02 May 2012

1 Day in Bangkok

First real day in Bangkok...we'd walked around a little after arrival but didn't really leave the hotel neighborhood. Today we had Stuff Planned.

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed out around 8 for the Grand Palace. it opens at 8:30 and we were thinking it would be cooler first thing in the morning. We loaded up in tuk-tuks in front of the hotel for the trip. Tuk-tuks are 3-wheeled, open air vehicles that can hold about 3 people. There a very Thai thing. And kind of fun if you like breathing diesel exhaust while you're stuck in Bangkok traffic.

And traffic in Bangkok is crazy...there were times when our tuk-tuk was between lanes of traffic with big buses on both sides. The motorcycles are even nuttier...they'll not only ride between lanes, they'll cut between stopped cars to get to an open area, or they'll just go down the sidewalk.

It was an experience...

It's breathtakingly hot...and we came early to be in the cooler part of the day. Lots of women are carrying unbrellas, or technically I guess they'd be parasols. It's a good idea; carry your shade with you and you don't have to have something sitting on your head, keeping some of the heat from escaping.

However, they're kind of annoying in crowds. The women, especially the really short ones don't always take into account the 'spread'. I was poked a number of times by umbrella ribs.

As we entered the palace grounds, everyone had to be evaluated by the fashion police...no knees or shoulders showing, no leggings, nothing see-thru. Out of our group, only Virginia, Lora, Felicia and I passed. Everyone else had to rent sarongs (women) or pants (men) to enter.

The Grand Palace is a huge complex that includes not only the palace but various wats (temples), include the temple of the Emerald Buddha, museums and a long gallery with a series of murals telling the story of the Buddha's life.

We wandered through the areas on grounds and the coin museum. We happened to catch the changing of the guard at the entrance as one shift rolled off and another came on. The grounds guards wore dark, olive green uniforms and helmets. The guards at the palace were in fancier uniforms with sashes and white gloves. Like the guards at Buckingham Palace, they don't move or look around. They just stand stiffly and formally, in the sun. I hve no idea how long each shift is but I can't see how anyone can do it for long.

Leaving the palace, most people took tuk-tuks or cabs back to the hotel. Lora, Virginia, several of the girls and I decided to walk. We started out the way we thought we'd come in the tuk-tuk but I hadn't been paying any attention so I didn't know and just followed along.

Eventually we came to an area near the river...which just had to be wrong. There was a big park there and Lora asked one of the guards there which way we should go. The guard tried to direct us to a bus but Lora said, no, we're walking. The guard said we were foolish and needed to take a cab. Lora tried to get her to just point us in a direction but the guard refused to tell her.

We walked a little further and came to one of those 'you are here' type maps and sure enough, we'd been walking the wrong direction. We flagged down a tuk-tuk for the girls and L, V and I got a cab.

Back at the hotel, we had to check out but still had several hours before catching the train. We brought all our bags down to the concierge area and then people did what they wanted for the time. Some went to the pool. Some made shopping runs for train ride supplies.

V and I decided to walk around. We went a direction we hadn't gone before and ended up in an area that seemed to be all automotive and motorcycle parts/repair shops. We headed back to the areas we'd been to before. There was a neighborhood temple area that had shops and street vendors. Since it wasn't Labor Day anymore, we thought more of them would be open.

We went down an alley that became a very narrow, one-person wide canyon with what must have been peoples' homes. We saw people sitting on the floor watching TV, doing laundry, etc. Eventually, it came out onto the street we knew. Right there at the mouth of the canyon was a vendor with a brasier selling things on a stick. I pointed to a stick with little squid on it and another with some round dough ball kinds of things. They were slightly flattened with an indentation on one side.

The vendor put the sticks on the brasier to cook and them put them in a plastic bag and showed me the sauce options. There were 2 and I was trying to decide which one was likely to be less-hot and an older woman standing ther pointed to one, made a face and shook her head. That was the one that I thought was probably firey so I pointed to the other one. The vendor ladled a little of it into the bag with the skewers and handed it to me. (35 baht)

It was pretty decent. It didn't seem too hot. The squid was good although parts were kind of chewy. I expected the dough balls to have something inside them but they didn't...I think they were just rice flour dough.

The sauce didn't seem spicy at the start but it really snuck up on me. My nose was running and my mouth burning. We stopped at a 7-11 and I got an ice cream bar (40 baht...about $1.30) to cool the fire.

Back at the hotel I chilled with the group for a bit before we started our train adventure.