to the spire


Before leaving, I gave in and hit the gong. I just couldn't resist it. 

On the way down, I counted 148 steps altogether but no one cared :(. There were also random statues on the stair-breaks. One was a depiction of a man being eaten by vultures. Fair enough. 

When leaving, two Thai girls excitedly came up and asked one of the team where is he from. When replying 'Australia', they asked 'are you a soccer player?'. He said he plays soccer but not professionally. Disappointedly, they said they were sure he was the soccer player they saw on TV last night. 

Next, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch, then a palace where the emerald Buddha is kept. 
The Ministry of Defence. We saw this while walking to the palace. 
When we got there, we were welcomed with signs reading: 'Don't disrespect Buddha'. 
"Sounds interesting". I read their flyer, it said they find it offensive to keep a Buddha image as furniture, to put a Buddha on the ground, to have a tattoo of Buddha, to have shoes with Buddha on them and to name your dog 'Buddha' or name a bar after him. They're looking at you, "funky Buddha club". I guess it would be like naming a bar, 'the Christ bar' or 'the Muhammed bar', it sounds weird and offensive. 



The palace was a time-travel back to Mediaeval Thailand. The fact people built highly detailed palaces in the Bangkok heat without modern technology fascinated me. The buildings were golden with colourful mosaic tiles, all were impressed by the intricate designs. 



Entire pillars were covered with patterns like this. 



Many tourists were there, along with the usual suspects from the US, Britain, Australia and China. The tourists stood out wearing Thai elephant pants. 

We weren't allowed to wear shoes in the building where the Emerald Buddha was kept and I was remanded for walking in while wearing a hat. The inside was dark and walls were covered in paintings of Buddhist stories. I thought the paintings of tigers were cool. There was a sea of people sitting on the floor facing the emerald Buddha, sitting high on the platform with a glass box around it. People were praying, others (like me) were admiring the art. 

We left the palace and took a sky-train to Siam Centre. It reminded me of the train in Divergent. Siam Centre is a massive shopping complex. There were high class brands inside, ranging from Ferrari to H&M. The guys and girls got up and did some window shopping. The guys looked at cars, phones and watches while the girls looked at clothes and bags. 

The day finished by going to a dodgy-looking restaurant for dinner. The restaurant had no door, served on plastic plates and the menu was made up of pictures of food with prices on the walls. I drank coke out of a glass bottle for the first time and surprisingly it tasted better than coke in plastic bottles. 

We ordered and shared our meals after we bought them. Then it happened. Thinking that eating chillies on almost everything at home would have me in good stead, I served myself some penang chicken and rice. I took a bite, 'mmmm, this is nice'. I ate the delicious combination of chicken, spices, coconut milk, peanuts and rice in one hand and drank coke with the other. I continued eating like this until I ate half of the curry. That's when the kick came in, this was incredibly spicy. Thai spicy is not flavour, it is literally heat. I felt the heat go up to my ears and to the back of my throat. My mouth was on fire. I drank two bottles of coke, a litre of water and two servings of rice, nothing was helping. I learnt that night to never drink anything when eating hot food. But still, it was probably the best penang chicken I have ever ate. 

Finally, we stopped by 7Eleven for some ice-cream (which was incredibly cheap) and walked back to the YWAM base. It was a big day for most of us on our first day in Thailand. 

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