After our morning trip to and from Jatujak, we retired back to our hotel to rest for a little bit and freshen up. Thailand after all is a tropical country like ours, so the heat and humidity will definitely drain some of your energy as you do all that shopping and walking.
THE GRAND PALACE
As soon as we felt ready to head out again, we strode out of the hotel and hailed a taxi to our destination for that afternoon, the temples of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Finding a taxi is not a problem in Bangkok. They are so numerous, and they’ll stop anywhere once you hail them, even if it means blocking traffic behind (sounds familiar?). They happen to be all Toyota Corollas too, for some reason.
The Grand Palace complex, including an inner complex of temples call the Wat Phra Kaew, and the adjacent Wat Pho temple, are located on the very old part of the the city, close to the banks of the Chao Phraya river. Neither the Metro nor the Skytrain pass through this area, so the only choice is to get there by tuk-tuk or taxi (or bus if you are that familiar with the place). There are numerous stories though of scams involving tuk-tuk drivers, so taxis would be the safest bet (not to mention that tuk-tuks reportedly charge almost the same amount as taxis, without the benefit of air-conditioning).
The Grand Palace is a complex of temples and royal residences, built by the Thai King Rama I during the late 18th century. It occupies an entire block of the city, and used to be the official residence of the king, as well as the holiest site in Thai Buddhism, the Wat Phra Kaew, though the reigning monarch now resides at the Chitralada Palace in the Dusit area. Some parts of the Grand Palace still serve official functions up to this day though, and are off limits to tourists and the general public.
Short skirts for women and short pants for both genders are prohibited inside the Grand Palace, so it’s advisable to either wear a long skirt that extends well below the knee, or long pants that go all the way to the ankles when going there. You can rent pants and long skirts for free inside the tourist office though (with a 200 Baht deposit that will be returned as soon as you return the clothes), if you happen to go unprepared.
Be warned though that there are unscrupulous people at the main entrance who would prey on people unaware of the clothing restriction. If they spot you wearing short skirts or pants, they will approach you and tell you rather rudely, that you cannot go near the entrance due to your clothing. They will then instruct you to buy clothes first on vendors right across the street. In fact, it’s perfectly okay to go inside, whatever you’re wearing. Once inside, palace personnel will gladly direct you towards the tourist office where you can borrow long clothes, if they see your clothing is not appropriate.
These unscrupulous people appear to be more intimidated by western tourists though, and seem to prey more on fellow Asians (racists!). It’s perfectly okay to ignore them, even if you appear rude by doing so. They can be irritating and intimidating, but they can’t physically block anyone from going in.
The complex covers such a huge land area, it’s almost like a theme park, so alot 2-3 hours when visiting the grand palace, to allow enough time to take pictures and appreciate the exquisite detail on each of the buildings inside. It is, very truly indeed, GRAND!
After going around the Grand Palace for what seemed a whole afternoon (we actually no longer went into each building, the place was so darned huge), we then went out and headed west, to another temple behind the palace complex. The temple is called the Wat Pho, the home of the gigantic reclining buddha.
It’s a bit of a walk from the main entrance/exit of the Grand Palace, around the block and the palace walls, to the temple behind. You can actually take a taxi if your feet are not up to it, but the sidewalks here are pretty wide and tree lined. The place also teems with vendors selling all sorts of everything, from antiques to soft drinks, and inspite of the crowd, this part of the city is surprisingly clean. The walk is an experience in itself, so as long as the muscles in your feet aren’t burning yet, I recommend walking the whole stretch.
Along the way we again met someone trying to rip us off, by telling us the Wat Pho was closed. This is one Bangkok’s documented scams. People will tell you the temple is closed, then propose to take you to another one that’s open and has a “lucky buddha”, or some other charm. Don’t mistake them for good samaritans. They will take you on a tuk-tuk ride and bring you to a places where they hard sell poor quality jewels or other low quality souvenirs. It’s best to research about places of interest in Bangkok, and study a city map, before going. That way you won’t get fooled. In this case we again ignored the guy, even as he kept yelling “Hello, Wat Pho close!!”.
Wat Pho itself is also in large temple complex, though nowhere near as large as the grand palace. Inside is the gigantic golden reclining buddha, one of the images that has come to represent Bangkok. Curiously though, the gigantic buddha is housed in a structure that’s barely large enough for it. As such, it’s almost impossible to take a picture of the entire Buddha without a post or some other obstruction included in the frame. There is one sole spot in the temple where the buddha in all its glory can photographed in one frame, free of obstructions. Naturally, a queue of tourists builds up on that sole spot, so you have to wait in line.
On the other end of the Wat Pho complex are two small buildings where one can get authentic Thai massage. It appears to be staffed by students/graduates of authentic Thai massage schools. The place is air-conditioned, clean and quiet, and the massage experience is unlike any other that I’ve tried. We had the one-hour foot massage to relieve our feet from a whole day of walking. I would say the massage itself is better than in expensive spas in Manila. It was “painless”, but very effective. After one hour it felt like we had a new set of replacement legs attached, and we were very ready to roam around again. It wasn’t cheap at 350 Baht (more than 500 Php), but it was worth the money. (There are people outside the Wat Pho who would offer Thai massage for a bit lower price, around 250 Baht, but we didn’t take those. The one we had was within the complex itself. Within the complex someone also tried to sell us some oil or paste or gel – whatever it was, allegedly for massageing, and we just ignored him).
After getting our legs back, we then took a taxi back to the “newer” parts of the city. We headed to the Suan Lom night market, at the Silom area, Bangkok’s central business district. Suan Lom is a government regulated night market similar in concept to Jatujak, but much smaller, cleaner, with wider alleys, but also with slightly higher prices. It sits on a portion of another public park called Lumphini, and there’s also a Metro station nearby. Many of the stalls were already empty, especially on the inner portions (it’s rumored that this place might get demolished soon), though there’s still a good amount of merchandise around to make going there worth it.
We also decided to have dinner there and chose one of the spartan outdoor eateries within the market grounds. There were several and we didn’t know which was good, so we just looked for the one where most locals go to. The menu had English names, thankfully, but since the waiters didn’t speak English, we still had to point our orders.
I was thrilled to have authentic Thai food. We had minced pork cooked with egg, spicy seafood with basil, plus I had Thai beer for myself. The minced pork was good, but the spicy seafood was so darned hot I almost chocked.
After dinner and a bit of strolling around in Suan Lom, we took a taxi back to the hotel and called it a day. It took some time though as traffic in Bangkok can become horrendous, even on a weekend.
I don’t know how many kilometers we had walked that day, but it was certainly a lot. As we reached our room, we barely had enough energy to clean ourselves, before dozing off in no time at all. It was one of those few times where you are so tired, yet refreshed.
Day two coming next…
*This trip was taken August, 2010. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6