Getting to India from the United States can be a bit of a journey. Rather than grimace at the thought of all those flights, booking a stopover in Bangkok seemed like a great idea. I could adjust to the time change, explore the city, eat some great Thai food, and then continue on my journey! Read on to know how I spent my stopover in Bangkok!
My roommate’s friend gave me some great advice about things to see in Bangkok. She mentioned that I should make sure to see the Grand Palace and “some buddhas.” She also told me not to skip out on having a drink at the Banyan Tree Hotel rooftop bar, Vertigo. All great advice! So I arrived in Bangkok late in the evening, and I was really excited to be there. I arrived during the time of some political protests, and it appears like I got out just in time, as many many people have now died in the streets of Bangkok, and the hotel I stayed at has been barbed wired shut.
I got into my room at the Courtyard Marriott, and I found it to be pretty nice. Fairly minimalist, in typical Courtyard fashion, but the bed was very comfy, there was a desk, an HDTV, and a large shower and nice bathroom area.
When I woke up in the morning, I decided to go for a jog before heading out to explore. However, about halfway through my jog, I realized that I was just too excited to spend the morning at the gym! I quit the jog, showered off, and went down to the Courtyard’s free breakfast buffet. I thought it was actually a pretty decent buffet. There were fresh pastries, made to order eggs, noodles, fresh fruit, etc. Definitely very nice.
Based on the concierge’s advice, I had planned on taking the SkyTrain (their public transportation rail system) from the Ratchadamri stop near my hotel, but before I could even get there, a Tuk Tuk driver pulled up and offered to take me anywhere I wanted to go. I mentioned to him that i wanted to take public transportation, but he was pretty insistent. He finally gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He said he would take me to a bunch of temples, and eventually to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha & Grand Palace, for only 22 baht. That’s like 66 cents. I asked him what the catch was, and he told me he would have to drop me off at two stores along the way. I was not obligated to buy anything, but he got a kickback from the stores just for dropping me off to browse. DEAL!
He took me to a few temples and buddhas. They were very beautiful, but my fascination waned as we stopped at each one. The architecture really is beautiful, and it’s really neat to see these old temples amidst a modern city, but if you’ve seen a couple, you’ve seen them all. I’m sure there’s a good dose of ugly American generalization in my statement, but… it’s true!
It was HOT that day too. He dropped me off at two stores. The first was the typical Thai custom suits / shirts place. Their prices were not that reasonable, and the salesmen were pretty pushy so I left pretty quickly. The next place was a store with all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs I could bring home. I picked up a few things, and then we were off to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace (same location). The Temple of the Emerald Buddha really is a beautiful complex. I also think the story about the “emerald” buddha is quite funny too. When it was first discovered, it was thought to be made of solid emerald. Nations fought over this relic, and it changed hands many times. After some time, it was discerned that the buddha was not actually made of emerald, but rather, jade. Kinda decreases the value of it. But at this point, it had become such an object of affection, that they still built a huge temple around it. The temple is much more fascinating than the buddha. The green buddha is a few feet tall, and it is seated pretty far away from where you enter the temple. I was mostly fascinated by the beautiful ancient architecture everywhere. Keep in mind that this was my first time in Asia… so this was all very new to me.
The Grand Palace is right next door to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and one ticket gets you entrance to both. Many ancient kings lived in the Grand Palace, but currently there are no residents. Today, many important rituals are performed there. It was enjoyable to walk around the grounds of the Grand Palace, and they have an ancient weapons museum that you can see.
Monks in Training!
After touring around, I left the grounds, and I went across the street to a market near the river. I was looking to get some good Pad Thai, and I was not disappointed. I was able to get a plate of noodles and a pepsi for only 100 baht, about 3 US dollars. I thought the food was pretty good, but I do have some commentary about Thai food in the USA. That commentary is that it’s actually a pretty accurate representation of Thai food in Thailand! Mexican food in the USA tastes completely different than Mexican food in Mexico. However, in Thailand, I found all the dishes to be mostly similar and have very similar flavor. My lunch hit the spot, and it was good to take a bit of a rest.
There was a “guided tour” I noticed where I could get a boat tour of the river. I looked at the list of available packages, and I noticed that one included a “snake farm.” SCORE! Snakes were definitely on my list of things to see on my visit to Asia. This water taxi tour was about the worst tour I could have asked for. I was expecting a guide, but instead, I got a guy who looked like he was about 12 years old driving me around the river. My tour was to include a stop at the Barge Museum, but what they failed to tell me was that a “stop” meant that he would pull over in front of the museum in the middle of the river, and yell to me, “Take picture!’ I’d grab a shot of the outside of the museum, and then we were on to the next exhibit. LAME! Now that being said, I did enjoy just riding down the river in a long tail boat. It was really great to see Bangkok from this perspective, and i got a lot of great photos. The water was pretty gross looking, and I was thinking to myself how awful it would be to swim in it. Of course as soon as I think that, we turn the corner, and I see a group of kids swimming in it.
Our next stop would prove to be the highlight of my day: The Thonburi Snake Farm! I’m going to edit / upload a video to youtube, and I’ll post that shortly, but a pic or two will have to do for now. In short, they put you in a rink with a small fence dividing the benches from the center area. Next, they dump scary-ass snakes out in the middle, and they poke and prod them to piss them off. Then the humans dodge the snake lunges, and it’s all one big happy show. Pretty gnarly stuff to see cobras and a variety of other dangerous snakes in such close quarters! After the show was over, there were a couple other things you could do there. It was almost like a mini-zoo. I was able to feed monkeys (through a cage), hold a python, and see a variety of other animals. This was really a great experience, and I recommend this place to anyone visiting Bangkok!
At this point, I was pretty exhausted. I asked my water taxi driver if he could drop me off at the skytrain as it was closer than where he picked me up. Of course, he wanted some extra money for that so I had to oblige him. Annoying, but whatever. I took the skytrain back to my hotel, and I relaxed for a couple hours before heading out to dinner. Also, I should mention that throughout my day in Bangkok, I saw plenty of “red shirt” protestors everywhere. At the time I was there, the protests were very peaceful, and I never once felt threatened. A few weeks after my visit, things really escalated, and my beloved Courtyard Marriott had to be barb-wired shut!
My roommate’s friend told me that I HAD to go grab a drink at the Banyan Tree hotel’s rooftop bar, Vertigo. She mentioned that the views there were some of the best in the world, and that I should check it out, but that it was pricey to eat there. Great advice – the menu looked REALLY expensive. I looked around for a good restaurant near the Banyan Tree, and I decided on Baan Khanitha
. The prices were very reasonable, the service was great, and I had the best Thai meal of my life. After finishing my dinner, I walked on over to the Banyan Tree, took the elevator up to the top, and had myself a beer. The views were truly spectacular.
A couple beers there was a great way to finish up my night, and then I headed back to my hotel to rest up for my early morning flight on Jet Airways to Chennai via Mumbai! I realize that my post was long and rambling, but I just had this draft saved for way too long, and I needed to get this thing published so I could move on :-) . Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments!