A Brief Stopover in Bangkok

The people who jostled for space in front of the gates of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, shortly before opening time, were entertained by a rather sturdy Thai woman with short hair, and a no-nonsense attitude. When the crowd surged forward, I found myself next to her. She looked me up and down, and told me in no uncertain terms that the shawl, which I so carefully draped around my shoulders, was most definitely not appropriate attire for visiting this site with its strict dress code. With a wave of her hand she ordered me to buy a blouse in one of the many tiny shops lining the sidewalk. I was too stunned to argue, and minutes later, donned in a lovely white cotton blouse, Jackie gave me a nod of approval. She informed me that she was a tour guide, specializing in the Grand Palace, and that I would benefit from her services in a variety of different ways. It was clear that she meant business, and took her job seriously, yet her whole approach brought a giggle to my lips, and I thought if nothing else, it would be entertaining, and so we settled on a price.

When she ordered me to hand over the money for the entrance fee, and to stand to one side, I obliged with a smile, marveling at how I was paying someone to boss me around, and enjoying it. Behind me, she tapped the young American woman in the queue in front of her, on her shoulder, and demanded to know where she was from. Satisfied with the answer, as she does not have much against Americans, even though she is not charmed by their president, she informed Erica that she could save a lot of money, if her and I, share the cost of her professional services. Like me, Erica clearly understood that it would be futile to argue with her, and so we introduced ourselves, and followed obediently behind our guide who was tramping ahead with confident strides, after she very thoughtfully rounded up her fee to make it more convenient for us to split the cost.

All we could do was follow, respectfully listen to her instructions, hand over our cameras, when demanded to do so, and smiled when told to. Anyone who dared walk into the photograph she was setting up, was briskly shooed away, and when someone looked as if they were about to break any of the rules, they were immediately told off. She is proud of her heritage, and she would defend it with her tongue if any tourist was silly enough to show even a glimmer of disrespect. The features of the buildings she pointed out, and information she imparted were concise and delivered in clipped sentences. Facts were facts, after all, and not invitations to discussions.

At the end of our tour she told us that we could visit the Phra Meru Mas, or the Royal Crematorium of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra, just across the road from the Grand Palace on a field called Sanam Luang, which would be dismantled at the end of November. That recommendation alone was worth her fee, as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to stumble upon the magnificent 50-metre, three-tiered structure representing Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu and Buddhist universe, and where it is believed Thai royals return to after death.

With a budget of $90 million, it took the best artisans in the country 10 months to complete the project, and after a year of official mourning, King Bhumibol was cremated on the 26th of October with the appropriate pomp and ceremony befitting a monarch, who ruled his country for 70 years.

It was truly amazing to experience the quiet discipline of the Thai people, as I patiently waited with hundreds in the sweltering heat in the specially built under-cover waiting area, where rows upon rows of chairs were neatly arranged in blocks. At the entrance every visitor was given a small bottle of water and a snack, which was a touch I came to appreciate during the 30 minutes our group had to wait, before it was our turn to visit the Royal Crematorium.

 

Bangkok is a convenient place to transfer through, and although I usually choose a basic hotel close to the airport with free airport transfers on one of the legs, I like to spend a night or two exploring part of the city, on the other leg, as I find the energy of Bangkok too much to explore for longer periods of time. For these visits, I choose my accommodation carefully, depending on what I would like to do and see in the city, as where I stay impacts strongly on my experience of a place. On the return leg from my trip to Myanmar, I decided to pay a visit to the Grand Palace, as I skipped it during a previous visit.

The Warehouse is a short walk away from the Grand Palace, and a perfect place to stay to explore that part of Bangkok. I like its industrial look, and open café area at street level to relax with a cold drink.

A more memorable experience, though, was my stay at Loy La Long Boutique Hotel in February 2014. Located on the grounds of Wat Pathum Khong Ratchaworawihan, this 2-storey, 30 year old teak house that was renovated into a boutique hotel, appears to be floating on the Chao Praya river. Each room is unique, decorated and identified by a specific colour, and utterly charming. A variety of communal sitting areas provide space to relax, interact with other guests, or simply watch life as it floats by on the river. It is the perfect place to stay to explore China Town, and is a short walk to Rachawong ferry terminal for a visit to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, or Wat Arun, as well as walking distance to the biggest Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat) in the country.

Its location, quirky interior, and friendly staff all combine to make this a very special place to stay. Breakfast is included in the price, and as one chooses one’s meal the night before, it is simple, fresh, and tasty. They also serve simple meals on request for lunch or supper, and when I had to leave early in the morning for the airport, I was given a take-away breakfast, which was a kind touch. The easiest is to organize a taxi through the hotel from the airport, as it is rather tricky to find, or simply follow the directions given on their website if you feel more adventurous.

NOTE: They thoughtfully provide earplugs, but if you are a light sleeper, be aware that the party boats cruise past here, and that it can be rather noisy.

Visited:  November 2017

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