The Grand Palace

29th September, Bangkok, Thailand

Manda writes:

Breakfast consisted of lime green bread with some dark green paste that Am had kindly gone out to buy for us. This colour coordinated sandwich tasted sweet and very nice. Having finished our last mouthful, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the dark green paste was made out of banana leaves.

Our plan for today was to visit the Grand Palace and a few of the other wats in the area. Am took us over to the taxi rank and made sure our driver knew where to take us. She also wrote down their address in Thai on a piece of paper with some extra directions for our return journey. It was probably just as well as we would never see Stef and Am again otherwise! According to Stef, the Thais don't use maps and when a tourist hands one over it only confuses them. They memorise all the roads and if they don't know a particular one, well, they need a Thai-speaking person to direct them. We now had the address on paper and also a mobile phone with the helpful Am ready to talk Thai when we got stuck.

Being around Am and Stef has made a big difference; not just in terms of getting over the language barrier but also their invaluable local knowledge. We have also appreciated being warmly welcomed into their home and being given an opportunity to experience Thai family life. I like watching Am and Stef talking with the locals and wish I could utter more than a handful of phrases.

The cost of admission to the Grand Palace is 200 baht for foreigners and free of charge for Thais. This dual pricing system exists pretty much in all the tourist venues. Stef, who can speak the lingo fluently and has been living here for years and years, would still have to pay the tourist rate on account of the fact that he is English. At the counter this morning, I was tempted for a split second to answer, "Chai" (yes), when the Thai woman asked if I was Thai, even though I'd asked for two tickets in English! I must really look like a local! I resisted answering in the positive in case she broke out in full on Thai conversation, saying things like, "Yes .. so whereabouts in Thailand are you from? It's gonna be a hot day for touring the palace, have you brought enough water? etc etc".

I have been to the Grand Palace before on a family holiday seventeen years ago. As I stepped through the gates, I couldn't believe I had forgotten the beauty of this place. As a youngster, I was only bothered by the heat and didn't really take it all in. Everywhere we now looked, the scenery seemed to scream, "Take a photo of me!". The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, The Royal Pantheon, Wat Phra Mondop were all glistening in the sun, as the light bounced off the reflective tiles. So much detail has gone into the pretty mosaic patterns, it must have taken an age and several pairs of spectacles to put together. The occasional breeze would make the hanging mobiles chime and this gave the place a calming feel, even in amongst the hundreds of hectic tourists milling around.

Various glittering tile-covered chedis inside the Grand Palace.

We went inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, who on this occasion, was dressed in his rainy season attire. We later found out at the Royal Thai Decorations and Coins Pavilion that he has a different wardrobe for summer and cold seasons. The summer outfit is very fetching and my favourite one but somehow, I don't think I'll ever get to see the Emerald Buddha in it - this season is hot enough for me!

The Grand Palace section looked different from the wats we had just seen but looked every bit as majestic as the name implied. The rooftops are covered in predominantly green and orange tiles. We had arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards. Once the 'new' guard was on the podium, the 'old' guard would check to see whether the 'new' guard's coat buttons were done up properly and belt fastened up. This was all part of the changing of the guards routine. Happy with the presentation of his successor, the 'old' guard would march off back inside the palace walls. We later saw him swigging water from a bottle and tucking into his food by the gate.

Chakri Maha Prasat Hall, Grand Palace Complex, Bangkok.

Thais pay a lot of attention to presentation. Apparently, the smarter and more formal your clothes are, the more polite you appear. So when Prince Charles came on a state visit to the Grand Palace, wearing a white suit and tie, the Thais truly appreciated his gesture. Prince Charles, on the other hand, was probably sweating buckets and close to passing out!

Wat Pho looked like walking distance on the map and so we moseyed along Maharat Road to the oldest wat in Bangkok. It dates back to the 16th century, and houses the largest reclining Buddha. The Buddha is impressive to look at but difficult to get a good photo of. There are many stupas on these grounds and cartoon-like statues that you would not expect to see on the oldest site. The stupa spires tower above and, as I had been doing for most of the day, found myself pointing the camera right up at the sky.

Stupas everywhere you look, and a solitary Manda standing among them.

After a busy day of sightseeing, we jumped into an air-con taxi and fought our way through the traffic back home. But not before a phone call to Am as our driver didn't know the particular tiny soi (alleyway) we were heading for. We'll let him off as Bangkok has many streets after all!