As J and I stepped out into the dense night air at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, we looked at each other knowing that the same thought was running through our minds. If it’s this hot at 1 in the morning, what’s it going to be like in the middle of the day?
That short walk from the airport doors to our awaiting shuttle was our first taste of the heat we would be experiencing over the next 3 weeks. If you have never experienced extreme heat and humidity, you have absolutely no idea what you’re in for until you’re standing in the thick of it. It’s the same as a Canadian winter. Nobody can describe to you what it’s like to be outside in -40 C. You have to feel the ice crystals forming in your lungs to truly appreciate the sensation.
Since our first day in Thailand was spent at a shopping mall, movie theatre, and an outdoor market, we figured we would experience some old school Thai culture and visit a few temples for our second. We made big plans of getting up early and seeing as much as we could before the full strength of the sun hit the concrete streets. Then we could come back to the hotel, nap, and head to Khao San Road. Silly tourists, things never go as planned.
We managed to get out of bed early-ish (still adjusting to a 15 hour time change) and walked along the sidewalk to find breakfast. I started explaining to J that we had to be careful because motorcycles tend to drive wherever they can to avoid the insane Bangkok traffic. It was hard for him to hear me though over the whine of the motorcycle engine that passed within a few inches of us on the sidewalk. We decided to be more aware of our surroundings.
Finding breakfast proved to be a little bit of a challenge but we walked past a place that looked like it could be a restaurant. It had tables and chairs, and the owner was shooshing us inside, so we took a seat and hoped for the best. We don’t speak Thai but luckily the owners sons (or some other family members) spoke a tiny bit of English so they could ask us “Chicken or pork?”. We went for the chicken and received chicken with rice and a brothy soup that was very basic but really tasty. It was a straightforward meal and was honestly really good. Super cheap too. I think it cost us about $2 for both of us.
Feeling energized we took off in search of our first temple. We decided to walk because it didn’t look that far on the map and we’re both pretty fit people. We figured we could save some money and get some exercise. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the heat into consideration. It was already nearly 11am and the sun was getting stronger by the second. J would only walk on the side of the street with the shade, and after walking only a couple blocks we were both drenched in sweat. After J exclaimed to me that he was pretty sure his face was melting off, we decided we could splurge a little and hail a taxi to take us the rest of the way. When we slid into the back of that air conditioned cab, it was like walking through the gates of Heaven (I’m pretty sure Heaven would have air conditioning).
Our first stop was Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn. This temple has been around since the 17th century. You walk through a big stone gate, pay your fee, make sure you’re in “temple appropriate attire” and off you go exploring. It really was beautiful even with all the renovations being done. There are lots of stone guardians, and some amazing architecture to see here. Apparently this temple at dawn and sunset is supposed to be an incredible sight. It was pretty awesome in the middle of the day too.
J and I were still trying to beat the heat so we decided to head off in search of the next temple that was located just across the river. We were wondering how we were going to get to the other side, but there is a dock conveniently located at this exact spot with long boats to take you across. There is even a market here if you’re inclined to do some shopping. My advice? If mango sticky rice is in season, eat as much of it as you can. It’s amazing.
After a slightly sketchy boat ride, we made out way to Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This and the Thai massage are the big draw points here and let me tell you, that is one huge Buddha in there. It is 15m high and 43m long and if you can get a picture of yourself in front of it without another tourist right beside you, you are my hero. I had to sneak around back to get a shot of me with it and even though you can’t see the Buddha’s face, you get an idea of how big it is. The grounds were beautiful with statues, flowers, and intricate and ornate structures everywhere.
So by this time, it was later in the afternoon, hot, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast (except for an ice cream and mango sticky rice at Wat Arun), and we were dehydrated. Needless to say we should have called it a day, but we were leaving Bangkok the next day so we wanted to see as much as we could. We set off on foot to find the Grand Palace. It was supposed to be right across the street from the temple so we figured we could find it easily.
Yes, it is definitely right across the street from the temple, unfortunately the only entrance to the Palace is on the complete opposite side of the grounds so you have to walk all the way around to get to it. The grounds are huge and cover over 2 million square feet. It took us forever to walk to the entrance. Then, once we got there, it was really busy and we discovered they have a really strict dress code. I was ok but J was in long shorts and they do not allow shorts of any kind. He was ushered into the back to cover up (pants provided by the Palace). I stood outside watching multiple tourists get pulled off to the side and instructed to cover various body parts. Most understood right away but others seemed to take a little more convincing that they were doing something wrong. No, your hot pants and bikini top are not appropriate attire to visit the home of the King of Thailand.
As we toured the grounds I was in awe at the structures around me. Everything just seemed massive and it was gold and shiny, and sometimes covered in jewels. It really was a beautiful sight. The Emerald Buddha was really neat and learning that they had different outfits for the Buddha for different seasons was really cool too. The changing of the outfits is a huge celebration and ritual performed by the King.
The Grand Palace was busy, and expensive (500 baht per person which is about $20 each) but it was really cool to see and I’m happy we went. It is also still very much used by the Royal Family and security is pretty tight. I watched a guard chase an older Japanese lady off the grass because ain’t nobody going to disrespect the King’s grass.
By this time, it was around 5pm and we were exhausted, hungry, cranky, hot, and ready to go back to the hotel. This is when we discovered that catching a taxi right outside a major tourist spot and asking them to use the meter in their cab will get you laughed at. They know you’re exhausted, hungry, cranky, hot, and ready to go back to your hotel and there’s no way a driver is going to turn that meter on. You just tell them where your hotel is and they make up some random price; usually around 200 Baht. Considering we paid that same price to take a taxi to the airport (it’s almost an hour drive) there was no way I was letting him rip me off. J disagreed. He just wanted to get into the air conditioning but I refused. I walked away from all the taxis trying to get onto a quieter street where we had the chance to get a fair price. In hindsight, we should have taken the time to eat, drink water, and figure out a game plan but the heat and the long day were getting to us. We argued for awhile, walked past carts of delicious looking food, and finally got into a taxi that charged us way too much.
I definitely had my pissy pants on about getting ripped off but, in the end, it wasn’t worth fighting over. We just wanted to get out of the heat and lay down, and that was the fastest way for us to do that. We got back to the hotel, cranked the A/C, drank all the water we had, and fell asleep until 8 the next morning. Plans? What plans? Khao San Road was going to have to wait.