Edit Blog Post
Published: November 6th 2009
Grand Palace complex in Bangkok.
Bangkok's major attractions can be easily seen in about 2 days (in our humble opinion). That said, if you're in this area, don't skip it altogether, especially the Grand Palace, which can rival Disney in terms of creating a magical environment in the middle of an otherwise bland (Orlando) or chaotic (Bangkok) area.
Most of the main attractions (temples, Chinatown, museums) are clustered together in a central area just east of the Chao Phraya (the main river which runs north/south along the western side of the City). It is easy to visit the major sites all in one day; however, the lack of public transport options to that particular area of the city from downtown is a minus.
There is, however, a great boat taxi option which leaves from a pier near one of the light rail stations. We opted for the boat ride. The boat takes about 15 minutes and, just before we reached our stop, we had a fantastic view of Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, on the west bank of the river. This was the site of the former capital of Siam (and is actually in a completely different district, even though it is
just across the river from the new capital - Bangkok).
There is a sign at the Grand Palace which warns you to "Be wary of wiley strangers". It's necessary. These wiley guys line the route from the boat all the way to the entrance of the palace and try their best to distract you from actually entering the palace and instead either purchase a tuk-tuk ride from them or go with them to their cousin/brother/uncle's shop to buy any one of the hundreds of things that you absolutely cannot live without. When they spotted us, they waved their arms frantically and said, "Sir!!! Madam!!! You cannot go into the temple in shorts. You must buy a sarong. SIR!!!". We knew that we'd be able to borrow clothes at the Palace - and we did. Adrian was outfitted in a particularly striking pair of shiny eggplant purple sweatpants (although it could have been worse, we saw one guy sporting pink elephants). Angelique fared much better with a deep green sarong with gold braiding (and even considered losing the $3 deposit in order to keep it).
The Grand Palace complex is enormous, really a little village of sorts surrounded by
Giants guarding the Emerald Buddha
huge stone walls. It was built in 1782 when King Rama I ascended the throne and holds the Palace itself (the king no longer resides here), many other great halls (for receiving guests, etc), several government offices, a few museums (mostly containing ancient spikey weapons) and, several temples.
We've never seen temples like these before. They are beautifully shiny and ornate. All glittery gold, mother of pearl, jewels, beautiful murals. It feels a bit like the Magic Kingdom meets Willy Wonka. It's just exquisite.
The most impressive - and interesting - of these temples is the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha. In it lives a little green (jade, not emerald) Buddha statue with an interesting past. It seems that this little guy really likes to travel. He was made sometime before 1434 and was first discovered in a stupa in Chiang Rai (the far northeastern part of Thailand). But he was hiding under a coat of plaster, most likely to disguise himself from thieves. He bounced around northern Thailand for a bit and ended up in Chiang Mai (the largest town in the north) for about 200 years in a fancy temple built just for him. Then he tired of Thailand and moved over to neighboring Laos for another 200 years. When King Rama I invaded Laos, he brought the little green guy back with him to Bangkok and built a fancy house for him right next to the palace.
This Buddha also has a sense of fashion and an extensive wardrobe. He has not one but three outfits and coordinates them with the season: in the rainy season he sports a robe and headdress, in the cool season he keepsawarm with a golden shawl and in the hot season he bares it all with only a crown and jewelry. The King acts as his valet here and changes his clothes in a special ceremony.
Near the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha. This is a really big boy - he's over 150 feet long (so more than half a football field) and 50 feet tall. He's stuffed into a temple that seems a bit small for him - his head is grazing the ceiling. Unfortunately our camera's battery ran out just as we arrived so we can't show you the full effect. 😞
We were getting tired and hot (none of the temples/palace have AC) and so crossed the street and ducked into a Lonely Planet-recommended cafe for a great lunch. Adrian tried the traditional Tom Yam (a spicy/sour noodle soup with shrimp, mushrooms, lime, ginger, lemongrass and chilis). Angelique had a soup with shrimp and veggies - and an ice cold coconut!
After lunch we ran into our first real communication snag in Thailand. We tried to see the Museum of Siam, which Lonely Planet described as fun and interactive, but were stopped at the main door by some employees who didn't speak English. They seemed helpful but we just didn't know what they were asking us and they didn't know what we were saying - so we gave up and found a taxi.
Traffic in Bangkok is a nightmare. It's amazing that anyone can get anywhere. It took us about 30 minutes to go about 2 miles. We finally got out at Siam Square, THE shopping area in Bangkok, packed with mega malls and, fortunately, a light rail station. We bought a new luggage lock for Angelique's suitcase (the old one stopped working, although we don't think it was tampered with, just poor quality). We also stopped in at a Starbucks for some AC and a frappuccino and then caught the light rail train back to our hotel.
There's a great little internet cafe right across the street from our hotel that charges 60 baht/hour (about $2/hr; the Westin's business center charges $20/hour!). We checked email, updated this blog and added photos. We were finally able to publish a few entries -yeay!
For dinner tonight we went with another Lonely Planet recommendation, an interesting restaurant called FACE. It's actually three restaurants (one Japanese, one Thai, one Indian; and, as an added bonus, a bakery/chocolate shop) in one large complex. Very trendy/upscale, all sleek teak wood and candle light. Angelique had a whole seabass cooked in a banana leaf and delicious spices and Adrian had another pork curry. All quite good but we miss Cambodian prices. This place was more western - entrees around $15-$20 each - and a full wine list. (note: it's uncommon to find wine at restaurants in SE Asia and, when you do find it, it's often Australian or Chilean, not great quality, and extremely expensive - so we're on an all-beer diet these days, broken up only by the occasional cocktail).
We made it back to the Westin in one piece. We're feeling pretty tired. The pollution is affecting us too, sore throats, coughing, etc. We're thinking about taking it easy tomorow.
Tot: 0.074s; Tpl: 0.044s; cc: 7; qc: 23; dbt: 0.0109s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.2mb