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June 12 – Bureaucracy

At 7:45 in the morning, we went to the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to take care of some of the legal bureaucracy associated with getting married abroad. Essentially, the U.S. government recognizes the legality of a Thai wedding, but the Thai government won’t marry us without clearance from our government. So at the embassy, we completed an affidavit attesting to our legal right to marry in Thailand. Our embassy notarized and processed the document, then returned it to us. We then gave the completed affidavit to our Thai legal representative, Ms. Sojaporn (who was kind enough to meet us back at our hotel, saving us some time that would have otherwise been spent sitting in Bangkok’s legendary traffic), who will arrange to have the affidavit translated from English into Thai, then processed through the Thai legal system. The translated and processed affadavit will catch up with us again when it reaches the local amphur–the Thai registry office–on Koh Samui. The local amphur will register our marriage according to Thai law, and notarize and process our Thai wedding certificate. Another legal rep on Koh Samui will then translate the marriage certificate back into English, have it notarized again, and ship all of it back to us in the United States.

We have been fortunate enough in our travels that this was our first visit to any of our embassies abroad; we’ve never lost a passport, been robbed, or overstayed a visa–the misfortunes that brought our fellow countrymen to the embassy while we were there. Security was strict, and we were swiftly relieved of our cameras, allowing us only to take few clandestine shots outside (for which we received a stern tongue-lashing).

We were finished and out of there shortly after 8:00, so we immediately indulged in the nearby day market, where vendors set up food stalls to feed the staff arriving for work in the nearby offices and hotels. Nothing like a country where you get dumplings and noodle soup for breakfast!

From there, we set out to see the Bangkok essentials: Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; the Royal Palace compound; Wat Pho, which houses the Reclining Buddha; and Wat Arun. From our hotel, we took the Sky Train to the river, the Chao Praya, and from there, we took the public ferry upriver to the sites.

We started at Wat Phra Kaew:

Then the adjacent Royal Palace:

From the Royal Palace, we took a walk through the nearby amulet market, a neighborhood of vendors of protective amulets. Amulets are everywhere in Bangkok; many people wear them, and many more hang them from their car rearview mirrors as protection in a country where few people carry insurance (the car we rented on Koh Samui had one). Some amulets seem to offer general protection or pay homage to the Buddha or a monk, while others are very specific. In fact, we read an account of a visitor to Bangkok who picked out four amulets at random and took it back to his hotel to ask the proprietor for a translation. One was designed to protect jackfruit crops from hail, another ensured success on the graduate equivalency exam, the third was intended to be worn around the waist to protect one’s testicles from kickboxing, and the last one made the wearer invulnerable to bullets. These amulets are serious business; some are very old and valuable, and experts examine them with jewelers’ loupes to verify their authenticity. Inexplicably, this neighborhood also does a brisk business in used dentures–probably every third or fourth stall had a rack of teeth on display, although we failed in our attempts to get clandestine picture of them.

From the amulet market, we went to Wat Pho, which houses the Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is beautiful and peaceful. A row of pots runs the length of the temple wall, and you purchase a bag of coins to drop in each one as an offering. The sound of the coins clanking in the pots and echoing through the temple is entrancing, especially after the all the chaos outside.

We wrapped up the day at Wat Arun, which is spectacular, but by this point we’d taken our shoes off more times than we can count, and we were pretty wiped out. One of Bangkok’s sudden thunderstorms blew up while we were on our way back on the ferry, leaving us no choice but to duck inside for some dumplings and a couple of Changs.