Day three started much the same as day two. The bright, beautiful morning sun greeted us over the concrete jungle sprawled below. Oh, and that lovely, savory soup awaited us atop the building.
We expected that breakfast would be served in the same location. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the Sky Lounge the room was dark and a single attendant stood ready to usher us onto another elevator. Seems that this large, completely empty restaurant is not suitable to serve the same purpose two days in a row. Nope. We need to find a new spot for this morning’s shindig (sarcasm implied).
I can’t decide if the shell-game hotel management plays with the morning food is some cruel joke, or a logistical strategy so I shut my mouth and just climb aboard.
Our food was just as varied and flavorful as the day before. We even had a system for gathering complimentary foods in fewer trips…and the soup! I wish I had a pot of this stuff on my stove at all times.
Today, Jeremiah is a determined man. A couple we met had given us their hi-tech map of the area (complete with more street names and fewer pictures of temples) and explained the waterway transit system. This waterway thoroughfare leads right to within walking distance of the Siriraj Medical Museum. Remember? The same Siriraj we spent half of the prior day walking the streets of Bangkok searching for.
We learned that approximately one mile from our hotel was a depot, of sorts, for this local, riverboat commuter transit. All we had to do was navigate our way to the tributary and pay the fare; creepy forensic museum here we come! But first, the dreaded streets of Bangkok.
A vast sea of humans and vehicles all pushing in different directions, and each vying for priority. We mentally braced ourselves as we exited the elevator on the ground floor. The contrast between the quiet, solitary elevator and the sardine-packed lobby is absurd. I have never been surrounded by so many people in my life!
We, again, leave the taxi queue area and head west toward the river. The first half-dozen streets crossed were not terribly hectic, but still crossing made us anxious. We watched in wonder as the locals fearlessly stepped into oncoming traffic to cross the roads unharmed and without incident.
I was fascinated with the behavior and watched closely. I noticed a trend in pedestrian protocol. Pedestrians stop at a convenient location along a road and wait for an adequate number of ‘reinforcement’ pedestrians to also stop at the same spot. As passing vehicles lose momentum, someone will spearhead the crossing effort. The hand facing traffic goes down at a “V” angle (we were told not to point directly at someone as it was considered rude) and you step out into the wild beyond. And when one goes, so does the reinforcement group that had been forming as you waited. How so much movement comes to an unspoken stop, all in harmony, is beyond me; but it does.
At the riverboat depot we boarded to the back, left of the vessel. I sat next to the water and looked at the riverbank overrun with plastic debris and trash of all sorts. (We saw so much natural beauty ruined by man’s waste and ignorance to the impact of the handling of the waste.) The boat sat virtually empty for several minutes and then, as if on cue, a swarm of commuters shuffled down the plank and quietly onto the boat.
The aging man two rows ahead of me tugged on a rope which ran through small pulleys up the side of the boat. The rigging was attached, finally, to a plastic shield off the side of the boat. The shield was raised as needed to keep the spray from passing riverboat traffic off of passengers. The engine roared to life and the anchor tossed aside.
Once moving on the water the air cooled and the tree canopy allowed us some reprieve from the climbing midday sun. The homes alongside the river were no more than twigs for frames, uneven plank boards for flooring, and corrugated plastic or metal serving as roofs and siding. For some dwellings tattered curtains were the only shield from the elements. More often than not, the Buddhist shrine in the courtyards glistened richly with golds and reds while the hovels beyond lay decaying.
We recognize little glimpses of hope and beauty hidden in everyday life; potted flowers lining the entries of faded doorways served as subtle reminders of the resilience of the people in this region.
When the boat finally reached its last stop we climbed the adjacent stairs to the walkway along the street above. Jeremiah and I took turns reading the map and leading the expedition toward the museum. I can only assume how foolish we looked while we buried our noses in the map as we walked, pointing and looking confused; often the only white people on the street.
Persistence paid off! Not only did we find the entrance to the museum, but a wonderful street market lined the road just outside.
We must have made a dozen stops on that road before we ever made it inside the campus. Decadent cakes, beer, gooey hazelnut crepes, several varieties of kabobed meat, clothes shopping, more beer, and so much people watching.
The Siriraj Medical campus was buzzing with activity. All along the open air hallways and green spaces between buildings people milled about reading, talking, and laughing. No one we stopped spoke English, so we found a campus map and made our way to the forensic building.
The entrance was unmarked and unmanned; it’s a fluke we found it at all! We knew we had arrived, though, just by the corridor’s appearance. Fluorescent lights hummed overhead and filtered light through specimen-filled formaldehyde jars. Several tiny ceramic figurines sat vigil next to the base of one such jar; a touching yet eerie reminder of the life-force that once inhabited the body of the baby inside.
The room we entered housed row after row and aisle upon aisle of human anatomy specimens. Curiously enthralled, we crept our way past remarkable oddities in the human body, early stages of anatomy mapping technology, and the wonderfully preserved lacework of the human nervous system.
Although not for those with weak stomachs (#nuffdeadbabies), the forensic museum was fascinating and well worth two days of effort to get there. Another visitor we happened upon in the exhibit explained to us that there was a whole other area we had missed. Jeremiah was giddy!
Back down the wide, curved staircase, across a courtyard and into an identical whitewashed building; oops! This had to be where we were intended to begin our tour. A curved wall guided us to a ticket counter and, beyond, highly interactive display rooms. This part of the museum housed a creepy display of parasites and related afflictions (I seriously could have lived all my days without sharing space with a life-size mannequin plagued with testicular ringworm). On the other hand, I was intrigued by the naturally mummified cadavers; fascinating stuff folks! We both appreciated this up-close and unfiltered look into the human body.
Surprisingly enough, we were hungry again! We left the orderly confines of the campus for the harried Bangkok streets in search of food. Conveniently, we found a taxi with little trouble. We hopped into the back seat and named our destination. The driver nodded and we drove on. A block into our ride we asked what the price would be. We knew it should not be more than 80 baht. When the driver told us his price was 200 baht we refused. The nerve! We may be tourists but not stupid ones; we tried to negotiate to 100 baht. After all, there had to be a happy middle-ground. Irritated the driver pulled to the side of the road and shooed us out of the taxi.
There we were again, dejected and walking to our hotel halfway across the city. Luckily, we were close enough to the waterway transit to make our way back. We stopped at a rooftop cafe, cooled down with another few beers and ate an early dinner. The water sparkled as brightly as the golden temple rooftops on the opposite bank.
This was a good day. We had managed to successfully navigate our way from one end of this gigantic city to the other; we were proud and contented. Although this was the last day we planned to spend in Bangkok we found ourselves wishing we had just a little more time to explore, a theme that would become common to us along this whole adventure. We laughed at our mishaps so far and planned a trip to the night market later for foot rubs.
As the sun cast an orange-red glow across the Chao Phraya river we dreamed ahead to jungle temples and exhilaratingly dangerous Cambodian lands. We had seen so much, had our senses and comfort zones assaulted, and eaten some of the most remarkable foods already…could it get better? Were we at all ready for this? I think, yes!