THE GRAND PALACE, BANGKOK, THAILAND – One of the must see sights in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. Although this palace is no longer home to the royal family it is still used for special ceremonies. The palaces was begun in 1782 by King Rama I after he moved the capital of Thailand from Thonburi to Bangkok. Many different buildings and temples were added to the palace complex up until 1925, when all the government agencies were moved out of the complex. Rama IX was the last king to reside here and now he lives in a separate palace complex. The government of Bangkok is also now a constitutional monarchy.
The palace complex is divided into four parts, the outer court, middle court, the inner court and the Wat Phra Kaew. The most famous building within the palace complex is the Wat Phra Kaew. The Wat Phra Kaew is home to to the emerald buddha. A buddha statue that is carved entirely of emerald. The garments of the Buddha are changed with the season. Unfortunately photos are not allowed of the emerald buddha. This temple was build in 1783 and it is the private chapel of the king, but it is open for tours daily.
The Grand Palace complex opens at 8:30 and closes by 3:30. Your entrance ticket allows you to enter various parts of the palace complex. However, be sure you are wearing pants and close toed shoes or you will not be allowed in. There are military personal stationed at all the entrances and marching throughout the complex. If by chance you do not have pants, you can rent a pair from a vendor on the street. You pay them a deposit of $100 Bhat (approximately $3.33 USD). When you are finished your tour, you return the pants and they will give you 70 Bhat back (approximately $2.33).
COBRA SHOW THAILAND, DAMNOEN SADUAK, THAILAND – After shopping at the floating market, we proceeded to travel to a snake show. There are many of these types of shows in Thailand, but this one is supposedly famous. The show featured a variety of types of snakes, including a jumping snake and of course the King Cobra. The performers would do a variety of acts to show you how the snakes would react in various situations. One of the performers even wrestled three snakes at once. When it was time to put them away, he caught one in each hand and the third one in his mouth. While this show was extremely cool, I couldn’t help but wonder how safe we all were in the audience. There was only a small river of water and a one foot high wall that separated us from the snakes. The finale of the show was fight between a mongoose and a cobra. In the end the mongoose one and the owners of the snakes had to pry it off of the cobra, which was still alive. After the fight, the performers of this show, showed us how to extract the venom from the cobra. They then allowed each of the audience members to touch the cobra, which supposedly brought good luck. Just outside of the show, there was a small zoo, where you could see all of the various snake species that live in Thailand. They also had crocodiles and water monitors.
THE FLOATING MARKET, RATCHABURI, THAILAND – After riding the elephants we traveled to the floating market in Ratchaburi, Thailand. This market is world famous for the vendors that sit in small boats and float up and down the rivers selling fresh fruit, food, and other products. This market was originally part of a way of life for those living in the countryside. Today the market is more of a tourist destination. Tours are also given of the river. There is also a small market place that lines the river. These shops sell handmade pieces of art and other souvenirs. Outside of the market, people offer the chance to hold snakes or to feed a baby elephant.
THE ELEPHANT VILLAGE, THAILAND – Our second stop was to the Elephant Village. Here we were given the opportunity to ride elephants. It cost 1,200 Bhat (approximately $40 USD) per person to ride the elephants. An additional 600 Bhat (approximately $20 USD) was required for bananas to feed the elephants. The elephants did not look that good, however, it was hard to see how they were treated. My guess is that they were not treated well, especially since they had no tusks. Two people were allowed to ride on each elephant and then a driver sat on the elephants neck to steer it. It was definitely an unique experience. We walked along a pre-determined path. About five minutes into the ride, the driver jumped off of the elephant and told us to sit just above the elephant. It was at this point that we were able to feed the elephant. Our elephant was definitely smart, he would take five steps and demand five bananas before he would move again. While we were riding the elephant our guide/driver took pictures of us on the elephant. Eventually the driver climbed back onto the elephant and and brought us through a small pond. At the end of the ride the driver tried to sell us ivory jewelry to “support the elephants.” We did not buy anything as it was morally wrong and illegal to do this.
TRAIN MARKET, THAILAND – Our second day in Thailand started with us meeting out tour guide and traveling an hour outside of Bangkok towards the famous floating market. Along the way we stopped in small town at a set of train tracks. Our tour guide wanted us to see another type of market, one that lined the sides of a set of train tracks. The people who worked this market, set up shop along the tracks. When the train came through they would quickly close up shop, once the train passed by, they would open up shop again.
JAMES FASHION, BANGKOK, THAILAND – The second store that our tour guide brought us to was James Fashion. James Fashion has been rated the number one tailor in the world by National Geographic. They also offer custom made suites, shirts and dresses. They even offered our group a student discount if we bought from them and free drinks. Again I thought this was a sham, but I looked at the materials they were offering and other people having suits made and decided to have some made. In fact everyone in our group got suites made. I bought two suites, two shirts and three ties for 15,000 Bhat (approximately $500 USD), an extremely good deal for custom fitted suites. Each person in our group was given their own tailor they showed us around their show room and we were able to choose they color and type of fabric that we wanted. All of the suites that I bought are wrinkle free. We had our measurements taken. The next day we went back and were re-fitted with the semi-finished coats and finished shirts. The tailors then told us that they would deliver them in person to our hotel the next night before we left. They kept their word and arrived at 11:00 PM with our order. We tried them on and they fit perfectly. I was extremely happy with the quality and service that they provided and I would highly recommend them. They even keep your measurements so you can order another suite online if you are no-longer in the country and they will ship it to you.
THE ROYAL LAPIDARY, BANGKOK, THAILAND – Our first day of touring ended with our tour guide bringing us to two shops. Obviously the tour company received some sort of kickback if these companies sold something to us, but it was still cool to see another side of Bangkok. Our first stop was The Royal Lapidary. This store was actually a gem factory that is known throughout Thailand for its jewelry. It specializes in sapphire and ruby’s, but they also work with every other gemstone. At first I thought this was just a sham, but they allowed us to go into the factory and stand over the workers as they built various jewelry mountings and polished the stones. It was a neat process to see.
WAT BENCHAMABOPHIT, BANGKOK, THAILAND – Wat Benchamabophit also known as the “marble temple” was built in 1899 for King Chulalongkorn. The literal translation of its name is “temple for the fifth king.” The entire temple is built of Italian marble. The inner courtyard of the temple has over 50 different statues of the Buddha. The interior of the temple houses one larger statue of the buddha. The walls are decorated with various stupas that are found throughout Thailand. It should also be noted that all of the wall decorations are hand painted. The kings ashes are located beneath the statue of the Buddha in the main temple.
CSAO PRAYA RIVER, BANGKOK, THAILAND – After our tour of Wat Pho we drove to the Csao Praya River or the “river of the king,” the main river that carves its way through Bangkok. Many companies offer tours of the river and the surrounding canals. We disembarked from our bus and boarded a floating restaurant that offered one of these tours. For 400 Bhat each ($13.33 USD), we were able to charter a private boat for a one hour tour of the canals. The tour brought us down the narrow canals and waterways of Bangkok and afforded us the chance to see the traditional way of living and also the poverty stricken side of Thailand. Traditionally people lived along the river and fished. To this day many of their houses are built on stilts. The people that live in these houes have to rebuild their houses every ten years for the new generation and also due to the damage caused by the river. The water is highly polluted and is home to water monitors and catfish.
WAT PHO, BANGKOK, THAILAND – Our second stop of the day was to Wat Pho, the temple of the Reclining Buddha. This temple is 400 years old and is the oldest temple in Bangkok. It is situated on 20 acres of land. The statue of the reclining Buddha is 150 years old. While also being a place of worship this temple is also a school for learning the art of the Thai massage. The entire course involves 7 days of studying. It is also a working Buddhist monastery. Outside of the entire temple complex you will often see the monks collecting food. Buddhist monks are not allowed to cook for themselves and as such, people bring them meals. Outside of the temple is home to many pagodas (chedis) or burial mounds. These burial mounds house the ashes of many members of the royal family. There four larger chedis that are dedicated to four of the past kings of Thailand. The green pagoda is dedicated to the Rama I, the yellow pagoda is for Rama II, the orange pagoda is for Rama III and the blue pagoda is for Rama IV. In Thailand each day is represented by a different color. Your color is based on the day that you were born.
Monday – Yellow (current King of Thailand)
Tuesday – Pink
Wednesday – Green
Thursday – Orange
Friday – Blue (current Queen of Thailand)
Saturday – Purple
Sunday – Red
The Reclining Buddha is located in the northern complex of the temple. The reclining buddha is over 160 feet long and stands justo over 49 feet tall. He is reclined on two large pillows that are made of blue glass. His feet are just under ten feet high and just under 15 feet wide. There are symbols on the bottom of his feet, made of mother of pearl. These symbols all represent the buddha. There are over 108 of these symbols. Along one of the walls are 108 pots, in which people place coins for good luck. Each pot is supposed to represent one of the symbols on his feet.