Crazy opulent Bangkok – a day in 67 pictures
The day we arrived in Bangkok we were too buggered to do anything after the day long train journey from Malaysia, so we spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our delicious dinner marking the beginnings of a wonderful food partnership with the country – $5 total, delivered.
The next day though, we were off to explore this enigmatic place.
On our long walk to the river, through various boring government and military buildings we stopped at a little place to have a quick bite. Nobody spoke English, so ordering was its own little fun and adventure.
We ended up with a fried rice..
A green curry rice, which was wrapped in an omelet and particularly tasty.
But what I jumped on like a ravenous monster was this salad.
Gone in 10 seconds. I am sure I was not the most photogenic while stuffing these leaves in my mouth as fast as I can, but it was so good, so good you see.
Following this, we were back on the streets of boredom, big buildings and guards with weapons. Just as we were getting over it, we reached our destination.
The Chao Phraya river was the lifeline of Bangkok and all the bustling cities along its length back in the past. The channels that run from it through the inner parts of the city, even today can reveal the old ways of living in the area.
For now we were trying to get on the boat quickly enough, before it whizzed past the little jetty.
The river is big. Riding through it fast on a tiny boat is quite an experience. Temples peak behind the banks of the muddy river reminding us where we are, but otherwise the view is not that impressive, different or unique to the location.
Then just as quickly as we got on, we were off the boat and thrown in the middle of the business that surrounds the Grand Palace.
Imagine flavours and aromas being carried through the thick hot air, glistening food and generous piles of fruits calling for your attention, muffled only by the constant shouts from strangers trying to sell you something or lying about attractions being closed so they can sell you something you dont even know you need. A rudimentary, but tried through the ages, working machine to relieve you of your cash.
The whole thing has a life of its own really stewed in the middle of abundance of food.
Passing though the tourist trap with wide hypnotized eyes we emerged in front of the Palace walls.
We were greeted by a hefty entry fee and acceptable attire rules monitored by a group of clothing police, which you have to please to even attempt to enter the grounds.
We didnt really know if what was hiding behind the walls and well manicured gardens in front was worth the hassle and money, but after some hesitation Mr.Blab, adorned with lovely borrowed long pants, lead us through the crowds into the Palace.
Not before we became the tourist attraction again.
We have gotten used to living the life of celebrities now. The girls have suitable smiles for different occasions and the boy is very tolerant towards girls that crowd him and squeal in exhilarated pleasure while snapping his pictures.
This time I got caught in it too.
Then we were in and suddenly everything changed.
Like a magic portal we entered a world of wonder and opulence seen by us only in animated movies about the Orient. The excess of colours and forms was real this time, all weaved into intricacies rarely seen these days. The attention to detail and care taken to create this place can be felt in each small piece of glass and carving. Compounded they create a sight that overwhelmed this child of gray communist buildings, as well as modernity and minimalism.
The Grand Palace of Bangkok was built to the plan of the one in the old capital Ayutthaya – a city of million inhabitants back in the 18th century burned by the Burmese – an hours drive north of the current one. Its not just a palace, it housed everything the king needed to run the kingdom, so much so, that the he had a special balcony from which to show himself to the people or else they would never get to see him.
The most impressive part being the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, consisting of various buildings added on by the different kings through the ages.
The place is breathtaking. Everywhere you look is dazzling. I found it particularly pleasing that there were nowhere to be seen apartment blocks beyond the walls, large sky scrapers or any signs of the outside world. The illusion of stepping back in time is complete.
The Chapel is the building that houses the Emerald Buddha and is the only original structure around the Temple. It was also the first one to be erected in the whole Grand Palace enclosure.
The place is sacred for many and is bustling with religious activity.
People bring gold leaf and carefully cover a statue in front of the Chapel. They pay respects and light incenses.
At the entrance to the Emerald Buddha:
Inside the Chapel? No photography allowed, but imagine opulence to the max – gold, sparkles all in a big neat pile and at the very top of it, so high you can barely see it, is the jade carved 60cm statue in its seasonal jeweled outfit. The Buddha has three, one for summer, one for spring and one for winter, and the king himself changes them. The walls are covered in beautiful storyline type paintings.
The Palace building itself, built by an European, feels almost dull after the experience of the Temple. Still, the gardens surrounding it and the beautifully authentic Thai roof make the connection and provide a wonderful respite for the senses.
We used the place to chill for a bit and enjoy the greens and the passing monks.
Once we pass beyond the walls of the Palace, we are plunged straight into the buzz of Bangkok.
We walked through the administrative part of the city.
Onto the older part with its darkened from the years facades and small streets converging from time to time onto big expansive spaces.
Enjoyed a few snacks served with a smile.
And then started to think about heading back to base.
We decided to walk to a point and then catch a taxi, which might seem very luxurious thing to do, but in this city its one of the cheap ways to go, especially if there are 5 of you. A lesson we were just about to learn ever better.
After a very unsuccessful bargaining chat with a tuk-tuk driver, we were sitting next to one of the canals wondering which way to proceed. A kind man came to us and gave us directions of how to use the public transport to move on.
Here is where we had to go.
And before we knew what happened, we were jumping into a boat that almost didnt stop fully and whizzing through the filthy water. The hurry in getting you in would make paying a bit difficult, but people can be so wonderfully inventive when needed. A few seconds after the boat set off, the ticket sellers started maneuvering on the outside of it, collecting the money through the plastic that quickly rose up to protect us from the spray.
And spray there was!
The small boat was flying though. I could almost feel every wave below us, especially when we shook violently by a boat running the opposite way. This was a most amazing, heart stopping roller coaster. I was both in awe of the glimpses of traditional Thai living I was getting and of the experience itself, and wondering how I would save the kids if we end up in the water. The girls seem to hide the same thoughts behind their wide eyed expressions.
And then in a split second we rushed out, climbing through the benches straight onto the wooden jetty, no planks, no safety features, just bump, we are here, now get off or we are running away with one of your legs.
We absolutely loved it!
A ride on the skytrain took us back home for a combined cost of just a few baht less than what the taxi driver got down to. I am so glad we didnt know this before or we could have missed one of my favorite moments in the city so far.
For dinner we jumped into one of the small malls around. Papaya salad, prepared by a most charming man.
Roasted pork with noodles.
A few portions of the fried gyozas.
Then a walk through the busy streets of a city we have come to enjoy a lot.
With a dip in the pool we finished a day that seems to encompass what Bangkok has to offer – richness. The city delivers a concentrated version of everything, from modern to old opulence, as well as a thick dose of every day down to earth reality.
I am sold.