There was a kind of vibrancy on the street outside the Grand Palace when we arrived. Marching soldiers with their rifles, hundreds of tourists taking photos, some crossing streets and others by the souvenir stalls at the sidewalks. I was excited.
We queued with our tickets, very eager to get in, when I was stopped by the guard claiming I was dressed inappropriately. I was wearing black leggings and a long shirt but short sleeved. Thank God I brought my jacket with me and my scarf. You don’t have to figure how I looked like, I’m posting my photo anyway. I paid 500 baht so I cared less even if I had to look like a clown or a mascot just so I could enter. (“,)
Inside the palace, I wondered how very inappropriately dressed I was with other visitors wearing above the knee skirts, dresses with short sleeves and knee-high leggings. Next time, am gonna dress like a princess! Seriously speaking, wearing proper clothes is a must when visiting the palace as it is not just a tourist spot but a place of worship. And while there are stalls outside the gate that offer wraps for hire, it is still best to come prepared and avoid the hassle.
It was the intricate design of the temples and palaces in the 218,000 square meters Grand Palace complex that awe-struck me. The top of the structures glistening in shades of gold, silver, red-orange, yellow-green and blue, jutting off the 1900 meters long concrete walls enclosing the complex, were inviting.
The Grand Palace was built in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne. Each of the structures and every single detail found in the compound is steeped in rich history, a tribute to the life and works of the kings that came before and a holy place to venerate the Lord Buddha.
Apart from the Royal Residence and throne halls for state ceremonies and banquets for visiting heads of states, the complex is home to the Royal Monastery of Emerald Buddha; monuments housing Buddhist sacred scriptures inscribed on palm leaves, a miniature Angkor Wat, the Royal Pantheon where statues of past sovereigns of the ruling Chakri dynasty are enshrined; and, the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles.
Thousands of visitors from all over the world swarm here every day. Some are curious travelers like me while others come to pay tribute to the Lord Buddha and His teachings. That being said, arriving early is the way to go to avoid the rush. They are open from 09:00 A.M to 04:30 P.M. Since most visitors flock directly to the palaces and shrines, why not try walking through those paths on the side corners for a nice and quiet view. Aside from giving you a different perspective, it’s a fun way to take a photo of yourself back-dropping the temples without destruction.
Capping my palace tour is a visit to the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. It is a state of the art museum launched in Spring 2012 that focuses on traditional Thai textiles, with special emphasis on silk. It is the museum’s goal to create awareness of Thai identity and culture and an appreciation of the beauty of traditional Thai textiles through research, exhibition and interpretation.
The museum displays a range of the Queen’s elegant gowns made out of silk produced by local weavers, an audio-video room that details the efforts of the Queen and King in encouraging and supporting local folks to turn weaving into an income generating endeavor instead of having it merely for personal stuff, an education studio presenting the pre and post production of silk, Thailand’s first dedicated textile conservation laboratory and a classy souvenir shop. Shopping here was oh so tempting! I walked out of the museum with a blue paper bag. At least I’m done thinking about what to give my oldest sister on her 40th birthday. Oops, did I just say that out loud?! Sorry Manang Joyce! (“,)
We grabbed a sandwich by Subway for lunch. Sometimes, when you’ve been guzzling over local food for a while, it’s kind of comforting to devour a bit of familiar meal. I remember our last day in Nepal, my girl friends and I were so thrilled to see a Pizza Hut chain in Kathmandu. At times like this, suddenly the food seems tastier like it never was.
When the traffic is bad, cruising by the river is the way to go as the piers are linked to bus stops and train stations. This also makes for a convenient way to see the city. We took the public boat to Sathorn Pier, squeezing ourselves in on the jam-packed boat. The travel is breezy and fast so need not worry of asphyxia. I’ve seen more temples line the other side of the river and large hotel chains towering over on the other. The river is quite busy with fishing boats, speed boats and tourist boats cruising along.
We took the train from Saphan Taksin station, zooming over the city, to the National Stadium and back to the pier. The train facility is clean, fast and not cramped, at least not at 03:00 P.M when we were there, but not considerably cheap if I compare it to Manila or Dubai’s.
The temperature was unbearable after the river cruise, sapping further what’s left of our energy, hence a walk back to Rest Inn was not something we’re keen to do. And with tuktuk service hard to get at this time, we boarded the public bus. Thank God the lady seated next to us can understand English. She told the bus driver and the lady giving out tickets where to drop us off.
And just when I thought I could go shopping for souvenirs to bring home, we were told by the travel agency which the hostel recommended, that the sleeper train is fully booked, with the next available schedule only after 2 days. Had we known earlier, we should have booked it as soon as we arrived back in Bangkok. We dreaded last time’s long journey that’s why we wanted to take the train to Surat Thani then a bus to Phuket. So with only a bus ride to choose from, we decided to leave that evening.
Barely an hour before pick-up time, I shelved my shopping plans for Phuket. Of course I did not want to end my Bangkok trip disappointed. So what could be a better way to end it than a mouth-watering coconut ice cream!
We made it to Khaosan area after a 20-minute hilariously tense ride on an “original” tuktuk service from the Bus Station. The driver was just sweeping pass cars and gearing up even before the traffic light turns green. I wonder maybe he was not happy that he gave in that fast to our 200 baht offer, or that’s just how they drive a tuktuk here? Surprisingly, when I handed him the money, he smiled gently and together we did the Thai greeting…with a smile. (“,)
Khaosan for me is like the party place in Bangkok but subdued than Patong. It’s a street lined up with bars (some with outdoor live music and others with big speakers), restaurants, inns, shops, food stalls and carts. There were people selling fashionable clothes, bags, knick-knacks and people offering tattooing service, massage and even faking documents. All at reasonable prices.
But more than the gimmick and cheap shopping, tourists crowd Khaosan as it is the best kick-off point to places of interest in the City like the Grand Palace, Victory Monument, Museums near Golden Mount, Chao Phraya River and many Buddhist temples . If you don’t want to stay in one of the guest houses within the bustling street of Khaosan, there are plenty of places to stay in near the area which cater to all types of travelers. We found this newly-opened dormitory type guesthouse a few meters from Khaosan.
Rest Inn has seven (7) wooden bunk beds, very clean shared shower rooms and toilets, with A/C and ceiling fans, and lockers at the bottom of the bed. It’s nice and quiet here despite a restaurant at the ground floor. The Indian national running it and his staff (of various nationalities) are very friendly and helpful. The price is reasonable too. Try working your charms up, you might get a discount. I give them 4 stars for comfort, hospitality and affordability.
With only a few hours to consume in Bangkok, we indulged on a street food trip while walking the streets of Khaosan. From tropical fruits to grilled foods on stick (the mushrooms are lip smacking) to the yummy coconut ice cream sprinkled with roasted peanuts, I suddenly forgot having a very sensitive tummy. BURPfect!
Barely 3 hours of sleep, we had to leave for Don Mueang International Airport. The airport was too far from the city that the taxi meter reached 275 baht. Paying that much would have been comforting if the driver at least gave out a smile as a gesture of gratitude for getting a 25 baht tip… by force! OMG! He even looked older than my dad and yet not know courtesy. God bless his heart!
It was 6:00 AM and DMIA is already crowded. We were glad to have gotten to Bangkok earlier. The immigration queue was long and our flight is at 6:45. Thank heavens the officers were fast. Boarding already started when we got to the gate.
(September 25, 2013)