Bangkok: The Sights
Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
134Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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First stop was Wat Arun, a 3 Baht ferry trip across the river from pier number 8. From afar Wat Arun, the dawn temple, is striking and unlike anything we've seen so far. Up close you find that it's walls are covered with broken pottery - it's like a mix between something you'd find in Gaudi's Barcelona and someone's tacky concrete front wall creation in Bognor. It's more impressive from afar ! We scrambled around it and scaled the extremely thin high steps for a good view of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, our next destinations.
Back across the river we walked past all the pesky tuk-tuk drivers to the entrance of the Grand Palace, which isn't too easy to find - it's on the exact opposite side from Wat Pho. 3 separate tuk-tuk drivers told us that the temple inside the palace grounds, Wat Phra Kaew, was closed until 1pm as it was a Buddhist holiday - this is a notorious scam. They then offer you a 10 Baht ride out to another temple, to give you something to do until the temple supposedly re-opens, and in fact they take you to some mediocre sights if you're lucky and then to their mates gem shop or tailors and high-pressure sell you something you didn't want at a high cost. We were prepared for this, so we just walked past them, but it's still really annoying, especially as most of the Thais we've met in the past month have been helpful and friendly.
Inside the Grand Palace we paid 350 Baht each to explore the temples, stupas and the museums - just over 6 pounds each, our biggest expense for a while ! The temples are crowded together, a huge golden stupa, some intricate wall murals, the coronation and funerary halls for the monarchy and the number 1 sight, the jade Buddha. Unfortunately we've seen a few jade Buddhas already, and we know this one is a special one and has been about a bit, but it wasn't as good as one we saw in Chiang Rai's Wat Phra Kaew, or Chiang Mai's Wat Bupparam. Maybe we're just a bit tired of sight-seeing and excited to get to the beaches for a good sit down !
Next stop was Wat Pho, home to a huge reclining Buddha - 46m long and 15m high with great mother of pearl designs on it's feet. Behind the Buddha is a long line of alms bowls and we paid our 20 Baht for a tin full of coins and dutifully placed one in each bowl for good luck ! Wat Pho also has a large collection of Buddhas and some stupas.
From Wat Pho we walked up to a giant swing, Sao Ching Cha, where people used to swing (many to their deaths) trying to reach a bag of gold hung from a 15m high pole. It reminded us of the tori gates we'd seen in Kyoto.
From there we bought an ice-cream and sat in the shade in a lovely park with a terrible history. The grounds of Maha Chai prison are now a delightful park, with a pond and fountains around one of the watch-towers and Thai music playing from speakers in the trees. All that's left of the prison is one wall and 4 buildings which house the Corrections museum. We'd both read Warren Fellows book 'Damage Done' when we were in Chiang Rai. Warren was an Australian drug smuggler and his book told of his capture and time in Bangkok's prisons. The Corrections museum was free to enter and a few old ladies showed us in and made us sign the guest book. It's a bit eerie walking around a place where such terrors took place and the museum exhibits show life-size models of methods of torture and execution through the ages - very graphic. We had to follow a soldier to get to the 2nd building, which showed torture implements in an old cell block. We got a little worried he was going to lock us in !
Back in the free world we had one last thing to do, we wanted to visit the TAT (Tourist Authority Thailand), tourist office, to pick up some info on the islands and the best ways to get down to Ko Tao, our first stop. It was about a 20 minute walk and we set off past pretty Wat Ratchanatdaram. A man stopped us and said how pretty the wat was, 'yes' we agreed. The man said he was a school teacher at the local high school and we had a chat about where we'd been in Thailand and where we were going. He seemed to take a keen interest in helping us plan our sight-seeing in Bangkok, even though we'd already seen it all. He helpfully wrote down the top sights and we told him we'd seen them. He turned the list of sights into an itinerary we could do in a tuk-tuk journey, great we said, but we've seen them already. 'Ah' he said 'this temple has a free muay thai show today' - 'great' we said 'but we've just paid quite a lot of cash for ringside seats at the Lumphini'. 'ok, where are you going now' he asked, 'we're walking to the TAT office' we replied. 'It's very far, he said, '50 minutes walk, better take a tuk-tuk'. We told him that we like to walk, as crazy as it sounds, we spent our whole time at work sitting down and he turned and shouted some extremely rude words at us; 'F$@* you' he kept shouting as he backed away. We were quite surprised, weren't we just talking to a nice school teacher ? I think we said something very British like 'Hang on now, there's no need for that' and walked off. We've been told that Thai people don't get angry in public as it means they lose face, but this just proves that Bangkok's tuk-tuk mafia are a whole other breed ! He's lucky we're the calm people we are, other people might have just thumped him (and no doubt landed themselves in a world of trouble!)
At the TAT they gave us loads of information, looked up all the many options for boats and buses and trains down the coast and told us that it's not a Buddhist holiday and we shouldn't trust tuk-tuk drivers. What a shame, they spoil an otherwise charming and interesting city.
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