Tourist Thailand: Bangkok

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.

Wat Po
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).

The reclining Buddha, a must-see in tourist Thailand

The reclining Buddha, a popular must-see tourist attraction in Thailand

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

The intricate carving on the feet alone is worth the trip

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

A nice little fountain right next to the reclining Buddha

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I had to capture this, yes the monk has an Ipad

I got a little obsessed with the faces

I got a little obsessed with the faces

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.

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

I think the artist was capturing the kind of nose they wanted to have

The colors on these things was amazing

The colors on these things was amazing

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

On a crowded tour, you miss the little nooks and crannies that make a place even more interesting

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

Up close with one of the flowers on the pagoda

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.

We didn't get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

We didn’t get a chance to get across the river before sun set, so this photo is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace,_Bangkok

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.

Blue, blue, blue

Blue, blue, blue

The colors that wrapped around the entire building... sigh

The colors that wrapped around the entire building… sigh

How can you not love these guys?

How can you not love these guys?

What I imagine meditation looking like

What I imagine meditation looking like

The main event

The main event

I love the flowers and colors

I love the flowers and colors

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?!

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn't care one bit

The pretzels were stale and the chicken a little funky, but I didn’t care one bit

Afterwards we wandered over to the river and digested and were quite rewarded with this shot.

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Not only did we get an awesome sunset over the river, but this view was the next act

Check out the companion video for Bangkok in this previous post.

Bits of Bangkok: Wat Pra Kaew and the Grand Palace

These two places are mentioned in every tourist’s Thailand guide-book as must-do Bangkok activities. And for good reason. I was ambivalent about going at first. I’m not really a big fan of Bangkok and herding myself in with a bunch of clueless white people didn’t sound like my cup of tea. Once we arrived to Wat Pra Kaew, I was in full tourist spirit, snapping pictures every few feet.

You can do both in one day, but I would suggest getting out earlier in the morning before the crowds. Both places are held in very high esteem by Thais as national monuments and it’s important to dress and act appropriately in both areas. That includes free modesty skirts and shoulder covers (after you put down a deposit), especially in the Grand Palace.

Chiang Mai: Temples and Streets

I realize this is a few days late, sorry about that! Between Skype chats yesterday with my Mom, aunt and cousin (it was his wedding day!), laundry, and then catching up with my brother, I was a little busy.

Chiang Mai has some of the most beautiful and oldest temples in Thailand. Though I didn’t make it out to the famous Doi Suthep, the temples within the city walls are worth the visit. Here are some clips from my time there.

Tuesday Travel Photo

Panamyoi Temple just a small drive away from my site. The first weekend available, my host family was ready to jet me out here and I’m glad they did. It. is. Gorgeous. Any of my visitors, prepare to be taken here. If Thailand had a Versailles (and it was a church version), this would be it. That doesn’t really make sense really, but it’s mostly for the grounds. So many flowers, fountains, and pagodas. The main one is the second tallest in Thailand. People come from all over Isaan to make merit at this temple, especially during Song Kran and New Year’s.

Lily pads, you always get me. Especially in front of beautiful Thai pagodas. I like to pretend this little girl was waving for the camera. Photo Credit: Me!

Stay tuned, I’ll be making a short little youtube clip that shows off the grounds better!