August 4, 2007: Day 15

Grand Palace, Bangkok

We got a sort-of early start and went straight to the Grand Palace. The grounds were so over the top that I’m literally left speechless. The second we walked through the gates, it was a combination of image and color overload. Everything was ginormous (except the small Angkor Wat replica), but crammed into such a small place. The Grand Palace is truly grand and I’m glad we didn’t try to see it all in a few hours yesterday. We spent a lot of time looking for Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha housed within, but when we finally found it, the Buddha was so tiny and dwarfed by all the other grandeur around it. We walked through the rest of the grounds, but ended sooner than we planned because we were melting in all the clothes we were required to wear.

After that we went to the Vimanmek Goldenwood Teak Mansion, but not before a seriously sketchy tuk tuk ride. Originally the driver told us that it would be 100 baht and Kim managed to talk him down to 50, at which point the driver suddenly lowered the fare to 40 baht if we would go and check out a jewelry store. I didn’t realize what was going on at first since he was mostly talking about free gas (which apparently he got for bringing us to the store), but when we arrived at the store, I was on the alert for scams. Luckily there were none and when it was clear that we weren’t buying anything, we were ungraciously dismissed from the store. Honestly, I’m glad I had Kim around in these situations because I’m pretty sure I would have been kidnapped a long time ago if it weren’t for the fact that at least one of us was paying attention.

The mansion was beautiful; I wish I could have taken pictures of the inside. For some reason, I thought of my parents and how I thought they would be really happy to live in a place like that. I loved the wood floors and the colors of the rooms and even the somewhat ridiculous dishware that was a different color for each day of the week. There was this lovely veranda that I think looked out over a place where the king could swim or bathe. I want a veranda like that one day. I think it would be perfect for hammocks.

Then we went to the Chatuchak Market, which was pretty much several blocks of pure chaos. The heat, the crowds and the size caused us to leave early and head back to Khao San for the last of our shopping.

Then it was time to go. We packed up and walked to the bus station, bought our tickets and began our journey home. SE Asia is definitely the most “different” place I’ve ever been. I found myself to be more uncomfortable here than anywhere else I’ve been because I so obviously stand out as being foreign and because when I leave the tourist areas, I feel as though I’m intruding upon something private. SEA is dirtier and more chaotic than anywhere I’ve been and while people are generally warm and friendly, there’s a toughness about them that’s hard to ignore. Kim pointed out that Japan is so orderly and uniform; once you figure out how to do one thing somewhere, it’s the same everywhere else. In SEA though, everything is different all the time and things like lines and turns don’t really exist.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have fun. I had a lot of fun and like Kim said, this wasn’t a luxury trip. SEA is a lot of contradictions – beautiful, but dirty; friendly, but tough; cheap, but expensive; same same, but different. I think that someday I would like to come back, but focus on one thing – like trekking in Northern Thailand and Laos, or take cooking or massage courses in every country, or being a beach bum in Southern Thailand.

I love traveling. Sometimes I think that it teaches you more about yourself than about the place you’re visiting. I’ve now been to more countries than states and I find this both lame and awesome. If there’s one thing I can say about my time with JET, it’s that I’ve come to value this concept of “internationalization.”

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