On the way out of the forest we went by a pond where I saw what I first thought was a shiny bit of hose. I realized that would be out of place and went back to look again. I saw a little bit of an long, dark, shiny, otherwise concealed snake. As soon as I yelled "snake" it took off. The guide guessed that it might be a king cobra. While we ate our lunch an osprey fished for his.
I don’t know how he did it, but if a tiny bird perched atop a tall tree, our guide would spot it for us to jump out of the pickup with cameras ready. Our next goal would not have been so hard to spot if the holiday traffic had not driven them deeper into the forest – wild elephants. They only left clues to taunt us. Macaques came out to cage handouts from passing cars.
The bus back to Bangkok contrasted dramatically with our first experience. You might ride in several classes of buses. They have buses with fans, buses with air conditioning and buses with air conditioning that works. We would ride on one with small, hard seats and open windows one trip and then get on a plush double decker the next. All the buses have a driver and an attendant. On one the attendant’s main job would be to open his window as the bus was passing to warn cars that we were about to pull back into our proper lane while waving with the other hand to slow down the oncoming truck, but on this trip the attendant was a young woman in a stewardess uniform who would come by periodically with snacks and drinks.
We did see an elephant after all. It walked out a bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 as we return to the apartment. 'An elephant walks into a bar…' what is the punch line to that one?
It was New Year’s Eve so we headed to Siam Square where everyone who stayed in Bangkok would be celebrating. Near by Erawan Shrine thronged with people leaving garlands of flowers and lighting big handfuls of incense. We could not linger downwind in the dense smoke. A few blocks East we found a Wat where chanting monks left us mesmerized until back on the square midnight arrived with a big fireworks show.
The next couple of days we tested our skill with the river taxis to discover more sights. The river taxi, a larger version of the khlong taxi. Like a big bus it stops at piers up and down the Chao Phraya. The driver sits up front and his assistant signals him with a whistle as he jumps out to loop a rope around a post on the pier. At another signal the boat backs up holding it to the pier long enough for passengers to jump on or off. Finally with another whistle blast the boat takes off while the assistant snatches up the rope and leaps back on board. He or she must also pick out the new passengers in the crowd to collect the fare.
Jan especially wanted to see the Grand Palace and the Royal Barges. As we arrived the palace guards blocked off the streets and only ushered through the gate groups arriving by bus and wearing black and white. We discovered that the King’s sister had died that morning and the palace was closed to visitors. Black and white are colors of mourning.
Back to the pier we rode to a stop across the river. Again the street was blocked for an official procession from the hospital where the Princess had been. After that we could not find an empty cab. A woman noticed our confusion and offered to help. “Where you go” was often heard usually as a prelude to the offer of an overpriced ride but many want only to help. She said we just needed to walk up the street and over a khlong bridge to see the Royal Barges. These large boats are rowed on the river for ceremonial occasions such as the King’s birthday, but otherwise kept in a large riverside building. Our path took us to the back entrance, a twisting, narrow boardwalk between buildings built over the water, only to find out it was closed until the next day. The guard took pity on us opening up the outer door so we could glimpse through the barred gate the colorful splendor of these boats carved at the prow with figures in Buddhist mythology. We did not enjoy the standard tour that day but did have a rather unique traveler’s experience.