Bangkok: The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun.

After a much needed night of rest, we set off early for The Grand Palace.  Outside the palace, there isn’t a lot of good English signage to direct you to the entrance, so just follow the ridiculous amount of crowds and you’ll eventually end up at the ticket office.  Be sure to get there early, one, to try and beat the rush a little and two, if you’re in Thailand during their summer months, it will get muggy as all hell.  Another reason to get there early is to be sure you’ll be able to rent a 200 baht audio guide, which was indispensable (when we returned them at noon, they had a sign up saying they were all out).  Keep in mind you’ll need to leave a passport or credit card with them.

The entrance fee to the palace is 500 baht, and when you walk in it’s pure chaos.  Any outdoor signs that say “No Picture”, you can completely disregard because everyone else is.  However, they do crack down on the picture taking inside certain temples, so this post won’t be able to show you some interiors.  Also, there are several places where you can’t wear shoes, so make sure to have socks on if you’re there in the summer because the stone ground does get very hot.  I was also surprised by one thing.  Generally in places with no shoe policies, like the Blue Mosque for instance, the smell is pretty bad.  Somehow, that wasn’t really an issue here and I’m not sure how they got away with that.

What you’ll notice immediately is how much gold there is and how tightly packed all the buildings are next to each other.  It almost feels like you’re in an Epcot Center showcase country, but in this case it’s the real deal.  The highlights:

  • The Temple of the Emerald Buddha with its beautiful illuminated blue Buddha statue atop a golden temple.  The Buddha has 3 robes that are changed each season by the King.  The walls of the room are lavish red, white and gold murals of the life of the Buddha including a Thai version of Michelangelo’s Judgement Day.  The floor is a beautiful Italian marble.
  • Amarin Winitchai Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace displays the impressive gold throne covered by the nine tiered umbrella representing the King.
  • Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall gives you a closer look at a different throne and there’s a weapons museum displaying a multitudes of swords, spears and other military relics.
  • Like the British Palace, you can take your photos with a royal guard who maintains his disciplinary pose.

 

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After our stop at The Grand Palace, and a quick 50 cent mango snack from a street cart, we walked down to Wat Pho.  We made the mistake of not looking at the map first before leaving the palace,  which made our walk there far longer because we left at the wrong exit.  So check to see which direction to leave from before walking out.  The entrance fee for Wat Pho is 100 baht, but it includes a bottle of water, which was very welcome in the 100 degree heat.  There are no audio guides sadly, but there are a good amount of English information signs throughout.

The main highlight of Wat Pho is the giant, and I mean giant, reclining Buddha.  It’s almost amusing to look at because you’re staring at this huge Buddha who’s laying there like he’s just chilling.  The Buddha even has a little smirk on his face I think.  The scene is far less chaotic, and it’s a bit more civilized in that they give you bags to hold your shoes in instead of having you leave them in a giant pile outside the monastery.  Keep your eye out for pickpockets.  Of all the places we went, I could see how this place is the easiest to fall victim to them because everyone is just staring up and there’s not a whole lot of space.  When you look at the Buddha, pay special attention to the feet with the 108 auspicious symbols of Buddha and you can pay 20 baht to drop coins into 108 bronze bowls in the corridor as a way to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the monastery.

 

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From Wat Pho we headed to Wat Arun, but before we did we just happened to stumble upon a great place for lunch (and because we were lost).  Eat Sight Story deck/restaurant is located on the Chaophraya River across the way from Wat Arun.  From there you get a spectacular view of Wat Arun and the parts of Bangkok that you can see up and down the river.  To find it, look for Arun Residences on Soi Ta Tian alley.  The food is decent enough, but it’s priced higher than most places because they know people are going to come for the view.  And the view really is worth it.

From Eat Sight Story, we could see where to take the 3 baht ferry across the river (remember $1 = 30 baht) to Wat Arun.  Sadly, the wat was under renovation so a good portion of it was covered in scaffolding.  The entrance fee here is 50 baht and again there was no audio guide.  Compared to the Palace and Wat Pho, Wat Arun is relatively anti-climatic.  That being said, the pagoda at Wat Arun is one of the more picturesque ones and the surrounding gardens make it a very calming visit after the hysteria at the other sites.

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Bangkok, Thailand

I’ve been pretty blessed so far to have started 2015 with trips to Australia (I’m still working on those Great Barrier Reef pics, more to come on that) and now — Southeast Asia.  The 12-day trip of the region consisted of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.  Starting off in Bangkok, which is essentially the international hub of SE Asia, was the natural choice for the first part of our trek.

The flight over is long and arduous, so if you can afford it, I would highly recommend choosing an airline carrier that is on the higher end.  We flew over, with a stop in Dubai, on Emirates Airlines.  Despite the long travel, that flight was easily the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on.  I fully admit that it helped that I had an entire row to myself for the 14-hour leg, but on top of that the flight attendants treat you like you are in First Class, the TVs have every imaginable movie (I pretty much watched all the Oscar nominees) and outside the plane camera views. The more bizarre, yet cool part was when they dimmed down the light to let people sleep, the ceiling of the cabin illuminates like a starry night.

I do have one gripe that’s not on the airline. And it’s a tip to you all: Don’t push on the TV monitor buttons so hard.  It’s not your iPad, it’s the back of someone’s seat.

Now that that’s out of the way, we landed in Bangkok in the late afternoon and it was the typical chaos in the Bangkok airport.  Getting a cab was far less of a pain than we anticipated, as they have a cab stand with an organizer directing passengers into cabs.  The cabs should cost around 300-400 baht ($1 = 30 baht) for the 30-minute ride into the city, but our cab told us 500 baht flat rate.  At this point we were too tired to care about arguing and paid the extra $3.  This will be a trend throughout.  SE Asia is ridiculously inexpensive once you get there.  Food, taxis, bars, whatever — it’s all really cheap.

After an interesting cab ride where the driver told us about some good lady-boy bars, we arrived at our hotel, The Landmark Bangkok.  Though the Landmark isn’t anything special, a good solid western hotel (we will eventually stay at cheaper, more native lodging in Laos and Cambodia), what is an advantage of staying there is its close proximity to Soi 11, the popular going out street in Bangkok, and it’s a block away from the Nana train stop.

The trains in Bangkok, by the way, are really modern (just built in 2008), are cheap, and are super easy to use in Bangkok.  This is key because you’ll want to use the trains especially during rush hour.  Cabs at those times will be charging high flat rates because rush hour traffic is so bad that what typically would be a 15-minute drive could turn into an hour or two.  The train will be faster and cheaper.

After we checked in and cleaned up a bit, we went out to explore the area.  The streets are packed with vendors and the hustle and bustle that goes with that.  Right on the first night, I learned the #1 survival tip of Southeast Asia: Keep Your Elbows In!   At all times.  If you don’t, you’re likely to get the hit by a Tuk Tuk, or you might hit some person enjoying their street food on the sidewalk, or any number of things.  Keep them in.  I know doubt will be saying this again in the next few posts; it’s easily the mantra of the trip.

Walking around the streets of Bangkok, I immediately noticed something.  While the noise and energy of the streets was no different than the vibe in say for instance Cairo or Lima, there was an added element of dirtiness to Bangkok.  I don’t mean it physically had more trash.  I mean the sex industry is much more in your face than those other more conservative Third World cities.  There are a ton of “massage parlors” everywhere and lady-boys walking up and down the street.  The vendors on the sidewalk amusingly sell boxes of Viagra and Cialis next to the souvenir trinkets and t-shirts.  It’s a very unique experience walking around that for that for the first time.  But you do get used it.

Since we had no dinner plans, we did what the locals do and grabbed $1 soup noodles from a food cart on the street, which was delicious, and grabbed a 75 cent chicken skewer at a different cart.  We also grabbed a few beers at a dive bar on Soi 11 called The Alchemist (a good place to go if you want a chill vibe and some live music).

The night didn’t last long.  Jet-lag won and we passed out.  More to come on the sights and sounds of Bangkok.