The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the very definition of opulence. It has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782 and is only partially open to the public as a museum, since it still houses several royal offices. The large complex also features other buildings and pavilions, including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Everywhere you turn, you see some amazing building or detail, it’s almost overwhelming. Everywhere you turn, you also see droves of fellow tourists … and their parasols.
Seriously,though, what an incredible place. Again, you have to cover up before going in. If you don’t have a wrap, they provide you an outfit.
Did I mention they have a model of Angkor Wat? Story goes that a former Thai king sent a couple of thousand men to Cambodia to dismantle the real Angkor Wat and bring it back to Bangkok, back in 1860, to show that they were still in control of the neighboring country (the Thais had captured Angkor Wat in 1432). After many of the men either became ill or were attacked and killed by the Khmer people, the king ordered his people to build him a model instead. Fascinating! He died before it was completed.
Ready for the famous Emerald Buddha?….
Yep, that’s it! Way up there on that display case thing. It’s so small you can hardly see it. I was amused.
At this point, we crossed over to the side with the actual royal palace.
We left the Grand Palace and made our way to Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount), to enjoy some panoramic views of the city. The walk there took us past a couple of parks, the Giant Swing (made of teak trees) and Bangkok City Hall (you can see more photos of the current king draped on the outside of the building).
The climb up to the top was actually pleasant. They have misters along the way to cool you off, and the higher up you go, naturally, the breezier it gets. It was nice to get away from the big crowds, and the views were great. Really got to see how mixed the buildings were, from rundown and poor to the high-rises in the distance. Like any major city, I guess.
An added bonus? Free Wi-Fi:
Our next destination, Lumphini Park, was quite some distance from Wat Saket, so we finally decided to try out the Thai tuk tuks. After Googling average tuk tuk fares for Bangkok, Will went to work. He haggled with one driver, who wouldn’t budge and took off. On Will’s second try, the young driver played hardball. He would refuse and start driving off, then he’d hesitate and wait until we caught up with him on the sidewalk, back and forth like this, until he gave in to Will’s determination. A few notes on tuk tuk rides in Bangkok:
- You can’t really see much from inside the tuk tuk. The ceiling is low! Which blocks much of the view. You have to sort of duck to try to see anything, which is uncomfortable.
- Tuk tuks in Thailand are entirely motorized, unlike Cambodian ones which are simply a cart hitched to a motorcycle.
- Riding a tuk tuk here is scary! It’s a big city, so there’s heavy traffic. Like, real city traffic. Our driver was not only speeding, he was also multitasking and smoking for part of the ride. Not cool. One ride was enough for us.
We arrived at Lumphini Park with enough time to walk around real quick before it got dark. There were several exercise classes going on (told ya they love that) and lots of runners and joggers. The park also has several lakes where you can take swan boat rides and have close encounters with … you’ll see.
See, I was determined to spot one. I had read about these Lumphini Park residents and had seen photos of them online and I really badly wanted to see one in person. It had gotten dark and we were about to leave the park when Will spotted them coming up out of the water….
Uh huh. Monitor lizards! Holy moly. It’s insane! They live in the lakes there at the park and you can usually spot them swimming along the banks of the water or coming up onto the grass to sunbathe. We actually returned to this park the next day and got some more videos, so you’ll see those later. I wonder if anyone’s been attacked by one yet.
We topped off the evening with some dinner at Central World (the other big mall).
On our last day in Bangkok, we visited the Snake Farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute of the Thai Red Cross Society and learned all about venomous and non-venomous snakes. In addition to seeing snakes behind their enclosures, we also watched a snake venom extraction demonstration and a snake handling demonstration with King Cobras, Siamese Cobras, pythons and more. Of course, it was impressive to see these handlers get so close to the snakes and snatch them with their bare hands. But we weren’t too worried about anyone getting bitten, since the snake farm is located right next to a hospital. Looking back at these videos, I do wonder why they didn’t ask all the children to sit back in their seats! They were just hanging over the railing … what if a snake had lunged at a kid?!
I’m sorry, but did you see him grab the snake?! My favorite part was when the emcee says, “It looks easy, right? To catch the King Cobra, that is, but do not try to do it, do not try this at home, because of…you just die after you try, ok?”
Here are the Siamese Cobras:
At the end of the show, visitors had the opportunity to pose for photos with a Burmese Python. The first brave soul to volunteer, believe it or not, was this little girl!
When it was our turn to hold it, I was all cool, excited actually. So I’m smiling … and then suddenly, the snake turns and starts coming toward my head! Not so calm anymore.
We had a break between the two snake shows, so we walked over to Lumphini Park to kill some time. During our swan boat ride around the lake, we saw some more monitor lizards. Have you ever seen one swim? It’s terrifying.
Here’s Will playing NatGeo photographer:
Looking to buy a cute dress or something before leaving Bangkok, we swung by Pratunam Market. It was OK. I didn’t buy anything. But they had endless stalls of clothing, shoes, accessories and more. And fried bugs. We also dropped by the Erawan Shrine, which was a few blocks from our hotel. It was really crowded with many people placing offerings and saying prayers. From what I could tell, visitors can also pay to have the performers do a traditional ceremony behind you while you pay your respects. It’s unreal to think about what happened just weeks later.
Here’s what we woke up to on the morning we flew out of Bangkok. We had left Seoul at the onset of the MERS outbreak, and now it had followed us to Bangkok. Thank goodness we didn’t catch anything, anywhere, or get sick in any way during our travels.
We got to do quite a bit in Bangkok. Again, it wasn’t our favorite place, but we made the most of our few days there. Here are some other memories from Bangkok:
- Dilapidated homes along the Chao Phraya River and along the train tracks.
- These buckets filled with food and toiletries. What are they? Who are they for? It’s a mystery to us.
- The city felt dirty and had a few unpleasant smells.
- It’s common to see monks out and about, they seemed to be everywhere. They even have priority seating for them on the BTS Skytrain and on the ferry boats.
- Street food is so popular, that the vendors have plastic tables and chairs set up along the sidewalks for people to dine on. We saw this a lot, at all hours of the day.
- Yes, “lady boys” are a thing here, and they also seem to be everywhere you turn. In fact, some of our hotel staff in Thailand were lady boys. No one bats an eyelash at them (pun intended) because it’s culturally accepted.
- Many day workers wear matching uniforms. I couldn’t figure out what trade they were in, but I noticed many women wearing the same outfit to work. Schoolchildren also wear matching uniforms, down to their backpacks.
- They drive on the opposite side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right. This really threw me off. (In Tokyo, they drive on the opposite side of the road, but the steering wheel is still on the left.)
Click here for more photos from Bangkok.
Up next: Southeast Asia Vacation Part 3 — Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands. You won’t want to miss it!