Bangkok tour part 1 - Of temples and taxis
Bangkok has built itself a reputation over the years as a holiday destination, although not necessarily one of being a place to take the family. But for a short city break, Thailand's capital offers plenty of attractions.
To get the best from this city requires pounding the streets, walking through the bustling crowds and, to an extent, ignoring the pollution.
With cars, motorbikes, buses and lorries chocking Bangkok's air, it is a polluted city, and in some parts, smells of sewerage too. Which admittedly doesn't paint a pretty picture of this wonderful destination.
Bangkok though has some truly amazing sights and enough to satisfy just about every type of tourist. We approached it as a family holiday, wanting to take young children to the many attractions on offer.
The city has over 400 temples (Wat, in Thai). Many are small and not worth the effort of visiting, but there are several which cannot be missed. Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River which carves through Bangkok, is an absolute must. Rising to around 80 metres in height in some parts, the Temple easily has plenty to offer for several hours.
Steep steps of Wat Arun
One of the elements to Wat Arun that we enjoyed is that, with its steep steps, which get steeper the higher you climb, the central 'prang' of the temple has an almost interactive feel. Climb to the highest allowable point, which means negotiating tall, steep steps so vertical it is like climbing a ladder, and you get a fantastic view of the city.
Wat Arun dominates the skyline in its locality and is worth taking time over visiting, to experience the little, unexpected gems it has to offer. There are plenty of monks onsite, some offering prayer, others anointing people with water, but we found them to be friendly and with children around, always willing - and at times eager - to have their photographs taken.
Just on the other side of the river is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. There is a river boat crossing or alternatively, jump in a taxi. The Grand Palace is huge. A tour or the palace will incorporate Wat Phra Kaew which is also onsite. Here you will find the Emerald Buddah, one of Thailand's most famous Buddah statues.
If going to the Grand Palace, get there early, particularly when the weather is hot, as like Wat Arun, the visit is almost entirely outside, with little shade. Entrance to the Grand Palace closes at 3.30pm and there is a strict dress code. Visitors are expected to wear modest clothes and knee-length shorts on either men and women will not be accepted. Nor will a pashmina to cover a singlet top, so best to wear trousers or long shorts and a t-shirt with a decent length sleeve or a shirt.
If your clothes are deemed unacceptable, for a Baht200 deposit, appropriate clothes will be given to you onsite. Don't hire clothes from shops opposite the site, as unlike the Grand Palace they won't return your money upon leaving.
Again, set aside several hours for the Grand Palace and enjoy the wonderful architecture on view.
On leaving the Grand Palace, tourists are likely to encounter one of the most annoying elements of Bangkok - taxi drivers trying to take you for the wrong kind of ride. All legal taxis in Bangkok are metered and very cheap.
But outside many major tourist attractions, drivers will claim their metre is not working or simply refuse to turn them on, and then demand more than triple the actual cost of getting to where ever you have asked to go. Alternatively, they will refuse to take you to your chosen place, instead insisting that they take you 'shopping'.
The authorities know these scams happen, but little is done to prevent it. Outside the Grand Palace we spoke to an official who told us not to take any of the queuing taxis and instead walk down the street, but with children in tow this is not always practical. Our first trip to the Palace (we arrived after 3.30pm) took six taxis before we finally found one prepared to drive on his meter.
On our next trip we jumped in a taxi that was dropping off other tourists, and although he tried to demand more money, he put up no resistance when we pointed to his working meter.
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