July 18, 2018
Being a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Filipino passport holders can travel across borders of any South East Asian nation without the need for a visa. There are, of course, limitations especially on the lengths of stay. It was for this reason that most Philippine passport holders choose our South East Asian neighbors as their stepping stones in their international travels.
With this perk in mind, my friends and I booked tickets to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand; Cebu Pacific’s promos can be irresistible sometimes. On a day when the clouds are downcast, Ziv, Joy and I found ourselves on an airplane flying to mainland Asia. Although this was not my first international flight, it was my first travel to a South East Asian country. Ziv and Joy have previously traveled to various parts of South East Asia. I was no stranger to airplane flights but the length of the flight again made me anxious. Thankfully, I had two friends with me in the flight.
We nearly didn’t make it to our flight. When we lined up at the migration gates, long queues have already formed. Migration officers were slower than usual. I am not sure what caused the sluggishness but migration officers were certainly taking their time, to the detriment of the passengers. They were oblivious of the long queues until one passenger voiced out her frustration on the slow process. After that, the lines moved quicker and we made it to our flight. It was a good thing as we didn’t allot an allowance for a delay such as the one we just experienced.
Nearly four hours after taking off from Manila, we landed on Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. The feeling of touching down on a new land, especially a foreign country, is always exhilarating. Despite the bleak weather, the sensation never gets old. After passing through the obligatory migration checks, we were on our way to our accommodation. It was nearly lunch time when we checked in; not really since we were using Air BNB. Since our host wasn’t around yet, we left our things at what would be our accommodation and went out to have lunch.
There was a mall within a walking distance, with a food court that was already teeming with lunchtime buzz. It was our first meal in Thailand and since I didn’t want to upset my stomach early in our adventure, I opted for familiar alternatives. One thing that I did notice is that there were no security guards at the entrance of the mall. This would be the same in the other malls Bangkok. There were no security guards checking each entrant in South Korea as well. Thoughts rushed through my mind and made me ask why nearly all buildings in the Philippines employ security guards. Oh well.
We then proceeded to our first destination: the Thai Grand Palace. It was located over an hour away from our accommodation that I nearly dozed off in the cab. On the way to the palace, I made my observations. The first impression I had was that Bangkok felt and looked a lot like Manila. The view, and the people looked too familiar yet unfamiliar. That is until you hear the citizens talk, or notice the foreign letterings in the billboards, or see that the cars were driving on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car.
As we were nearing the royal grounds, the towering spires emerged. They ostentatiously soared above the Bangkok skyline and were not hard to notice. When we arrived, the Palace ground was already teeming with fellow tourists. Despite it being a weekday, busloads of tourists were making their way into the palace. It was not surprising; after all, it is a popular and must-see destination when one drops by Bangkok.
Before one is allowed to enter the royal grounds, one must pay an entrance fee of ฿500. Please note that there is a strict dress code which tourists must adhere to. Anyone wearing shorts, mini-skirts, tight-fitting trousers, any see-through items of clothing, sleeveless tops, sandals, sweatshirts, sweatpants, and pajamas are barred from entering the royal grounds. There is, however, a shop where visitors can rent or purchase shawls to cover exposed parts of the body. Whilst underdressing is common in tropical nations because of the warm weather, overdressing is advisable for tourists wanting to enter the Grand Palace.
Like Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Grand Palace is a complex of buildings covering a vast area in the heart of the Thai capital. Construction of the palace began in 1782; it has served as the official residence of the Thai monarchy since then. However, since 1925, no members of the royal family has resided in the palace. Currently, it is still being used as a center for royal ceremonies while doubling as a museum and a tourist attraction.
When we finally entered the Royal Grounds, we were surprised by a diverse crowd of Asians, Europeans, and Americans, with everyone trying to cover as much ground as they can. The palace was already breathtaking from the outside, but it was even more so inside. Three major zones comprise the Grand Palace grounds – the Outer, Middle and Inner Courts. We spent most of our time in the Outer Court as it has the most accessible structures. There were some buildings, especially in the Inner court, that were off-limits to visitors.
It isn’t difficult to appreciate the architecture, which, although predominantly Thai, was fused with Western influences. The amount of work put in to the intricate details of each piece was astounding. Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of the highlights of a Royal Palace tour. It is also considered as one of the most important temples in Thailand as it houses the famed Emerald Buddha. However, due to the crowd that flocked to the temple, we opted to just appreciate it from the outside. Accenting the royal ground are sculptures of mythical creatures.
The Middle Court is the largest part of the royal palace grounds, where the Phra Maha Monthien group of buildings is situated. It is an important set of buildings as all royal coronations since King Rama II (1809-1824) were performed here. Whilst we appreciate the designs and the details, we were not able to fully drink in the idyllic view because of the crowd. We, being averse to crowds, were in a rush to get out of the crowd. We slowed down when we reached Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat. It was, for me, one of the most imposing structures although it had more Western influences compared to the other buildings.
We were relieved when we reached the exit. There was a riverside market near the palace so we cooled down there whilst looking for other places to explore. Within a walking distance of the Royal Palace is another famous Bangkok destination – Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha). As it was getting late in the afternoon, we proceeded to the temple. It was also crowded but not as crowded as the Royal Palace. The highlight, of course, is the giant Reclining Buddha but the complex has other parts which are open to the public for exploration.
As we had ample time, and we already gave up on the idea of visiting another temple across the river, we explored the temple grounds. It was a mini-version of the grand palace, sans the Western influences that were more pronounced in the the royal buildings. On one of the buildings, I saw monks entering to perform a ceremony. The complex was also accented with Buddha sculptures and statues.
With the darkness slowly unfolding and our accommodation located quite far from the city center, we started our long ride back. It was, to say the least, a royal and grand welcome to Bangkok. Day one was great but more adventures awaited in the following days.