Along the way we learned that tapioca is a major export of Thailand along with rice and tiger prawns. We never knew where or what it came from. It turns out that it is the same as cassava and is a tall (10ft) spindly tree-like shrub. They harvest and process the roots which are tubers that are about 3 inches in diameter and look a bit like sweet potatoes. They pull up the plants to harvest the roots; cut up the stalks and then plant the pieces of stalk to generate another crop. The tubers are dried and processed into chips, flour or pellets and are used in all kinds of products.
The city of Bangkok was much more modern than we were expecting --- but still retains plenty of old-fashioned Asian backstreets, and strange sights to Western eyes.
They are building a new high-speed rail link between downtown and the new airport which is 15 miles out. They have a subway and commuter rail but not extensive. There is a big Chinatown area where it seemed every second shop was selling gold.
We stopped at a Temple and toured a building that was a replica of the original monastery where Buddha lived long ago in India. 5 floors with a spiral staircase – Buddhas galore on every floor.
Then on to the grounds of the King’s Palace – the most visited and important spot in Thailand. There is a residential compound there, but the part open to the public is an area of many buildings devoted to Buddhism and royal rituals. The “Emerald Buddha” is enshrined in one large, ornate building. It is actually a bluish jade and is considered the most important Buddha statue in Thailand. The king himself comes 4 times a year and, in an elaborate ceremony, washes the Buddha and dresses it in attire appropriate for the season. In another building is a throne where new kings are crowned. Another structure houses the ashes of former kings. BTW “The King and I” is based on at true story and the current monarchs are Anna’s descendants. Words fail me to describe the ornate and exotic nature of the buildings and statues here – I will provide some pics instead.
We walked from there through a sea of vendors (post cards, fans, umbrellas, purses, etc.) to a riverboat and had a boat tour of the city’s major rivers and one of the large canals. Bangkok is quite Venice-like and is cris-crossed with canals. Many people live either along (or floating on) the canals and we saw a real slice of a different life while cruising past. There are a lot of houses (mostly pretty humble) on stilts because the land under them (which the homeowner owns) has been eroded away by the river or canal current. Bit by bit these houses are being put behind seawalls and having dirt put back under them. Most people have running water but sewage disposal is generally into the canal for the people that live along them. We saw kids swimming in them too ;-<>