So, I hit up some of Bangkok’s most popular sites, including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, finishing off with dinner in Chinatown, a favorite area of mine thus far.
The Grand Palace is huge and extensive, like a small walled town nestled within the confines of Bangkok proper. Every corner is crammed with sights of historical and cultural importance. Chedi bristle from the grounds like stalagmites (also called stupas, chedi are conical, peaked structures that contain the relics of important monks and are used for meditation), while giant statues of Hanuman, the Monkey God, stand guard. Many walls are covered in expansive murals detailing Buddhist tales. The Grand Palace is also the site of Thailand’s most important temple, or Wat, the Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Emerald Buddha Temple. As the name suggests, the temple houses the Emerald Buddha, a diminutive but revered figurine made of jade and dating back to the 1400s.
The place was also full of tourists, of course, but never felt too crowded, given the size of the place. Security was tight to get in, checking cameras and, in some cases, passports, and it’s not a cheap visit, costing 500bt (about $20) for non-Thais, but it’s worth it.
A short walk from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, an expansive Buddhist temple and the site of Thailand’s first university (though this was a strictly religious school, mainly specializing in Thai massage and other traditional forms of healing; it remains the preeminent massage school in the country). It’s a lovely area, much quieter than the Grand Palace, despite its status as the home of one of the most impressive Buddha sculptures in the all of Thailand: the 46 meter-long reclining Buddha. The thing is absolutely enormous, its feet alone towering over visitors. Along the wall, running the entire length of the golden Buddha, are steel alms bowls used by monks to collect food. These are left so that visitors can leave a few coins for the monks of the temple. You pay 20 bt and are given a small dish of single baht coins which you distribute among the bowls.
Though both sites are impressive, if one had to choose between visiting only the Grand Palace or Wat Pho, I’d recommend the latter. Wat Pho is simply a prettier area, dotted with fountains and courtyards, not quite as crowded, but no less impressive, given its own towering chedi and massive Buddha statues.
To end the day, I headed to Chinatown where I stopped into Nai-Ek, a popular restaurant specializing in a specific type of Chinese noodle soup that had been recommended to me by a local friend. There was a short line-up but the staff were stupendously efficient, the open kitchen a flurry of activity, the serving staff hopping from table to table. I ordered the soup, called Kwai Jap, a peppery broth in which floated your choice of pork parts. I chose crispy pork, pork tongue and pork liver. Though I’m not generally a fan of soup in general, this was quite good and an experience unique to Chinatown.
As mentioned, Chinatown had become one of my favorite parts of the city. It’s busy and chaotic without being oppressive, a fantastic place to restaurant hop or simply people watch, as its even more popular with locals—who love to queue for the newest trendy meal—than it is with foreigners. It has a fun energy that only grows as the sun sets. Anyone who visits the city and can only think of staying on Khao San should consider Chinatown and its surroundings instead.
Anyway, that was the previous weekend. That coming weekend I would head back to Pattaya to visit my friend again, as she had invited me to join her on a daytrip to Ko Larn, a small island in the city’s bay region. So I looked forward to my first Thai beach and island experience. We would also be visiting some nearby gardens, a spot she told me featured traditional Thai dance performances, so that would be fascinating and make for some excellent photo opportunities.