Asia

Bangkok, Thailand: The Grand Palace and Wat Pho

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Thailand: Island Hopping In Phuket, including James Bond Island

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I’m back from Thailand, so now you all have to hear about it (yay?)!   I’d never been to Asia before, so the whole thing was pretty exciting, though I did find the encroachment of American franchises to be surprising, yet strangely comforting (I only say this because I no longer live in America, and it was nice to be able to get some foods I miss; I think if I wasn’t an expat, my opinion would be rather different).  Anyway, I’m going to start off in Phuket, with a bit of island hopping – ultimate destination, James Bond Island, where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed.

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In what would be a common theme on the holiday, we had to wake up extremely early (which I think is contributing to my lingering jet lag) so that we could be picked up by a fabulously pimped out mini-van bus, and get taken down to the docks.  The charming boat pictured at the start of the post is not what we were riding in, rather, we were in what was described as a “cruise boat” which is DEFINITELY NOT to be confused with a cruise ship.  It was basically a fairly open structure with some benches on the top deck, a storage place below for the inflatable canoes that would transport us to each island, a kitchen, and some pretty horrific toilets (if your bladder is as small as mine, it might be better just to risk dehydration and hold back on the water for the day.  Though on second thought, don’t do that, I don’t want to be blamed for causing sunstroke.).

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We pootled around for about an hour before reaching the first island, where we were allotted an hour or so for swimming and “relaxation.”  Unfortunately, as the boat had to moor quite far away from the shore due to the shallow water, we had to transfer into the aforementioned canoes to be rowed ashore.  Happily, we didn’t have to row our own canoes (or I probably never would have made it ashore), but jumping down into a flimsy canoe from the back of a boat was nonetheless scary, because I can’t swim, and there were no life jackets.  I guess the water was usually shallow enough that I would have been ok, but it still freaked me out.  I did go for a dip in the bay (I think it was technically a bay), but kind of regretted it, as the water was extremely salty and I had to sit around in wet salty clothes for the rest of the day.  Also there were crabs in the water, and crabs scare the crap out of me (this whole post is going to read like a collection of my phobias).  Worst of all though, were the toilets onshore.  I’ve literally had nightmares that featured toilets like this (what, doesn’t everyone have nightmares about public restrooms?).  Not only were they squat toilets, which I could have dealt with had they been appropriately equipped, but there was no toilet paper, soap, or running water, and the floor was covered in a couple inches of horrible brown water that you couldn’t avoid stepping in.  So yeah, don’t plan on rinsing off after a swim.

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We went to maybe three other islands after, but on those we didn’t even get out of the canoes, as we were paddled around various grottoes and stone formations.  That part was actually quite relaxing, except for having to duck all the way down to get inside the caves, so that my head ended up on my boyfriend’s lap (so make sure you get in a canoe with someone you like!).  Our guide pointed out to us the “male trees” on one island (close up below, so you can probably spot why they were “male”).

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The islands were all fairly similar, but they were still pretty cool to see.  I do like a good grotto, particularly if I don’t have to do anything (like rowing or paddling) to see it.  The quality of the tour did depend on which canoe you got into, as some guides were much friendlier than others.

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Of course, the part of the excursion we were all waiting for was James Bond Island, which they saved til the end.  I am a Sean Connery kind of girl, but I do stand by my assertion that Roger Moore’s films are more watchable, in that they seem to drag on less, so I was enthused to see Scaramanga’s lair.  However, the island was kind of a bust.  The giant rock thing in the middle is cool, and you must get an obligatory Bond pose photo in front of it, but it was so damn touristy.  The only things on the island were tourists themselves, and a million crappy stalls selling the worst kind of tat.  It was all beads and necklaces and crap, not even any decent postcards.  I think they would have been better off trying to recreate some Bond stuff, or at least having a Roger Moore statue or something.

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After James Bond Island, we were given lunch on the boat, and than sat around for a good couple hours whilst we travelled back.  It didn’t feel like we had gone that far, but it seriously took about three hours to get back to the pier, and we all fell asleep en route.  Which was probably for the best, as it meant I didn’t have to use the boat toilet again.

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All in all, I think it was a decent excursion, but not really something I’d do again (not least because of the toilets, and it was also weirdly exhausting, even though we were just conveyed around the whole time). In the end, the other islands ended up being far more picturesque than the tourist trap that was James Bond Island (which was of course billed as the high point of the tour), so if you can get a cheaper tour that doesn’t include James Bond Island, I’d go for that, unless you’re a diehard Bond fan! A lot of my Thailand posts are going to be on random non-museum topics like this, since I only visited one museum whilst I was there, so I hope no one minds the brief departure from my usual subject matter (maybe you’ll at least enjoy the pictures?).

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I was wearing a wet bikini under my shirt – that is not boob sweat!