Bangkok Mishaps And Onward To Siem Reap

Lizards in the City Park

We had an extra day in Bangkok and we decided to check out more of the city.  What we should have done was just leave a day earlier for Cambodia.  As it turned out, the rest of our time in Bangkok ended up being mostly a series of calamities.  Right from the start we should have known what kind of day it was going to be when we had to wait forever at Starbucks.  After that we walked to Limphini Park where we discovered it was being completely washed down and the lawns were being watered (making it virtually unusable).  Hardly any one was there (which was actually really nice), but all the park benches were wet.  It’s a very nice park with some great views of city, but we couldn’t sit down and enjoy it.  The highlight was when a 4 foot long lizard came out of the pond and stood just a couple feet from Robert.  Robert had no idea it was there since he was totally focused on taking photos.  When he finally did notice the lizard, he jumped 3 feet high and probably almost had a heart attack.  I got a good laugh and he managed to get some good pictures of him.

Siam Shopping District

In the park we were also warned by an off duty officer that we should be careful walking around the city since they had recently released a lot of prisoners (due to the recent flooding).  He mentioned that they were targeting tourists.  That was a comforting thought so off we went to the Siam Shopping District.  This area was as modern and cosmopolitan as it gets.  It ranks right up there with Hong Kong and Singapore in terms of the number of “name dropping” stores.  There were xray machines and security guards at every entrance and exit.  The Christmas decorations outside and inside were very typical of western commercialism (and only briefly interesting to look at).  We tried to “shop” at Central World and the MKB (where they charged us to use the restroom), but we couldn’t think of anything we wanted or needed.  I did walk away with a chocolate croissant that was pretty darn good though. 🙂 Overall, I guess we were lucky we didn’t get thrown in jail that day.  Fortunately we spotted the “no photographs” sign before a police officer spotted us taking indoor photos.

Bored with the shops, we took the BTS back to the river and boarded the ferry to see about getting some lunch in Chinatown.  That turned out to be an incredibly bad idea.  That place was loaded up with people – packed in there like sardines – and we could only move in the direction of the crowd.  We got out of there as fast as we could (which wasn’t very fast), yet it still took us forever to cross the streets and get back to the ferry terminal.  We were hot, frustrated, and hungry so we went back to our nice cool apartment (which we should have never left) and ate some fruit and watched a movie.  The day ended good though, as we went to the very good Italian restaurant we found the night we arrived.  They had awesome pizza and pasta (and of course, wine). 🙂

Arriving in Siem Reap

Arriving in Siem Reap

The next day in Bangkok wasn’t much better.  We checked out at 10am and took a taxi back to the airport. The traffic getting to the airport was horrendous and we had to wait in notoriously long lines at check-in, immigration, and security.  Our flight then ended up being delayed several hours ruining our afternoon plans in Siem Reap.  At least we did eventually take off.  We were thankful to finally be out of Bangkok.  Bangkok was better than we anticipated but not somewhere we’d likely return to.

The flight was very short and our approach into Siem Reap was very interesting.  The last 15 out of 20 minutes, all we could see below us was water everywhere – including under all the trees.  I started wondering if there was flooding here or if this place was like a swamp.  It turns out, we were flying over  Tonle Sap lake (which is huge this time of year).  We landed right before sunset – which was beautiful.  I didn’t know this, but Cambodia is incredibly flat – as far as you can see, a hill there is very rare.  And whereas sunsets are beautiful lots of places, I noticed right away there is something mysterious about this place that makes them magical here.

Cambodian Treats

After deplaning, it took us awhile to get through immigration (even with an e-visa), but it ended up being perfect timing since we had to wait for luggage anyway.  A driver from our hotel was there to pick us up and in 15 minutes we were at our hotel.  I’m not exactly sure what they gave us as our welcome snack and drink…there was a green jello/gummy bear thing and a green drink.  Both were very unique tasting (actually indescribable).  Let’s just say they are not destined to be on a top 10 list anytime soon.  When we checked-in they also set up a guide and driver for us for the next day.  Our hotel had a distinct Cambodian style – lots of wood paneling and statues resembling pieces from Angkor Wat.  After a few drinks in the bar and a wonderful buffet dinner we went up to our room to get some much needed rest anticipating the full day ahead of us.

Click the picture below to see some more interesting photos:

Exploring the Streets of Bangkok

Christmas in Bangkok – The Grand Palace, Wat Pho & Kukrit’s House

Visit to the Grand Palace

Christmas morning we walked to the Chao Phraya River and boarded the express ferry north bound for the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.  The Chao Phraya river was still way above normal, and at high tide we noticed the ferry boat barely fit under the bridges.  However, there were only a few sections along the river that still had sandbags up, and only one place that we saw evidence it happened.  While it may not be the prettiest or cleanest river (especially when we were there), it flows right through the heart of Bangkok and it is a great way to see the city.  The ferries were easy to use, very inexpensive, and stopped at many of the major attractions.  During our 20 minute river journey, we recognized a lot of the buildings we saw on our bike ride yesterday, and we ended up docking just north of where we were.

The Palace grounds opened at 8:00am and we were there by 8:10.  We were hoping to beat the crowds.  No such luck… 🙁 …it was already very crowded and hard to get pictures that didn’t have a bunch of other people in them.  The whole Grand Palace complex is actually quite large and consists of many different buildings, courtyards, lawns and gardens.  Only about a third of the property is even open to the public, since much of it is still used for official business.  It’s rather expensive to get in but we both really enjoyed it.  It would be much better though if they limited the number of people in there at any one time.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

We started in the Outer Court (a huge lawn area) where we could see the spires and rooftops peaking over the wall of the temple.  Most people come to the Grand Palace just to see this temple – Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).  It is considered the most sacred wat in Thailand, and it was the private chapel of many past Kings.  The 26 inch high green statue (which you can’t take pictures of and you can barely see since he is so high up) is believed to be the protector of Thailand.  Only the King is allowed to touch him (when he changes his garment every 4 months).  The buddha is actually made out of one big piece of jade (not an emerald), and this little fella has quite an interesting history (much to long to write about here).  Over the last 2000 years he has resided in India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, and now Thailand.

The temple’s layout was similar to all the other wats we visited except that it did not have monk quarters. The grounds were completely walled off from the rest of the Palace grounds, and the inside of these walls were covered with beautiful brightly detailed murals.  By far the most memorable thing about this wat was how exuberantly ornate and over-the-top all the buildings were. There was so much detail and color going on, I felt dizzy – talk about sensory overload.  There were itty bitty tiny pieces of glass, tile, gems, and porcelain on just about everything.  The ordination hall (which houses the buddha) was huge and shimmered of gold and blue.

The Grand Palace

The elevated terrace had a huge gold chedi, a large scale model of Angor Wat, a library and royal pantheon (which were not open to the public), and all sorts of mythical characters throughout.  Anytime we glanced up we saw a sea full of spires.  Interesting statues were scattered throughout the premises as well, including the hermit statue (at the entry), the colorful guarding giants (which were rather comical looking), and various creatures positioned at entrances or in gardens.  After spending nearly three hours at the temple, we finally (but reluctantly) moved on to the Grand Palace area.  Wow – talk about a stark difference in architecture.  All of a sudden we felt like we were transported to Europe.  Buckingham Palace was the first thing that came to mind.  The only part of the buildings that looked remotely Thai were the roofs. It was Sunday and the ceremonial halls were closed. Neither of us were that interested in this bit, so we just walked around the grounds and checked out the museum before leaving the Palace premises completely.

Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho was not far down the road.  Considered the largest and oldest wat in Bangkok, it was also the site of Thailand’s first university and the birth place of Thai massage. 🙂  It houses over 1,000 buddhas including the largest reclining buddha in Thailand (which happens to be almost the same exact size as the one we saw in Japan – so we really wanted to see it).  When we arrived, the hall housing the reclining buddha was annoyingly over crowded, but with some patience, we did  get a few good views of him.  His feet were the most interesting part with all the inlaid mother-of-pearl scenes.  It’s supposedly taller and longer than the one in Japan but it didn’t seem that way (maybe because it is confined to the inside a building).   Even more than the reclining buddha, we both really enjoyed the rest of this wat since it was refreshingly uncrowded.  We were able to relax and move at a much slower pace to see the buddhas and the almost 200 chedi located on the property.  Given it’s proximity to the Grand Palace, many of the chedi here contain the ashes of past kings and their family members (another royal burial ground).  I  actually thought about getting a thai massage here, but we were too hungry and thirsty so we moved on to find a bite to eat instead.

Wholesale Vegetable Market

After a nice relaxing lunch and cold drinks at the Black Canyon Coffee Cafe we were now refreshed and ready to revisit the wholesale market which we zoomed through on our bikes yesterday morning.  The market was literally right down the street and we found it pretty quickly.  However, the markets were no where near as busy this time of day.  Much of the merchandise had already been moved out or bought.  We managed to snap a few good pictures while enroute to the ferry dock, but it just wasn’t the same.  We cruised back down the river and when we arrived at the central dock, we decided to take the BTS (Bangkok’s above ground train) back to our apartment instead of walking.  We were pleasantly surprised.  The BTS was extremely clean, efficient and cheap.  It was by far the best way to get around the inner parts of the city.  I hope they continue expanding the routes – and we really hope they eventually link it up to the airport.

M.R. Kukrit's Heritage Home

We got off one stop early since we still had a couple hours before we had to get ready for dinner.  For something really different we decided to stop at M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage House.  M.R Kukrit was an interesting man (a member of the royal family, an Oxford graduate, a writer, actor, poet and a former Prime Minister of Thailand).  When he died in 1995, he left his home to the public.  His home is the result of 20 years of work on two acres of land in a residential area of downtown.  All the buildings on the property are authentic traditional Thai houses (some are over 100 years old).   He brought them for various places in central Thailand and slowly reassembled them here (Thai houses are built to be moved).  It’s a very unique place – as this was his actual home (which still had all his stuff in it) and not some decorated exhibition that was thrown together.  I bet it is very rare to find this kind of property anywhere in Bangkok now.  One building was an open pavillion with a stage and housed a huge collection of antique masks.  The living quarters were made up of a group of small one room teak houses on elevated poles, creating a covered living space below that was open all the way around and surrounded by lovely gardens, pounds, and shrines.  He also had an impressive collection of antique books, art, and furniture as well.  I can only venture to guess what this piece of property is actually worth today.  The oddest thing we found on the grounds was his pet cemetery which had a gravestone marked “unknown mice” (he obviously also had a sense of humor).

Back at our apartment we had plenty of time to relax and have a cocktail before going to dinner.  It was a 5-10 minute walk to a French restaurant (inside a lovely old home) at which we had our Christmas dinner.  We didn’t have extremely high expectations but both of our dinners were actually quite delicious.  As we sat there and ate, we realized just how unusual a Christmas this was.  Can’t help but think that Santa must have thought we were awfully good this past year.  Check out these amazing places yourself, by clicking on the photo below.

Day 9 – Grand Palace, Wat Pho, & Kukrit’s House