On my second day, I had a little more rest and was willing to venture out to the older historic districts. Visiting the old city center near the Grand Palace probably requires a taxi or tuk tuk even if it seemed nearby when I looked at my map (about three miles, within my own tolerance for “walking distance”). Traffic is heavy, so a taxi may be more comfortable.
My driver dropped me off at the entrance to Wat Pho, one of the largest temples and site of the Reclining Buddha. The admission fee of 100 baht includes a free bottle of water, which you’ll probably need. I enjoyed wandering around the different temples and passageways.
Some areas certainly get less traffic than others, and most tourists appear to be interested only in seeing the Reclining Buddha. I get it, it’s big. But it is not that interesting if it’s all you’re going to see. Take a look around at some of the smaller temples on the premises to get a better idea of the Thai culture.
I didn’t really have time or interest in going across the river to visit Wat Arun on this trip, but I did want to at least take a look. Wandering down Maharat Road, I ran into another tout who talked about how much he loved America and wanted to make sure I saw some good sites so I could return with happy stories. Here’s a tip: anyone who speaks good English and loves America is more likely to be a tout. Again, when I expressed my desire to walk a certain direction and passed on his offer, I got some silly story about the streets being closed for a special celebration of the King.
I walked down to the canal and then back up Ratchadamnoen Nai Road, which was interesting in that I was seeing a few more local Thai people the further I got from the tourist hot spots. But getting to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was more challenging. Although adjacent to Wat Pho, the entrance is on the other side, and it is a very big complex.
Entrance to the Grand Palace costs 500 Baht, which includes admission to a few other museums, and to get inside you also must be wearing clothing that covers your legs and shoulders. These can be rented for free with a 200 baht refundable deposit just inside the palace gates, or you can get them for 130 baht (only 100 baht refundable) from the informal vendors outside with a shorter line.
I only toured the public areas because, come on, I have to avoid seeing everything before I come back with Megan. 😀 Afterward I stopped for a cool drink before continuing to walk up Na Phrathat Road, along the Royal Field. It reminded me of a big football field but was rather boring because of the fences all around. Were these to discourage jaywalkers? If anything, they just discouraged people from visiting the field even though it was technically open.
Finally, I made it to Khaosan Road, where I finally found most of the hostels, bars, and young people I had been told to expect in Thailand. I guess I was just spending too much time in the ritzy parts the day before. Touts were everywhere (Thai and Western) offering trips to other regions in Thailand, girls, beer, and hotels. I wasn’t interested in any of it, but it was fun to walk through all the commotion. It is definitely worth a stop, and if I had more time I probably would have come back at night to go drinking.
Instead, I caught a taxi back to Le Meridien. It took some effort to find a driver because all of them were demanding flat rates at least double what it cost to get there that morning, and I was not that far from where I started my walking tour. Eventually I found an older driver who seemed a bit confused about my destination when I showed him the hotel’s address on a map, but he was nice enough and used the meter without any argument.
I understand the demands for a flat rate since it was a rather long trip in the late afternoon–my first encounter with rush hour in Bangkok. At least this time I had a general idea of where I was heading. When I finally arrived, I gave my driver a big tip but still less than the others had demanded.
My last evening in Bangkok was spent touring Silom Road, a major entertainment district a block from Le Meridien. That one block helps a lot, however, and I never really felt that I was surrounded by massage parlors, bars, and gogo dancers while staying at the hotel. I’m not sure I would bring children along to that area, but there really isn’t much that would scar them for life as long as you don’t go inside. You can only catch a glimpse of the dancers from the street outside. (I don’t have any pictures at this point because I left my phone in my room.)
I had to get to bed early for my flight the next morning and just looked around for some small gifts to bring back to Megan. A lot of knockoffs are available. A lot of sex toys, too. Fortunately this stuff amuses me even if I’m not going to buy it. I eventually found a guy selling some hand-carved candle holders — exactly the sort of stuff Megan likes. He wasn’t too pushy, I made a sorry attempt to haggle, and I was able to dispose of my remaining cash less what I held in reserve for my morning taxi to the airport. All in all a good end to my short stay in Bangkok.
One of the most amusing conversations, however, was when I was riding in the taxi the next morning. My driver was very talkative and actually spoke better English than most. His first question? “How many days in Bangkok?” He was surprised like everyone else, but I’m long used to that with my mileage runs. His second question? “How many girlfriends in Bangkok?” That should tell you a lot about the city, and we had a fun conversation about what a white guy like me actually does during a short trip to Bangkok when that’s off the table. 🙂