Bangkok, home to 8 million people, is the capitol and most populous city of Thailand. It was once a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century and grew with the modernization of Siam, now called Thailand. Now the financial city of Thailand, Bangkok is also a popular tourist destination.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
My tour guide, Rat, met me at the airport last night and dropped me at my hotel, the Pathumwan Princess. Guards and a barricade blocked the driveway. I had to pass through a metal detector at the doorway and a guard scanned my bag. I thought Thailand was supposed to be safe?!? The hotel was lovely. At check in, the front desk greeted me with some sort of punch and issued me a very nice room on a high floor. I had a great view of the city and of the ladies doing laps in the outdoor pool this morning.
Day Tour of Bangkok
Rat picked me up at 8am to start my tour around Bangkok on a hot and humid day. I was careful to dress appropriately for custom. Unfortunately clothes that covered the knees and shoulders were not the best choice for the weather.
Our first stop was the Grand Palace. Apparently all the tour companies wanted to beat the heat as we did. Approximately 1,000 Chinese tourists that traveled in groups of fifty and I toured the Grand Palace together. One group followed their leader carrying a pole with a teddy bear hanging from it so they wouldn’t get lost. It reminded me of a marathon pace setter running with a time placard pole.
After having camped on deserted beaches for the last week, I felt somewhat overwhelmed in the mobs of people. I knew there would be a lot of people in Asia, but I didn’t think a tourist attraction in midweek would be quite so busy. To keep my mind off the chaos, I came up with a game…try to take a picture (not too close up) without a person in it. I was only mildly successful!
I began my tour after renting a set of English headphones to learn about the Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha as well as several other buildings decorated in jewels, Chinese porcelain, mother of pearl and more.
The construction of the Grand Palace began in 1782 and throughout successive reigns many buildings were added. The Royal family lived at the palace until 1925. Now it is used for certain events and to house foreign dignitaries.
At the entrance of the complex, sits the Hermit Doctor, Statue of the father of Thai herbal medicine. People pray at its base and leave offerings of flowers and water.
In addition to the Hermit Doctor, six pairs of demon giants guard the entrance gates to the temple complex. One of the few pictures I snapped without a person in it was of a Guardian Giant!
As I walked through the complex, I admired a sandstone model of Angkor Wat as well as a variety of buildings including, Prasat Phra Thep Bidon, the Royal Pantheon; Golden Chedis surrounded by mythical creatures; and Phra Asada Maha Chedi, the “Eight Prangs”.
I continued past many worshippers who offered burning incense, flowers, and bottles of water to the Statue of Goddess Kun lam, the Goddess of Mercy that sits in front of the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. Next to the statue is Hor Phra Khanthara Rat, a small pavilion that houses the Buddha image used in the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. This pavilion was clearly important to many who prayed on its steps.
Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha
The most important building in the complex; however, is the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. After removing my shoes, I followed the monks and a multitude of visitors into the chapel to “worship” the Buddha. In appropriate custom, I knelt on the ground with my head down and feet facing away from the image.
The emerald Buddha, made of jade, sits atop almost two stories worth of gold and jewels and other protective Buddhas to nearly reach the ceiling. At only 45cm tall, the image is the most revered in Thailand. The King changes its gold clothing with the seasons…winter, summer, and rainy (or “rainny” according to the board Rat showed me).
From the temple complex, we exited into the Grand Palace complex where we took a short walk around the gardens and watched the changing of the guard. The Grand Palace ticket allows entrance into several museums. As such, I made a brief stop into the Queen’s Museum to see some of her wardrobes. Though it featured pretty pieces, I enjoyed it mostly for the air conditioning.
After visiting the Queen’s Museum, Rat drove me through Bangkok to visit another temple, Wat Pho. There were two Buddhas of interest at the temple. The first was an enormous reclining Buddha, 15m high and 42m long! Across from it read a sign, “Beware, Non-Thai Pickpocket Gangs”. We were actually given bags in which to carry our shoes versus leaving them outside the temple!
The other Buddha was a more important Buddha which could be determined by the surrounding buildings and images that protect it.
The National Thai Museum, the Teakwood Mansion and the Elephant Museum
After visiting the two Buddhas, we stopped at the National Thai Museum, the Teakwood Mansion, and the Elephant Museum. The first two places were adamant about not allowing pictures. Not even cell phones were allowed. I had the extra battery to my camera in my purse and the bag checker waved me away because she felt something “hard”. After I showed it to her, she let me through!
I wouldn’t have minded being turned away as I’m not the biggest museum person, but once again, I enjoyed the air conditioning! So was the embroidered silk.
After visiting the Teakwood mansion, I stopped in a small two-room museum next to the cafe where we ate lunch (though I didn’t get the “ice scream”. I giggled when I found the docent asleep on the floor…I wish I had my camera for that!
The Elephant Museum
Of all the museums in Bangkok, the least crowded and most interesting was the Elephant Museum. The elephant is very important to the Thai culture. There was once many types and colors of elephants…black, spotted, white…not just grey that we know now.
The white elephant was particularly special. It is the symbol of the cloudy rain God who creates all fertilities for plants, animals, and the prosperity of the emperor. The white elephant is considered precious for the king, and if any form of white elephant is found, it is presented to His majesty. The white elephant must have white eyes, white palate, white toenails, white skin, white hair, long white tail hair, and white testicles.
It is further divided into three groups by the shade of its white skin. The white elephant the color of the conch shell is considered perfect and reserved for “use”. If the white elephant has skin of pink hue like a dry lotus petal, it is used for martial affairs. The white elephant with skin the color of a dry banana leaf (greenish-yellow) is considered auspicious and reserved for “use”. The museum included a jar containing a white elephant foot and even an elephant Buddha with a water offering at its base!
Jim Thomson House
Our final stop of the day was the Jim Thomson House. This was a much quieter place and quite enjoyable. Jim Thomson was an American, born in Delaware in 1906, who came to love Thailand after being stationed in Asia while serving in the US Army.
After his service, he returned to Bangkok to live permanently and devoted his attention to the lost art of hand weaving of silk. He contributed substantially to the growth of the Thai silk industry globally.
Jim Thomson gained further renown through the construction of his house which combined six teak buildings, but kept with the traditional Thai architecture. Adding to his fame was that he mysteriously disappeared while taking a walk in Malaysia in 1967. No one knows what happened to him.
His house was quaint, the gardens soothing. I loved the Chinese garden pot that held warm coals and had holes in the top to allow warmth to escape. That is my kind of outdoor stool! Also in his home was a wood form to design silk. The edge included a ruler for measurements and slats could be removed to incorporate different colors.
After my hour tour of the Jim Thomson House, Rat took back to my hotel, which walking distance away. I freshened up and went to MBK, the renowned shopping mall in Bangkok. My hotel and the mall actually connect on the second floor. The busy mall is six stories high and features shops of all kinds…though jewelry, shoes, and bags were the most prevalent.
Did I mention jewelry, shoes and bags? They were everywhere! I found my dinner on the sixth floor at a Japanese Hibachi grill. I was hoping for Thai food, but I have found the Thai food here is much different from the Thai food in America.
There is much more of an Indian/curry influence here versus the stir fry. I don’t mind a little spice, I’m not fond of the curry flavor. Anyway, I watched the chef cook my shrimp in front of me and pile on what I thought was a cup of rice, but it was garlic!
It was an early evening in Bangkok because tomorrow we are planning on a 7am departure to see the train markets, floating markets, Bridge On The River Kwae and more! ETB
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