Coming off nearly 3 months of chill in New Zealand and Australia, our arrival in Bangkok was a bit of a shock. Crowded, loud, fast, frenzied, and HOT. A steamy, woozy, draining hot. A hot that cuts waves across the scenes of traffic that whiz by your aircon cab from the airport. A hot that hits you like a giant hair dryer as you first step out of the swishy comfort of your Royal Orchid Hotel (the digs we somewhat guiltily choose over a more authentic homestay or hostel…). A hot strong enough to keep this crew away from the amazing sites of the city? Almost…but not quite.
Note young Phoebe’s enthusiasm…
Our stop in Bangkok was a short one. With only 48 hours in this major metropolis, we hit Google with searches like “what to do when you only have 2 days” and “sites you absolutely can’t miss” in Bangkok. Given the number of references to the redlight districts of Patpong and Soi Cowboy, it was pretty clear these lists were not designed for those traveling with 4 kids in tow….
We did manage to stumble upon the neighborhood for tattoos, all manner of piercings, and “body tunnels”…
While we chose not to partake in this particular Bangkok activity, we otherwise did pretty well ticking off major items. Especially considering that we traveled only by tuk tuk and commuter ferry with not a (paid) tour guide in sight to assist.
We did learn a lot from a free tour guide at the Grand Palace. Here he is explaining the 5 Buddhist precepts to William.
To name a few of our Bangkok bucket list accomplishments…
Visit some major temples (or wats). ✔ On Day 1, we saw several beautiful Buddhist temples, including those enshrined in the city’s Grand Palace.
Built by Siam ruler King Rama I in 1782, the opulent Grand Palace was the home of the Thai King for 150 years. Today, the royal residence has been relocated to a site about 50km north of the city. But the Grand Palace grounds remain central to the Thai monarchy. Most importantly, they are now home to the remains of recently deceased and immensely popular Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
A famous portrait of the King.
The building that holds his remains.
King Bhumibol was the world’s longest serving head of state and Thailand’s longest serving monarch when he died last October, at age 88, ending a nearly 70 year reign and prompting a year long period of official national mourning. Described to us as a man of warmth, grace, and great intellect, the late king is credited with helping to unite the ethnically diverse Thai people and promoting more universal education. He and his wife, Queen Sikirit, are also praised for having enhanced the world’s respect and admiration for the Thai culture through their frequent diplomatic world travel.
On a trip to London in the early 60s. A very glamorous couple.
The king, whose wealth was estimated at 30bn USD shortly before his death, was not without his detractors, including those who generally oppose what they perceive as an archaic and expensive monarchy. Human Rights Watch has condemned a pattern of frequent imprisonment for Thais holding this view. Perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve heard none of this sentiment during our tourist time here. Rather, all indications to visitors is that the king was much beloved and his death uniformly mourned. His picture is everywhere …
And during our visit to the Grand Palace we saw thousands of people, clad in black attire waiting in huge queues to pay their respects. With temps in the upper 90s and smothering humidity, we felt for these folks. But, consistent with what we’ve seen of the Thai temperament, these respectful mourners kept calm as the lines dragged on.
Here, a small family taking a break from the line to have their lunch.
Us, not so much…and we weren’t even wearing black.
But the heat, while draining, didn’t (much) damper our awe for the Buddha. After the Grand Palace, we visited Wat Pho, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and home to the awesome Reclining Buddha. The Buddha figure measures 46 meters long and is plated in its entirety in pure gold. The head of the figure is 15 meters high.
Inside the wat, there are 108 bronze bowls representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors may drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and it also helps the monks to maintain the temple. Our crew managed to share this fortune conferring activity with only minor bickering.
Another key objective for our time in the Thai capital? Eat the city’s world famous street food. ✔ Much as we came to enjoy Kiwi meat pies and Aussie fish & chips, we had long anticipated the culinary adventure awaiting us in southeast Asia. We wasted little time getting that adventure started. Our very first activity in Bangkok, before the wats (though not before the first Starbucks we had enjoyed since New Delhi) ….
… we took a wonderful 4 hour eating tour of the famed Bangrak (or Village of Love) Market. The market and the food lived up to the hype.
Visit Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown ✔. With the basics of the street food scene under our belts, we took our learning to Yaowarat. Bangkok’s Chinatown, this is where we planned to eat dinner our second night. For the most part, we accomplished that goal. The scene was overwhelming, to say the least. But the kids dove right in. Brendan and I marveled at their ability (and willingness) to navigate the chaotic night traffic, sample food that looks, smells, and tastes like nothing at home, and to do so with relative good cheer.
Phoebe (5) made a valiant effort. But for her the whelm did eventually overcome.
My Heineken, not hers.
Luckily, Brendan’s back managed to survive carrying her home.
And, by the next morning, she was all vim and vigor, ready to hit the pool, after terrorizing the Royal Orchid phone lines once again…
Go to the Mall. ✔ It’s a cliche to be sure, but Bangkok really is a world where old meets new.
One example: centuries old markets and temples dating even further back mix with shopping extravaganzas that put Mazza Galleria and even my hometown wonder, the Mall at Short Hills, to shame. So completely over the top glitzy, how could we possibly skip it? So we assembled our most fashionable duds (limited) and headed to Siam Paragon, the quintessential Bangkok shopping experience. Again, we were not disappointed.
Brendan, Phoebe, and Coco spent hours in KidZania, a “funutainment” (sp?) center that provides the Bangkok younger elaborate sets and costumes to be used in role playing different professions, optometrist for Coco and for Phoebe, industrial engineer.
Meanwhile, Holly, William, and I did some window shopping and our own role play..
And, of course, no trip to the mall is complete without a visit to the Food Court.
This one happily (?) brought us back to our street food experiences.
It was a whirlwind for sure, one that prepared us well to spend much of the 13 hour overnight train to Chiang Mai that followed fast asleep in our berths. I won’t say that was our secret motive for such a jam packed Bangkok itinerary, but we certainly didn’t complain.
We’ve been in Chiang Mai, a smaller northern Thai city, for 4 days now and have another 4 days to go. It’s enough time for a slower pace and a chance to really get to know the place. The time, for example, to figure out which spot has the most delicious red Thai iced tea.
Chiang Mai is also where we will make our eagerly anticipated rendez-vous with Brendan’s parents. The kids, and Brendan and I, are literally counting the days until we start to share this adventure and more whirlwind with our beloved Goo Goo and Bapa.