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a bit about Bangkok, part 2

Given the planned festivities, D wasn’t sure he would get a chance to see much of the city. But with the guys spending countless hours at the clothier getting fitted for their suits, D didn’t feel bad striking out on his own to explore a bit of Bangkok.

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After spending the morning at the riverside market, D and his friend made their way back to the city center via Wat Arun – the 17th century Buddhist Temple of Dawn. The previous evening – as part of the nighttime tuk-tuk eating tour – the entire crew visited Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Bangkok is dotted with Buddhist temples of various sizes, but these are two of the most prominent and lavishly decorated.

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The other temple that draws a lot of attention is Wat Phra Kaew. Located on the grounds of the Grand Palace, it houses the Emerald Buddha – a tiny statue compared to the Reclining Buddha, but one that’s carved entirely out of jade. The Grand Palace is right across the river from Wat Arun – a 5-minute water taxi ride away.

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D’s visit coincided with the anniversary of the late Thai king’s death. Known as Rama IX, the late monarch ruled Thailand from 1946 until October of this year, longer than any king in the country’s history. When he died, he was the world’s longest serving head of state, though his 70-year reign still falls at least a decade short of world record consideration.

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King Rama’s death set off a yearlong mourning period, and the anniversary of his birth sparked a two-day celebration, during which mourners converged on the capital to pay their respects to the late monarch. The Grand Palace remained opened over the weekend preceding Rama’s December 5 birthday, but was to be closed to tourists for the celebration. D and his friend made their way through the throngs of black-clad mourners and arrived at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha minutes before it was closed to the public.

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The temple closed earlier than the rest of the royal complex so there was plenty of time left to wander the palace grounds and admire the gilded architecture. On the way out, D and his friend got stuck because the royal family had come to pay their respects, leading the palace guards to block all exits.

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With his friends planning the trip and unsure until the very last moment whether he would even be able to join the festivities, D did absolutely no research before arriving in Bangkok. Only now, having returned back to Kigali, did he look at online suggestions for things to do and see in the Thai capital.

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D’s ex post facto research left him pleasantly surprised. He didn’t visit all of Bangkok’s must-see sights, but surprisingly, he wound up hitting most of them. And the handful of sites and activities that he missed are reason enough to return sometime.

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