Our second day in Bangkok, which was really our first full day started with a quick breakfast at a neighboring restaurant. After that, we headed out into the city and down to the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Based on our experiences yesterday, I wore pants and a tank top, expecting there to be a wrap or smock I could borrow while touring the temple itself. We received quite a bit of differing information on the way, with many people telling us the Grand Palace was closed for a Buddha festival, or that it would be free in the afternoon. When we arrived, the place was swarming with tourists and Thais alike, and clearly not closed. However, we were immediately accosted by vendors selling pants and tops to cover ourselves with. It turns out that the dress code at the Grand Palace extends to the entire area, not just the temples and is very strictly enforced. A scarf or shawl is not enough, a top must have sleeves to be acceptable.
Based on the combination of the hoards of tourists and the lack of appropriate dress, we decided to wait it out before coming back in a few hours. We continued walking and walked along the river for quite a while. We stopped for some coffee and fruit shakes and took in life along the river. The Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is across the river, but undergoing what looked to be major renovations. Eventually, we decided to head back to Khao San Road for a quick shopping trip. Along the way, we were stopped and asked for directions by an Austrailian guy, who we struck up a conversation with and who ended up tagging along during most of the rest of the day. So far, Thailand has been an incredibly easy place to meet people from around the world and start up a conversation.
We purchased t-shirts at a shop near Khao San Road (99 Baht/$3). Since the Grand Palace closes at 3:30; we took a tuk-tuk there to save a little time. Tuk-tuks are very popular modes of transportation and are usually a motorcycle with either an attached seating area or basically a wagon (with seats) hitched to the back for riders. We arrived at the Grand Palace, and after putting our shirts on, we passed the inspection by the guards and were able to buy admission tickets.
Our first stop much the much-touted Emerald Buddha, which is actually made out of green jasper. As much as it was talked about as a ‘must-see’ in Bangkok, it was one of those things that when you see it your first reaction is “that’s it?”. I think this is mainly due to the small size (only about 30 inches tall) and the distance, which makes it appear even smaller. The Emerald Buddha has a long history but has been in place at the Wat Phra Kaew on the grounds of the Grand Palace since 1784. No one but the King of Thailand is allowed to touch the statue. The other buildings at the Wat Phra Kaew are equally impressive, with lots of detail and religious significance. Wat Phra Kaew is considered the most sacred wat in Thailand (thus the strong dress code).
The Grand Palace is an amazing sight. Built in 1782, it was the home of the Thai Royal Family, the Royal Court and the administrative seat of government for 150 years. The palace is still used on special occasions and for certain ceremonies. Visitors are not allowed inside the actual palace, which was kind of a bummer. Several royal and governmental offices are still located inside the palace as well. The outside looks spectacular, and my guess is that the inside is just as ornate. The grounds are well-kept and the guards on duty were dressed immaculately. We ended with a trip to the museum, which told the story of the restoration of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and contained a lot of great information about the temple and its construction and reconstruction. This was very helpful in understanding what we had seen since there are very few signs along the way to interpret the history of the Grand Palace and/or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
We also made a quick stop at the flower market. This was listed as one of the top things to do, but either we were in the wrong place or we missed the action. There were a few stalls selling roses, but the majority of the stalls were empty or selling produce. It was interesting to look at the different produce available, some familiar and some exotic, and especially to see all the different types of chilis.
Tired after a long day of traipsing around Bangkok, we tried to get a tuk-tuk back to our hotel. Due to rush hour, the drivers were asking more than double the earlier price. We finally found one that agreed to our price but soon found out there was a catch. The driver gave us a sign explaining that he was asking us to go into a shop and look around pretending to be very interested in what they had so that he could get free gas. As it turns out, it was a fancy tailor shop. We went in and oohed and aahed satisfactorily and escaped without actually buying anything. Finally, we arrived back at Khao San Road.
Ella and I ended up having a couple of drinks at a rooftop bar, grabbing some pad Thai, and going to bed somewhat early. We had made arrangements to go out to see the floating market about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok, which would make for an early morning.