Two Wats and One Never Ending Walk

Bangkok Travel Blog

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Selling floral arrangements at the entrance. Wat Phra Kaew
On Sunday I headed out for Wat Phra Kaew, commonly known as the Emerald Buddha Temple.  The temple is housed in the Grand Palace complex, but due to the birthday/holiday weekend, the palace was closed.  I knew this ahead of time, and so figured I'd bang out the green baby (buddha's only twenty-one centimeters tall) and head over to Wat Pho.  My reasoning was that I wasn't blowing the entire weekend in the tourist department, that I'd knock out two of the bigger attractions (apparently the emerald buddha is the most visited temple in Thailand) while the crowds were at bay (the locals take off for the three day weekend, the tourists do NOT; note to self), and come back and do the palace on its own during my next go-round.
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  Turns out I will have to go back and visit those temples again, and next time I'm investing in a guide.  Those badboys are BIG.

Wat Phra Kaew is an awe-inspiring complex.  It's not a "temple."  There is not one building with a buddha.  It's a full blown complex.  It is MASSIVE.  And it is SO cool.  Absolutely stunning.  Bright, vivid colors, ornate gold and glittering jewel tones everywhere, structures you would not believe.  And the intricate art drawn on the interior of all the walls and ceilings inside the various temples is superb.  The one temple that houses the little green dude blows the Sistine Chapel out of the water all on its own.  And then there's the REST of the surrounding temples within the complex.
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  It's probably my strict Catholic upbringing talking, but the Sistine has NOTHING on this place.  Why more people aren't flocking here, I have no idea.  Sure, they get tens of thousands of visitors on a daily basis.  But that's a drop in the bucket.  The Thais need to consult with whoever does the Vatican's marketing; they'd steal all their business and then some.  It's definitely one of the best things I've seen on my trip.  We're talking AWESOME.

From Wat Phra Kaew I walked down the street to Wat Pho, known for its reclining buddha.  Whereas the little green dude is little, the reclining dude is not.  No idea exactly how long he is, but he's pretty damn big.  I'm pretty sure he clears a hundred feet in length.
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  BIG.  Wat Pho is another massive complex, even bigger than Wat Phra Kaew, with a whole assortment of temples and buildings and rows upon rows of buddhas down corridors.  It's a very cool place.  In fairness to Wat Pho, a lot of my "holy shit that's amazing!" sentiments were spent at Wat Phra Kaew, but Wat Pho is no less deserving of admiration.  It's not quite as ornate, but the bright jewel tones and mesmerizing architecture are up there.  I can't wait to go back and tackle these places with someone who knows what they're about.

I got my first taste of haggling with the Thai touts-cum-tuk tuk drivers; I figured I'd jump in a cab or tuk tuk and make my way back, just as I had come.  Nope.  The first tuk tuk driver quoted me at 300 baht.
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  I'm sorry, what?  I took a taxi here and I paid him a fraction of that.  A small fraction.  Go pound sand.  The next few tuk tuk drivers quoted me between three and four hundred as well.  Having somewhat recovered from my Chinese traumas I was at least polite enough to say "no way" and walk away, as opposed to the "fuck off" that had become my standard response toward the end of China.  The Thai touts may be out to rip you off, but at least they're nice about it.  They're Thai: gentle, soft-spoken, friendly, respectful, and a world away from the pushing and spitting and screaming.  That doesn't mean I was going to be taken for a fool, but I was pleased not to be hassled for anything.  You approach them, not the other way around.
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Even the first three taxis I flagged down quoted me at that exorbitant rate; I pointed to their meter and was all what the hell is that for, pray tell?  I guess it's the standing directly outside Wat Pho that ups the price by about 400%.  Finally some dude in a taxi pulled up and called after me, after watching me walk away annoyed with the last cabbie, and I nearly ignored him but he persisted.  So I marched up and said how much and he said it was metered and I gave him my destination and he said ok and I pointed to the meter for like the umpteenth time and was like are you SURE you're going to use the meter and he was all yes, don't worry, and I asked "no extra stops?" because they all want to take you to extra stops to cash in on a commission and screw you into buying who knows what and he was all "no stops, metered, it's ok," so in I went.
Wat Phra Kaew
  He immediately crossed the bridge to the opposite side of the river, which was alarming as hell considering I wanted to stay exactly where I was, just further down the bank.  So I start to panic and I'm all dear god what did I get myself into, and frantically start pointing across the river and am like uhhh, that side please.  And he's like "it's ok, it's ok, lots of traffic, I take you this way."  Dude was right, there was lots of traffic that way; I had sat in it on my way over.  But still, I was a little skeptical this was going to be as hitch-free as he promised.  A few minutes later we're at a traffic light and he points out his window directly across the river to where my resort was and was like "See? Right there. I take you there.
Wat Phra Kaew
"  And sure enough, the light turns green, the ramp to the next bridge appears in a few blocks, and I'm exactly where I want to be.  Touts, hassle, extra stops, and traffic averted.  Poor guy.  I should have tipped him more.

John and I then set out for a recommended walk in the guidebook, which he thought would be a neat way to see parts of Bangkok.  As much as I enjoy exploring cities on foot, I sure wish I had grabbed the guidebook and read about the walk myself.  I would have vetoed that on the spot. 

We started at the flower market, which is pretty neat (and smells lovely).  Most of the market is devoted to arrangements that are used as offerings at temples, with the vendors at all the stalls putting together their particular floral specialty.
Wat Phra Kaew
  Toward the end we came across typical bunches of flowers as you and I are accustomed to purchasing.  All of it was beautiful, and if I was going to spend more time in Bangkok I would have snagged a pretty bouquet for the room. 

So what part of this would I have vetoed, you ask?  The part that neither of us realized before setting out: the walk was entirely through Chinatown.  100% of it.  Up and down, up and down, along the clogged main artery, down side streets, through congested markets (although downright orderly and roomy in comparison to markets in China), it never stopped.  The flower market wasn't even part of the itinerary; we tacked it on because it was near the start and we thought it sounded neat.  Yeah well, two hours into schlepping through Chinatown, smelling all too familiar smells and immediately recognizing all the different foods and wares for sale (which came in handy when defining/explaining things for John, who didn't know a lot of the different foods), and I had had it.
Wat Phra Kaew
  I started laying the foundation for an exit by commenting on the sun starting to go down, and how the markets were JUST LIKE every other market I've seen for the past far too long, and "don't all Chinese temples look the same after awhile?", things like this.  Finally a poorly marked turn off the main road that we couldn't immediately figure out prompted John to ask "taxi?" and I practically tackled the next one that rounded the corner.  In case there is any doubt in your mind, no I will not be returning to Chinatown on my next visit to Bangkok.  Hell no.  It's going to be a loooooooooong time 'til I start missing anything remotely Chinese.

Sunday night we ate at a nearby Thai restaurant, Ban Chiang.  John's experience (which is exactly what I've learned from Romana) is that Thai restaurants in Thailand are crap.
Wat Phra Kaew
  They're clean and pretty and attractive, and targeted entirely to tourists.  However, the food is sub par.  For good Thai food, hit the streets.  Ban Chiang was decent; nothing spectacular (I've had better Thai food in Sydney and New York, that's for sure), but not terrible.  John raved about his duck curry, I thought my red curry was average.  Apparently that's as good as it gets for Thai restaurants in Thailand.

From the restaurant we went up to Sky Bar for the obligatory drink.  It's the world's highest outdoor bar (sixty-fourth floor), and has a decent view of Bangkok.  (It's location within the city limits its view to "decent" and not "spectacular.")  We were both underwhelmed; there's far too much hype for this place.
Wat Phra Kaew
  The drinks were "meh" at best (then again, it's near impossible to find a solid cocktail in Asia), and the "scene" was just a bunch of foreign tourists acting too cool for school.  So we had one round, I fought a serious case of the crankies (long day, average food, out past my bedtime -- you follow), and made our way back to the hotel, where I promptly did a face plant and slept like a log.  Talk about knackered.
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Selling floral arrangements at the…
Selling floral arrangements at th…
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Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
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Reclining Buddha's feet at Wat Pho
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Jackfruit and bananas
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Crazy hairy lychees
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This guy was so sweet. He gave me…
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Old merchants alley in Chinatown
Old merchants' alley in Chinatown
Old merchants alley in Chinatown
Old merchants' alley in Chinatown
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photo by: Deats