I have made arrangements to meet a friend for Thai food in China this evening and I am already drooling looking at some of my food pictures from this trip. What better time to recap our trip to Bangkok than before dinner?!
Our intention in visiting Bangkok during our Chinese new year adventures was to see some of the history we had missed on our last trip to Thailand. Bangkok is the present day capital of Thailand and is also home to the royal palace and several interesting temples besides. It is also a very large, and very busy city. Having just come off the plane we made the typical tourist mistake and let the taxi charge us a flat rate instead of insisting they turn on the meter. We failed to look up ahead of time what the normal protocol was here, and it was to request they turn it on. (This was different than our recent trip to Bali where you literally could not get anyone to use a meter no matter how much you tried). It also helps that we were tired and just wanted to get to our hotel, so we just gave in and spent easily 2x what we should have to fit all 4 people in this taxi with all our luggage. Lesson learned (again), never hurts to insist they turn on a meter. The worse case is they refuse, then it is up to you to deal with it or insist they pull over so you can get out, neither of which we wanted to do at that time.
Our first evening we had planned a dinner cruise to see some of the city lit up at night from the Chao Phraya River. It was a testament to how popular our hotel location was and the power of the mass exodus from China during the Chinese new year that our complimentary pick-up service was delayed. Significantly. Despite being picked up two hours later and having to take the second evening cruise when we had specifically requested the first it still turned out to be a nice evening. It did not hurt that they upgraded our dinner and gave us each 4 free drinks. Overall the meal itself was pretty good, but our experience with Thai food left our expectations a bit higher. The drinks were excellent though, so everyone managed to return to the hotel quite satisfied.
The next morning we slept in a little and managed to make our way to our activity for the day, cooking class! Despite having already done a cooking class in Thailand we were eager to do another. To this day, we have done 5 cooking classes in Asia, and the two in Thailand were by far the most well organized and best tasting of the lot. I am not sure if this one in Bangkok or the one in Chiang Mai was better, it is very hard to say.
The class itself was housed in a narrow three story building with a main eating area on the first floor, a row of woks and burners on the second floor, and some additional storage on top. The instruction this time around actually included preparation of coconut milk and the sweet chili sauce (all things you can typically buy pre-made). This class did have a market visit component, but it was only to pick up pre-arranged ingredients. There was no time to walk around and check out the other foods in the market.
Being that we did not plan anything ahead of time I got quite lucky to find a personal tour company who was willing to set up some very last minute (1-day notice) tours for us to see the main temple attractions and some markets. We managed to hit all the highlights including Wat Traimit, The Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and Wat Pho.
This Buddha has an interesting story: it was originally decorated in plaster and colorful glass and left in the ruins of Ayutthaya (a former capital). One of the kings requested it be moved to Bangkok to join other Buddhas being brought in from all over the country and while they were lifting it into place one of the ropes broke and the plaster cracked when it fell to the ground. It was only then that they realized there was a 5 ton solid gold Buddha inside! It seems amazing that this could have been unknown for so long, but the gold Buddha was likely covered in plaster to hide its true value during the wars between Burma (present day Myanmar) and Thailand. If that was the case it certainly worked. No one in Thailand seemed to remember that it was solid gold on the inside.
The Grand Palace
I cannot even begin to recount all the history from the palace, suffice to say many of these buildings were put in place over time from many of the different kings of Siam/Thailand. Most notably for me King Rama V was responsible for much of the countries modernization (refer to the movie “The King and I” for an exaggerated dramatization of some of his efforts). Unfortunately, due to the popularity of this location on the day we went, we opted to forgo the line to enter the palace itself. The royal family also happened to be in residence that day and there was a good possibility we would ultimately not be able to enter anyway. As a result we got to see the surrounding area including the jade Buddha in his winter attire and some beautiful buildings and paintings. There also happened to be many mourners in the area coming to pay their respects to the late King Rama IX who passed away in October 2016. The Thai people are very fond of their royal family and as such many wished to visit this place.
Before venturing on to our next location we stopped for a quick delicious lunch followed by the scenic route through the canals of Bangkok. I did not realize how extensive this network of waterways really was. Our guide said that a lot of commerce was originally conducted by water until roads and vehicles became more prevalent. Today the houses along the waterways have quite a range of colors, styles, and states of disrepair.
Known as the “temple of the dawn” it was built by Rama II as a Buddhist temple with a distinctive porcelain mosaic style decoration on the outside. Unfortunately while we were there it was under renovation, so the image of the whole structure was obscured in many spots by large amounts of scaffolding. Our guide said it was a recycling effort of all the broken plates and dishes in the country to build it, but I am not sure if this is accurate or not. It is certainly a nice sentiment though.
Perhaps most famous for its large reclining Buddha image, Wat Pho is located along Chao Phraya River near the Grand Palace. There are many interesting statues and diagrams here as well. It looks like perhaps it was once a school where people could learn to perform massage and likely undertake religious studies as well.
David: I think I found a new stretch you can help me with.
Me: Oh really, what’s it for?
David: For my legs, come over here they have an statue of it.
Me: (Expecting the worst.) *bursts out laughing* I don’t think you can do that…
David: Yeah, you’re probably right. I think you would break me.
Me: Yes, I think this move is best left to the professionals…or something like that.
Jury is still out on if we can perform this stretch. I will remind him today and see if he still wants to try.
At one point my absent minded photo taking was suddenly interrupted by David running up to me and urgently requesting 20 Baht (<$1). I had no idea what he could possibly need to do, but what it appeared I had missed was the chance to partake in this “good luck” ritual. Our guide told David and his parents the story while I was dawdling, so I am not entirely sure of the significance. I did observe the process though. Basically you exchange your 20 Baht for ~108 pennies and you drop them one by one into each of the pots. David only got 107 coins, so I pulled a random Thai coin out of my wallet for him to finish his mission. I am not sure if you are supposed to make a wish or if this is jut a good luck ritual, but either way It probably couldn’t hurt to give it a try!
The last day we took a short half day tour to a few different markets, the most distinct being the train market and the floating market. The train market is pretty unusual as there is literally a train that comes through the middle of the market 8 times a day. An announce will be made a few minutes in advance and everyone will rush to pull their food and awnings back out of the way of the train. There are mostly foodstuffs being sold here along with some flowers, so if you do not like the idea of a train passing by over top of your food, then perhaps you will want to shop elsewhere. The floating market is more of a tourist trap these days, but I imagine is used to be more for food and flowers as well. Of the two the train market was the most fascinating.