Full day exploring Bangkok today. We hit the three main tourist sites in Bangkok: The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun.
It seems that the place most tourists hit first is The Grand Palace, so we left that for second. It closes at 3:30 though, so you really don’t want to delay too much getting there. We went to Wat Pho first, with a plan to do Grand Palace second, and then close out the day across the river at Wat Arun. The way to get around to these sites is without a doubt by chao phraya express boat. Rides run from about 3 Baht to just cross the river to about 25 Baht (~$0.75) to go multiple stops down the river. You know these are the way to go because there are tons of touts trying to divert you from the ticket areas at these stops to find suckers to pay WAAAYYY more to ride on private boats. You should avoid them at all costs. Well, maybe not all costs. If you’re in a large group of family and friends and you absolutely want to stick together, maybe paying $60 for a boat ride or more could actually be a good deal for you. The express boats are crowded, hectic, and you actually need to know where you’re going. We had several stops to go to get off right at Wat Pho, and we really had no problems getting there.
Wat Pho is really beautiful and made a nice start to the day. It wasn’t too crowded, but tour groups were steadily coming in. The main things to see at this place are some very pretty temples and some of the entrances have real “postcard” kind of shots with rows of gold buddha statues. The main attraction though is a giant gold reclining buddha, the largest in Thailand. This is where most of the tour groups flock to first, but we had a different plan. You see, another draw to Wat Pho is getting a “traditional” Thai massage. They have a massage school there, and in fact techniques for traditional Thai massage were developed at that temple. They have a full range of services running from a basic 30 minute massage for 260 baht (~$9) to full hour massages using herbs and stuff that run double to triple that. We decided to go for the massage first because: 1. We just started the day and hadn’t yet worked up a sweat and wouldn’t come in smelling like stinky foreigners, and 2. All the crowds were across the grounds at the reclining buddha and there was no wait at the place.
The massage was ridiculously good. You walk in from the hot, humid mid-morning sun to brisk A.C. and the sinus clearing smell of herbs (eucalyptus?). The place is very clean and everyone is dressed in tidy professional black and white uniforms. As for the massage, they really don’t so much use power from hands and arms as just applying full body weight strategically. Honestly, there were times that it verged on painful, but we left the place loose and relaxed and ready for a day of hiking around town. Definitely not something to be missed on a visit!
After finishing up at Wat Pho, we walked a block over to Grand Palace. The ticket there is the most expensive by far at 350 Baht (~$12), and they make it seem like you’re getting three different tickets. Really though, the place is just such a big site that they sell it like you’re seeing three places. You’re seeing more than that though. It’s a really big complex that takes a few hours to explore. The first part with all the temples is absolutely stunning…. gold mirror tiles everywhere reflecting in all directions and bright colors on all the statues. Thailand clearly uses tourist revenue to maintain their monuments in pristine condition, something India should really be doing. In the middle of all the temples is a “palace” that houses the “emerald buddha.” It’s really made of jade though. It’s maybe a couple feet in height but it’s housed in an extraordinarily elaborate display, way up in the air. Sorry, no photos allowed inside there. I did snap a few a ways from the open door via telephoto lens, but the focus is a little soft on them. On that note though, I have to mention that Thai authorities are generally pretty relaxed with photography and are totally cool with tripods. They let you run completely loose at their monuments with camera gear unlike some other countries. That means loads of HDR photos for me.
After the temples and emerald buddha at The Grand Palace, you enter a new area with a building that houses the king’s throne, another large palace and some older mansions, and ultimately a two-story museum that houses artifacts related to the emerald buddha and structures around The Grand Palace. The museum was interesting because they had a lot of tile and statue samples from before various restoration efforts to show you how far certain monuments and buildings had decayed at certain times. If this were India, they probably would’ve just left them in decay and made a diorama or painting to show you “what it used to look like.” In Thailand though, if something is supposed to have shimmering gold mirror tiles, they maintain those shimmering gold tiles. And you know, sometimes that might even mean replacing them. Just gotta say that we’ve been really impressed with the monuments and temples in Thailand so far.
After Grand Palace we hopped across the river for a quick tour of Wat Arun. The signature thing at this temple is that all the structures are decorated in porcelain plates from China. Up close, some of the pieces are a little rough, but the juxtaposition of color and design from afar is really nice looking. It’s not a very big complex though and it was good to leave it for the end of the day. It would be fair to consider Wat Arun part of a Wat trifecta in Bangkok. It’s definitely on the well-worn tourist track. However, I would consider it the lesser of the three, and if you had to leave one out, it could possibly be this one.
That was basically it for us today. I mentioned last night we visited Khaosan road (the one featured in “The Beach”, aka “The Backpacker Ghetto”) after getting in from Kanchanaburi. We’re actually walking distance from there. As for Khaosan road itself, we took a walk there last night for some dinner and people watching. The place is basically like a really shady frathouse. Bars, Clubs, Sex shows, and loads of college-age foreigners roaming around. There were all the major western fast food chains as well as plenty of shops selling tourist garbage or really ugly clothing. Which reminds me, we saw multiple shops selling an item we’ve been seeing white tourists wearing at every stop so far: “Genie Pants.” I recall them as “MC Hammer Pants,” and I’m pretty sure the irony was lost on a group of tourists walking ahead of us wearing them as they went past a stand selling music C.D.’s that was booming “Can’t Touch This.” BTW, that song is totally stuck in my head now. Other than that… let’s see… stands selling fake I.D.s… food stalls selling grilled cockroaches and spiders and centipedes and such mostly as a tourist novelty…. stands where white people that think they’re Rastafarian can get dreadlocks done…. stands for “Black Henna” tattoos (read up on this: worst idea ever)…. that’s about it though. Worth a stroll through for an evening of people watching, and that’s about it.
There really are a lot of young tourists in this town. Never mind the middle-aged male “farang” that come here for different reasons. Locals don’t seem to pay too much attention to tourists though because it’s so common. A great many locals speak some English, and many speak excellent English, so getting around and communicating is totally not a problem here. As for the touts, they’re really pretty mild. You have a few guys that try to misdirect tourists to get them on boat rides or to go to shops and such, but common sense really dictates not taking directions from “friendly” strangers in nearly any tourist destination. The thing is, there are so many tourists here that the guys here are just not that persistent and are easy to shake off. I think they’re interested in low hanging fruit, easy marks and such. If you tell them no and give them a “f— off” look, they leave you alone immediately without a word.
What else…. The food. Loving it. Love, love, loving it. The only mediocre meal we’ve had here was on Khaosan road, and even then we agreed that it would pass as pretty good at a “Thai” restaurant in small town USA. Hygiene conditions seem to be good in this town. Honestly, there really are a lot of similarities to Japan. Bangkok could be a really gritty town in Japan…. like maybe Osaka’s grittier tropical neighbor. All the convenience stores are stocked with the full spread of Japanese drinks, candies and snacks. Many of the restaurants have a few Japanese items sprinkled in the menu. Maybe we’re just looking for the comparison, but it does seem to be there to us.
We got kind of ahead on our itinerary by knocking out “The Trifecta” today, so tomorrow is kind of a free day in Bangkok. I’m pretty sure we’ll find some stuff to do though.