Sunday, August 1
I slathered on some sunblock, threw on my hat and ventured out into the punishing afternoon sun for a visit to Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It's Thailand's Taj Mahal and the holiest temple on the country, housing the biggest and most over-the-top intricate golden shrine I've ever laid eyes on. Although the 500-year-old Buddha at the top is, ironically, quite small, it's held in such high esteem that it draws devotees from all over Thailand. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is accompanied by several other spectacular buildings inside a big compound, including the Royal Mausoleum, Porcelain Vilhharn, Supplementary Library, Prangs, Royal Pantheon, Phra Mondop, Phra Si Ratana Chedi, and even a scale model of Cambodia's biggest temple, Angor Wat.
Every square inch of this compound--inside and out--is completely smothered with such a crazy amount of glitz that it makes any building in Las Vegas look like a rusty old tool shed. That seems kind ironic coming from a religion that espouses such an austere lifestyle. Many surfaces are bathed in dried liquid gold and peppered with a seemingly infinite number of colored and mirrored tile, and the whole enchilada is surrounded by four walls covered with intricate murals depicting the epic tale of good vs. evil, the Ramayana, in gold-highlighted detail.
Wat Phra Kaew closed at 4:30 p.m., so I crossed the street and sat on a bench in a little park, where I tried to beat the heat by eating a chunk of pineapple from a food cart. Suddenly, the most pushy hawker of all time tried to force upon me some little plastic bags of corn to feed the pigeons. I politely refused, then he put a few bags on my leg anyway. I waited a few seconds for him to remove them, then I just sat them on the ground. He kept badgering me, so I yelled, "No!" and he finally stalked off to his next victim, a European tourist family.
A couple of the teenage family members fed a few bags to the pigeons, then a short while later, a shouting match over the amount of payment broke out between the hawker and two men from the family. I'm sure he was trying to make them overpay. I knew that guy was bad news, which is why I avoided him from the very beginning. It was pretty sad that such a pleasant activity as feeding pigeons had to turn so sour. Other than that, this was a fine day of sightseeing.