Banglamphu is the cultural center of Bangkok, where you will find that tourist Meecca, Khaosan Rd. Okay, just kidding. No, I mean you will find Khaosan Rd there, but the tourist Mecca is really the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (reclining Buddha temple) Wat Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha temple), Giant Swing, etc.
Sunday morning was a bright, warm time to go the Grand Palace/Wat Kaeo compound for some standard tourist shots, as above, a short walk from my hotel. Along the way, a multitude of "tour guides" and tuk-tuk drivers informed me that a) the palace is closed today for special ceremonies, come with me to the Lucky Buddha temple; b) it's only open after 1 PM to tourists, come with me to the Lucky Buddha temple in the meantime; or c) you must wear long pants, you can rent them free but only after 1:30 PM, come with me to the Lucky Buddha ...
Don't listen to these guys, they are hucksters and scam artists--they are right about one thing, though: you have to wear long pants to get into the Grand Palace compound. However, you can leave a 200 Baht deposit for free rental of one size fits all long pants--anytime the palace is open to visitors. You can see mine were a stylish browny-green. Some detail shots:
One of the things I remember best from my childhood visits to the palace was the acres and acres of wall murals telling the history of Thailand. Giant elephants, spirit gods and monkey kings mingled with real kings and human warriors in those ancient days, so it's as much mythology as history.
After getting my full of gold-gilt spires and magic warriors, I took a quick tuk-tuk ride due south to Pak Klong Talad, the flower market in Chinatown, right on the river.
After that, a bit of pig's knuckles from a street stall for a late lunch. This meal was 35 Bt, about USD 1!
I went back to the hotel and took a nap before my final evening in the city--the next morning was to be a long bus ride to Koh Chang along the east coast, about six hours. I arranged for a dinner cruise along the Chao Praya River; both the lonely Planet guide and the hotel recommended the Wan Fah cruise, at 1200 Bt ($40) a little less pricey than some of the others. The boat departs from the River City pier at 7:00 so I ordered up a taxi at 6:15 for the 20 minute ride. If you know me, you know I hate to be on time, I like being early.
Well, the driver assured both the hotel clerk and me that he knew where to go, and proceeded to take me to two places completely unconnected to the river. Via hand gestures and some forceful pidgin, I made him understand I was going on a dinner cruise--river, boat, eat--so he took me to some effing dead end street. Meanwhile I'm watching the fare rise, the time tick away, and my mental state achieve a mix of apoplexy and catatonia.
Finally, at 6:57 he pulls into the Sheraton Hotel, where I can see the River City complex next door. I curse his grandchildren, toss him some money and race toward the pier. 6:59 I can see a riverboat whose roof is emblazoned with "Wan Fah Cruises"--looking very elegant. I breath a sigh of relief, realizing that this is Thailand: hell, the damn thing will leave ten minutes late, at least. Just as I arrive at the Wan Fah counter, the boat starts to drift away! I can't believe it!
Fortunately, the counter rep had a walkie-talkie and got the boat to pull in at the next pier to take me on board. I looked at my watch significantly:7:02. In Korea, I would understand, but this is Thailand, for St. Christopher's sake!
Unfortunately, most of my photos came out very poorly, but here's my review of the Wan Fah dinner cruise: good. They have two menu choices, Thai and seafood. I chose Thai, which began with spring rolls, then a spicy prawn soup. The main course had four dishes: steamed veg with prawns, red curry rice, chicken in massaman curry, and fried fish in sweet and sour sauce. These were all fine except for the fish, which was so drenched in sauce it wasn't recognisable as fish. Desert was a fresh fruit plate with some tasty Thai candies--yummy.
After dinner, the boat turns around and heads back south, and the entertainment begins, which is a sampler of traditional Thai dance. A few pics:
The cruise returns to River City a few minutes ahead of schedule. The day began with unscrupulous tourist ripper-offers, and alas, ends with them as well. I showed the first cabbie that met me my hotel card, he said "300 Baht." I said, "You're crazy, it's 60 Baht!" "300 Baht!" "I'm not paying you 300 Baht for a 60 Baht cab ride," I said. I walked to the next guy. "We will all charge 300." "Meter," I said. "Who will go by meter?"
Turns out none of them would. "Fine," I told him, "I'm not paying you 300 fucking Baht for a 60 Baht ride. I'll just walk a couple blocks until I see a taxi who will go by meter."
About this time a cab comes along not part of the River City rip-off clique. I say to him, "Meter!" as I give him my hotel card. The other driver starts to talk to him, and I get pissed. "You shut up!" I say. He does.