Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand: Siriraj Medical Museum, Escape Hunt, and Madame Tussaud’s

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I do love a good compilation post, don’t you?  This one is to wrap up my time in Bangkok by covering all the other random crap I did.  First of all, the Siriraj Medical Museum, which I read about on another travel blog (sorry, I can’t remember which one it was, if it was yours let me know!) a few months ago, and mentally noted, even though I had no plans to visit Thailand at the time. So when I did end up there, it was the one thing I insisted on seeing.  Siriraj Hospital was on the opposite side of Bangkok from where we were staying (Sukhumvit 26), and was one riverboat stop past the Grand Palace, on the other riverbank.  Once you get inside the hospital complex, it’s fairly tricky to find the correct building, so take advantage of the maps they have posted around the place.  I’m not sure where to advise you to go first, as the Congdon Anatomical Museum and Prehistory Museum (which are in the same building) both shut at 12 for an hour or so (at least on the day we visited), but you have to buy tickets in the other building, with the Parasitology and Criminology Museums, so either get there early (or late, I guess), or buy a ticket and then head over to the other building.  They’re only a couple of streets apart so it’s not that hard getting from one to the other, or at least it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t a million degrees outside and if the building numbers went in order.  Admission is 300 baht for all museums (about 6 quid), or 200 for the museums in the main building only. (Warning: I’m going to get into reasonably graphic descriptions of corpses and body parts, so if that kind of stuff nauseates you, maybe skip down to the text below the ice cream pictures) The museums include the four I’ve already mentioned, plus one that was all in Thai that appeared to be about health, and a special exhibit on the tsunami.  I was imagining it would take hours to see them, but none of them are that big, so we were done in an hour and half.  They do have a strict no-photos policy, so I can’t show you the awesome things there, but I will of course describe them.  The highlights of the collection are the pickled serial killers in big glass cases; I think they have six of them.  One of them was actually a baby-killing cannibal, so you really don’t have to feel guilty about gawping at his flayed corpse.  These are definitely not for the faint-hearted, as all kinds of fat was poking through the corpses, and they had trays underneath to catch the moisture, which were filled with horrible red and yellow fluid and things that looked like worms.  Naturally, I loved it, but if you have a weak stomach, I’d avoid this part.  They also had a most splendid collection of jarred fetuses, including the usual cast of conditions; hydrocephaly, anencephaly, harlequin ichthyosis, and conjoined twins, but quite a few examples of each, more than the average medical museum.  There were also some diseased organs in this section and very graphic photos showing suicide victims.  Aside from the tsunami exhibit, almost nothing was in English, but most of the stuff was fairly self-explanatory, at least if you frequent medical museums like I do.

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The Parasitology Museum fortunately did have English descriptions of each kind of parasite, which was useful in helping me gauge the sorts of things I might be picking up on the trip (just kidding, sort of).  After finishing up in the main building, we rushed over to see the Anatomical Museum before it closed.  It was very hot in that building, as there was no air conditioning, and I ended up hanging out in front of a fan, with all the skeletons (as seen above).  This part was more about bones and individual organs, though they also had quite a few fetuses here, and a male and female corpse-couple.  We tried to go downstairs to check out the Prehistory Museum, but it was closing for lunch, and I heard they were also closed earlier in the morning, so I’m not sure what the best time to visit them is.  Maybe early afternoon?  Honestly, Prehistory was the museum I cared least about, so I wasn’t that bothered.  Although it wasn’t as large and extensive as I’d been led to believe, the Siriraj Museum nonetheless had some impressive things in its collection, namely the corpses and fetuses, so I’d still recommend it if you’re fascinated by that sort of stuff as much as I am. Seeing the museum had worked up quite an appetite (yes, I am weird), so we went to this ice cream chain called Swensen’s that had a shop right by the riverboat dock (also right by the random street dinosaurs shown above).  They turned out to have awesome American-style sundaes (makes sense since it appears to be an American chain, albeit one I’ve never heard of), which I was most pleased by, since I can’t get proper sundaes in London for some reason, and I miss them like crazy.  I had some kind of oreo and brownie concoction in a waffle bowl, which was super delicious (the other picture is of a sundae I had at a different location of Swensen’s, also amazing).

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Whilst I was in Bangkok, I also went to this thing called Escape Hunt, which was basically a sort of murder mystery thing, only without cheesy actors!  You go to their headquarters in the basement of some tower, and they lock you and your fellow sleuths (you can book a room with up to 4 of your friends) in a room, and you have to solve a mystery to escape (it’s much nicer and less sketchy than it sounds, I promise).  One of the women who work there serves as your guide, and will pop in from time to time to offer hints, if you need them.  We had to figure out who murdered a businesswoman using the clues in the room, and I have to say, it was really really fun.  I especially liked that we had a private room, so you didn’t have to embarrass yourself in front of everyone (which is why I’ve never been to a murder mystery).  The whole experience was surprisingly great (albeit pricy), including being served tea after, and then being photographed in sexy Sherlock Holmes outfits (although Benedict’s Sherlock is sexy in any outfit), and I definitely recommend it if you’ve done all the sightseeing around Bangkok, and want something different and fun (and air-conditioned) to do (I just had a look at their website, and they’re meant to be opening one in London this summer, which will be awesome if I can find some friends by then!).

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Badly cropped pic of me as a super sleuth

Finally, although it was just a Madame Tussaud’s, and therefore probably not that different from the one in London (though I don’t know since I’ve never been, due to it costing mega-money and only being for tourists), I thought I’d throw in some pictures of Bangkok’s wax museum (wow, waxworks and stuff in jars in one post.  Throw in some authentic smells and we’d have the trifecta of stuff Jessica loves!).  It was cheaper than the London one, but still hella expensive by Thailand standards, at around 16 quid.

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Ok, that last one is George Clooney. He looks pretty bad, so I thought I’d better caption it.  They did have lots of Asian stars who I’d never heard of here, which I guess is the main difference between this one and the London one (also there was no Chamber of Horrors, more’s the pity!).

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And the last one here is Madame Tussaud herself, not Marie Antoinette.  I have to say that I adored the malls in Bangkok (and the one in Phuket, which had an amazing food hall); they were really fancy, and had doughnut and ice cream shops inside, so I was in heaven.  I didn’t even do any shopping, I just liked wandering around in the air conditioning and eating.  And going to Madame Tussaud’s, which is inside the massive Siam Mall in Bangkok.  Maybe I should have spent more time exploring outside, but I wilt in the heat, and the malls were a welcome respite from that, so I don’t regret it!

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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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Ayutthaya, Thailand: City of Ruins and Temples

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Ayutthaya, about an hour and a half (traffic pending) north of Bangkok, appears to be a city with a fascinating history (although it’s not really explained in English at any of the temples, so Wikipedia is sadly my main source for this), and an awful lot of ruins, primarily of Buddhist temples.  Ruins aren’t really my thing (I say this about a lot of things, and I feel like someone is eventually going to call me out and ask what is my thing then, and the answer is books mainly, and ice cream, and other stuff that doesn’t require me to go outside), but it was a Tuesday in Bangkok in the middle of Songkran, so everything in the city was shut, and my travelling companions were keen to see Ayutthaya, so that’s where I found myself on yet another boiling hot Thai day.

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Naturally, getting to Ayutthaya was not exactly easy, and involved a trip to the end of the Sky Train line (I have to say that I do love the Sky Train; it is air conditioned, and they show hilarious Thai adverts on little TV screens above the seats), and a hair-raising taxi ride (as there wasn’t enough seats, and I had to perch precariously on my boyfriend’s lap) to the bus station, where we hired a minivan to take us to Ayutthaya.  Of course, the driver certainly wasn’t going to let those empty seats go to waste, so we had to detour to every bus stop on the way until the bus filled up, some of the stops lasting upwards of fifteen minutes whilst the driver tried to attract passengers, which made the drive out there much longer than the return trip (I know this is a lot of complaining, but the travel guides aren’t going to tell it like it is, so you have to get the inside scoop from somewhere).  Immediately upon arrival, we were approached by a man trying to sell us a tour around the sites, which, short of having your own car (probably not a great idea) or booking an organised tour, seems to be the only way to see everything.  Our conveyance was essentially a tuktuk, but with two benches running vertically instead of one horizontal one (they have a specific name, but I forget what it is), and made for a slightly hair-raising ride with five people crammed in the back.

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Though we paid a fee for the transport, we also had to pay individually to enter each temple; it was only 20-50 baht per temple (there’s about 50 baht to the pound) but as we went to so many of them, it started to add up (still a modest fee by Western standards, admittedly).  Now, the first temple we went to was pretty rad, and would turn out to be my favourite one of the day, but after that, everything started to blur together.  So I can’t tell you the names of the sites, but I’m fairly sure any tour booked there will take you to the same places.  The first temple also had the nicest toilets we’d see all day (toilets cost extra), and curiously, an adorable cat who appeared to live in the bathroom, so let it all out while you can!  The highlight of this temple was the giant reclining Buddha outside, though there is also a shrine inside the temple (accessed by a million uneven steps) where you can apply gold leaf to the Buddha for an additional fee. wat stich 3   P1110060

The complete tour takes around 4 hours, so you will get hungry and thirsty en route, fortunately, all of the larger sites did a roaring trade in food and drink outside.  I highly recommend the coconut ice cream, served in a young coconut – the young coconut was kind of weird and gelatinous and not really to my taste, but the ice cream was amazing.  The pineapple fruit shakes were also extremely refreshing and delicious.  I did try a banana roti, but it was unfortunately pre-made and contained scrambled egg – egg covered in Nutella and sweetened condensed milk was just straight-up nasty, so I’d stick to roti places that make them to order.  At any rate, there’s enough stalls around that you won’t go hungry.

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Also of note, but only because our visit was during Songkran (Thai New Year, which is celebrated with water fights), is that travelling in an open sided vehicle was not the smartest move.  People in Bangkok were definitely really into water fights, but Ayutthaya was possibly even more gung-ho, and we got absolutely drenched by people bearing buckets and hoses by the side of the road.  Some paint too, which appeared to just be talcum powder and water, so it easily washed off.  Although initially refreshing, it is rather unpleasant being soaking wet for the rest of the day (even though it’s extremely hot, clothes take forever to dry because of the humidity), so choosing a different mode of transport might be advisable if you’re visiting in mid-April.

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Post-drenching

I honestly lost track of how many temples we visited, but it had to be at least 7 of them.  One of them had some kind of elephant attraction out front that we specifically asked not to be taken to, but it was unavoidable because there was a temple behind it.  It was not pleasant to see because they made the elephants stand in this weird pavilion and dance whilst loud-ass music was blasted at them, and also take people for rides by walking on hot gravel all day.  It was not an ideal way to see elephants, for sure.  However, the temple behind it was quite large, and had an impressive array of stalls, and I’m not really sure how to see one without seeing the other, although at least the elephant part had a separate admission fee, so you’re not forced to give them any money.

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There were definitely some cool details at these ruins, like the Buddha head in the tree trunk, and the temples were in different architectural styles, and of differing levels of preservation, so I imagine the average person who is into Buddhist architecture would love it.  The whole experience was for me reminiscent of Pompeii; as in, wandering around a bunch of crumbling stones that all kind of looked the same, under the searing sun, when I was dying for air conditioning, or at least shade.  Then again, I am not at all a fan of the heat, so it was about what I expected.

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I think I’ve probably rambled and complained enough, so I’ll just leave you with a bunch more pictures of various temples (don’t ask me which is which), so you can make up your own mind whether Ayutthaya is something you’d like to see.  Again, if you like temples and Thai history, you’ll probably love it, but if Roman ruins and the like bore you to tears, Ayutthaya is not really any better, just different.

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