Bangkok is everything I imagined it would be: big, fast-paced, glitzy, loud, varied, and advanced yet traditional. With a population of around 14 million in the city and surrounding area, it’s the biggest city in Thailand and one of the largest transportation hubs in Asia.
For us, it marks the end of our time in Thailand, and we decided to take the city at a slower pace. After arriving around noon from the train station, we checked into our hostel and rested. Because we were still tired yet didn’t want to waste the day, we decided a stroll around a shopping mall and then a movie was a perfect compromise. Bangkok’s MBX shopping center is an odd mixture of sleek, western stores arranged in a familiar mall-like structure and wide-open spaces for stalls and vendors to sell their wares like a normal outdoor market, except in the mall. In the center of the mall was a massive portrait of their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej (better known as Rama IX). We have seen photos, shrines, and posters of him throughout Thailand, often with his wife Queen Sirikit.
Just before we watched the movie (The 5th Wave–Jordan has mixed feelings about it), an announcement before the movie instructed us to rise for the king’s anthem. We stood silently as a song played, the screen showing photos of the king’s New Year’s photos and cards he sent to his people. When it finished, we sat back down, and the movie began. Have I mentioned they love their king?
Our second day in Bangkok was more traditionally tourist-y. We found street food, then got a tuktuk to the Grand Palace. Through all of the traffic of the city it was about a 45 minute drive from our hostel (in what’s considered the “hostel district” by tourists) to the Grand Palace by the river. Once there we stared in amazement at the golden roofs and multicolored eaves. We also stared at the hordes of Asian tour groups that congested the streets, sidewalks, and palace entrances.
Built in 1782, the palace is primarily for tourists, museums, and official occasions, and the king lives in Dusit Palace a few blocks away.
Within the boundaries of the palace is also Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and one of the holiest temples in Thailand. (I suggest going earlier in the day, before the massive tour groups get in the way of all your photos and breathing space). The temple buildings truly were some of the most magnificent I have seen yet in Asia, with painted teak, sparkling walls, and gleaming chedis. The humongous statues of the Yaksa Tavarnbal (gate-guarding giant/demons) were also great to look at, though we’ve seen examples of them at almost every Thai temple.
This Buddha was carved from one large piece of jade in the 15th century, and has been housed at the royal palace since there was a royal palace of Bangkok, in 1785. Despite (or perhaps because) the special status of the temple and the Buddha image, the temple feel into disrepair. It took quite a while to get everyone agreed on renovations, but Queen Sirikit led the work, beginning in the mid 1980s. She decided that some of the old artifacts were interesting enough to merit a museum, so one of the buildings in the palace complex now houses some of the old statues, wood carvings, china pieces, and other decorative parts of the old temple. While these demons below are modeled after the original decor, they are only a couple of decades old.
The most interesting thing to Jordan (and I) were the two piles of elephant bones they unearthed during renovations. Elephants are the most sacred animal to Thai people, especially a white elephant. When a white elephant died, they were buried on temple grounds.
As I have said, the palace is split up into small museums or is a museum itself (like the ceremonial throne hall), and Jordan thought the weapons museum was fascinating.
Across the river from the royal palace is Wat Arun, or the Temple of the Dawn. The outside is more unique than the inside, and we’ve been into countless temples at this point. Jordan specifically wanted a good photo of the temple across the river, but unfortunately this is all we got:
When the Brumese destroyed the previous Siamese capital Ayutthaya in 1767 and the court moved south to Bangkok, the temple caught the eye of the king as they passed by at dawn. He vowed to restore it, and as time went on other kings have added to it, now making it truly a temple that shines at dawn.
We discovered that it may be beautiful, but not when under construction. And it can be difficult to get a good angle across the river. Afterward, we got a tuktuk driver outside the palace walls to take us to Chinatown for 80 baht. I think that was a pretty good deal, considering how much traffic there was between us and our destination.
Jordan and I had planned to eat street food in Chinatown, but were unable to find much. Instead, Chinatown is riddled with alleys and back passages that lead into sweltering shopping malls, dim gem stores, hawkers selling fabric, and anything else you can imagine. I felt like I was in the back storeroom of Hobby Lobby or Claire’s, judging by the amount of quilted bags, shabby chic lamps, and cubic zirconia earrings on all sides of me. It was fun though, getting lost in the market and finally seeing where all the “made in Thailand” paraphernalia comes from exactly.
Chinatown is, of course, more than just backstreet markets run by great-grandmothers. There are temples, a hospital, community center, and schools. We walked through until the edge of the district, where we saw the ceremonial/cultural gate that Chinese immigrants built long ago.
Besides that, we saw Siam Niramit, a cultural dance show that we highly recommend (if you can afford it–we bought tickets using credit card points). Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos. They actually patted everyone down, checking for cameras, before letting guests into the theater. But it is worth the money and the pat-down, and we were happy to end our two-and-a-half days in Bangkok with a dinner show that taught us more about the Thai culture.