Okay so here’s a re-cap of Friday evening and Saturday, my last day in Bangkok. After my last message on Friday night I went back to eat and explore the circus that is Thanon Khao San (Thanon is the Thai word for road, avenue, boulevard, etc). As much as I somewhat disliked Khao San Rd last time I was in Bangkok, it kind of grew on me a bit this time, as long as you accept that it is totally removed from Thai culture. But it is the ultimate cheap place in Bangkok…there were carts selling Pad Thai for 10 baht (25 cents) and you could find a wide array of things, ranging from all sorts of fake ID’s (in addition to the drivers license’s and diplomas I mentioned last time, they could also make you a Press Pass!) to a variety of fried insects! You could even get cocktails for 60 baht ($1.50)! There’s a photo of the circus known as Khao San Rd at night above on the left.
I discovered that there is one (and probably only one) thing that will clear Khao San Rd very quickly….a thunderstorm, which is exactly what happened. It started pouring and I ducked into an indoor sort of alley along with many other people to escape the downpour outside. After a bit I looked the other way down the indoor walkway, and it was pouring inside as well (see right)! After it lightened up a bit I made a dash for my guest house…thankfully it was only a block and a half away, and I had an umbrella with me! Once at the guesthouse I enjoyed the oh-so lovely cold water shower (hey can’t complain, the place cost 200 baht—$5) before heading to bed.
The room worked out just fine and was definitely far better than my hostel the first night. I wish I had shut the window though, as I was awoken by the city coming to life the following morning. I should say that in a bit of a price comparison, the cheapest room I’ve had in Thailand thus far (this one) is the same as the most expensive room I stayed in during my time in Laos!Anyways, I checked out, got some breakfast, and then walked over to the Grand Palace. On the way, I passed this really cool looking Spirit House basking in a heavenly light and insence, as seen on the right.
Just a bit about Thai history real quick….Bangkok became the capital of Thailand in 1782 I think. Actually, FYI, in Thai, Bangkok is actually called Krungthep which literally means “City of Angels,” though the official name is about a paragraph long! We all call it Bangkok because it was founded on a fishing village called Bang Makok. But anyways, after the fall of Ayutthaya (where I was a couple weeks ago) by Burmese invaders in 1776, the capital of Siam was moved to Thonburi, which is on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya River (which runs through the middle of Bangkok) from the current capital. The first King on the current dynasty (the Chakri dynasty) moved the capital to the opposite side of the river to make it safer in case the Burmese invaded again (which they did). So that King is called Rama I….all the Kings in this dynasty have the title Rama, which dates back centuries and essentially means “god king.” The current king is Rama IX. Anyways, when Rama I established the capital at Bangkok, he had the Grand Palace established.
So, anyways, I arrived at the Grand Palace and I was rather surprised at the expensive entrance fee (for Thailand)…250 baht for foreigners (there’s always a two-tier price system here). The Grand Palace comprises not only of the Palace itself, but also of The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha (though there are no monks there). The Emerald Buddha has quite a history behind it, and is probably one of the most sacred Buddha images in Thailand. It’s very small and actually carved of solid jade. It has 3 different gold outfits…one for each season (hot, rainy, and cool) and the King himself dresses it. The images below are all from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The temple complex housing the Emerald Buddha itself was very large and beautiful. Some of the distinct features included the enormous mythical creatures that were guarding the Buddha image, as well as a model of Angkor Wat. The compound was also surrounded by murals depicting the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana.
After I’d had my fill of the temple I moved on to the Grand Palace itself. The buildings were quite grandiose and architecturally gorgeous, though I was rather disappointed that you couldn’t actually go inside any of them. It was very neat to see (though if you were just seeing that I’d think the entrance fee was a bit steep). The guards were even similar to those at Buckingham Palace in London, in that they didn’t move at all (see below). People kept running up and taking pictures with them! The ticket also included entrance to the this museum displaying various medals, royal coins, swords, and showing off various other royal paraphernalia. One of the neatest things was that they had the other two outfits for the Emerald Buddha.
Once I’d seen enough at the palace I took a cab to Dusit Palace, which is in the northern part of the city. Big tip…the ticket for the Grand Palace is also valid for this complex, which makes it a better value. Dusit Palce was built around 1900 by Rama V, King Chulalongkorn (one of the 83 children of Rama IV, King Mongkut, who we’ve all seen depicted on the screen in The King & I…that actually is based on a true story, though it’s the Western view, and hence the story and films are banned here for the way they portray the King) the most revered King in Thai history, with the exception of the current one. Anyways King Chulalongkorn took this grand European tour and came back with visions of Paris and London, and set out to re-create that style in Bangkok. Hence, Dusit is a very extravagant and western-style palace.
One of the really nice features at Dusit was that you actually could tour the interior of the nearly all the buildings. One of the highlights was the Vimanmek Mansion, the “largest golden teakwood mansion in the world.” It was the where Rama V lived, albeit briefly, at Dusit Palace, and it was pretty incredible, and huge! The furnishings as well as many of his things were still there in their original positions, which was great to see.
I did get slightly annoyed there because I had to put my bag in a locker which I had to pay for! Oh well. We were also required to go on a free guided tour. However, their planning wasn’t so good, as we kept overlapping with other groups. The guides kept passing us along to other guides (we had 3 during the course of the tour) and when we finished, the final guide flat out asked us for a tip for the free tour we had to go on. Not only that, but he wasn’t our only guide either! This Spanish couple started conversing amongst themselves in Spanish about it and we all sort of looked at each other. The guide, seeing that we weren’t so keen on tipping him backed off and we didn’t give him anything.
Below: (L to R) Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, Vimenmeak Mansion, the original throne hall of the complex
Anyways, the other major highlight of Dusit Palace was Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, which is enormous and somewhat resembles parts of the Vatican…it was constructed in the Italian Renaissance-style. The interior, particularly the ceiling, was just incredible, with these absolutely stunning murals and domes. The total cost of the building when it was completed in 1915 was 15 million baht (no clue what that would be today). A few other notable exhibitions there was an exhibit on Royal Elephants at the former royal elephant stable, as well as some great metal handicrafts, and exhibits of the photography of the current King. There were also some photos of him playing the clarinet and saxophone with Louis Armstrong!
Anyways, around 4pm I had enough (and they were closing) so I took a taxi over to the Victory Monument, where I could catch the van back to Hua Hin. I had the unfortunate luck of having a taxi driver who not only spoke English, but he was also illiterate in Thai, as he couldn’t read the name of the Victory Monument when I showed it to him on the map in Thai. Thankfully, the map I have not only also shows names in Thai, but it also has drawings of the major landmarks, and he recognized that, and got me there just fine! The van ride back went very fast (the guy drove really really quickly) and we made it back in under 2 hours….a new record! Well, that’s about all for now…this post is long enough already! I go back briefly on Thursday to pick up my passport.