Thursday, August 31st

Bangkok, Thailand

It was an early start today with our getting out of bed at a healthy 7:30 am. I was happy we were able to get pretty much a full night sleep though we did both use sleeping masks and the air conditioning was on pretty much all the time (perhaps we will set it a bit cooler tonight as it was a tad humid).

We had breakfast in a buffet restaurant they have at the bottom of our lifts near the canal. It is not included in the room cost but it is much easier than heading out and finding somewhere and is worth the price (280 baht or £6.28 each). We grabbed a seat beside the window though we could not really see much of the canal through the trees and the outside seating area.

The buffet is quite good with a few unusual items but mostly it is a mix of food from various cultures including a good selection of Chinese dishes such as rice porridge (“congee”) and noodles. The Spanish “churros” (sausage-like deep-fried donuts) were a bit stale and underwhelming (!). There was also a great assortment of fresh fruit including the more unusual (for us) dragon fruit but with familiar items such as pineapple. Oddly the baked goods are quite extensive with Mel trying a sweet bread that is jet black (looks odd, tastes OK). She had a fresh omelette prepared off to the side. I was only disappointed at the orange juice which tastes like “squash” (artificially flavoured drink).

After breakfast we followed the same path along the canal behind the hotel that we followed last night, spotting a lizard about a foot long.

We had noticed how clean the canal was and we could see why today as a small barge with workers skimming the water of any rubbish and debris.

The catfish from last night were still here but just not as many.

Today we wanted to see what is probably the largest attraction in Bangkok: Wat Phra Kaew (officially “Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram”) or, in English, “The Temple of the Emerald Buddha” which is in a complex attached to the “Grand Palace”. Yesterday we had walked to the north side so we knew where we were going as we headed south once again on Chakrabongse Road (Samsen Road). The road was just as busy as yesterday with food vendors but few fewer pedestrians. It is interesting figuring exactly what it is that is being sold and to see what is on offer. Most of it looks quite tasty…Nuts, fried snacks, fresh eggs, fruit, fruit juice…

At the massive and busy junction we stopped at yesterday we had some trouble crossing but were helped by a couple of crossing guards, or, at least, someone with a flag. Dodging the traffic was quite tricky with a number of roads meeting here. We needed to cross all of them to get to the palace complex.

There were a lot of people heading to the area with a lot of buses parked up on our left with crowds of local people dressed all in black. Several walkways over a small canal were crammed with these people going through metal detectors but I was not sure that was where we needed to go as well so we walked over to some soldiers manning a barricade on the road leading into the palace area (Ratchadamnoen Nai Road) who assured us that, yes, we needed to return to the walkways queues to enter the area. Actually, it was not that bad and we quickly made it to the metal detectors where we were asked for photo ID. Luckily I had my driving licence which I was directed to hold up to the camera above the scanner then Mel and I were ushered through.

The whole area of the city is sealed off and as we walked along the wide open road free of all traffic it soon became clear to me what was going on - The king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, died on October 13th, 2016 so this was still the mourning period for the country. These were citizens coming to show their respects to the body which is lying in state in the Grand Palace. There were huge tents set up on the side of the road with row after row of seated mourners dressed in black waiting for their time to visit their king. I have no idea how they could cope with the heat and humidity. The occasional fan did not seem to help that much.

The walls of the temple complex were plain to see as we walked down the road. We joined a queue outside of the main gate on the north side. There are a number of small shops selling food and souvenirs here. At one point the queue had to part to let motorcycles and other vehicles through. Eventually we entered via a tall doorway guarded by some soldiers smartly dressed in white uniforms.

Inside there was a man watching those entering and having those that were not dressed appropriately go into a side building where we learned later they could purchase clothing to cover themselves up. I had read before coming that with the mourning they were not letting anyone into the area without “respectable” clothing - No short dresses, shorts, halter tops, translucent materials, etc.

To our left there were some soldiers forming up but we were told not to film them. The area was full of people and it was a bit confusing. Across large grassed area beside the soldiers we would see the roofs and several tall golden stupas from the temple complex.

Ignoring the large tourist groups standing around we made our way straight ahead to the ticket office. Entrance was 500 baht (£11.39) each but I also purchased a (single) audio guide for 200 baht (£4.55; though I had to leave my Visa credit card as security) so at least I could listen and tell Mel what it was we were seeing.

The understated entrance to the temple was along an alley with buildings on either side, one with a number of souvenir shops in it. It was quite hot and many people had umbrellas to keep off the sun but at the entrance a fine mist and fans were a welcome relief.

Inside the temple it was incredibly busy as people immediately stopped to take pictures of the magnificent surroundings all around. The signs directed us to our left along a corridor with an amazing mural painted along its length telling the story (I learned) of are based on the Indian epic Ramayana.

“…In Thai language these murals are known to form the Ramakian, the Thai national epic, which was written during the reign of Rama I. The epic stories formed the basic information to draw the paintings during the reign of King Rama I (1782–1809). These paintings are refurbished regularly. The murals, in 178 scenes, starting with the north gate of the temple illustrates the complete epic story of Ramayana sequentially, in a clockwise direction covering the entire compound wall. The murals serve to emphasise human values of honesty, faith, and devotion.” (Wikipedia;

The detail of these paintings was incredible (though largely ignored by the mobs of tourists). To be honest, it was nice being out of the sun too.

We made our way around the base of the magnificent golden stupa we had seen earlier. A pair of tall animal guardian statues stood guard here with fearsome faces and nasty looking weapons.

The buildings of the temple are all similar in design with orange tiled roofs edged with green tiles. Ornate (and pointy) gold decorations top arches of the white walled buildings. The whole space is crammed with buildings, and statues which makes it quite difficult as there are a lot of visitors here too.

We helped ourselves to the free water dispensed in units throughout the compound using the disposable paper cups provided. Making our way around the north side we passed by a scale model of “Angkor Wat” which we are set to see in Cambodia. Despite the water it was nice to stop for a few minutes in the shade of an ancient tree away from the crowds elsewhere. There are plants and even small trees in pots everywhere. We even saw some water lilies floating in a water-filled container.

At the east we saw the mourners walking along the mural-lined corridor we saw earlier that we now know surrounds the entire area. The statues and buildings are quite amazing, looking like they are in very good shape though it is a working temple and still very much in use by the royal family. It was completed in the 18th century so it is also not really that old. I was touched by a small simple shrine devoted to the “Goddess of Mercy” (Guanyin) which was surrounded by offerings. This shrine was just outside of the main attraction here which is the temple of the “Emerald Buddha”.

Removing our shoes we placed them on metal shelves outside of the temple feeling the heat from the sun soaked ground as we quickly made our way into the shade of the building. Inside the “Emerald Buddha” sits high atop an elaborately decorated altar. To be fair it did not look all that impressive but bearing in mind the fact that it is a single piece it is, perhaps, more incredible. We sat for a few minutes trying to soak up the place despite the noisy crowds. The high walls are decorated as is the ceiling so there was a lot to see. There was no photography allowed here, thank goodness, and this was respected.

Leaving the crowded temple complex we passed into the comparatively peaceful grounds of the “Grand Palace” which is also of the 18th century. We were not able to access any of the buildings here, only allowed to admire from a distance. The first building on our left was behind a black metal gate with a guard and we were told was used as a “guest house” for visiting dignitaries. The three story main hall “Chakri Maha Prasat Hall” dominates the area with it’s three tall towers but is generally only used for banquets. Outside the hall is a wonderfully manicured garden full of what I would call “large” examples of bonsai. To the right is a chapel where we could see mourners entering. This is where the king’s body is lying in state.

While looking around and taking pictures we quickly had to get out of the way before getting run over by a group of soldiers who were changing the guard before leaving the palace.

I had been a bit anxious as I only had two hours to use the guide before I had to return it (or face an additional charge of 200 baht) and time was pretty much up when I returned it. Dropping that off I spotted a post office so, given that I am a bit of a collector, queued to see what stamps they had on offer. I was in luck as they were selling all sorts of things but had to wait quite some time before being able to purchase. I tried to pick stamps that were quite local either with the king on them or of local historical sites.

Our palace entrance ticket had included admission to “The Royal Thai Decorations & Coins Pavilion” which we had some trouble finding, initially walking into a small cafe…But eventually we found the doorway which was right beside the main temple entrance. I also collect coins so I wanted to see what was in the small museum. We were advised that photography was not allowed and shown up a staircase to the first floor where the museum is housed. The first room had some interesting coins in them, interesting in that they were all different shapes and sizes. Leading off to the right was a small memorial to the late King along with a series of panels containing the words of condolence sent to the country by various heads of state. The next room housed the robes used by the Emerald Buddha - There are three golden robes, one for each season (cold, rainy and hot - it being the rainy season, that costume was not on display both the others were), that the king himself puts onto the buddha. So the two that are not being used were on display. In the final room were cases containing medals and coins. Mel sat in the corner and had some attention from the staff when she got out her phone to play a game on (they had to be assured she was not taking pictures).

We picked up a drink in the “Textile Museum” at the main entrance to the complex, the same place where inappropriately dressed people are directed, then returned back to the street. There were a large number of mourners now milling around carrying plastic containers of food. It looks like they are given food as part of their visit (and also explains the food being cooked in large batches that we saw nearby yesterday). We were also passed by several large groups of monks wrapped in their simple orange robes.

After a pause to look in a few of the shops we followed the western wall of the palace south along Maha Rat Road. It is a lot quieter here though we had to detour a few times due to work being down on the pavements. A few tuk-tuk drivers and boat tour touts were keen that we used their services but we politely declined. Thankfully they are not that persistent and went away quite easily.

We were headed to another one of the highlights of Bangkok that just happens to be right beside the palace: Wat Pho, another large temple complex and the home of the “Reclining Buddha”. As we rounded the corner and came to the southern wall of the palace the distinctive roofs of temple buildings were easy to spot. It is a busy area with a large number of taxis. Crossing the road we passed through a side doorway and paid a small admission charge of 100 baht each (£2.28) which includes, quite nicely, a free bottle of water.

The crowds here were much less than in the palace so we were able to enjoy the complex in relative peace at a relaxed pace. A small building introduced the area and had a small shrine attached with some statues gilt in flaking squares of gold foil that a few people were actively worshipping - Kneeling praying then getting up to light some incense then shifting to another statue…

The first building we visited (after removing our shoes of course), “Phra Buddha Saiyas”, housed the giant reclining buddha. It is in the middle of the long rectangular building with a walkway surrounding it, tall pillars supporting the ceiling. We found it quite difficult to actually see the massive statue - I mean, it was certainly big but trying to get a picture to give an impression of the sheer scale was very tricky and the pillars seemed to always get in the way. When we entered the building and looked around a pillar to our left we saw his head towering above us (it is 15 meters tall). We were not able to get too close so could not really look too far down the length of the body.

We passed along the aisle, stopping periodically to look around the pillars and take yet another picture. At the far end of the building the feet are very rectangular with all of the toes having the same length but this area was having some conservation work done. I found the soles of the feet fascinating though as they were jet black and carved with elaborate designs and writing - a sharp contrast to the gold of the rest of the statue.

Around the back-side of the statue there are a series of 108 bronze bowls along the wall representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha into which you can drop coins to bring you could luck. Mel paid for a bowl of coins (of VERY small denomination) then proceeded to drop one in each of the bowls…And she had left overs at the end!

Four large stupas dominate the middle section of the complex that we saw to our right as we exited from the building. There are pretty small gardens with fountains and statues surrounded by low walls throughout the area so we sat for a few minutes before continuing our visit (always looking for fish in the water).

Everywhere you look there are very pretty things to look at - The strikingly ornate roofs of the buildings contrasting with their white walls; old, wizened, trees; small stupas; fantastical statues; plants in pots…Quite incredible.

Throughout there are quite a number of cats as well so Mel, the animal lover she is, stopped quite often to take pictures…

We had a close-up look at the four stupas next. Standing beside them you get a better understanding of their scale - 42 meters high! Their surfaces are covered with an elaborate tile-work.

A covered walkway surrounds them which contains a large number of big buddha statues in various poses. We saw this throughout our visit as, evidently, there is huge collection of such statues housed here. They appear to be grouped, roughly, by type so one courtyard we saw buddhas all of the same height in gold with a sash of orange fabric while in another the buddhas were all black without the sash.

The largest building on the site is the “Phra Buddha Theva Patimakorn” which houses a large gold buddha (with sash) on the top of an elaborate gold altar. We were allowed to visit (without shoes of course) but told that in front of the buddha we must sit on the carpeted floor and you are not supposed to show the soles of your feet to the buddha (several people were reminded of this by the attendants). We just sat and took the whole thing in with the tall walls, ceiling, and pillars elaborately decorated. One worshiper respectfully unhooked the plastic chain from the front of the alter to leave some offerings at the base. Very peaceful to watch.

One other thing we had read that Wat Pho was known for is it’s Thai massage school (the “Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School”). Mel is a great fan of massages so I knew she would be interested in this. The school is on the far west side of the complex in two buildings. The air conditioned reception area was cramped as we told the reception what Mel wanted (I could not be persuaded to have any massage after a rather painful experience with a reflexologist in Singapore a few years ago) - A one hour Thai massage (420 baht; £9.63) - An incredible bargain compared to what we would pay back home. We sat down but only waited for a few minutes before a young masseuse came and took her to the second building for her treatment. Most of the hour I spent sitting in the waiting area (remember AIR CONDITIONED) reading emails on my phone and watching people come and go for various treatments. Everyone was speaking English and it was a very busy place indeed.

Seeking to escape the crowded waiting room eventually I sat outside for a few minutes under a tree before Mel returned. She had a very happy smile on her face - It was a great massage. She explained that it was very much a “full contact” thing with the masseuse using her body to massage in a very rigorous way. Mel had laid on a bed side by side with many others in the second building so it is a very popular thing.


Suitably rested we found a toilet before continuing around the rest of “Wat Pho”. The “crocodlie pond” in the south-west corner was, sadly, closed for repairs. As we were leaving we spotted a large group of school children sitting on the ground being given a lecture by teachers and a few monks.

Leaving the sanctuary of the temple we returned to the busy streets to have a look at the old market building opposite but there did not appear to be much happening. There were a lot of tuk-tuk drivers here so we endured a bit of hassle as we walked along the road between the walls of Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, eventually walking on the north pavement to avoid where they were parked. Looking at the map I had a rough idea where we could go to have a look. Just to the east we visited the small “Saranrom Park” which was busy with a lot of joggers running along a circular trail in the middle of the park. The park is immaculately maintained with exotic looking trees, formally pruned plants and a large fountain.

Before coming to Bangkok I had recently seen a special on television about one particular feature of Bangkok parks so I have been on the lookout while we have been here and we were not disappointed. Beside a pond area we spotted what we were looking for: Monitor lizards. There was one of these lizards about a two meters long laying on the grass in the shade of a tree beside the water. Immediately Mel got out the camera to get a picture, approaching ever so slowly to attempt to get a close-up. The lizard was a bit wary, eventually dropping into the water to escape this attention. The other people in the park just ignore the large lizards so when they get attention by visiting tourists they easily spook. Leaving the park we headed in search of another of Bangkok’s attractions.

Following a road alongside a canal the streets in this area of the city are quite quiet with not that many shops. Definitely off the tourist map. Following “Kalayana Maitri Road” we were surprised to come across a number of shops selling large Buddhas, statues and other shrine decorations. They all appeared to be made of plastic and, it seems, the larger and gaudier, the better! We were quite hot when we arrived at our destination: A large roundabout surrounding a small park space with the “Giant Swing” in the middle. This 30m tall red swing built in 1784 was used for religious ceremonies up until 1935 but is no longer used after several fatal accidents. The tall structure was not too inviting after we had seen it from a distance so we continued on our walk back, generally, towards the hotel passing, once again, the Democracy Monument.

Last night we had passed a restaurant, “Pat Café Bo Raan” (, on the way to the Phad Thai place and felt a bit guilty for having to reject the advances of a waiter when we passed by. At the time we had a look at the menu (when he wasn’t looking) and it had looked pretty good so we decided to give it a try tonight. It is on a corner with the ground floor open on the two sides. The waiter had a “please be patient with me, I am new” t-shirt on and apologised about his broken English but we had no problems. The menu was quite good and we chose to have crab balls (deep fried, grey and very unappealing looking but quite tasty with a light dip); green beef curry with roti (the “roti” were deep-fried, very tasty, rectangles of a light pastry); and “fried rice with crispy catfish and curry” (an odd dish with a central heart-shaped mound of rice with crunchy pieces of catfish (?) with various vegetables and a VERY hard-boiled egg). We continued with our drink-of-choice, the local EST cola which was served ice cold and delicious after the hot, humid streets.

Along the walls they had pictures of the royal family as well as some religious paintings. Oddly there was also a nude photo of a woman which did really seem to fit the theme…

The waiter wheeled over a small portable air conditioner to point at us while we ate which did help a bit. Only afterwards did we see there was a staircase leading up to an air conditioned first floor…oh well, we enjoyed having the ground floor to ourselves. Ever since Hong Kong we have had an attachment to black sesame ice cream so seeing it was available here Mel ordered some but it was, unfortunately, fairly bland…but it was cold!

We followed the same route back to the hotel as we had last night, passing by the street vendors who were setting up along the road then crossing over the small side bridge to follow the canal to the hotel, stopping to have a look at the catfish in the water, again grasping for breath. They are so noisy when you stop and listen!

The pink sunset reflected the water was a rather pleasant way to end the day.

We are both very exhausted after all of the walking we have done. It must have been about 4-5 miles and in the heat it has not been all that easy. We need to do some laundry so will do that shortly but it is taking time for the air conditioner to cool the room. It was turned off all day. Time to pass out.

>> Friday, September 1st