Unusually cloudy and cool weather – it almost felt wintry by Khrungthep standards – made it the perfect day for an extensive tour of Ratanokosin Island, the heart of old Khrungthep. This is the island that was first settled during the establishment of the city as the fourth capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
From Brad and Silvia’s hotel we took a canal boat to the old part of the island. The canal boats offer a breezy, inexpensive form of transportation and allow you to look into the lives of a different part of Khrungthep society. In most cities in the country, a canal-front house is prime property. Here, it is where the less well-off residents live. Left: Brad and Silvia on the Thanon Borapat bridge with a canal boat behind them.
A short walk away, facing the Democracy Monument, is the Rim Khob Faa bookshop – a source of a wide range of media about Thailand and the monarchy. There, we rented MP3 audio players for a self-guided tour of some of the lesser-known but tremendously interesting sites of Ratanokosin Island.
The tour has been compiled by Siam Soundtreks, which is trying to preserve the heritage of the city, especially those lesser-known districts that politicians would like to raze without consideration of the history nor or the residents who have called that area home for generations.
The narration of the tour was enhanced by lively background music and sounds that helped to recreate the atmosphere of times past. The pacing of the tour was just about perfect: you’d be walking along a street and just at the point where the narrator said, “notice the automobile mechanic shop on your right; there are usually one or two classic Astin Martin cars in the garage…” sure enough, we’d look to our right and we were just walking up to the shop.
Along the way we made a stop at the less-traditional 7-11 store for some cold water. On their front door was an advertising sticker showing some “world cup fever” products including the traditional “German Junior Bite” corndog. Ah, globalisation.
Our tour took us to Wat Mahan, the Chinese Tiger God shrine, the Brahmanistic Giant Swing, Bangkok City Hall, the district where monk supplies and Buddha images are made and sold, and Wat Suthat which is said to be the most aesthetically perfect temple in Thailand.
Left: Brad and Silvia in front of the Bangkok City Hall. Right: Wat Suthat, the Giant Swing, and a work of public art on Kor Tor Mor Square.
After about two hours we completed the tour, so took a taxi the short distance to the Grand Palace. With a quick lunch to energise us we hired a guide (turned out not to be the best value) and went through the grounds of the palace.
The overcast skies were interesting; this is the first time I’ve been there when it hasn’t been sunny. It is definitely more pleasant this way. Also, by going in the afternoon after lunch, the crowds were lighter at the temple, the morning tour busses having moved on to other sites.
Left: The library building in the Grand Palace. Right: The Number-Two monk in all of Thai Buddhism is escorted into the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to pay his respects.
After the tour we went over to Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and then crossed the river to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).
Left: Brad and Silvia in front of the royal reception hall in the Grand Palace. Right: dancing in “traditional” Thai costumes in front of the Temple of Dawn.
Afterwards, we stopped for ma praaw – coconuts – as a refreshing afternoon drink.
Today: Trip to the floating market and bicycling through the coconut and banana plantations.