Tuesday is for tourists! At least, that was my plan – get an early start and visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Thanks to cocktails on Silom Soi 4 the previous night, I didn’t get quite as early a start as I might’ve hoped, but what’re you gonna do?
The biggest quandary was how to get there. The Skytrain and Metro in Bangkok are great, but limited – and neither really goes anywhere especially close to the Palace and the Wat (which are next to one another). Taxis are inexpensive, but traffic in the city is hellish, meaning a long ride. But I checked Google Maps and plotted out a course using subway then river boat – an adventure!
More of an adventure than I realized, actually. I didn’t pay especially close attention to the specifics of the map’s instructions – which were to take a bus, not the subway, to the river, then get on a boat. I was already on the platform for the metro when I said to myself, “Self, I seem to remember looking at a map of the subway system and it doesn’t go to the river.” And this turned out to be correct! Oh, well, NBD – I can just take the subway one stop and transfer to the Skytrain which does go to the river. Of course, transfer is a bit of a misnomer – the subway and Skytrain are separate systems with separate tickets, so I had to leave the subway, climb up to Skytrain and buy another ticket.
So, I was on my way! Got off two stops later, headed downstairs for the short walk to the river boat stop – only to consult my map and discover I was not where I thought I was. I was supposed to get off at the next stop. Honestly, I am not bad at public transportation and have successfully navigated transit systems from Tokyo to NYC to Buenos Aires – but for whatever reason, I went completely brain-dead in BKK.
So, I bought my third train ticket of the morning and finally made it to the river. As I left the station, the boat dock was right there and I attempted to determine which boat to catch – only to have a Thai lady start yelling at me to hurry up and gesturing forcefully to get on the boat. Happily (and surprisingly, given my morning thus far) this turned out to be the boat that was going to my destination. I even got to pretend I knew WTF I was doing by correctly identifying Wat Pho for some other tourists a few stops later.
Anyway, I arrived at the Grand Palace with no further incident – save for the fact it was no longer especially early and, judging from the throngs of glassy-eyed, selfie-stick-wielding visitors, apparently the exact time when all the tour buses arrive. Having done a tad bit of research, I knew that there was a dress code, i.e. no shorts – but I came prepared, with a pair of hand-me-down elephant pants that Ak had given me.
Now let me digress for a moment… Dress codes are a bit unusual for many Westerners (esp Americans who, for the most part, find it acceptable to wear sweatpants or yoga pants in public) – but I was really surprised at the number of visitors (male and female) who showed up in tank tops and sugar shorts and were surprised to be stopped by the guards at the entrance. Robes are provided for the underdressed to borrow, so no one seems to be turned away. I guess I’m just mystified that someone can fly halfway around the world without a single clue as to even the most basic of local customs. Oh well…
Anyhoo, I slipped my elephant pants on over my shorts and in I went. I think I made it about 50 meters before I realized that I would probably die with all those layers on in the heat. My khaki shorts were not especially lightweight to begin with (plus I was foolishly wearing drawers underneath!) and the gauzy elephant pants just served to further stifle me. So, there I was in the midst of the truly gorgeous palace complex and all I could think of was “must find bathroom.” But I found one, ditched the shorts, kept the drawers (because I’m a respectable sort – plus it wasn’t Eggplant Friday) and got back on the tourist path in my easy-breezy-beautiful elephant pants.
WELL! Let me tell you, the Grand Palace is astonishing. (Side note to Betty Windsor: that bedsit of yours in London could use some sprucing up). Even with the crowds, it was hard to know where to look, since there are so many elaborately decorated structures and temples, wall paintings, royal residences – truly a feast for the eyes. My words aren’t so good at the describing, but there are plenty of photos below. Frankly, when I was looking over my photos for this post, there were very few that didn’t make the cut – which means I probably didn’t edit the collection as effectively as I ought to have, but each time I looked at another picture, I was all, “OMG, so pretty! Must post!”
I probably spent a good two hours wandering around and enjoyed myself immensely. And my presence did not go unnoticed! I was asked four separate times by different tourists to pose for pix with them. While I’d like to think it was because of my innate beauty, both inner and outer, I suspect it was my freakish beard and septum piercing that were the real draw. Eh, no such as thing as bad publicity.
Since I’d rushed out of the hotel, I’d not had any breakfast and now it was getting onto 1PM, so I was a might peckish. I wanted someplace “nice” – by which I mean somewhere I could sit inside with AC, be waited on and drink beer. A quick Google search led me to Inn A Day, a hotel located at the end of an alley across from Wat Pho. It was just the right choice – quiet and peaceful understated space, a gracious staff and a tasty and reasonably-priced lunch of green curry, tom yum and beer.
My initial plan was to visit Wat Pho after lunch, given that it was right across the street, then head back to the Palace to visit the Queen’s textile museum. Luckily, I’d consulted Google first – the textile museum closes at 3:30PM, so I made a beeline back there.
I was so happy I’d saved this for last. While the crowds at the Palace had dissipated somewhat, it was still quite busy – but the museum is very quiet with few visitors in comparison. And, TBH, I was kind of happy that photography is not permitted inside. Granted, it would’ve been nice to take some shots, but it’s also good for me to focus on simply enjoying the moment.
The museum contains a wonderful collection of Queen Sirikit’s gowns and dresses from the ‘60s to the present. She worked closely with Thai designer Urai Lueumrung and Pierre Balmain to create a “national dress” (like India’s sari or Japan’s kimono) to wear on a world tour in the ‘60s. The various styles of dresses are all clearly recognizable today as Thai – yet they did not exist until created for the Queen! The styles, patterns and materials were all based on historic Thai clothing and fashions, but to learn that their vintage is so relatively recent was fascinating. For anyone visiting Bangkok, be sure to make time for a visit to this lovely museum.
From here, it was on to Wat Pho. I’d visited in the evening during my first weekend in Bangkok, but it was certainly a different experience in the day. Not as calm, of course, but seeing the details of the different pagodas and wall paintings was marvelous. The giant reclining Buddha is immense and beautiful.
By the time I was ready to head back to my hotel for a nap, the thought of re-navigating boats and public transit sounded daunting… Taxi it is! Now, it did take 45 minutes to make the four mile trip, but there was AC, so I’m not complaining.
Had a quick dip in the pool on the 10th floor (along with a cocktail, natch), then retired to my room for a brief nap while I waited for Ak to come by for dinner. When he arrived, he’d had a bit of a schlep (and had picked up my laundry on the way! BFFs!), so I told him he was welcome to take a shower – which he did.
And here’s where I’m going to sound like the worst person on earth (which, let’s face it, I probably am). On our way out, I called the hotel operator and requested a new set of towels and turn-down service. When I returned later that evening, neither request had been fulfilled. Honestly, this is NBD – but as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s little things like this that make the difference between a four- and five-star hotel experience. Not the end of the world by any means (though nearly so, considering I had to use a damp towel after my shower in the morning), but certainly sloppy.
So, we headed out to Somtum Der – Ak’s suggestion, though coincidentally it was on my own list of places to eat in BKK! They recently opened a branch in NYC which is apparently mobbed – here in BKK, we were able to stroll in and easily grab a table. A nice little place – casual and modern – in a quiet neighborhood in Silom. We had some grilled pork, som tum and fried rolls (which were quite tasty, but were served with tartar sauce which was… odd). A fine dinner!
Followed up with a stop the Sofitel’s rooftop bar. Cocktails delicious – I had a watermelon-basil margarita! – and while not cheap, were not outrageously expensive by any means. And it was pretty swank up there… But just one drink. I had a really early day tomorrow, requiring me to be on a 7AM train bound to Ayyuthaya. So, Ak and I said goodnight and off I went to bed – where I had to turn down my own sheets like some kind of common frump…