The ‘kok as Manfriend so unoriginally calls it. And sometimes, that’s just where you feel like you are, in a humid, crowded place with trash, odd smells, and traffic. Much like other major cities in the world, Bangkok doesn’t really reflect how the rest of the country feels culturally, politically or economically. And it’s a lot hotter too.
By a year in to my Peace Corps service, I decided I was more than ok never spending a long time in the capital or going to the major tourist sites. The most I ever did in Bangkok before I had a visitor was hang out in the delightfully comfortable PC lounge (it’s like a little sanctuary of America), eat lots of western food, and frequent the ginormous JJ weekend market.
So when Momma Coop was going to be coming to town, I knew I needed to bite the tourist bullet and figure out our way there. I was pleasantly surprised. Absurdly jacked up ‘foreigner’ prices not withstanding, Wat Po and the Grand Palace are worth a visit. For the ‘templed-out’ traveler, I would still suggest making your way to both locations. Both Wat Po and the Grand Palace are easily accessible and very close to each other so you can do both in one day. Like I wrote in my other post though, I would definitely suggest starting earlier in the day so you can wander around half a day in each location. Let’s break them down.
One of the largest and oldest temples within Bangkok, Wat Po is recognized as the birthplace of Thai massage, the first school opening within the complex. Visitors will note it is the home of the jaw droppingly huge reclining Buddha. Along with it, there are over 1000 Buddha images, beautifully colored pagodas (my favorite part), and a nice little fountain of a waterfall (very peaceful compared to the normal experience of being on a Bangkok street).
I really enjoyed wandering around the back portions of the complex. This was where most of the Buddha images were, along with many pagodas, animal statues, and not a lot of tourists. For this reason I would suggest going in the morning if possible before the tours and to not be on a huge tour in the first place.
There are modesty skirts and shawls for those with wearing shoulder and thigh baring clothing, but Wat Po’s standards are more relaxed than the Grand Palace. At the Grand Palace, both my Mom and I were stopped and asked to cover even our lower legs. You pick those up at the very front with a small deposit.
The Grand Palace
The official residence of Thai royalty since the late eighteenth century (though the royal family has lived in other palaces since the 1920s), the Grand Palace is a staggeringly large collection of buildings. Currently in use for only a few official state functions and ceremonies a year, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Bangkok. It’s easy to see why.
The big attraction here is the jade Buddha. The story originally goes that a temple in Chiang Rai was struck by lightning in the 1400s and broke open an octagonal pagoda. Inside was the jade Buddha. No personal pictures are allowed inside (though people sneak all the time), but it is something to sit and gaze at the Buddha (feet pointing away, obviously). I also really enjoyed the golden pagoda and all the buildings made from tile that made it seem to have a rainbow effect.
There are a number of museums and smaller temples within that are worth a quick gander. Our favorite was the Queen’s Museum of Textiles with yards upon yards of beautiful Thai silk and utilizing it like bookmarks, magnets, notebooks, and the like. Right near the exit/entrance, it was a nice finish to our day of touring.
For those a little cultured out (or in desperate need for western food like myself), there is a conveniently located Au Bon Pain right across the street from the Grand Palace where Momma Coop and I indulged, waiting for sun set. Have I mentioned I’ve been dying for a chicken caesar wrap for two years?!
Afterwards we wandered over to the river and digested and were quite rewarded with this shot.
Check out the companion video for Bangkok in this previous post.