Following our transpacific flight, everything else seems like a little jaunt! Singapore Airlines didn’t bother weighing our bags this time for our flight from Singapore to Bangkok. While waiting to board the plane, we struck up a conversation with a solo traveler from Toronto named Meghan. Chatting with her made me nostalgic about my own solo travels. Meghan had been traveling Australia and New Zealand and would be meeting up with her boyfriend in Bangkok. Soon it was time to board the plane, and in a blink we were arriving to Thailand. As we descended into Bangkok, the bright blue sky was quickly becoming a hazy gray. The landscape I was able to view from the middle aisle of the plane offered little in the way of fantastic views.
We landed smoothly and made a short trek to immigration. We had reunited with Meghan in the womens’ restroom, and entered the immigration area together amongst an obscene number of other people. The wait was miserable with our heavy bags on our backs, and a cranky man found it appropriate to push me when my backpack was too invasive of his space. That resulted in a quick verbal attack from me, and it was all I could do to bite my tongue when he inadvertently stepped on my heel ten minutes later. I’m sure my feet were probably in his space, too. Nearly two hours after touching down we finally emerged as officially accepted visitors into Thailand. (Incidentally, I just realized the aforementioned cranky man is pictured bottom left for your viewing pleasure… looks like a nice guy, huh)?
Makayla and I quickly exchanged our Singapore Dollars for Thailand Baht. Meghan suggested we share a taxi together as our hotels were in the same general area and it could save us some money. The three of us hopped in together and enjoyed a nice hour-long conversation despite the horrible traffic requiring nauseating, erratic, stop and go driving. We initially started on a freeway. Though many cars were merging in and out and changing lanes, the traffic was moving relatively well. Once we got off the freeway, it was a free for all. There were no stop lights or signs – just people driving whenever and wherever they wanted to. I quickly learned one needs a motorcycle in Bangkok. Otherwise, it will take forever to get anywhere. Another thing I found even more shocking was the proximity to other vehicles in which other people drive. There were many occasions I could’ve reached out the window and grabbed the arm of a motorcyclist passing by us. Some wore helmets, and some did not. As a trauma nurse, I am a huge advocate for wearing helmets, and believe not wearing it is irresponsible and unsafe. However, given the chaos I witness in Bangkok, not wearing a helmet is an assured death sentence.
After what seemed like forever, we arrived at Anantara Riverview Resort & Spa. We were greeted so kindly and immediately offered a fruity welcome drink with a hard chewy candy. Tired, thirsty, hungry and hot, I downed the drink and popped the candy, which got stuck in my teeth for the remainder of our checkin, but tasted divine.
We were instructed to leave our bags, which would be brought up shortly. While always hesitant to leave my belongings out of site, I welcomed the rest. I grabbed my passport and purse and followed the man as he showed us to our room. We walked across the lobby, and passed a beautiful woman dressed in Thai silk, playing a hammer dulcimer. We continued down a hallway, and soon were outside. We were taken across a small bridge, through a door into another building, and up an elevator to our floor. Our room was situated opposite the riverside, with a beautiful view of concrete, plants, and a dark gray sky that I mistook for stormy weather the following morning. Nonetheless, the room was gorgeous and they even provided a mobile phone with unlimited data. No need to worry about finding wifi to track our position and map our next destination. We even had the opportunity to call the US for free. I’m able to FaceTime my dad nearly every day, but not able to communicate with my mom as much. I knew she’d appreciate a call from me. It was 5:00am there, but I was relatively sure she’d be getting ready for work, so I called her up. She sounded very confused, but I soon realized it was because there was a several second delay. It made conversing quite difficult, and though the conversation was short, I think we were both ready to get off the phone. I knew just hearing my voice would be enough for her, and that was confirmed when I soon noticed she’d already posted the event to Facebook. Making your mom’s day always feels good!
Once we settled in, I sent a text to Barbara. She had arrived the day before and had taken it easy while awaiting our arrival. We went to her room and quickly observed her amazing view of the river off her balcony. She and I briefly caught up, and then began to discuss plans for the evening. While we had initially wanted to attend several temples, by the time we finally arrived, they were all closed. We opted to grab dinner, and then check out the night bazaar and Khao Sang Road.
By the time we were in the taxi to the night bazaar, the traffic had slowed a bit. It still wasn’t an enjoyable ride, but at least it was more tolerable. It took about 15 minutes to get there and our cab fare was 51 Baht (TBH), or $1.59. Yes… you read that correctly. The US Dollar goes a long way here, which still blows my mind every time I go to pay for something and realize what I’m giving for it.
We arrived at the night bazaar, which is an outside mall and hawker center with souvenir shops and restaurants right on the river. We browsed a few aisles and explored the area.
The riverfront was beautiful and the weather was pleasant. We all agreed we were very hungry and set out on a mission to find food. We initially considered sitting down at a restaurant, but ultimately decided to order in the hawker center. It ended up being a little restaurant anyhow, but it was delicious and cheap! I had an order of 6 spring rolls, a chicken pad thai entree and a bottle of water. It cost me about $7.
We were all fading fast, and after our tummies were full, it was all downhill. We walked a bit more and grabbed some Americanos, thinking the caffeine would help. It didn’t. Knowing we had a full day ahead of us, we decided to skip Khao San Road and turn in for the night.
We walked back to the riverfront where we could pick up the water taxi that had started running for the evening. We missed the first water taxi by a matter of seconds. We were relieved to find they came quite frequently, and hopped the next one that would drop us off right on the hotel property. The ride was nice. It was quiet and dark, with dim lighting in the boat. There was a refreshing wind that blew across my face, and I held my hair back so I could get another glimpse of the beautiful night bazaar and ferris wheel behind us.
I slept like a rock that night! The next morning we awoke and met at the breakfast buffet. This was one of the largest buffets I’ve ever seen, with fantastic variety. Even better – all the food was absolutely delicious! I made sure I tried a little of nearly everything, and had a heyday at the fruit table. I must have cleaned them completely out of dragonfruit and papaya.
We knew it would be a busy day so we made sure to eat enough to hold us over until lunch. The hotel called a taxi for us and we rode 30 minutes to the Grand Palace where we would not only see the Palace grounds, but also Wat Phra Kaew. Because the road was one way, the driver dropped us off at the south end and instructed us to walk to the west. We did so, and continued to follow a large crowd down the sidewalk. The palace seemed to go forever, and we weren’t sure where the entrance was.
Suddenly, we were approached by a Thai man who seemed to just be making conversation with us. Soon another Thai man approached, also asking where we were from, what we were seeing, etc. The first man had told us the Palace was closed until 2:00pm that day. The second man brought a copied map over and began to show us all the free things we could do before-hand. We knew something was up, but couldn’t quite put our finger on it. I assumed they wanted a tip for giving us all the information, but he gave us the map and let us walk away. While I slowly followed behind Makayla and Barbara, I pulled out my pocket wifi to check the hours for the Grand Palace. The first website I pulled up happened to be an article that specifically detailed the exact scam that had just occurred. As it turns out, these men are paid commission by businesses when they send tourists to them. When we got to the north side of the Palace, we saw it was very open, with massive crowds of tourists.
Despite the weather being well into the 90s, many people were completely dressed in black from head to toe. They were coming to pay tribute to the late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed in October.
Packed like sardines in a can, we entered the palace for free, witnessing a changing of the guard just before we were allowed to cross the street.
We entered the outer court where we saw a large, beautifully maintained lawn and several other unimpressive buildings around the perimeter of the lawn. To our right was the entrance. A man was sitting there instructing people as they entered to cover their shoulders or legs. In the event they didn’t have appropriate clothing, they were directed to a nearby building where they could “borrow” what they needed to enter the temple. I had chosen a long dress, though it was sleeveless, so I made sure to bring my scarf. I put the scarf on my shoulders and entered without being reprimanded. We followed the crowd to the ticket counter where we would pay for tickets that would allow us into the temple. Once receiving our tickets, we walked to the temple entrance. I handed the ticket to the officer and he refused to let me in, stating the scarf over my shoulders was not sufficient and I must go back and get a shirt. I had let Barbara borrow my cardigan. I never dreamed my scarf, which will cover my entire upper body if I want it to, would not be adequate. The three of us turned around and walked alllllllll the way back to the front where I waited in line for a good 30 minutes before finally getting a shirt. There were a number of button up shirts hanging on a rack, and I had my choice of any of them. For safe measure I asked about my dress since it only went to mid-calf. The man taking the deposit assured me it was fine. If I was going to have to wear one of these shirts, I wanted to be as stylish as possible. I had my choice of peach, light blue and white. I immediately went for the only remaining white one, but when I went to take it off the hanger the entire collared neck was cold and wet. I cringed and nearly dropped it on the floor. When I made my second choice, I did so with extreme caution. I chose a blue one that didn’t appear sweaty. I lightly touched the collar and found it was indeed dry. I pulled it off the hanger and put it on. Immediately I noticed the armpits were cold and wet. At this point there were people behind me, just as irritated as I was, and I felt bad for making Barbara and Makayla wait in the heat any longer, so I sucked it up and went with the sweaty armpits shirt.
When I emerged from the shirts and wrap shack I was greeted with enthusiasm from the girls. Finally! We were ready to see the temple! Back to the gate we went! I started to go in and this time it was a lady who told me my dress was too short. I let her have it! I pointed to my disgusting blue shirt with sweaty armpits from someone else’s pits and told her I asked the guy who gave me the shirt and he said I was FINE! I must’ve been convincing because she let me through. I was hot – literally and figuratively.
Slowly into the temple we crept, not knowing exactly where to go. Walking through the front door immediately revealed a beautiful sculpture. We turned left where we were greeted by a number of spire-topped buildings and more sculptures and statues. These included the Golden Chedi of Wat Phra Kaew, Phra Si Ratana Chedi and Phra Mondop (the library), and of course Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Finally, it was time to enter Wat Phra Kaew, which is considered to be the most sacred temple in Thailand. When entering a Buddhist temple, one must remove their shoes. We left our flip flops outside and entered the line of people waiting to see The Emerald Buddha.
The Emerald Buddha is actually made of jade, and sits atop a large pedestal. It wears a cloak that is changed three times per year, according to season. The King is the only one who can change the cloak, and it is a spiritual ritual intended to bring good fortune to the country.
Once exiting the temple, we continued walking within the Grand Palace grounds, and were able to see the former living quarters of the Kings of Siam, which afterward became the Kings of Thailand. Thai royalty no longer lives within the Grand Palace, but in a palace north of the Grand Palace.
Content with our Grand Palace experience, we noted the time and decided to try to see one or two more temples before we had to return to the hotel to catch our flight to Phuket.
We found our way back to the front where I hurriedly removed the sweaty shirt from my body and hung it back up on the hanger for some other oblivious poor soul to wear. I collected my 400 TBH deposit and off we went. As we walked down the sidewalk we continued seeing busloads of Thai people dressed in black, making their way with flowers and mementos to pay tribute to the late King.
We were keeping our eyes peeled for the scammer that tried to trick us earlier, but he was nowhere to be found. We were chatting about it and I was certain he targeted us because we were ladies. Just then, two tall white men approached us and asked if we had been to the Grand Palace because someone just told them it was closed. We assured them the Palace is open and directed them to the entrance! I guess white people, in general, are their targets!
After about ten minutes walking, we arrived at Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Some of King Rama I’s ashes are enshrined here, and it is classed as the first of the highest grade of six first-class royal temples in Thailand. The Buddha was gigantic, stretching from one end of the temple to the end. He is made of a gold-copper alloy, and is found reclining underneath a 9-tiered umbrella, which represents the authority of Thailand.
We didn’t take the time to explore the rest of the complex as it was nearing time to leave, but we stopped and took a few photos on our way to the exit.
We thought we could check out one more temple if we could grab a taxi. Right outside the Wat Pho complex were taxis and tuk-tuks, all vying for business. We asked how much it would cost for them to take us to Wat Traimit. We were quoted anywhere from 300-500 TBH from about 5 different taxi drivers. We paid 80 TBH to come from our hotel, which was more than double the distance. What a ripoff! I remembered that Uber is used in Thailand, so I grabbed my pocket wifi and ordered one. His estimated time of arrival was initially 11 minutes, then 5 minutes… then he changed routes six times and the expected length of time fluctuated between 4 and 6 minutes. After waiting for our Uber driver for 20 minutes while he drove around in circles, we finally determined we no longer had time to visit the last temple and needed to find a taxi back to our hotel. We finally were able to bargain with a driver to take us back for 200 TBH – a bargain given our other options.
The three of us were silent as our driver jostled us through the traffic. It was nearly 3:00pm. We were hot and sweaty, tired, and irritated at the situation and the ill-intentioned taxi drivers trying to take advantage of tourists who are pouring money into their economy. Furthermore, we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, so we were seriously hangry.
We arrived at the hotel, picked up our bags and caught another taxi to the airport. This 45 minute drive to the airport would cost us less than what the drivers near the Grand Palace tried to charge us to go 2.5 miles. It still boils my blood!
Our first item of business once checking in at the Air Asia counter was getting food and cash. I settled for Subway, since I had a fairly good idea of what I would be eating, and didn’t really like any of the other options. We then sat and awaited our flight.
It was a quick one – only 1 hour to Phuket from Bangkok. We arrived around 8:00pm, and then waited a good fifteen minutes while the guy at the taxi counter summoned a taxi for us. Meanwhile, we noticed two other taxi lines with people promptly getting taxis. Having gone to the seemingly official taxi counter, we assumed it was an honest outfit. We learned otherwise when our taxi finally came and handed money to the man who called them for us. Nearly an hour later, after driving through traffic just as bad as Bangkok, we finally arrived at Grand Mercure. We were welcomed with another welcome drink – purple and made from a native flower. It was so good! To top it off, we received a little purple icing-topped cream puff! We also received a cold washcloth for wiping our hands. Needless to say, I was feeling rather gross having spent the day walking around under the hot Thailand sun, then spending the evening in an airport and on a plane, and then riding in a taxi van. I took that cold washcloth and wiped it everywhere I had exposed skin. It felt SO GOOD.
They showed us to our room, which was beautiful. Our balcony was a poor excuse for a balcony, but it opened up to fresh air anyway, and overlooked the pool. We both took a shower and then dined on some Hawaiian pizza, saving two pieces for breakfast as we’d be leaving at 5:30am the next morning.
Out of Bangkok. Clean and fed. I settled into my comfortable bed and fell immediately to sleep.