Monday – February 14, 2011 –
I woke today excited about my first full day in Bangkok. I slept soundly before waking up around 10 a.m. Then I went downstairs at the Royal Ivory Nana Hotel for breakfast before showering and preparing for a full day.
Around 11 a.m. I left my hotel to explore Bangkok. I hailed a tuk tuk, and it was my first time ever riding in this very southeast Asian form of transport. My tuk-tuk driver explained that traffic was very bad in Nana and off Sukhumvit Road during the Monday morning rush hour. Along the way he had to buy gas and dropped me off at a tailor while he filled up he tank … seriously! This guy definitely wanted his referral fees! Of course I didn’t buy anything, but the Bangladeshi tailors certainly had perfected the art of haggling by attempting to sell me some cheap-ass suits. My driver returned after 10 minutes. He couldn’t believe I didn’t buy anything. He said his friends were some of the best salesmen that he had ever met.
Later we arrived by tuk tuk on Rattanakosin Island, the Old City, and home of the Thai government and monarchy. Bangkok is like Amsterdam and Venice in that it is a city divided by canals, however it is very tropical. Even though I am from the humid Deep South of the U.S., I am not quite accustomed to this degree of steamy weather. I wore a breathable white Columbia long-sleeve shirt, but it was blazing hot with sleeves. I guess it was better than getting sunburn, so I started off slowly visiting the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam and Thailand since 1782. While the Thai Royal Family lived on the grounds of the palace until 1925, today’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX) resides at Chitralada Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. After the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932, all government agencies completely moved out of the palace. Now the palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.
The rectangular palace complex is surrounded by four walls and has a combined area of more than 2.3 million square feet. Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. It is divided into several quarters: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; the Outer Court, with many public buildings; the Middle Court, including the Phra Maha Monthien Buildings, the Phra Maha Prasat Buildings and the Chakri Maha Prasat Buildings; the Inner Court and the Siwalai Gardens quarter.
I toured the grounds, seeing the changing of the guard in front of the palace and the Dusit Throne Hall. One of my favorite structures was the Wat Phra Kaeo, containing its stunningly beautiful Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is considered Thailand’s most valued temple, and it was the first Buddhist temple that I had ever toured. I reflected upon the experience while the monks chanted their afternoon prayers. It was a very peaceful moment.
Afterwards I walked next door to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) about a half mile south of the Grand Palace. Outside the temple, the grounds contain 91 chedis, four viharas (halls) and a bot (central shrine).
Once I entered the temple, I was amazing by the size of the Buddha. The reclining Buddha is about 45 feet tall but an astounding 150 feet long from head the toes. His right arm supports his head with tight curls on two box-pillows made up of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics. Another amazing detail visible is the feet that are 15 feet high and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The gold covering on the statue is absolutely stunning. It is the only reclining Buddha in the world. I learned that Thailand is about 95 percent Buddhist.
After my visit, I grabbed some ice cream nearby and bought a couple of things in a local street market. Then, I caught the river ferry across the Chao Praya River to the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) located on the west bank.
Wat Arun is considered to be the most famous and photographed temple in Bangkok. Its spire soars more than 220 feet into the sky and is decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain. I walked up a perilously steep flight of stairs that were extremely narrower than the length of my feet. I made sure I held on to railing because a fall here would probably be fatal. In fact, I am sure they wouldn’t let people climb such a structure in the U.S.
After watching sunset I was worn out and decided to head back to the hotel. I caught my first Tuk Tuk to the central rail station where I saw tourists waiting on the Chiang Mai night train. I then walked into the metro station and took the metro back to the Sukhumvit road station and took a taxi back to the hotel. I ate a snack, showered, watched a little of the BBC and Thai television before going to bed.