The next day, I woke up to another fresh delivery of coffee with danish pastries, and with a filled stomach, I headed out of the hotel. With yesterday’s plan to head to the Grand Palace scuppered, I headed for another journey to the Grand Palace. This time though, I opted for public transport and stuck to the Skytrain system, starting once again at Chit Lom, interchanging at Siam and finally reaching Saphan Taksin. The early morning ride was very pleasant with light loads, which was due to a Saturday morning. I was basically tracing my way back from yesterday’s evening journey back to the hotel. Upon reaching the boat jetty at Saphan Taksin, I took the upstream water bus route, alighting at the market closest to the Grand Palace.
Taking the water bus along the Chao Phraya again in the morning has its advantages as the sun will shine on the opposite side of the river banks, meaning I get to take nice photos of the opposite side of the riverbank compared to yesterday’s afternoon shots. The scene at the market and the roadside was also buzzing with more activity and energy as I passed by hawkers preparing fresh snacks for the day’s sales. With the energy of the morning radiating across the area, it just felt invigorating as I proceeded to the Grand Palace, purchasing my tickets as well as renting the audio guide for the Palace tour which includes a map of the area. The renting of the audio guide would prove useful as the staff manning the counter would provide some information on the route to take and some of the highlights not to be missed. With the Grand Palace separated to 2 sections, the first being the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or known as Wat Phra Kaew, and the second section is the royal state halls. The main entrance to the Temple had this statue of the Hermit Buddha which greeted visitors. The casual demeanour of the statue and the smiling face truly represented Thais in general, and provides a warm welcome for visitors to the Grand Palace. Facing the shrine and towering by the main entrance are 2 guards statues, many more of which will be scattered around the entrances to the temple. Art connoiseurs should check out the row of paintings along the covered walkway around the temple which depicts the founding of Ayuthaya.
Beyond the Hermit Buddha Shrine lies a complex of chedi with the magnificent Phra Sri Rattana in the centre, towering over the compound and making it an obvious landmark in the Temple. The upper terrace also holds the Phra Mondop or the Repository holding the Canon of Buddhism which was being renovated at the time of my visit. The Royal Pantheon which holds statues of past sovereigns of the ruling dynasty is also located within the upper terrace. Being a Royal Temple, a number of subsidiary building surrounds the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha, including the Scripture Library, the gabled Wiharn with a facade made up of colourful ceramic tiles and the Royal Mauseoleum where crematory relics of the Royal Family are interred. I explored these various buildings while taking in the colourful arts and decorations embossed onto these buildings. Through the mythological features and the extensive use of colour in the decorations, the essence of Thai art and crafts is essentially captured. It is thus a start for visitors seeking to find an insight into Thai culture, as the graceful dances with their intricate features and gold lacquering harks back to royal tradition.
Amongst many other insights one gain from the temple complex is the influence of the Khmer architecture and Chinese religion in Thailand, as seen from the model of Angkor Wat which is supposedly an inspiration for the push to build a complex of Royal Temples and Palaces which became today’s Grand Palace in Bangkok. There was also a shrine to the Goddess Guan Yin which is known as the Goddess of Mercy and is one of the numerous Buddhist deities recognized by many Chinese. There was also extensive of ceramics and the ubiquitous stone lion sculpture in some shrines which is commonly found in Taoist and Buddhist temples in China. After exploring the courtyard compound which contains the various buildings and shrines, it was time to take off my shoes and proceed to the Main Royal Chapel of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Being highlighted as an exhibit not to be missed, I had high expectations, especially with the entrance foyer being one of the most grandiose amongst all the buildings in the Temple Complex. The ‘Emerald Buddha’ is actually a Buddha sculpture carved out of a whole block of jade and is kind of a national treasure with important Royal rituals being conducted by the King in this chapel. The Emerald Buddha is positioned high up within the temple on an altar made of gold, and wears a garb which is changed according to the seasons. These garb would later be exhibited in one of the numerous galleries located within the Grand Palace. I found the Emerald Buddha slightly small due to the distance between pilgrims and the Emerald Buddha, but what was amazing within the chapel was the murals around the chapel which would really match the Sistine Chapel in terms of awe and magnificence. These murals depicts the traditional life story of the Buddha and the stories depicted in Buddhist scriptures. As mentioned earlier, the Temple of Emerald Buddha is as a ‘must-visit’ destination as the Sistine Chapel is when visiting the Vatican Museums. And that is saying something!
After spending some time within the Chapel, I proceeded to check out the Phra Maha Monthian which is a complex of buildings housing an audience hall, coronation hall and residence of King Rama I, II and III. However, the complex seems to be closed when I was there and I was only able to admire the facade, but no matter though as the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall located just beside is the more magnificent building. This particular palace section was built by King Chulalongkorn, also known as Rama V, and he also became the first sovereign to reside there. Built in a neo-classical style, the palace is a mix of classical European architecture but with the exuberant roof style of Thai architecture. This fusion creates a distinctive building which shows the Thais acceptance of western ideology and yet maintaining their cultural independence, allowing this small kingdom in South East Asia to weather the colonial powers around the region. The Chakri Maha Prasat Hall now serves as a venue for state dinners for visiting dignitaries and banquets on the occasion of a Royal Celebration such as the King’s Birthday.
While the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall is a fitting finale to the end of the tour of the Grand Palace, there were other exhibits worth looking at. One of the exhibit features a replica of the Royal Residence as well as a short history tour on the history of Thailand. This gallery is located a distance away from the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall and is in a separate compound. The main highlight in this gallery is perhaps the exhibit featuring a replica of the Emerald Buddha, allowing visitors to gain an up-close look at this national treasure. Another exhibit to take note is outside the Grand Palace, just a few steps beside the audio guide rental location. The latter provides a very comprehensive exhibition on the ornaments used by the Royal Family as well as the history of the current ruling family. This should also be included in the initial purchase of admission tickets for the Grand Palace. After the tour of the Grand Palace, tourists should also take this opportunity to visit the Wat Pho, a temple adjoining the Grand Palace. The walk to Wat Pho also allows me to walk past the Ministry of Defence Building and some other Federal Administrative Buildings. I also got the opportunity to have some snacks bought from the street vendors. When in Thailand, one should always try their street snacks, some of my favourites includes tapioca in coconut milk, mango or durian with sticky glutinous rice, or the guava or green mango with dried chilli, sugar and salt. The latter is a fresh and spicy snack which was really great after walking under the heat for the day.
The refreshing snack allowed me to continue exploring Wat Pho which is also known more commonly as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Entering from one of the side entrances of the Temple, I also chanced upon the fact that the Temple was also considered as the birthplace of Thai Massage, and I contemplated a Massage here but the plan was canned due to the number of people waiting for their massage. Thus, it was time to explore the temple proper starting with the courtyard which housed a standing Buddha statue. This area, however was being renovated at that time, and though partially completed, was not in the best of state. This led me to take in the sights of the hundred statues of Buddha lining the walkway around the courtyard.
In the middle of the courtyard is the main chapel housing a golden statue of a Buddha seated atop another throne. Suprisingly, photography is allowed within this chapel unlike the one inside the Royal Chapel housing the Emerald Buddha. The interior of this chapel is as exquisitely decorated though its grandeur and space is still lacking when compared to the Royal Chapel. From the main chapel, the tour of Wat Pho continues into a smaller courtyard which serves as a connector to a complex of chedis which serves as landmarks for the temple. It is beside these complex of chedis that one can find the temple building housing the Reclining Buddha. The Phra Buddhasaiyas is considered one of the finest examples of a Reclining Buddha in Thailand and is also the largest in the country. At the bottom of the Buddha’s feet, one can find the monther-of-pearl inlay crafted in the Thai-Chinese style depicting images from Buddhist scriptures. Beside the Buddha statue lies a row of urns where devotees can purchase a pack of coins and put one in each of the urns for a prayer throughout the process. I noticed several locals doing this while I was there.
The exploration of Wat Pho and the snack earlier left me thirsty and I have finished my supply of bottled water I had taken with me earlier in the day. Nicely enough, there was a street vendor selling coconut at the exit I took from the Temple. I got one of the coconut and had a nice refreshing drink to quench my thirst, before heading to the nearest jetty station near Wat Pho. While waiting for the boat to take me downstream, a Taiwanese daughter and father pair came over and enquired on the procedure for taking the water bus. I guess it is just kind of difficult for first-timers to utilize the public river transport system, and I just had to try to explain to her what I knew. Apparently, knowing later that I had studied in Singapore, she enquired about the places for night life in the city as she plans to visit Singapore with her friends over the Christmas and New Year period. I took the jetty to Saphan Taksin, a location where the Taiwanese tourists were also heading, and returned to my hotel via the convenient BTS system which once again ensured reliable service and that I travel smoothly to my destination. And I do get another cheap cruise along the Chao Phraya, which I manage to enjoy!
Upon returning to my hotel, I took some time to peel more fruits which by today had been replenished with fragrant pears. I had another nice healthy snack in the room as I relaxed before heading for the shower. After the shower, I felt wanting for another massage and this time decided to try out for the Thann Spa at Gaysorn Mall which is just located opposite the hotel. Unlike the foot reflexology experience which is basic, the Thann Spa provides an extensive treatment menu and with more upscale prices to boot. Naturally, I picked the foot massage package which includes a back and shoulder massage as well. The Thann experience doesn’t start immediately with massage. Instead the therapist came with a tray of fruits and tea for one to enjoy at the couch by the foyer as he handed out a Personal Massage Preference form, asking me about any ailments I suffer from, allergies I might have and preference of strength for my massage. Such are the small little things which differentiates a spa from a massage parlour. Next, the massage was done in a private room with a very comfortable couch and seeing that I took a book from the foyer to read, the therapist even brightened the room and covered me up with a blanket as he came back with a tub of warm water to scrub my feet with Thann amenities. The foot massage was one of the best I had and while costs 6 times as much as the one I had the previous day, I thought it was much more worth it for the overall experience and the method of massage which uses talcum powder and fragrant oils. Now I do have a new favourite for foot massage, and I even went on to check where I might find other Thann Spa locations. After a massage at Thann Spa, it was only fitting I had a meal at the Thann-operated cafe just 2 floors down on the same shopping mall. Due to the relatively late ending of the massage, I was like the last patron in the bistro which was very interestingly decorated with chic black and white chairs unlike those designed by Starck. For dinner that night, I ordered a Thai Iced Tea for my beverage, a platter of appetizer sampler and a Thai Red Duck Curry which comes with Fragrant Rice. It was another filling and satisfying meal. I found the appetizer sampler to be really good with a selection of apple with Parma ham, crackers and fish pate, bread with tuna mayo, prawn dumplings and ikura on a crispy chip. The red duck curry was savoury but slightly spicy, though it tasted great with the rice. I found the prices reasonable for the food in such a nice location! The service from the staff at the restaurant was also amazing as they served me wholeheartedly even when I think I delayed their closing time by a little bit. There was no instance whatsoever in them trying to hurry the service.
It was time for a walk after the hearty dinner I had and initially I enquired with the hotel concierge on locations for night city skyline shots. With the nearest one still a taxi ride away, I wasn’t really in the mood to walk too far out, and thus just decided to stake out locations from the skywalk with a tripod in tow. I went as far away to Siam Paragon and got to see the vibrancy of Christmas shopping in the city during a Saturday night. It was also bright in the city throughout the skywalk as each shopping mall comes out with their Christmas decoration lighting up the street scene. I managed to eke out a few memorable shots showing the vibrancy of the city at night before retiring for the night, as I reminisce of my time spent in Bangkok. Having initially dismissed Bangkok as similar to Jakarta, I found out I was wrong. There is a real reason why tourists enjoy Bangkok. From the variety of shopping available, the great cosmopolitan cuisine in addition to tasty Thai food and snacks, to the cultural sights, there are many activities for different types of tourists. In addition, tourists could also enjoy the convenience of public transport, enjoy affordable massage or really indulging in full spa treatments. These are just some of the reasons which differentiate Bangkok from Jakarta.
Must-visit in Bangkok: That has got to be the Chao Phraya Cruise by Water Bus, as it provides one a view of the sights along the river as well as observe the local residents and rub shoulders with revered monks while enjoying the sunshine along the river. Best of all, it is really cheap and the best next to nothing!