On a riverboat ride along the Chao Phraya River, we passed dozens of small wooden houses that were packed together on the water’s edge. The river framed the back porches of the one-room homes, which seemed to teeter dangerously on the edge of the dark, murky river. We waved at the smiling locals who lounged on their back porches as we floated by on our way to the Temple of Dawn, which is a bit easier to say than the Thai name for the temple, which is Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan.
The temple was also hard to reach, as the stairs to the top were nearly vertical. I lunged up the stone stairs and practiced balancing so I wouldn’t plummet to my death on the second day of the trip, and after snapping a few pictures to document my accomplishment, I turned on the spot to admire the 360 degree view of Thailand’s slow-flowing rivers, countless temples, and busy streets.
After descending the stone stairs, I wandered among vendors tending souvenir-laden stands, and they put their products right under my nose while simultaneously screaming lower and lower prices in response to my “no, thank you.” We escaped the vendors and jumped back on the boat to go to the Grand Palace. This palace (like all temples in Thailand) had a strict dress code: no shorts, capris, tank tops, tight pants, etc. Forewarned, I had brought a knee-length skirt with me, so after changing into modest attire, I entered the high walls surrounding the palace.
When we arrived at the palace’s temple (the most revered temple in Thailand), Del instructed us to take off our shoes and enter silently. However, the sign posted “don’t point your feet at the Buddha” made me guffaw stupidly, and I clasped my hands over my mouth at the reproachful glares from the locals. I noticed a picture of a camera with an “X” over it, but made a plan to play dumb if I got caught sneaking a photo in.
At Del’s request, I knelt inside the gold and ruby-studded temple and gazed up at the solid emerald Buddha statue, which sat at the top of a pyramid of jewels looking down on worshipers. I had far more fun watching small children mimic their parents’ bows than anything else. I pretended to bow, but in reality I had my camera hidden in front of my body as I tried to capture the iconic Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of jade).
I’m sure the reservations for lunch were made with the comment “20 American students,” so the riverside restaurant attempted to cook spaghetti and French fries. Lunch was also my first experience with Thai food—and it was good! The smell of curry surrounds everything in Thailand. After singeing off my nostril hairs inhaling curry chicken, I picked up some fruit that looked like white kiwi with a hot pink skin and took a bite—not very sweet, but good. The dessert (some kind of yellow paste), had me wondering if it might have been only for decoration. I was sure that someone had sprayed perfume in my mouth in between bites.