Having only a few days in Bangkok, we decided to get the sightseeing started the morning after arriving and ventured out towards the famous Grand Palace and nearby temples. By ‘we’ I mean 16 individuals from various programs herding down the streets in a mob.
There’s a few options for getting around, and we settled on taking a riverboat. There was a direct route to the Grand Palace but we chose the pricier roundabout tour that included a floating market stop and some eye-opening insight into how some Thai people really live. We all piled into our own riverboat and took in the city views from the open water before finding a narrower channel that passed what I can only assume were dilapidated houses, most of which had laundry hanging out to dry. All over the place. We made a stop during which time a sweet older woman with an iconic woven, pointy hat and bright pink lipstick paddled beside us in her own riverboat full of Thai trinkets. She offered us hats, fans, figurines, and BEER!
We carried on and saw sun-lounging reptiles that are made of nightmares, and HUGE carb-a-holic fish that fought over the bread a Thai man on a dock served to them. Soon, the tips of golden temples started coming into sight. We docked at Wat Arun, a temple so beautiful in detail and craftsmanship that a picture really is worth 1,000 words.
The entry fee was 500 baht, or about $15 American dollars. Outside of the temple was a little market of its own, in which Hillary and I bought small wooden elephant souvenirs. A few of us also paid to get dressed up in traditional Thai garb and take pictures in front of the temple. We wore brightly colored wraps, jeweled headpieces, belts, wrist cuffs, and long, pointy gold tips on the ends of your fingers that were reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands. Wat Arun was a temple that we climbed rather than entered. The stairs were roughly a 90 degree angle, and equipped with a heavy camera and a purse was unbelievably difficult to traverse. I made it up, though (probably lost about a gallon of sweat doing so) and the views were worth it. Getting DOWN that staircase was absolutely frightening, but again- made it one piece. From there we hopped back on a boat to cross the river towards Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. Wat Pho is the home of the reclining Buddha, whom I’ve seen pictures of many times. Pictures have not done it justice, as it was immensely larger than I’d imagined. Few things really awe me, but this bigger than life statue absolutely did. Other areas of Wat Pho were equally awe-inspiring. Again, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe and feel like only my pictures can come close to conveying what it felt like to see these temples and statues. Being a large group and having lost about half our body weight in sweat, we decided to call it a day and save the Grand Palace for Sunday. My exhaustion level was such that I called it a night at approximately 6 pm and did not resurface until 2 am, at which hour my body decided it was time to wake up. I was WIDE awake and wrote my previous blog to the sweet serenades of thunder and lightning. The 11 hour time difference has been very difficult for my body to adjust to.
Every weekend Bangkok has what is called the Chatuchak Weekend Market which is the largest market in Thailand. To get there, we had to take the Sky Train. This is a fantastic mode of transportation, with an insanely easy ticketing system. In the states and even in London and Paris I found public transportation to be quite confusing. At the station you refer to a map, find your stop, and insert the number of baht assigned to that stop into a machine. Your ticket and change are dispensed, and off you go. The Sky Train is air conditioned and offers views of Bangkok that were good enough to finally convince me that I wasn’t living in a complete shithole. Our hotel just happens to be located in an area that is not quite so picturesque. The market was larger than we had time to explore, but it really was incredible. There was a method to the madness and it was sectioned off into the various items for sale: clothing, jewelry, etc. I’ve been very reluctant to buy things, not having mastered the baht to dollar conversion and also being wary of getting completely ripped off. I also just arrived and have plenty of time to buy souvenirs and such. I did come out with one turquoise bracelet for about 75 baht, or a little over $2. Again, the heat was nearly unbearable and we ducked into shade whenever we could. Among the group we tried all sorts of things, from freshly made iced coffee (the guy who made this stuff could be on America’s Got Talent, he was whipping liquid into cups while spinning in circles and not missing a drop) to garlic bread on sticks, some coconutty soup concoction, and dipped bananas. Also, it was at the market that I had my first run-in with a squat toilet. I had to pay 3 baht to use this wonderful facility. Note to self- there is a toilet paper dispenser upon entering the bathroom. Take some. This toilet is ground level, and as its name suggests, you squat over it. I don’t find this fun and hope to goodness I don’t have to do it often- but, at least I know I can if I have to. From the market we went back to the hotel and relaxed by the rooftop pool with the other teachers that arrived early. Then it was time to get ready for a night out in Bangkok.
Now, let me preface this by saying some people went out the previous night while I was being an old lady and sleeping soundly. They had stories that I’m not even entirely comfortable repeating to a general audience, but there is some crazy a$$ stuff you can see/do in this country. That being said, I had an ‘’anything goes’’ attitude for our night out. I can honestly say that after this trip, there will be nothing anyone can do or say that can surprise me. After getting ready we (when I say we, this typically indicates the standard Lauren/Hillary/Sara trio) headed downstairs to the designated meeting place. The elevator doors opened and we were greeted by the loud, echoing laughter of about 30-35 people. Oh, so we’re rolling deep tonight. Somehow we managed to get this entire group on the Sky Train and in tuk tuks to Khao San Road. My idea of sensory overload roughly quadrupled upon walking down this street. There were people everywhere. Street food everywhere. Vendors everywhere. Bars galore. Street dancers. Just insane. Here you can get buckets of alcohol (various mixed drinks) for $200 baht, or about $6. Also, there’s no open container laws (I question if there’s any laws) so you can take your bucket whereverrrr your little heart desires. It is not my intention to get hammered in a country I’m not even remotely familiar with yet, so I drank my bucket and called it a night.
Sunday we set aside to get back to the Grand Palace which was so worth it. Built in 1782, it housed Thai Kings for 150 years. Dressing for these kinds of places is somewhat difficult because shoulders and knees cannot be exposed. When it’s 90+ degrees, you’d really like your freakin shoulders and knees exposed. The palace was a large compound of magnificent structures and temples and statues. Again, allow me to give photographic evidence instead of mediocre descriptions:
All I can say about these places is that if you’re ever in Bangkok, you must see them for yourself. After the palace we got lunch at a nearby restaurant. I ordered fried noodles with chicken and a coca cola because I have zero self control and was craving a flavor that I could anticipate. My noodles weren’t at all what I expected, they were thick, soggy ribbons with various spices. But, when you’re starving you’re starving, so you eat noodles that look like strips of plastic. We bartered ourselves a taxi home and spent the afternoon relaxing until our first xploreAsia meeting at 7 pm. Up until this point it has felt like I’m on a vacation and will be returning home, but reality set in. The staff from this program seem genuinely great, and it was actually pretty exciting to finally hear about the details of what to expect the next month when we make the 3 hour move down to the beachside city of Hua Hin. We’ll all be headed down there Monday morning, so I’ll have a whole new city to explore and report back on. Hope everyone’s doing well back home, eat some pizza for me!