Having shopped as much as I could the day before, my plan was to get a little cultural sightseeing into the mix during my second day alone in the city. The number one to-do on everyone’s list seemed to be going to the Grand Palace. However, after a little research I learnt that it gets incredibly packed and was full of horror stories involving dumb tourists being scammed left and right. I wasn’t afraid of the scammers, but the crowds were a whole different matter. I have to admit that morning I almost rolled over and gave up on going, as the thought of being jammed packed anywhere with a zillion tourists was turning me away. But I pulled out some resolve, decided that if it was too crowded I could just leave, and an hour later I was in a taxi heading over to the site.
I arrived just as it was opening. And boy, the net did not lie. It was packed…crammed…with tourists as far as the eye could see. The picture below doesn’t even begin to do the crowds justice.
Take this crowd and add in about 20 giant bus loads of school kids, and you have every inch of every space taken with milling people, just standing around waiting for instruction. They weren’t even queuing up for anything. I jumped up on the little wall on the edge of wide entrance area, and wove my way through the trees to the ticket office. I’m suspicious that it was school bus season, with kids visiting just before the end of the Thai school year, pushing the crowds way beyond tolerable. However, paying for a ticket was easy, because it looks like I was one of about 5 people who hadn’t come in a massive group. In fact, showing up by yourself in these types of situations is actually easier than trying to do it with someone else. It was so crowded, it was hard to deftly weave in and out of the crowd, but it would have been much harder with more than one person.
Oh, and did I mention that there was a dress code? Its all over the net, but a little vague at the same time. Women aren’t allowed to show legs, toes, or armpits. It seemed stricter than the Greek Orthodox monasteries and I didn’t want to hassle with the rented outfits. So I wore light shorts with long light pants on top, and a sleeveless tank with a light sweater on top. The idea was that I could strip off the top layer at the first opportunity. It was already 95 degrees. These people are insane! Walking around I noticed a lot of women wearing knee-length skirts and plenty of naked toes in sandals. I took my sweater off in protest. Like anyone was going to notice in this mob scene!
The palace itself is pretty spectacular. Its not one building as the name suggests but lots – about 20 I would say. Each more weird and wonderful that the next. A truly eclectic selection of structures as though each royal architect was on a mission to out do the other. It was hard to get a photo that wasn’t 70% crowd, but this one gives a little idea:
Entering every structure looked like a 30 minute commitment, so I avoided it. Instead I concentrated on getting up close and personal with some of the amazing detail work on the outside on the buildings. Every inch of every building was covered in something ornate and wildly decorative. Figures, patterns, gold, jewels, glass, tiles…it was all there and pretty amazing.
I did stop for a while at a small temple. There was a space to sit down, some shade and people watching opportunities as they came to offer lotus flowers and light a candle at the altar. It was as peaceful as the site got all morning. I lasted about an hour before I reached overload, but it took a further 30 minutes to maneuver my way off the compound. Once out, I hailed a taxi and, on a whim, asked him to take me to Chinatown. I really enjoyed the drive and the driver seemed a pretty nice guy. I relaxed into what felt like a tour of the city down side streets selling all kinds of stuff. It was my first time outside of the downtown hotel strip or a tourist site, so I got a little feel of the every day side of the city. Once we arrived in China town it looked a lot like this:
and I didn’t really feel a need to get out. I think its probably much more interesting at night when the street vendors appear. But Chinese New Year was just around the corner, and all the streets were decorated with red and gold. That was fun to see:
So I asked the driver to keep going. Lumpini Park was on my list of places to go and I was hoping it would be peaceful and quiet. And 20 minutes later, we arrived at the far side of the park and, wonderfully, it was almost empty. I went from heaving crowds to this little quiet space right in the middle of the city. Manila really has no parks of any kind, and the few “conceptual” parks that we have in The Fort are really just pedestrian walkways with a few plants. This was space, greenery, and a lake. A much welcome antidote to the Grand Palace.
I walked around a little. There was an outside gym area with guys working out, a few cyclists, dog walkers and small children. It was reasonably maintained, but a little shabby around the edges, but basically a very nice place.
After a while I found a wrought iron bench and sat down for a while and watched the world go by. After about 15 minutes, with no warning, a big monitor lizard appeared at the edge of the water and slipped out of the lake on to the bank. He then waddled around through the park, taking his time and ignoring me and everyone else. He just hung out, scratching around in the dirt for something. I watched him for ages. It was my second time meeting monitor lizards, the last time being at the underground river in Palawan.
After the park, I slowly headed back to the hotel on foot, exploring a little more of the downtown area and grabbing something to eat. I was glad I got to see the Palace, despite the crowds and my lack of Thai historical background, which would have helped to put in some sort of context. I had one more day left in Bangkok, and tomorrow I wouldn’t have to explore alone. Chatnuchuk market here I come!