After twenty hours of travel, Jules and I arrived in Bangkok around midnight – a perfect way to beat Bangkok’s highway congestion. After a mere four hours of sleep, we inexplicably were awake. Bangkok was waiting.
We started the morning with a short walk from our hotel (the Royal Orchid Sheraton) to the Mandarin Oriental for a little luxury in the form of breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Chao Praya River. We skipped the usual bacon, eggs, and pancakes in favor of a Thai Omelet and discovered it was basically a frittata filled with tomatoes, onions and minced pork, accompanied with jasmine rice and a cooked tomato. We left no crumb behind and washed it all down with hot tea, even though at 8:00 a.m. it was already in the humid high 80s. Time to explore.
We stopped by the concierge for a map and some information on the Chao Praya Express – a public boat system that runs boats up and down the Chao Praya River making stops at designated stations; in other words, a water bus. At 15 Baht per person per ride (approximately $0.50), with cooling river breezes, the Chao Praya Express quickly became our favorite form of transport.
We left the Chao Praya Express at stop no. 8 and headed to the Grand Palace complex which contains the royal residence and throne halls, numerous government office buildings and is home of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and monastery. The Grand Palace compound is surrounded by imposing walls and is 218,000 square meters in size. It was built in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne.
Upon entering, the path directed us straight to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, not that we realized that at the time. After surveying the terraces and getting snap happy with our cameras, we took off our shoes, stashed them in our bags and entered the Temple. Blinded with gold and other shiny objects I took in the hordes of faithful in the mermaid position on the floor. We exited the building and looked at the complex map.
After studying the map, I told Julie I wanted to see the Emerald Buddha before we explored other areas of the compound. “It’s supposed to be right near us. Actually, I think it’s supposed to be right in here.” Jules gave me a look.
I hunted around the Temple building to see if there was another entrance or shrine we had missed. I finally decided to go back in. Jules stayed outside. Shoes off and re-stashed in my bag, I again entered the Temple. This time I forced myself to focus and not be distracted by shiny objects. And there it was, perched up high, much smaller than expected; it was directly in front of all the prostrate praying people. Like a trout, distracted by shiny objects, I completely failed to see it the first time.
Amused by my own obliviousness, we moved on to examine many of the murals in the compound and discovered an early peeping tom.
Just look at that lascivious expression.
Later, in the Royal Thai Decorations and Coins Pavilion, we discovered the Emerald Buddha has a wardrobe. Three outfits, one for each season – summer, cold and winter; the latter outfit consisting of a golden crochet-like shawl. As blasphemous thoughts of dress-up Buddha flashed through my mind, we exited the compound and headed off to find Wat Pho.