The decision, that this would be our destination for our first out-of-the country trip as a married couple was a no-brainer. Bangkok pretty much stands out in Southeast Asia as a tourists’ haven and we weren’t disappointed. Bangkok is anything but boring; a real charmer I can say and it was such a nice escape from living in a city that feels like a small box, if you know what I mean.
Jep says Bangkok felt to him like home sweet home Manila. Well the Subarnavumi Int’l Airport was incomparable (clearly a sign of its booming tourism), and so are the trains, but then a lot of things around the city just felt familiar. Bad traffic, public buses which reminded me of those non-aircon buses going to Novaliches, street food galore, friendly people who pretty much looked like us, opportunists for taxi drivers, the humidity that was merciless… But the sights were definitely promising. I’ve put together collage of photos we took in the Land of Smiles, let the photos speak for themselves!
Day 1: Early Birds
We were to leave Singapore at 7:15 am via Jetstar. At 5:10 am we were at the Changi Airport. Check-in only took about 5-10 minutes. The remaining 1 hr and 50 mins were to be spent waiting, a part of life I never liked except for the many opportunities for cam-whoring, which as always put the sun on my eyes. I’m never an early bird, but my husband is, in an exaggerated kind of way, especially during trips such as this one. He had a sort of a mental checklist of all to-dos and to-brings and until we boarded the plane it felt like everything’s been ticked with a check mark. Funny that during take-off he started to fumble for our house keys and he froze when it suddenly occurred to him that he forgot to take the keys out of the door lock. And the key to our luggage was there. It was hilarious.
The flight took about 2 hours; we landed at 8:15 am (Thailand is an hour behind SG) at the Subarnavumi Int’l Airport, which wasn’t amazing in the morning but at night looked grand and modern like a giant glasshouse. We took a taxi going to our hotel in Sukhumvit Rd, one of the major highways of the capital, after what seemed like a game of charade with the taxi driver who couldn’t speak decent English. Though via hand gestures we somehow read that he was bargaining that we pay a fixed price of 400 baht but we insisted on metered fare, it was a TAXI-O-METER for heaven’s sake. He gave in by the way.
We stayed at Premiere Admiral Suites, which was about 10 mins walk from the Sukhumvit MRT Station and about 5 mins by tuktuk (think tricycles in Manila), c/o the hotel. The room wasn’t bad, having that modern minimalist feel that had a functional kitchen, breakfast buffet was filling, the staff and crew were really warm people (thanks to the guy who solved our luggage problem!), the pool though a bit small was charming as the view of the Bangkok business district at dusk and at dawn and I especially loved the scent of ginger oil burning.
We had a satisfying brunch in one of the cafes near the hotel called “Old Dutch”, where Jep has just found an addition to his collection of best burgers evah!
We were supposed to do the Grand Palace Tour on our first day but we were out of time and it rained so we instead headed to Chatuchak Market, the world’s biggest weekend market selling practically everything under the sun! It is adjacent to the Kamphaengphet station of the MRT Bangkok Metro Blue Line, or about a 5-minute walk from the Mo Chit station of the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line and another MRT station of the Chatuchak Park. It’s said to cover 27 acres and contain about 15,000 booths selling every imaginable type of goods to catch your eyes. It was outrageously HUUUGE! And prices were crazy CHEEEAP! A real shopper’s paradise! Too bad we couldn’t stay long.
I consider the Grand Pearl Dinner Cruise the highlight of our first day in Bangkok. It was a 2-hour cruise along the Chao Praya River which looked majestic at night, especially with the riverside sights like Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and Wat Pra Kaew. The Thai and International buffet was just scrumptious (I wish I had an even bigger stomach!). After dinner we ascended to the top deck to marvel at the brightly-lit architectural beauties along the river, take photos, and breathe in the fresh evening breeze. There was a band playing which I frankly didn’t like. It was nevertheless a smooth way to chill the night away, and for 50 SGD (per head), it was pretty much a give-away.
Day 2: Royal Ruins
We gave up our plans of going to the Floating Market to go to Ayutthaya. We both agreed it shouldn’t be missed and we were so right. We started our day at around 6 am, with a hearty breakfast at the hotel’s “The Cinnamon” where I loved the Thai fried rice and a local dish which consisted of minced chicken, poached egg, mushroom and some leaves, the name of which no one in the resto knew of. We needed that heavy breakfast, if we will be going around the ancient capital of Thailand. I have put up a whole page about the majestic Ayutthaya in a separate post. There were just too many things to see.
From our exhausting yet enjoyable day tour, we were back in Bangkok at around 5 pm – the rest of the evening we just spent shopping around Victory Monument Market where I was able to get some funky earrings for 20 baht apiece, Siam Paragon Mall where we walked a little and Central World where we went Italian for dinner, had froyo at Red Mango and bought a few books at the Kinokuniya bookstore!
Our hotel is a few blocks away from Soi Cowboy so we took a little stroll along one of Bangkok’s lust-driven dens of sin where tiny-clad women were calling out on tourists, pretty much like selling meat in the market (but this time a different kind of meat, if you know what I mean). It had a different feel as the one in Amsterdam, but just the same there was a burning curiosity in me to actually go in and see what the hell is going on behind the curtains! My husband though said he wasn’t comfortable (I guess the burly bouncer intimidated him hehe) and he thought it wasn’t very safe so we decided to just do another round of walking and head back to the hotel. I understood his hesitation; I too would prefer to watch the pole-swinging temptresses with a bigger group.
Day 3: The Grandest of them all
Except for the heat that ferociously burned my already roasted skin and the little fashion misfortune where I was obliged to wear their traditional sarong while in the palace grounds because I was wearing tight pants which I didn’t know (and nobody mentioned in the travel guides) wasn’t allowed, I was totally in awe of the grandiose works in the Grand Palace. That’s why they call it grand. Going around such expansive complex (218,400 sq. metres) sort reminded me of castles I’ve visited in Europe, though this one has that unique touch of Thai style, ornate and lavish, with all the gold, the chedis, the prangs, mosaics. It just really sucks that I’m in such a beautiful place and I’m dressed like a folk dancer!!!!
Truly the greatest spectacle for any tourist in Bangkok, the complex consists of over 100 beautifully designed buildings, golden spires and mosaics. It served as the home of the King and his court and the entire administrative seat of government for one and a half century. We paid 300 Baht (9.00 USD)for admission to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Central Court of the Grand Palace which also includes an admission ticket to Vimanmek Mansion. It’s such a colossal complex, you would need a day if you’re really into exploring the details & history behind every architecture. We only did a half day tour due to lack of time but I guess we pretty much covered the more popular sites. It was a tiring & endless photo ops which of course I didn’t really mind.
As it is the top destination in Bangkok, expect that it’s gonna be a full house. We went on a Monday, and there I was complacent that it’s not gonna be as crowded as the weekends but voila, we still got drowned in the sea of tourists.
We’ve taken a bazillion photos and now it’s such a pain to choose which ones are gonna go to this page. To serve as a semi-guide for future travellers I thought I’d present it by location.
The Upper Terrace
I start from this point, first because obviously it’s the closest to the main entrance and second because it’s one of my favorite. It consists of four main monuments:
1. The Reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi (also by King Rama IV) which is said to enshrine the relics of the Lord Buddha
2. The Repository of the Canon of Buddhism with its mother-of-pearl cabinet that displays the palm leaf scriptures at various times of the year
3. The model of Angkor Wat (found in Cambodia) commissioned by Rama IV. Cambodia then was a state of Siam and this was the King’s way to show off the grandeur of his rule.
4. The Royal Pantheon where statues of past sovereigns of the ruling dynasty are enshrined
Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Next stop is considered as Thailand’s most sacred temple, hence everyone is expected to act with due respect when inside it. Despite the generally hot weather in Bangkok, long trousers/skirts are required to enter the wat. When one walks into the temple one should take off one’s shoes as a sign of respect to the Buddha, as is done in other temples in Thailand. It houses the small Emerald Buddha (between 60 and 75 cm) perched high up inside its glass box. I read despite its name, it isn’t actually made of emerald but rather of green jade or jasper. Just some history bites, this sacred buddha is thought to have been made in the 15th century and was the cause of several wars before ending up for good in Bangkok in 1782. The image is considered a talisman by the Thais. The ‘robe’ worn by the image is changed 3 times each year by the King himself, at the start of each season: A diamond encrusted gold robe during the hot season, a solid gold robe in the cool season and a gilded monk’s robe in the rainy season. Picture-taking inside the temple is prohibited, hence we just spent some time to pray.
There are murals surrounding the temple area – painted with scenes from the Thai version of the Ramayana mythology, the Ramakian. Several statues in the temple area resemble figures from this story, most notably the giants (yak), five-meter high statues. Thotkhirithon, giant demon (Yaksha) guarding an exit to Grand Palace
Chakri Maha Prasat
This is yet again a picture of grandness, I was quite amazed staring at such an elegant work of art. This building was constructed by King Rama V to commemorate the centenary of the Chakri Dynasty. It was designed by a British architect in the European style with a pure Thai Style roof. Construction took six years from 1876 to 1882. Here the King receives ambassadors on the occasion of the presentation of their credentials. Only the reception portion is now being used.
Next to the Chakri palace is another fine architectural piece, built in the early Rattanakosin Thai style. I was absolutely stunned by the intricate & ornate design that speaks of pure royalty. The Dusit Maha Prasat Palace was an audience hall, where affairs of state were conducted and royal ceremonies performed.The palace was built by King Rama I in 1806 and renovated under King Rama III.
There are a few other lesser known temples we’ve toured inside the palace grounds and I’ve no idea what they’re called, so I’m just bringing in some of the photos. While doing the tour, I took some snaps of the people and things around me, some interesting, some just weird, some don’t even have to be part of this blog, but as for pictures, the more, the merrier hehe.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Our last stop in our temples tour was the temple famed for its massive reclining buddha, a few minutes away from the Grand Palace. Boy it was ginormous! At 46 meters long and 15 meters high, this gold-plated Buddha image depicts the Buddha’s passing into Nirvana. The Buddha image’s eyes and feet are decorated with mother-of-pearl and carvings in the feet depict the ‘108’ characteristics of Buddha. Admission is 20 Baht and the temple is open from 08:00 to 17:00.
The search for the Tamarind
From Wat Po we planned to look for that special Tamarind candy to bring home to Singapore but the search has gone askew. We approached this person who was standing in front of a sort of Department of Tourism tarpaulin to ask for directions for any nearby market. We thought, because he had this neat ID, a big map and a kind demeanor, that he was like a legal tour guide. We judged poorly. The fake guide actually talked the tuktuk driver into taking us into this jewelry store where he was expecting us to buy diamonds. I’ve read about this scam before but I never imagined that we’d actually fall into this trap! Funny but annoying at the same time. And all these because of that freaking tamarind.
Finally Jep said we should try MBK mall and he was soooo right. In there were throngs of stalls that sell local goodies including our much-sought spicy tamarind!
Over-all our Bangkok trip was a real treat. The only regret we had was that we should have gone for at least a week. Three days was just a bad idea. There must definitely be a Part 2.