As this holiday progresses it is becoming steadily more difficult to wake up early. Nevertheless, that is what we had to do in order to join today’s tour to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. We were collected from our hotel and sent to the tour offices to join 30 others on the tour of one of Thailand’s most sacred places.

We drove through Chinatown along Bangkok’s first road. The old tram tracks were still visible along the parking strip. It seemed that Chinatown agreed with us that it was too early as the streets were pretty quiet and most shops still shuttered.

The Grand Palace is surrounded by a white wall. Poking out over the top are the golden pagodas and roofs of the great halls within. As we entered the palace complex we were joined by a long parade of ladies dressed in black. They were there to pay respect to the recently deceased sister of the King. B was wearing three-quarter pants and had to hire a sarong in order to defer to the dress code of the Palace. Note however, that short-sleeved t-shirts are acceptable, just not singlets. Believing that only long-sleeved shirts were okay I wore one and suffered the whole day for it.

The Palace grounds were quite amazing. Temples, pagodas and halls tiled with gold, coloured glass and ceramics. We viewed the King’s reception room, his throne shaded by a 9 level canopy. Each level represents a compass direction, including NE, SW, etc, with the top level representing the King who rules over all.

There was also the Emerald Buddha (jade, actually), where the pointing of feet away from the Buddha was enforced, along naturally, with “no shoes”.

Once we were out of the Palace grounds we bade the tour group goodbye and set off on our own exploration of Ko Ratanakosin. We walked back around the white wall to Wat Pho, home of the great reclining Buddha statue.

By going in a side entrance we avoided the crowds and enjoyed a serene exploration of the temple grounds. Chinese-style rock gardens were adorned with various statues, including some doing yoga. Gateways and temple doors were also guarded by large Chinese warrior statues, though the few with top hats looked more amusing than fearsome.

The experience of walking through the pagodas (stupas) was quite otherworldly, like a fantasy landscape. The huge reclining Buddha is impressive, his gold glowing against the red ceiling. However, entrance into the hall is quite difficult with the crowd funnelled through a narrow area where they store their shoes prior to entrance. Thais have their own, much more open, queue lane.

Outside the temple grounds and past the old shops and dried seafood market is the Chao Phraya ferry stop. There we caught the boat straight across the river to the final “Wat” of the day, Wat Arun.

The centerpiece of Wat Arun is an 82 metre square-sided spire adorned with flowers of broken porcelain plates used as ballast by the old Chinese trading junks. It is possible to climb about halfway up the spire, which I did. There are three levels and the steps get steeper for each. I made it up to the top but suffered a fair amount of terror at the thought of going back down. Sideways was the trick!

Back again on the northern side of the river we had lunch in the tourist trap restaurant in the ferry building. If B doesn’t get her lunch on time she gets cranky. She was cranky.

We were both exhausted by the energy-sapping heat and humidity. I wanted nothing more than to return to the hotel and take a swim in the pool. So we waited (a while) for a Chao Phraya Express boat to take us downriver to Central Pier where we could catch a Skytrain back to the hotel.

The boat was absolutely packed and I didn’t get much of a view for the early part of the trip. Lots of fat sweaty European and British tourists, plus quite a few locals. We were both glad to be off the boat and into the airconditioning of the Skytrain.

Our ride to us the entire way of the Silom line. Arriving at the National Stadium terminus we decided to do some shopping at MBK. Both of us needed fresh clothes for the remainder of the holiday and with prices being so very cheap in Thailand it hardly seemed worth going to the trouble of washing of dirty laundry in our hotel room.

After a dose of airconditioned shopping B felt quite refreshed and suggested we go straight out to eat dinner. B’s friends had told her that seafood was cheap and she was determined to eat some. The best I could come up with was Ngwan Lee Lang Suan. Getting there involved a Skytrain ride two stations up to Chitlom, then a kilometre’s walk down a dark, but posh looking, street.

The atmosphere was like a hawker stall food court, though there was only one “stall” in a sense. We ate prawn cakes, big tasty grilled prawns split down the centre and what I think was a crab curry, though the sauce seemed mainly egg. It was all very, very good.

One last thing B wanted to do was to catch a tuk-tuk. This seemed like the best opportunity as we weren’t far from the hotel, but neither of us felt like walking. However, for a long while the only tuk-tuks we saw were occupied. Finally, just as we were about to give up an empty tuk-tuk appeared and we were off racing down a main road for 60 baht (haggled).

As usual, another long day and another tomorrow. Have to get up even earlier as our tour to ride elephants, bamboo rafts and the “Death Railway” is for a full day. Now, if only my photos would finish uploading. Today is the first day of our trip that I needed to change memory cards!

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