Birthday! Birthday, Birthday!
Obviously, I had the best birthday present, even if I shared it with Duane, Shauna, and Brandon. :)
First full day in Thailand! Only full day in Bangkok!
We started out with a nice breakfast at the hotel. Omelets, lots of fruits, scones, and juices. Wonderful view of the river from where we sat. Upon exiting the hotel, the alley that had been completely empty the night before was now a bustling market full of people and vendors. I did not plan this. We walked through the market to the boat terminal just up the street. After a little confusion as to which boat we were supposed to be on, a very nice man directed us to the boat we wanted - the one headed just down the river to the next boat terminal near the Grand Palace.
The nice man was also on the same boat and, once we all got off and paid the three baht per person, kindly directed us towards the security entrance. However, it was immediately a little confusing as there were TONs of Thai people - all dressed in black - also heading towards and passing through the same security entrance. We hesitated for a moment near the intersection that would take us over to the security and a tuk-tuk driver came up to us and told us that the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (where we wanted to go next) were both closed for the morning for "Buddha Day". Meanwhile, the man who had helped us to cross the river motioned to us near the entrance to the security gate. Confused, we waved him thanks, and headed towards Wat Pho. The tuk-tuk driver offered to take us around the city for the morning at a very cheap rate. However, we thanked him and headed off in another direction. as we were walking, we passed a tourism information desk and there was a clear sign that said, "The Grand Palace is open every day." Brandon also saw a sign that said not to listen to tuk-tuk drivers if they told you something was closed. Now, I had read about this, and that they would try and convince you to go to certain shops where they would then get a commission, but the flood of Thai people all in black had really thrown me for a loop. Buddha Day had seemed believable. Not wanting to encounter the same tuk-tuk driver, we walked the other way around the intersection to end up at the security gate. The nice gentleman from before turned out to be a government employee and was very happy to see that we had made it over.
As we passed through security (very light - bag check and metal detector), there were then people lining the left wall handing out water bottles and candy and little snacks. Confused, we skirted to the right a little on the sidewalk, but eventually backtracked realizing the handouts were for anyone and everyone.
Pause. I posted a few weeks ago about King Bhumibol passing away. The effect this had on our stay was fairly significant. Some of the more obvious things were that almost all the Thai people we met (and in particular all of the government workers) wore black - every day. All the stores in the markets sold mostly black clothing. If you need a wardrobe of black clothing, this is the place to shop right now. Additionally, there were frequently free handouts of water and light snacks - clearly meant for everyone. There were also shrines and images of the king everywhere - in every hotel and plastered on the sides of giant buildings. Every parade float we would see throughout our stay would be devoted to him. And all of the festivals would be a little more muted than usual.
After collecting some waters and snacks, we proceeded into the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is a large collection of buildings. Many of these we could walk by/visit without a ticket (I believe this was the outer court), but we bought tickets to visit some of the higher draw areas (I think this would have been the Middle Court). Cluster incredibly close to one another were a handful of exquisitely ornate buildings. Vibrant varied colors displayed as a tapestry of stone, glass, and ceramic. One of these buildings was home to the Emerald Buddha (surprisingly smaller than we'd imagined). While the tourists shuffled in and out in the back of the building, Thais were shuffled in and out of the front section of the room to worship. We'd wondered at why there were so many Thai people sitting in a line around the perimeter of the Middle Court, but this explained it. They were waiting on their turn to go in to see the Emerald Buddha. We wandered a bit longer and took pictures and then briefly visited an historic coin collection before heading down the road to Wat Pho.
On our way down the road we passed another tuk-tuk driver. As if he was just giving us a piece of advice, he told Brandon that if we came back to that area the next day, we needed to make sure we wore black shirts, rather than the brightly colored shirts we were wearing. We thanked him for letting us know, and then he asked us where we were headed. We told him we were going to Wat Pho and he informed us that it was closed. As we walked away, I wondered if the black shirt comment had been a ploy to try and convince us that we needed him to take us somewhere to buy black clothing. Regardless, we passed on and arrived at Wat Pho - very much open.
We wandered in Wat Pho for quite awhile. There was so much to see here. The whole space felt more open, cluttered, and less kept up than the Grand Palace, but still beautiful and exquisite. More casual - perhaps that's the best way to describe it. We saw the Reclining Buddha here, among many other things.
When we'd finished at Wat Pho we'd originally intended to cross the river to Wat Arun. However, I'd been feeling off all day as we'd wandered. I think I must have eaten something that didn't agree from me (surprising to do that almost right away upon arrival!). I'd been neither hungry or thirsty despite the heat and our walking about. Point is, we'd finally decided that maybe it would be a good idea for us to head back to the hotel. Unfortunately, upon reaching the boat terminal, for some reason (perhaps construction?) we needed to cross the river to Wat Arun and catch a boat from there. We caught a boat going across the river and then found the new dock where we could supposedly catch a boat up to the terminal near our hotel. Taking pictures and wandering a little too far from each other to easily communicate, we just missed the boat that was leaving for our terminal. But then the next boat for our terminal was a different price. And then the following one was too full. After we'd waited between thirty and forty minutes we decided that despite my feeling crummy, we'd just walk back to the hotel. It wasn't a short walk, but it wasn't too long either.
And so we made it back to the hotel! I believe we all slept for most of the late afternoon/early evening. I was still feeling pretty gross, but finally got around to taking some Pepto Bismol. I should have taken it long before then, but I'd forgotten. Around this time we decided to try and go down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I came for awhile, but ended up returning to the room until near the end of the meal. This evening began my travel appropriate love of Coke. As in, I drank more Coke in the space of two weeks than I probably do in six months to a year. Coke helped to settle things down a little and Brandon went out and bought a popsicle for me at the nearest 7-Eleven. Best husband ever. ;)
On that note, 7-Elevens are a major thing in Thailand. Seriously. They were everywhere. We couldn't walk down a street or turn a corner without running into one. Which was just as well, as they were an ideal source for cheap Coke, popsicles, and ice cream.