After three flights and 28 hours of consecutive travel, a proper bed was a great relief. I was so tired that I couldn't even bring myself to take a shower. I knew it wouldn't really matter though, as the heat and humidity the next day would be sweltering.
My first day in Bangkok was spent in search of the famous sites. I initially attempted to visit the Grand Palace, however I was denied entry due to the fact I wasn't wearing pants. Generally as a male, you are allowed to wear long shorts that cover your knees whenever visiting a famous site, so being denied entry for not having proper pants was a first for me. So my quest led me on to my next location, which was Wat Arun, often called “Temple of Dawn.” To get there, you can either take the long way around and find a bridge to walk across, or take a quick ferry for 3 Baht ($0.09 USD). I of course took the quicker option.
The Wat Arun complex (50 Baht, $1.55 USD entry fee) houses many stone figures, and small temples, but the centerpiece is a central 'Prang' (a khmer style tower) surrounded by four smaller towers, where you are allowed to climb up halfway, via a set of incredibly steep steps. This gives you a view of the river, and downtown Bangkok in the hazy distance. I spent about an hour at this complex and decided to take the ferry back.
I had not been exploring too long, but the intense heat was already wearing me down, so I decided to start walking to my hotel. I just so happened to stumble across Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), another temple complex, even larger than Wat Arun. In Wat Pho (100 Baht, $3.10 USD entry fee), there is a gigantic Buddha, measuring 46 meters (151 ft) long, covered in gold leaf, housed in a long rectangular building. It is just one of many gigantic Buddhas scattered throughout the city.
After the Reclining Buddha, I explored the rest of the complex and found a few small temples. I came across one temple that had a few people praying in it, and it made me wish I knew more about Buddhism and their beliefs. On my five week trek throughout Asia, Buddhism became a central theme, and I became increasingly interested in the beliefs of this religion; I will share my thoughts on it in a later post.
The following morning I was up early with the goal of reaching the Grand Palace, however fate intervened and took me on a site seeing tour all over Bangkok. While on my way to the palace, a random man on a scooter told me that the palace was closed until 2 pm, and that I should check out the Golden Mountain and the Lucky Buddha. Apparently there was a deal going on that day, where any tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) driver with a yellow plate would take you all over the city for only 20 Baht ($0.62 USD). Apparently they were getting free gas for a promotion from a local tailor shop; the one kicker was that you had to visit a tailor shop or two throughout the city. After doing some research, this was a complete scam that they pull on unassuming tourists, but it actually worked out well for me in the end.
I found a young tuk tuk driver, probably no more than 16 years old, and he kindly took me to Golden Mountain, where you climb a large series of steps to get a view of the entire city. It was cool, but by no means is Bangkok picturesque, as it's quite dirty and hasn't been built with esthetics in mind. After that, I was taken to the “Lucky Buddha,” where I was the first person of the day, and I was able to rub his hand for good luck; this actually helped me out later in the day.
Inevitably, the next stop was to the tailor shop, as my driver needed a stamp of sorts to get the free gas. This involved me going inside and dealing with a suit salesman. He offered me a suit jacket and three tailored shirts for 17,500 Baht ($542 USD)! There was no way I was paying this, so I politely declined and made my way on.
My tuk tuk driver then suggested we go to Wat Intharawihan, the "Big Buddha," which was actually very impressive. It is a massive 32-meter (105 ft) tall statue, covered in glass and gold mosaics, that towers above everything else. While it was smaller than the Reclining Buddha, the fact that it was vertical made it seem more imposing.
This was then followed by a trip to another suit store, where they sold me on two custom tailored shirts for 2,000 Baht ($62 USD). I'm sure I was robbed by the price, but for having a super cheap tour of Bangkok and two custom tailored shirts, I still saw it as a win.
Finally we stopped at Wat Benchamabopitr (Marble Temple), and this was my favorite stop on the tour. It was similar to other complexes, in that there were temples everywhere, but as it was still early in the morning, the serenity was a nice change. Bangkok, and for that part most of Asia, exemplifies organized chaos, so finding a quiet location with very few tourists or people trying to sell you something is a rarity.
After all of this, I decided to head back to the hotel for a few hours before heading to the Grand Palace. On the way though, the tuk tuk driver needed some gas, which cost 12.94 Baht/Liter ($1.51/gallon). I love how inexpensive this country is.
I grabbed some lunch and a cheap beer, then headed back out into the city, and finally made it to the Grand Palace. It is a massive complex, much bigger than any of the other ones I visited. I've never been to Versailles, but from what I can imagine, it would be something similar to that. Everything is beautifully ornate, and covered in tile, gold, and diamonds.
Upon leaving the Grand Palace, I immediately grabbed a tuk tuk, and told the driver the name of my hotel. He started going that way, but never gave me a price. I am 100% aware that the price should be negotiated before entering any form of taxi, but as I was in a sea of people and traffic when he pulled over, I just decided to hop in. Since I didn't plan on going to any clothing stores, I assumed the price would be 100-200 Baht max. The guy tried to charge me 900 Baht ($28 USD) and I asked him a few times to repeat. He kept saying "900!" He then said if I went to five clothing stores, he would take it down to 500 Baht ($16). I told him I didn't have that much on me, so he offered to take me to an ATM.
Right about that time, he pulled over and a Thai Police Officer on a motorcycle pulled up. Apparently the officer noticed me arguing with the tuk tuk driver and he could tell something wasn’t right. He asked what was going on and I told him the situation. The tuk tuk driver tried to talk his way out of it, but the police officer wasn't having it. Granted, this whole conversation was in Thai, so I had to figure out what was going on by their facial expressions and hand gestures. Eventually, the police officer, in English, told me to get on get on the back of his motorcycle and we were going to the police station. At this point, I wasn’t really sure what was going on and whether or not I was in trouble.
Once at the station, the cop and the tuk tuk driver argued about the situation more, in Thai again. After a few minutes of back and forth, the cop made me sit next to the driver and point my finger at him in an accusatory manner, while the tuk tuk driver held up his own license; he then took our picture. I would have loved to get a copy of it, but I figured that would have been a bit much to ask. The cop then apologized and made the tuk tuk driver apologize. After that we all went our separate ways. I guess rubbing the Lucky Buddha earlier that morning really did bring me luck today.