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Thailand post#2: Jim Thompson House, tuk tuks, Grand Palace, Hot Pot

Posted Apr 12 2013 8:00am

On the second day of our trip, Ken was scheduled to attend his student's doctoral defense in the early afternoon, but we had a couple of hours before lunch at the university, so we decided to walk to the Jim Thompson House which was not too far from our hotel. The walk involved dodging traffic (pedestrians travel at their own risk!) and crossing the very high, sky train tracks, but was only about a 10-minute walk.

Jim Thompson was an American architect who, after WWII, decided to move to Bangkok. He bought six Thai houses and had them constructed together using traditional Thai methods, into one extraordinary teak dwelling. He was an avid art collector and filled the house with a beautiful collection of pieces. He also founded the Thai Silk Company. According to the Web site;
In late 1948, Thompson established the Thai Silk Company Limited. It was important to him that the controlling interest in the company was held by Thai nationals. When the company was incorporated, selling 500 shares at $50 each raised an initial registered capital of $25,000. Out of the shares sold, 51% were owned by Thai citizens and the remaining 49% owned by foreigners. By 1967, the company's turnover was approximately $ 1.5 million.
According to Thompson's Chinese horoscope, he was warned to be careful during his 62nd year, and strangely enough, during a vacation with friends in Malaysia, Jim Thompson disappeared on a walk at the age of 61. There are theories as to what may have happened to him, but no definitive answers as to why he mysteriously disappeared into thin air.

 We really enjoyed our visit to the Jim Thompson house and gardens.

A couple of things caught my eye on our walk there and back, as well, like a detailed fence ...

And an urban garden.

After our morning exploits, we were transported to the University where we had lunch. For us vegans, it was a simple dish of rice and veggies — no tofu or anything unusual, and I failed to photograph it. After lunch Ken was headed to the defense and I was to be escorted by two grad students to The Grand Palace. When I had been asked earlier by our host what I'd like to do, I said I wanted to visit wats, or Buddhist temples, and The Grand Palace was the plan.

The students asked my preference for transport — (air conditioned) taxi, tuk tuk or boat. Everything I'd read before coming to Thailand advised to avoid the tuk tuks, which are basically three-wheeled motorcycles with a rear bench seat and a canopy. They travel and weave at fast speeds through polluted air, and have a tendency to tip. (When my husband first went to Thailand I made him promise not to ride in one.) So what did I choose? I wanted to experience a typical Thai method of transport so yes, I chose the tuk tuk. Most of the tuk tuk drivers wear face masks to protect them from pollution, and now I know why.

Driving in Bangkok is not for the timid. Although I was assured there were indeed speed limits and other rules of the road, it was hard to tell that as we sped along, weaving in and out of long lines of traffic. It was exciting, to say the least. One thing I found particularly unnerving was seeing the motorcycles, of which there were legions, driving between the lanes of crazy car traffic. Pedestrians are basically on their own as traffic signals don't seem to have the same impact they do in the U.S. I saw no accidents which seemed like a small miracle.

I found a youtube video that will give you a little taste of what riding in a tuk tuk is like.

The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha

We arrived safely at The Grand Palace and signed on to a tour in English. It was a mere 105˚F, bright sun, high humidity and no air conditioning, but inside the buildings it was surprisingly tolerable. I noticed this everywhere we went — the buildings seemed to capture cool breezes even when there weren't any on the street — sometimes with the help of fans, but sometimes mysteriously.

The Grand Palace complex was built in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne and was the royal residence and center of government. In addition to all the residences and government buildings,  The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha is also located there.

The royal family lived in the complex until 1925. The complex is approximately 218,400 sq. meters and is surrounded by four high walls.

Every building and piece of sculpture within the complex is spectacular — colorful, shimmering, mesmerizing, awe inspiring.

I wish I could remember all the information given to us by our guide but the tour was long and it was so hot, my brain was threatening to melt.

When we arrived at the last building on the tour and I realized we had already been inside before the tour began, I decided to skip the presentation. You must remove your shoes before entering Thai buildings and I was too wiped out to remove my shoes one more time. Wimp.

We attempted to take the boat taxi back to campus but after two boats filled before we could board, made the decision to take a taxi instead. None of the taxis would take us so we ended up taking a tuk tuk. Had I known we wouldn't be able to take the boat back, I would have opted to take it there, so I could experience both types of transport. (On our walk to the boat we passed many colorful shops, and this one caught my eye.)

Back at the University we learned that the doctoral defense had been successful and the newly minted PhD, second from left, was all smiles. The students on the far right and far left were the ones who had accompanied me to The Grand Palace.

Later that evening, a group of us went to a Hot Pot restaurant for dinner. We vegans were given a quantity of raw vegetables and tofu to cook in a large pot of what appeared to be water but was probably broth. Everyone else had vegetables and meat.

This was another one of our simple but tasty meals.

On our way back to the hotel we passed what appeared to be an outdoor gym with a lot of people working out. Although it was early evening, it was still ghastly hot and humid, and I can't imagine exercising in such heat.
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