My colleague Peter and I had been selected to form a team to go into My*nm*r to shoot some footage we needed for our mobilization video for the Sh*n people. In Chiang Mai we had attempted to secure the necessary visa for entering the country, but we were unsuccessful. The embassy requested we travel to Bangkok to get the visas from them directly, which meant we were going to have a few anxious days hoping our visas would be approved on time before our expected departure date.
Bangkok is the heart of Thailand: her capital, largest urban area and primary city of commerce. Bangkok is both a thoroughly modern city while also an ancient city with a rich heritage.
The city is absolutely sprawling with over 11 million people in the surrounding area.
We stayed outside the city and had to go in and out every day through a variety of transportation means. Bangkok is notorious for massive traffic jams, however, recent construction of multilayered, elevated expressways and an extensive train system are helping to make travel around the city more efficient.
Or in the case of these monks, there are always fancy buses to get where you need to go. Sounds like a bad punchline.
It's hard to convey just how big and long this giant reclining buddha is. Bangkok is also the spiritual home of Thailand's many Buddhists. Although religion doesn't play as influential role in the modern capital as the rest of the country, a good portion of the population devoutly offers alms to monks daily.
Tourists flock to the many temples in Thailand where they can receive Buddhist instruction at the feet of golden Buddha altars. No shoes in the temples, please.
Here is a wide shot of the Grand Palace, the former residence of the Kings of Siam. After suffering from what I call “temple fatigue” we decided to save some money and not to pay the entry fee for the grand tour. You'll have to settle for this wide shot of this famous landmark taken from a distance.
Thailand is literally home to thousands upon thousands of Buddhist statues. Maybe millions. I'm not sure anyone has tried to count them. Regardless, you can't get very far in Thailand without one of those golden idols to greet you. Here a man sleeps at the feet of his lifeless master.
At first it struck me as strange that this temple had a basketball court, like an absurd anachronism. But then I thought about how many churches had gyms or hoops and thought “Why not!” Young monk novices don't pray all day anyway and exercise is good for the soul.
A handsome farang (white foreigner) poses in this portal at a famous Bangkok temple.
Buddhists often stop to worship outside the malls before doing their shopping inside. In America we worship the almighty dollar by just skipping straight to the purchasing part. Can you imagine a modern world where everyone stopped to pray outside our major malls and shopping districts across our country?
Downtown Bangkok is a series of malls: lots of massive malls upon massive malls in a seemingly endless aisle of shopping opportunities. You can definitely shop til you drop there. The affluence of the malls is a mighty contrast from the country we were headed to in a few days. Can you imagine that almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day? We were about to meet some of them.
Thailand may not know Jesus yet, but they do love a good Christmas tree. There is none of that silly pretense of calling them “Holiday Trees” in Thailand, one of the few countries in Southeast Asia with religious tolerance—even if 95% of the people are Buddhists. Muslims are the next largest religious group at over 4% and Christians are less than 1% of the population today.
When I think back on my experiences in Bangkok, I think most of the beautiful people who live and work there making the city the bustling center of Thailand that it is today. Pray for their transformation into a world-class city of people that are no longer remembered for their sex trade and corruption.
This parting shot is a young woman on the train heading out of the city just like we are. We were pleased to have our visas granted the day before we were scheduled to leave. Our next step was over the border into an entirely different kind of place where our work begins.