Malaysia and Thailand are neighboring countries that can easily be reached by land transportation. I was in the island of Penang last May and I decided to spend a few days in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. We are staying in Palau, Penang at Hotel Equatorial and we asked the hotel staff to drop us off at Butterworth Station. From Butterworth we took Thailand’s International Express train to Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station.
The train left at 14:30 and scheduled to arrive the following day at 10:30. This train runs this direction only once a day, so make sure to secure your reservations. On the train, it was a smooth ride for us but overall, there were a lot of things needing improvement to make this ride a comfortable experience. When we entered the train, the first thing I noticed are the dirty seats. This is a second class sleeper train and no doubt offering only second-class services and amenities. The seats are dirty, and these same seats are transformed as beds at night. Dirty seats with blasting air conditioner – that no matter how meticulously I scrub off the dirt, they wouldn’t come off. When the attendant prepared the beds, it was a happy consolation that they have bed sheets that look like they were washed. If not, I can’t imagine how anyone can sleep here and actually pay for it.
It was nearing dusk when we reached the Malaysia and Thailand border where we all need to get off for immigration. After that, the whole ride took us to rural Thailand with views of rice paddies, industrial sites, and empty fields.
Riding this train for convenience sake is recommended but don’t expect comfort. For its price, you get to your destination as promised but don’t expect anything fancy. And for the record, you have been warned.
For me, this is the ultimate must-see place in Bangkok. Never mind the extreme heat or the great possibility of being deceived by scam artists that roam around the palace gates looking for unknowing tourists as victims. This is the one place in Bangkok that is worth everyone’s time.
The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok. It was established in 1782 during King Rama I reign. Succeeding Kings erected additional structures and complexes. For many years, it has been the home of the King and his court, and the center of government. It ceased to be the residence of the King in 1925 but until today continues to be the venue of some official ceremonies. It remains the seat of power and the heart of the Thai Kingdom. We went there by taxi from our condominium in Chong Nonsi, Yan Nawa District, in Bangkok and reached the place in about 40 minutes.
They say that the biggest scam to watch out for in the Grand Palace are fraudsters that will try to talk you out of entering the palace by saying that the palace is closed. We were in Bangkok days before the declaration of Martial Law but even with the political tension, the palace is open. We chatted with a few tourists who almost fell for that trap. I learned that in Bangkok, if someone approach you offering something, the best way to do is to simply walk away. It’s dangerous to look lost in the streets of Bangkok because you might end up shelling out huge amounts of money for services or things you don’t really need. So be very careful.
The Grand Palace complex is rectangular in shape and easily navigable by walking. Compared to the Forbidden City in Beijing, this is smaller and can easily be explored in about 2 hours. Whereas it took us 4 hours to move from the Northern and Southern gates of the Forbidden City.
The approach from the ticket gate takes you to the Upper Terrace where a reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi, those pointed dome structures welcome you.
Interestingly, a miniature Angkor Wat crafted by the Order of King Mongkut (Rama IV) is also within this terrace.
Divided in quarters, the Grand Palace houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within its walls.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)
The Emerald Buddha is the palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand, which makes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The temple is located adjacent to the Upper terrace where the golden chedis are. The temple requires visitors to dress appropriately and to remove footwear when entering the pavilion. Taking a picture of the Emerald Buddha is also prohibited.
At 45 cm tall, clothed in gold, and kept in an altar, the Emerald Buddha looks magnificent although visitors and patrons can only look and pray from afar.
Entrance to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is 400 Baht. Other attractions inside the palace are the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which shows the Queen’s gowns and silk and textiles livelihood project in the provinces of Thailand, and the galleries, where the walls are painted with scenes of ancient times.