The day started early, but we were both wide awake at 06:30, so that wasn’t a problem. We breakfasted in the hotel on a reasonable selection of food. Bizarrely the restaurant was playing a Country & Western soundtrack as the muzak!
Once fed, we headed out in search of a tuk-tuk to take us down to the Grand Palace. The first one we found was calling pitching at twenty Baht, but as soon as we enquired about the price to the Palace he was telling us how it was a special prayer day just for the Thai people and how he could take us to these other wonderful sites for just one-hundred Baht. I’d read comments from people who’d been taken in by this and we knew the Palace was open today from 08:30 so we walked on and within fifty yards had been accosted by another driver who we negotiated down to forty Baht. We hopped in and had a cooling, if slightly hair-raising, ride through the Bangkok streets to the entrance to the Grand Palace.
It was only after we’d parted company with the vehicle that Brett realised his iPhone wasn’t in his pocket! He’d checked it was there after we boarded and it definitely wasn’t there now. He’d had it out of its case for video-blogging purposes, so surmised it had just slipped out while we were bouncing through the streets. Sadly there was nothing really to be done. When we later got back to the hotel he got online and flagged it as lost and gave my Thai mobile number as the contact, but it seems unlikely we’ll see it again.
Not wanting it to spoil the day, we carried on regardless and waited for the gates to be opened to the Grand Palace. When they were, it was like being swept along in a river of people as all the tour groups surged in. I kept getting stung by the umbrellas carried as sunshades by women two feet shorter than me; quite the surreal experience as I tried to be polite and keep smiling!
Despite the huge numbers of people, though, there seemed to be few independent visitors so there was no queue for tickets or audio guides and were one of the first into the complex itself.
When I came here for the first time, I was quite awestruck by the decoration. The place is covered entirely in either white paint, gold leaf or coloured mirrored glass mosaics. It is dazzling and quite the sight to behold. I am less the innocent abroad I was back then, but even so it was still worth coming back to.
That said, if I had to come again and wanted to get decent photographs, I would probably allow two days for it; the first day to scope out the angles I wanted to photograph and the second day to be right at the front of the queue to get in so as to be ahead of the tour groups who endlessly traipse across some beautiful vistas. I would also avoid the weekend: Apart from the Emerald Buddha, all of the interiors are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, which was disappointing. The audio guide was a bit of a waste of time too. You’re only allowed it for two hours, or you get charged again, there was little direction to make sure you were looking the right way and it tended to group locations together into one track which hurried you around 4, 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d and 4e when really I’d rather have had separate tracks so I could take my time at spot 4 before moving on to the next one!
For all of that, though, it was worth doing. The Grand Palace complex really is a must-see in Bangkok!
The one fact that stayed with me from the tour was that there are an awful lot of statues of Buddha which are “highly venerated!” As well as the principal one, the Emerald Buddha, there is the one used in the Ploughing Ceremony, thirty-four of them in a side chapel, eight in another chapel dedicated to previous kings. The Emerald Buddha has three outfits which are changed with the three Thai seasons. However it’s only the king who is allowed to change his clothes. The statue sits atop a multi-tiered gilded pedestal covered with other images of Buddha and sacred symbols and, while looking up at it, I had this hugely incongruous image of the king atop a teetering step ladder dressing the idol. I really hope that isn’t how he does it!
Going early was a good idea all round as it turns out! By 11 o’clock, the sun is fierce and we were quite happy to hop in another tuk-tuk back to the hotel to cool off. This one waited until we were in the back seat before offering us the day-tour pitch but he eventually understood that we were not to be persuaded and dropped us at our front door for the agreed price.
We showered and began rehydrating and I finished my post from yesterday which I’d been too tired to complete before bed. Brett checked-in with Apple about his phone. After a couple of hours we were out again, this time looking for lunch and a river tour. Lunch was a bit of street food before we found our way to the jetty on the river and booked a tour. It wasn’t until we’d paid that I worked out we’d spent roughly £40 on the excursion which, by Bangkok’s low-cost-of-living standards, was a huge amount that I felt sure was rip-off for the tourists.
The trip wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t do it over again; we were the only two passengers on a Thai Long Boat, first crossing the Chao Phraya river and then scooting down a wide side-canal to a mini floating market. The original floating market is a way north of central Bangkok, but this one had its charms with a few folk selling knick-knacks and food from their boats. The market clusters around a floating pier where there were musicians playing and more conventional market stalls. A bit of a tourist-trap, but not an unpleasant way to spend half an hour. We tried some very tasty local patisserie followed by coconut ice cream, served in a freshly opened coconut.
The return trip was much the same as the outward, although through slightly narrow canals with several sharp twists and turns. Total duration was about ninety minutes.
At 6pm though we were due to meet our guide in reception. I had been curious as to how many people would form our party and it turned out I was wrong about it being just a few; we are sixteen in total! The welcome meeting went on a little longer than I would have liked, but it got us all together and most of us headed out for dinner together afterwards. I was also worried we might be the only middle-aged guys in a party of gap-year kids. It turns out to be quite a mixed age range; only two actual gap-year girls, a couple of other twenty-something couples and probably as many older ones. We’re also quite a cosmopolitan bunch, representing the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Colombia, Spain and Peru. They all seem nice enough; let’s see how the group dynamic develops though, as we spend eight hours together in two minivans tomorrow…!