On yet another hot and bright morning (like every day in Thailand), everyone decided to visit the Grand Palace, meaning I had to risk burning my pasty skin again by spending yet another day out in the sun (I am not cut out for hot climes. I end up cranky and looking greasy at all times thanks to my overzealous application of sunscreen). The voyage there was also quite involved, albeit far more pleasant than the trek to Ayutthaya, as we decided to take the river boat part of the way which I found quite fun (and there was a bit of a breeze, which helped matters). Also unlike Ayutthaya, there is a strictly enforced dress code to enter the Grand Palace, which is very similar to the one at the Vatican, if not a bit stricter. However, if you show up with uncovered shoulders or knees (very likely because of the extreme heat), at least the Grand Palace has got you covered (literally), as the Textile Museum loans out rather pretty skirts and shawls to the skimpily attired.
At around 500 baht (about a tenner), admission is quite expensive by Thai standards, but I decided it was probably worth the money upon spying the giant demon statues guarding the place. Thai demons > ruins as far as I’m concerned. I do feel woefully ignorant of the history of the palace, indeed, non-Western history in general (for that matter, I’m sketchy on anything that’s not Britain or America), so I can’t provide any background here as I usually like to do, but I guess that’s why the internet exists; so you can look it up yourself if you’re interested (yes, I could also look it up I suppose, but I have a lot more writing to get through, so am just cracking on with it). I wish I’d had more time to visit actual museums when I was in Thailand, as that might have helped to fill in some of the gaps, but I was only there for ten days, and we had a busy schedule as it was.
The Grand Palace is a working palace, and only a small portion is open to the public, but the parts you can see are pure gilded-fantasticness. There’s the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to wander into (well, you can’t really just wander in, as you have to remove your shoes first and brave the searing hot pavement on the way in, but you know what I mean) and lots and lots of glorious statues.
However, the main things to note are the murals that line the walls around the edges of the courtyard, which are fabulous. I especially enjoyed the various monsters.
I was also quite enchanted with those little guys “holding up” the temple, and the animal statues strewn about the place. It’s all about those little touches, and they provided a much needed accent to all the gold.
There are a museum of coins and a museum of textiles on the premises, but when it came down to visiting the museums or eating ice cream, even though it was only overpriced Haagen-Dazs, you can probably guess what I opted for (I have a weak spot where cookies n cream is concerned, even Haagen-Dazs’s lame attempt). Plus it was so damn hot, and heat makes me even lazier than normal.
After revelling in the bling of the Grand Palace for a sufficiently long time, we decided to see more in the form of the shiny gold Buddha inside Wat Pho, a nearby temple (after winding our way through the narrow pavements absolutely jam-packed with street vendors; fortunately, unlike the ones in Rome, they weren’t at all pushy, and actually sold useful things, like cold drinks, and an excellent looking book of t-shirt transfers circa 1985. I regret passing that up.).
Wat Pho charges a modest admission fee, but they do give you a free bottle of water, which is a nice touch. They also loan you a nifty little bag to put your shoes in while you’re inside the temple, so you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your shoes (not that anyone wanted my disgusting filthy flip flops, but it’s still thoughtful of them).
Golden Buddhas are cool and all, but the best part of Wat Pho is that they have a massage school on the premises! I’d never had a Thai massage before (or any kind of massage, because I am always broke) but I couldn’t pass one up at those prices (it was the equivalent of 8 quid for an hour-long massage, which I’m pretty sure is an awesome deal). They gave us these special shorts to put on before the massage, which were super comfy, even though I couldn’t figure out how to tie them correctly. The massage itself was painful, but awesome…I’m scared I may have developed a taste for Thai massage, which is unfortunate since I’ll never be able to afford one again. Highly recommended.
There were a lot of street cats and dogs in Thailand, mostly very sleepy because of the heat, but they did all appear to be well-fed, and relatively friendly, or perhaps too lethargic from the sun to be grumpy, like the cute cat above who was hanging around Wat Pho.
I have to say, although I was as always reluctant to get up early to head out there, I enjoyed it very much more than Ayutthaya (and not just because of the massage). If you visit, do make sure you take time to examine all the murals, because it seems like most people were just concentrated around the central buildings, and were missing out on some of the good stuff. Because I loved them so much, I’m going to leave you with even more mural pictures. Enjoy!