What I learnt, ate and experienced.
A Wat in South-East Asia is a Buddhist monastery or temple. Thailand has some of the most inspiring and grand Wats of them all. I began my Wat hopping in Bangkok.
Bangkok is a crowded, intense city. I was overwhelmed by it.
We reached Bangkok early morning at 5 am Thai time. We headed straight to the Visa-on -arrival counter at the airport. There was much confusion because there were separate counters for FOREIGN PASSPORT and Domestic Passport, and we were waiting in the Foreign passport counter until we saw a rowdy gang from India heading to a path discreetly marked Visa-on-arrival.
1. Things needed for Visa-on-arrival at Thailand:
Visa-on-arrival can be a hassle, so this is what you need to know and have with you-
- Requisite 1000 Baht per head as visa fees, although some places it says it is 2000 Baht.
- A sum of 20,000 Baht per family, or 10,000 Baht per individual must be shown at the counter as proof of enough cash to be able to spend within the country.
- Submitting the arrival card: The flight attendants will distribute an arrival and a departure card to you while in the flight. You need to fill them out, and produce them in the visa-on-arrival counter.
Tip: Remember to keep the DEPARTURE card safely with you till the end of the trip, as you will need it to fly out of Thailand. In case you lose it, you can simply ask a new form in the airport( but better to keep it safe with you to lessen end-minute hassles).
4. You need to produce return tickets and accommodation details for all the days you will be traveling within Thailand.
(For more details, read up the visa rules in the Thai Embassy website)
Next, we headed out the immigration counters after showing our visa-on-arrival and getting the immigration stamp in our passport.
2. Travel to accommodation:
We had booked an AirBnB room with our host Evan. The room was near to Lumphini park, and we got into a taxi from the airport. We were sorely disappointed that Uber was not available in Bangkok.
Tip 1: Thais expect a tip for almost every service they provide. We had to pay a 50 baht tip to our taxi driver, over and above the bill of 350 baht to our room. You have to be smart to dodge tipping effectively sometimes.
Tip 2: If you are in a hurry to reach your hotel or any destination in Bangkok and you are traveling by a taxi, you can take the tollways. There are many tollways and they are a bit expensive, but since there is no traffic in the tollway, and the normal roads are clogged with traffic in the heat of Bangkok, it is more comfortable to take a tollway if you are in a hurry.
We had contacted our host Evan in advance on Airbnb, and from his descriptions of himself we immediately spotted him on the lanes near his home, jogging with his 3 Siberian husky dogs. Our room was pretty basic and comfortable. The only thing missing in the bathroom there for an Indian was a balti(bucket )for water. Funny that I missed a bucket of all the things in the bathroom.
After a quick shower and a few hour’s worth of sleep, at around 12 pm we started from our room to explore Bangkok in all its glory. But first, we need to talk about our breakfast.
BREAKFAST: The food in Thailand is well, really spicy. For foreigners they usually tone it down in restaurants. But I always prefer to eat local when in a new place to absorb the culture and native food of the land.
We wandered off to a side lane near the big hotels in our area, and happened on this small, nondescript restaurant with no boards.
Hint of a big problem here: Language! Considering that Thailand has been a tourist hub for almost a decade with backpackers traveling through the beaten tracks of this country, I expected Thais to be able to converse in English to meet the demand of the tourism in their profession. Alas !
Most of the Thais can’t understand or speak in English. The few that can, talk in a way that it took me a while to decode it.
Let’s learn Thai English-
Rule 1: Remove the last consonant sound from any word. So when you want the way to the Beach, ask them “Way to Beeee?”(with added stress on the eee).
Exception: Like all grammar rules, here are some exceptions. For example, when you ask anything to a Thai selling something, and they can’t give it you for less or don’t have it, they all answer the same thing- “NO HAPP”. After two days of hearing this line, I decoded that it means “No have,” meaning they either don’t have what you are asking, or can’t give it you at a lesser price. Thai English is the cutest form of English ever!
Back to my breakfast. So I tried asking the shopkeeper about all the enticing food on display. Since he was bewildered and obviously in discomfort, I shrugged peacefully. He took it as a sign, and proceeded to put rice on a clean plate, and pointed to the curries. I guessed, and took whatever I liked to my fancy. Since I am from Assam in India, where we do eat Bamboo shoot, I could recognise this curry and asked for it, and well it was spicy.
Now pics of the food.
After this sumptuous breakfast, we embarked on our journey to the famous Wats, Buddhist temples in Bangkok. Our host had printed out a few sheets of instructions with helpful things like how to move around in Bangkok, where do locals eat, and what do people do in Bangkok. Using his elaborate tips to reach the Wats, we zoomed in one of the bike taxis famous in Thailand.
5. Modes of transport in Bangkok:
- Tuktuks: They loot your wallet. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to experience it, you can ride it once and take pics. After all, they are an iconic symbol of Bangkok. I hated them so much, I didn’t even take a pic of them
- Taxi: Same as everywhere. Insist on metre, and tell them the exact location, or they will make a fool out of you.
- BTS and MRT : The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) or Skytrain is the elevated transit train system, whereas the MRT(Metropolitan Rapid Transit) is the underground train systems. Both are fast, effective and cover Bangkok widely and are reasonably priced. I got a deep insight into the people of Bangkok during my travel in these trains. Heavily made-up and fashionable young people addicted to their smart phones are a common sight. It made me wonder that almost all the capitals have their fare share of consumerist population. Heavy advertising of fairness cream for both men and women are another common sight in these trains. Asia is obsessed with fairness, sigh!
- River transport(My favourite): The long tail boats and public cruises on Chao Phraya, the beautiful river flowing through Bangkok are an important and must-experience transport system. The scenic quaint little dwellings to the high-rise skyscrappers of Bangkok, you can see it all on a cruise down this river. Early mornings and sunsets are the best time to travel in the river.
- Bike taxi(My favourite): They are affordable and fun. And they can sit two people in pillion. I don’t know if its legal, but bike taxis did triple pillion for us all the time.
Back to the story,
We took a bike taxi to our nearest cruise station in Chao Phraya river. It cost us 80 baht only.
We asked for tickets to Wat Pho and were given two orange line tickets. The good thing is all the major Wats are in a cluster, so you can cover all of them in the same day- Grand palace, Wat Pho(Reclining Buddha temple) and Wat Arun.
The river cruise was extremely pleasant and peaceful despite the heat. I spent most of the time people gazing and taking pictures of the scenic views from the boat.
6. WATS (Temples)
We landed on the west bank of the river, onto the pier of Wat Arun, also called the “Temple of Dawn” owing to the fact that the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple. The temple was named after the Hindu god Aruna, personified as the radiations of the rising sun.
This temple has a beautiful architecture. I liked the central Pagoda which was encrusted with blue porcelain(my favourite kind of ceramic.)
There are wishing bells in the lawn outside, where people write messages in bells and hang them from a stand.
We then moved to the pier from which we can take a boat for just 2 Baht to the opposite bank of the river, where the Grand Palace and Wat Pho are located.
As soon as we reached the Grand Palace grounds, we realised it was closed because Grand Palace closes at 3pm sharp, and we reached there at 4pm. Also if you are planning to visit Grand Palace which was the official residence of the Thai King until the recent times, you must wear full sleeved clothes and long pants(for boys), and long skirts(for girls). But you can easily rent or buy clothes from shops nearby in case you are not dressed according to their entry rules.
We next went to the nearby complex of Wat Pho which is famous for the golden reclining Buddha.
I enjoyed Wat Pho because of its serenity and beautiful architecture. The reclining Golden Buddha is the much visited tourist attraction in Bangkok, and very rightly so. There were so many tourists vouching for selfies with the Buddha in all angles and poses that I hardly found the peace that I thought I will find with the Buddha in his relaxed posture.
There are 108 bronze bowls on the opposite corridor representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People usually drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and also as a donation for the maintenance of the temple.
This Wat complex has ancient educational inscriptions on the walls and ceilings ranging on subjects like traditional Thai massage, medicine, history, architecture, mathematics, and Buddhism. There is a traditional Thai massage centre where you can have authentic temple massage(without winks) at reasonable rates. I was so caught up with the beauty of the gardens and adjoining complex that I thought to give the massage a miss.
After much strolling and enjoying in the evening breeze we came out happy and starved.
Next was time for some drinks. You will be very dehydrated and thirsty in Thailand. But worry not, because Thai tender coconuts are the most delicious and healthy drink ever. They are a bit costly, at 50Baht anywhere you see them in the country. But worth every penny.
Let me end this travel diary entry with this lovely tender coconut.
For most of you who have heard of Bangkok must be familiar with the name of Khao San Road. This area is famous for expatriates and digital nomads who are traveling and make it their base for months at end. I wanted to check out what all the hype was about.
Next I will be writing about the famous Khao San road, and the famed Thai massage. Hopefully you liked this one, and will be reading the following posts too.
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