Day 2: Bangkok
Jet lag mostly gone, we woke up this morning and had a lovely breakfast outside at the Peninsula’s riverfront restaurant. I caught up briefly with the hotel’s manager, a former colleague from Chicago, discussing his move to Bangkok two years ago and what it was like to live and work here. After breakfast, we studied a few maps, planned our day’s route, and set off for the Grand Palace.
The Peninsula has a ferry to shuttle guests across the Chao Phraya river; from connecting piers one can connect to the Skytrain or water taxis. Last time we visited Bangkok when we were deposited on the public pier to pick up the water taxi, if it had not been for a nice tourist telling us which boat to take, we might still be waiting there. No helpful maps or English signage on these little piers whatsoever! This time we were much more confident and successfully hopped aboard the Chao Phraya express boat bound for the pier nearest the Grand Palace.
There is a well-known scam in Bangkok where tourists, as they approach the Grand Palace, are told it is closed for the day and are offered trips to see other temples (which are disguised as trips to jewelry stores). Three years ago, there was a 50-50 chance the Palace was actually closed because a high-ranking Malaysian official was in town…or it was open as usual and we fell for the scam, because we never made it inside.
This time we were determined to get to the entrance gate without listening to a single person, and after meeting a couple from the UK also headed there, we successfully managed to get in. Public announcements at the gate loudly informed us that yes, the Palace was open every day, and no, do not trust anyone who tells you otherwise! Matt, however, was slightly disappointed that not one person tried to tell us the Palace was closed. 🙂
Established in 1782, the Grand Palace complex consists of the one-time royal residence, throne halls, government offices, and the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Developed over 200 years, the Palace showcases many eclectic styles and is massive in scale, covering 218,000 square meters. Since 1925 the King and the Royal Family have not lived on the grounds, however, the Palace is still regularly used for official events, royal ceremonies, and state functions.
We toured a large section of the grounds, although not every hall was open to tourists, nor could photographs be taken inside most of the temples. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha was one of the most elaborate, golden, sparkliest, ornate temples we have seen, and we were amused to learn that the Emerald Buddha (in fact carved from jade) has three different ‘outfits’ for rainy/summer/winter seasons, which are changed in an official ceremony presided over by the King.
After stopping to rest and rehydrate (weather was, predictably, HOT AND HUMID), we left the Palace and walked east into the city toward an intriguing spot on our map labeled “Giant Swing”. Although we discovered the Giant Swing to be out of commission, along the way we observed store after store selling all manner of sizes of Buddhas, floral wreaths, and ceremonial offerings.
On we walked until we reached MBK Center, a gigantic eight-story, 2000-store mall where we had a lot fun shopping the last time we visited. We stopped by the huge food court for a mango-passion fruit-pineapple smoothie, then wandered through the sixth-floor bazaar loaded with Thai souvenirs, clothes, and trinkets where I successfully haggled for the Thai-style pants I wanted. A sign advertising Thai massages for ~$12/hour was too irresistible to pass up, so we stopped by a lovely spa for a little pampering.
Dinner was at Soi Polo Chicken, an awesome restaurant we found last visit that was so delicious we had to return. We took the Skytrain to Lumphini Park, a beautiful green space in the middle of skyscrapers and crazy traffic, and used our memory to navigate our way back to the restaurant. The food was as good as we remembered – crispy chicken showered in fried garlic, sticky rice, and spicy som tum sua, green papaya salad with salted crab and Thai noodles. A fantastic meal for a crazy-reasonable $11.
Sweaty, tired, and pleased with the day’s events, we caught the ferry back to the Peninsula, took a swim in the beautiful pool, and called it a night.