Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year from Bangkok! 1/23/2012

Just by luck,  our time here in Bangkok has coincided with Chinese New Years, and we've had great fun observing the festivities.  Bangkok is all "gussied up" for the big holiday, with signs, banners, many shrines with offerings, etc.  There are celebrations in the street, in the malls and in the temples!

The actual New Years Day is today, January 23rd.  It's the year of the dragon--so what better way to celebrate than to go to Bangkok's big Chinatown district and join in the fun?

Our plan was to head over to Chinatown in the early afternoon, explore the streets and shops, have lunch and wait for the big parade.  Oh, the best laid plans.......

We left our hotel and headed for the nearest subway station just a few blocks away.  This was our first time riding Bangkok subway, we've been using the Sky Train.  We were very impressed!  VERY clean, well signed and efficient.  We bought our tokens, and hopped on board.  The trains were fairly crowded, I don't think we're going to be lonesome in Chinatown today!

We got off at the appropriate stop, exited, and promptly got lost!  We took out our trusty map, but that wasn't helping much.  Finally David asked a nice lady for help, she didn't speak much English, but she was so sweet and helpful.  She  said "you come", and she actually walked us about 3 blocks to the entrance arch for Chinatown!  She very sweetly made sure we were safe when crossing the streets, and when she had escorted us to our destination, she smiled and said "Welcome to Thailand".  We thanked her sincerely, even including a few "wais"!  What a delightful experience!

(Note: A "wai" is the traditional Thai form of greeting, also used to express gratitude. It consists of a slight bow, with both palms pressed together is a prayer-like fashion.)

The streets were crowded, and we noticed a very heavy police presence:





We walked along, enjoying the people watching and admiring the Chinese New Years decorations everywhere.  

We just "followed the crowd" and soon found ourselves a another temple!  LOTS of people visiting today, and we decided to join them! Here's a view of the Traimit Witthayaram Temple

The Traimit Witthayaram Temple (commonly called the Golden Buddha Temple) is home to the largest SOLID gold Buddha in the world.  It's almost 16 feet tall, and weighs about 12,000 pounds!  How much is an ounce of gold these days?

This Buddha was originally enshrined in another temple, and it was covered in plaster to conceal it from enemies invading Thailand.  It was moved in 1931 to it's present location, still covered in its plaster coat.  During routine maintenance in 1955, the Buddha was accidentally dropped, and the plaster covering cracked, revealing the gold underneath.  I'll bet they forgave the unlucky workers that dropped it!

We paid our admission fee to see this amazing golden Buddha, and started up the stairs along with several hundred others.  At the top of the stairs there were a couple of green sculptures made from palm leaves (or banana leaves??)  One was in the shape of a dragon, and people were stapling money to it.  There was quite a crowd around it!



Many Thai visitors were dressed in their finest traditional clothing, and this little boy caught my eye.  Isn't he cute? (note the pile of shoes--no shoes allowed in the wat!)


We took our shoes and entered the wat, and WOW!  It's a beautiful Buddha:

The interior of this wat is much "fancier" that others we've seen:



The ceiling is beautiful:

After admiring that big, beautiful gold Buddha we went back down the stairs and walked around the wat.  We saw this big silver urn, and tossed a coin in to ensure a prosperous and lucky year.  Hope my wishes come true!


Off we went to join the ever-increasing crowds and explore Chinatown.  We noticed that nothing was open--we hadn't realized that 99% of the stores and restaurants would be closed for the holiday.  Darn! We'd planned on a leisurely lunch, maybe some dim sum;  then we'd  explore the fun little shops and interesting markets in Chinatown, and end with a nice dinner after the big dragon parade. 

Hmmmm, best laid plans.............

Since nothing was open we decided to take the BST back to the area around our hotel, have a late lunch and then return early evening to catch the dragon parade and enjoy the festivities and great atmosphere.
So we hopped on the subway, got off at the Asoke Station  and had a quick late lunch at a food court in an "upscale" mall in our area.  Food was  just o.k.,  but at least we weren't starving any more!  A quick trip back to our apartment to drop off some purchases and relax at the terrace bar for an hour or so.  Then it's right back onto that subway to Chinatown!

This time it was a mob of people! Thousands of people, the streets were just packed.  Soon after leaving the subway station we came to a road block--several police had all traffic stopped, both cars and pedestrians.   Of course, we couldn't understand much of what was discussed around us, but we finally overheard some English speakers and figured it out.  Gosh--the Queen is coming by!  So we stood and waited, and sure enough, the Queens Rolls Royce came driving by, with her majesty waving from the window.  Here she is:


It's very sweet to see the Thai people's reaction to their King and Queen--they LOVE them!  And you can really see it in their faces--waving and smiling, bowing, waving the flag of Thailand as she passed by.  It was a great to be a part of that!

Soon after the Queen's Rolls passed, we were allowed to continue on our way.  We were trying to get to the parade route, and so we pulled out our trusty map one more time.  Once again, a lovely Thai person came to our rescue and tried his best to help us.  His English was quite good, and David had a nice conversation with him:

We assumed the parade was after the Queen's speech, so we decided to try to get close to where she was speaking.  That was easier said than done!  Thousands of people--so crowded that it was hard to walk in some places.  But we enjoyed every minute--the atmosphere was electric!  Here are some pictures of the crowds and scenes along the way:



 Isn't he a cutie?  He's all dressed in red for good luck!


Finally we reached the parade route, and made our way as close to the street as possible.  It was a mad-house! Here's the street scene:



We couldn't get even close to where the Queen was speaking, but they had big TV screens set up so we could watch the proceedings.  Here's the Queen:

After presenting a few awards and making a short speech, it was time for the Queen to leave.  I had a very good spot, and my camera ready--I was hoping to get a good picture!  The crowd was almost frantic with excitement to see their Queen--lots of flag waving!  As I waited for her Rolls to pass, I felt a tentative touch on my arm and a small, very polite voice say "no camera".   I looked at her, a bit puzzled.  She again said "no camera, no photos of Queen allowed--is forbidden" This lovely young Thai  lady was kindly letting me know that I was NOT to photograph their Queen.  I thanked her sincerely, put the lens cap back on my camera, and just enjoyed watching the crowd wave to their Queen.  (I'm thinking that picture I'd taken earlier of the Queen in her Rolls Royce doesn't count--because you really can't see her in the picture!)

After the Queen and her entourage drove by, we patiently waited for the "real" parade to start.  Nothing seemed to be happening, and we finally found a nice gentleman from Australia to ask--and he informed us that the dragon parade had taken place this afternoon.  Rats--we missed it!  I guess that's what happens when one doesn't speak (or read!) the language; it's a bit difficult to make plans.

But not to worry--we still enjoyed the crowds and the atmosphere--it was one B-I-G street party, and we were right in the middle of it!  The streets were lined with food vendors, vendors selling souvenirs and lots of street performers.  










There were some interesting food booths everything from  roasted chestnuts:

To squid eggs!  Although I absolutely love squid, and eat it often--I passed this one by!  It seemed to be a very popular snack, though.

There was also a cart selling dried squid--each piece was proudly displayed, and we even watch the nice smiling lady squish the dried squid into really flat, thin pieces:



Even though we missed the Dragon Parade, we DID get to see a dragon dance!  It was fun to watch,  the drums were amazing.  Here's a video that David took:

video


After walking (well, kind of walking--it was really more like shuffling along with the crowd, and at times it was like swimming up stream in a fast current!) a few blocks, we decided that as much as we were loving the festive atmosphere, the crowds were just too much!  We turned around (that was fun!) and walked back in the direction of the subway station.


We took a slightly different route, and enjoyed some other street performers. 


Here's an older Thai gentleman playing a mean electric guitar:
video

And a more traditional Thai group:


video

We especially enjoyed watching this cute little boy dance:

video

One last look at the Chinatown Arch:






It was a crazy, fun, hectic and wonderful evening in Chinatown!  What perfect way to celebrate Chinese New Years with my sweetie (and about 50,000 other lovely people)!



6 comments:

  1. Chinatown...what a wonderful experience and to think Di got a picture of the Rolls royce with the Queen in it. Lot of people and excitement in the air. That little blond haired boy in red was adorable. Wonder what he was eating on a stick? I particularly liked the part of going back to your room in the afternoon and having a cocktail on the terrace bar! Rejuvenated...the Lundburys venture back to see the Queen. Too bad you missed the parade but I think you saw quite enough anyway. Another wonderful day in Thailand...Chinese New Year. Thanks for the fantastic blog post...Love Brenda

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  2. I forgot to mention the GOLD buddha...spectacular. Wow...now that was something to see. Breathtaking. And I was right on some of my information...especially about taking your shoes off and not pointing your toes toward the buddha!

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  3. ALSO, the little videos at the end were fun to watch...I especially like the electric guitar with the lights on his hat! They are fun to watch...really nice additions to your blog posts Di!

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  4. Once again you have shared some GREAT pictures. Too bad you missed the Dragon Parade but the street activities were awesome. By the way, I figured out the Golden Budda is worth almost 20 million dollars ($19,800.000. I guess if I had an item that valuable I would hide it in plaster too!

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  5. Wow, another wonderful day. It is great that you guys are their and were able to experience Chinese New Year, even if you did miss the dragon parade. That GoldenBudda is pretty amazing and must have been something to see. The people looked very happy to be celebrating their New Year and also to see their Queen. As always your pictures are wonderful and along with your blog really help us to be able to enjoy Thailand along with you without the tired feet.

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  6. Hi, May i know hw to go chinatown at bangkok? you took train?

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