Museums in Bangkok

Suan Pakkad Palace Museum

In 1952 H.R.H. Prince Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, son of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, Rama V and Her Majesty Queen Sukhumala Marasri converted their private home and antique collection to a Museum.  Really the prince wanted to be a musician, so the more modern portion of the museum includes musical instruments, and you can buy the scores or CDs of the music he composed

The museum consists of  eight traditional Thai houses, surrounded with a well tended tropical garden with pools and fountains.  Each of the buildings is filled with archaeological treasures, arts, and antiques, many belonging to the Prince and Princess.  A modern building was added  in 1969 as the entrance, office, and to exhibit prehistorical artifacts.  Unfortunately there were NO PHOTOS ALLOWED of the exhibits – just a few pictures of the outside.

Suan Pakkad Palace house
Like many houses in Bangkok, the primary living area is on the second floor. They are working to control the frequent floods.

Gold on Lacquer
I don’t know how we managed to get this photo of gold on lacquer

Moving On

Like so many places we have been in Southeast Asia, we are shocked at the state of the communications wiring

Phone wires
Yes I am tall, but I don’t normally have to duck under the phone wires.
phone wires
The phone poles, not far above the street (previous picture) are just as bad.

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson was an American Architect, born in Delaware in 1906.  He served in the US Army in Europe in World War II, then was sent to Asia.  The war ended before he saw action, but he was sent to Thailand as a military officer, and fell in love with the country.  After leaving the service he relocated to Bangkok.

His home consisted of 6 historical Thai houses, living quarters on the upper floor, some disassembled and moved from long distances.  Following local traditions, astrologers determined that a spring day in 1959 was auspicious, and he moved in.  His collection of antique art was so noteworthy that he often opened his house to the public with the proceeds going to Thai charities.

Jim Thompson House
Once again, no photos from inside, but looking from the patio we could see a tour group going through the house
Jim Thompson House
One of the other rooms we could see from the patio, thus could photograph.

On March 26, 1967 Jim Thompson disappeared on a visit to the Malaysian highlands, without leaving a clue.  In 1976 the court appointed administrator established a foundation to support his house and work.

One of Thompson’s major contributions to Thailand was the development and promotion of the silk industry, moving it from a cottage industry to a major international status.

How do you unwind the half mile or so of thin silk from a cocoon (that took the silk worm 3 days to spin)?   They had a live demonstration.

Silk cocoons
Start with 100 or more cocoons in a pot of water, and put it on a fire – here some twigs fanned by the worker.  As the water heats, stir with the forked stick waiting near the pot.
silk boiling
As the water starts to boil, the silk starts to unwind and catches on the stirring stick.
Unwinding silk
The individual silk strands are too fine to use so as you can pull a group of 5-10 strands, bring it up through the hole in the board above the pot.
silk thread
The 5-10 ply silk thread goes round the wheel to allow the operator to pull the string into the basket behind him, but keep the thread coming straight up from the pot. If a cocoon comes up before it is unwound, it is simply knocked back in the pot. If the thread becomes too thin, another piece is added. We didn’t wait to time the total process but I bet it was about a half hour to unwind all 100+ cocoons into 5-10 ply thread in the basket.

Chinatown

We walked through Bangkok’s Chinatown.  The part we saw was much more a wholesale market of imports than a tourist destination, but still interesting.  It was soon after the Chinese new year, so lots of lanterns.

Chinatown school
We passed this elementary school – classes in process
The market was more commercial than retail, but Jenny still played tourist

The Kingdom

No question that Thailand is a kingdom.  It is illegal to criticize or make jokes of the royal family.  In many places he is honored, such as this 3 story tall homage  at one of the malls.

Thai King
This picture was taken from the train. To put the size in perspective, see the entrance doors to the mass just to the left of the picture.

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Bangkok Temples

There are 26,000 Buddhist temples (wats) in Thailand.  Relax… we only visited a few.

Grand Palace

This is considered a must-see temple including the Emerald Buddha.  It was  the royal residence many years ago; it is still used for some government ceremonies.  We didn’t see it.  After an interminable wait outside (some official activity was happening) a truckload of military guards drove out.  Most of the guards were using their smart phone to take pictures of the tourists waiting outside.

Grand Palace
Outside of the Grand Palace

When we finally got to the head of the ticket line, the ticket price was 1,000 baht ($15 each, 5-10 times the price of most temples. )  We were a few Baht short, they would not accept credit cards or other currency, and there was no ATM in the area.  By the time we found an ATM, we were at Wat Pho (100 baht, US$3), and didn’t feel the need to go back to the Grand Palace.

Wat Pho

The official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn (rolls right off the tip or your tongue, doesn’t it). (Ok, in Thai it is easier: วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลารามราชวรมหาวิหาร .) Or if you don’t want to simply say Wat Pho, you can say “Temple of the reclining Buddha.” So big that it has it’s own building.  Check out their web site.

Reclining Buddha
They don’t mess around. This gold plated Buddha is 150 feet (45 meters) long and 50 feet high.
Buddha head
Despite it’s size, it seems to have a friendly face. The hair is in tight curls.

Although the Reclining Buddha is a primary attraction, this is also a major  22 acre complex, and a public “learning center” that is considered Thailand’s first university.  It served as a medical teaching center in the mid-19th century before the advent of modern medicine, and the temple remains a center for traditional medicine today (including Herbal Pharmacy, Midwife Nurse, and Thai Massage).

Wat Pho
Aerial view of Wat Pho from their web site. To the right of the dividing street is the residence area for about 1,000 monks; the public area is the left half.  The large building on the far left with columns and blue roof houses the reclining Buddha.

Numerous huge stone guards protect the gates between sections

Wat Pho Guard
These guards don’t move much
Stone guard
These stone guards are very large… that is Jenny standing at the base of one of the smaller stone guards
Building detail
The decoration of the buildings was amazing

Tower

Detail of the 20 large Phra Chedi Rai

Phra Prang
At the four corners are these marble towers, Phra Prang, with statues of the guardian divinities of the Four Cardinal Points
Large Phra Chedi Rai
There are four groups of five large Phra Chedi Rai that contain relics of Buddha. (The name of the pointy structures will not be on the test)
Smaller Chedi
There are 71 smaller (5 meters tall) chedis, that contain the ashes of the royal family
More of the 71 Chedi
More of the 71 Chedi. I guess we visit cemeteries in many countries, but none like this.
400 golden Buddha
Some of the 400 Buddha figures (chosen from 1200 collected by an earlier king) that are on display in the cloisters.
huge golden buddha
Although this is primarily a tourist and teaching area, it is also used by the faithful. — note the size of the person praying here

Wat Kalawa

Sometimes called Holy Rosary Church, is on the East bank of the river, south of Wat Pho.  It is an interesting parish church and school.  We were greeted by the celebrant, who spoke to us quite fluently in English, even though we were attending a Thai language Mass.  The last third of his sermon was in English, and when he served us communion, he did so in English.  The church liturgical colors had just changed from green to purple for lent, but he was still wearing his lime green athletic shoes.

Holy Rosary was a lovely small church on the east side of the river

It is hard to find the church – it seems a series of alleys to their parking lot, but no walking access to the path along the river, etc.  (I guess if you are Catholic in Thailand, you are such  a minority (0.46% of the population) you would know the way).  A local saw us searching, and walked us all the way to the church, even though I did not see him at the church service… it appears to have been a random act of kindness.

Wat Arun

This “Temple of Dawn” is on the other (west) side of the river from Wat Pho.  We gladly paid the 50 Baht ($1.50) admission (not like the 500 Baht of the Grand Palace. )

Wat Arun Tower
There were a number of elegant towers at Wat Aron, quite huge – note Jenny part up to the the first landing of the tower.
Wat Arun Tower Stairs
If you are into climbing to heights at tourist attractions, there is an opportunity here. We did not go to the top
Wat Arun Tower
The stairs above go about half way up the tower, and a number of tourists make the climb.
WA decorations
The decorations are very ornate
Dinner plates
But sometimes when I look closely, I think I see shards of dinner plates
Wat Arun Gold Buddha
Of course this is a Buddhist temple, … note the Buddha figures on the temple wall behind the gold Buddha
Wat Arun
This temple is much more than just a climbing tower
Wat Arun Tower
Not all the Wat Arun towers were for climbing
Wat Arun
Some were just beautiful

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Bangkok Floating Market

We took a half day tour (1,000 bht each, about $32) with a pick up and return to our hotel, and a van ride to the railroad market and one of the floating markets, followed by a “long tail boat” ride through the local village.  After we got home, I discovered there are four major floating markets – I think I have identified the one we visited as Damneon Saduak

But what is a long tail boat?  Think James Bond movie – a fast, narrow boat with an automobile-type engine on a pivot mount beside the driver.  The engine drives a long shaft that has a propeller, well behind the boat.  The driver raises and lowers the propeller, and pivots the engine itself to steer the boat.

Long Tail Boat
This picture of a long tail boat was on the main river. Our boat, which typically takes 4-6 passengers, was on a small canal from the market to the village, and our ride was very sedate, but I saw many similar boats flying up and down the river, with some on-line reviews of a frightening ride.

The floating market is two things… vendors on the sides of a river or canal, selling to people in boats, and vendors in boats, selling to people on the side of the canal.  Many tourists chose to ride a “paddle boat” which is simply a boat with 4-8 passengers, paddled through the market, most often by a lady.

This is early – by mid-day the river/canal was solid boats
Floating market
This vendor was peeling and slicing fruit to sell to tourists
Coconut ice cream
A favorite purchase was “coconut ice cream.” Some coconut shavings were scraped from the wall of a hollow coconut, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream was added

Never let the opportunity pass to take money from a tourist.  Wouldn’t you like to pet a snake, or have your picture taken with one around your neck?

snakes
We can even color code the snake to your outfit… brown or yellow – you choose.
snake vendor
If I don’t get enough business just sitting under the bridge, I will bring my snakes to you

Our long tail boat ride was from the market through the nearby village

Long tail boat ride
Jenny and I were in the front of one boat, passing locals in a separate boat – which was clearly the preferred means of transit in this area.
home
This area was not part of the tourist market – it may have just been a home
ahrine
Smaller temples or shrines were very common

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Bangkok Train Market

I really didn’t know what to expect, but we “had to see” the train market.

The train market is a regular market, but located on a train track.  The train comes through several time each day, and the vendors must pull their goods back from the track to allow the train through.

train market
Yes, this is a railroad track through town
train market
The train is coming.  Note the display shelves on the left behind the red line can roll forward to be next to the track, but are rolled back for the train.
train market vendor
This vendor offered to share his seat with us as the train went by (do we really look that old?). Note his merchandise is actually up against the train rails.
train market
The vendor who offered us a seat just back from the train covered his produce with towels
Train Market
That vendor knew exactly how high he could stack his produce.
train market
Finally the train passed.  It was a regular multi-car passenger train.  The vendor who offered us a seat, in the purple shirt, rushed to uncover his merchandise and reopen for business.
As soon as the train had passed, the market was back in business, with the tourists leading the way

I didn’t take a video (I should have) but I found this brief video on YouTube.

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Bangkok 2018

This part starts with an overview of the country and travels, but you can jump to

February 14-22 was our first big trip of 2018 – to Bangkok Thailand.  Why?  Because we had not been there.  It was highly recommended.  We know a couple people who retired to Thailand, so there must be something good!

Getting there … and back

Fairly routine flight Austin to Los Angeles (4 hours) then on to Tokyo Narita (12 hours), then change to Japan Airlines for another 7 1/2 hours to Bangkok, a total of 23 1/2 hours in the air over 30 hours home to hotel

JAL Business Class Seat
Most airlines have a complex seat configuration for business and first class seats … looks fancy but remarkably poor storage, and little chance for a couple to travel together – able to visit during the flight. JAL has a very interesting seat. Full lie flat sleeping, and convenient storage for everything. The configuration is 2-2-2 across, but it felt more roomy than the traditional 1-2-1 configuration, where seats are angled so that adjacent passenger’s heads are far apart.

The train between the airport and town only runs from 6 am to midnight, so we took a taxi.  Insist on using the meter (negotiated prices are usually twice as high as the meter), accept the toll road (you will be asked to pay the tolls), and the trip will take about a half hour with a total cost about US$15 (paid in their local currency).

The hotel arranged a taxi back to the airport for a flat fee of Bht 500 – approximately US$15.

Return from Bangkok to Tokyo was 6 hours on Japan Airlines, followed by 12 hours on American to Chicago, then almost 3 hours from Chicago to Austin.  21 hours in the air (rather than 23 1/2)  due to tail winds,  over 32 hours from hotel to home.

Getting Around

Bangkok has good public transit, sort of.  Too  many pieces, not all going directly where you want.  Bangkok is a city of 12 million people, spread out without a clear center or historical area.

There is an above ground BTS Skytrain “subway” with two lines.  Look at the map for where you plan to exit to determine the fare, then purchase a ticket (cashier or vending machine) for the amount of the fare you need.  Your ticket is returned as you enter, and when you leave, your ticket is retained.  We paid about US$0.50 to 1.50 depending on distance.

Nana BTS station
Not all the BTS stations had escalators from the ground to the ticket lobby. Nana station, closest to our hotel, had 46 steps up to the ticket area. From the ticket area to the trains there was an escalator.

There is an under ground MRT Subway with separate tickets and routes.  There were only a couple locations where transfers were physically practical, but separate systems with separate tickets. The MRT has a 50% discount for seniors but we never got to use it.  They are just starting to introduce a stored value ticket that can be used for both systems.

Taxis are widely available, but you can get stuck in traffic.  Insist on travel by meter.  One time we were offered a trip for 400 bht by two different taxis who refused to work by meter; the third taxi agreed to take us by meter, and it came to 180 bht ($6)

Motorcycle Taxis are common for short trips – drivers with orange vests and their license on their back are able to quickly negotiate between the often blocked traffic.  Reportedly a short trip starts at 10 bht (30 cents).  I saw a couple teenage girls come off the BTS and hop on a couple motorcycles and zoom off together. Another time I saw an older lady, carrying a shopping bag, hop on and go.

Motor Bike Taxi
We chose not to try this means of transportation, in formal queues on side streets and near stations.

TukTuk (3 wheel motorcycle based taxis) are widespread, but will try to talk you into a tour, rather than deliver you directly where you want to go.

Hotel Tuktuk
We only used the Hotel’s free TukTuk to take us to the BTS station. It was very conservative.
Tuktuk
The far more colorful TukTuks that are for hire on the street. Rates are reportedly similar to a regular taxi, and rarely a bargain, and the ride is far more exciting.

Many of the tourist attractions are on the Chao Phraya river that runs through town.  We often took two BTS trains to the  Saphan Taksin BTS station at  Tha Sathorn – the central pier.  From there the “blue flag” river boat ran to the dozen or so primary tourist stops to the north, every 30 minutes.  A single trip cost 50 bht ($1.60), an all-day pass was 130 bht ($4.20), with English speaking “conductors.”  The far more crowded orange, green, and yellow flag boats for the local commuters are  more frequent, much cheaper (I heard 17 bht) and not tourist friendly.

Architecture contrasts along the river
Along the river was this temple – I never found the name, but on the internet many people had noticed the contrast between the traditional temple, the brick clock tower at the right, and the glass skyscrapers behind it.
Chee Chin Khor Pagoda
Another contrast along the river – a Chinese style pagoda

What was this pagoda along the river?  Something historical?  No, it was opened in 2001, by the Chee Chin Khor Moral Uplifting Society.  One of many  charitable groups in Thailand that are dedicated to doing good, such as providing school lunches, disaster relief, and  providing the poor with rice, blankets, and coffins.  (Yes, coffins, that is not a typo).

Where to stay

We were advised to stay in the Siam area.  Remember that Thailand was called Siam until about 50 years ago.  But Siam is NOT pronounced SI-am as in “The King and I” on Broadway,  but is more like see-HAM.  Siam is a major transit hub, with huge shopping centers, but not close to any special tourist sights unless you are looking for shopping.

We found a very nice hotel at a reasonable price in the right area and booked it on-line.

Solitaiare Hotel under construction
When I checked Google Maps Street View, so I would recognize the hotel, I was shocked. Later I learned that the Google picture was 6 months old, and the hotel had only been open 3 months.

Out of fairness, this is the same “Solitaire Hotel” in finished condition, without construction barriers.  Eventually we learned that there are actually four buildings in the hotel, served by this one entrance.  The hotel facilities and service were absolutely outstanding,  Why haven’t we (or others we have talked to) heard of this hotel?  Perhaps because it is a chain based in India, rather than North America.

Solitaire Hotel

Solitaire Pool
Of course, a hotel in a tropical area has to have a pool. It was pretty nice, with a bar behind where the camera was located.  I “borrowed” this picture from the hotel since I didn’t take my camera to the pool.

We did stop at the Siam shopping centers, at the change point between the two BTS lines.  In front of the mall was a large bunny

Huge bunny in front of one of the malls
Huge bunny in front of one of the malls
Bunny feet
Yes, that is Jenny at the bunny’s feet.

Getting Around

The nearest large street was Sukhumvit, basically running east-west.  The streets running off a main street have the same street name but with a “Soi” number – odd to the north and even to the south.  Thus that large street becomes a de facto neighborhood name.  Just to make things interesting, not all the Soi (side streets) are straight or at right angles, and not all the numbers are used.  Sukhumvit Soi 11 is a party street that starts at the Nana BTS station- lots of hotels, bars, and restaurants.  After several blocks it takes a sharp right turn, passes our hotel, and ends in Sukhumvit Soi 13.

Hair cut and Laundry
The area around our hotel had lots of bars, hotels, and restaurants, and of course, a laundry where you could get your hair cut. Whatever.

To make things confusing the official address of our “Solitaire Bangkok Sukhumvit 11” Hotel is “75/23 Sukhumvit Soi 13.”  They may have an office on Soi 13, but the hotel isn’t there.  Furthermore, the street numbers like 73/23 are not on any building.  It turns out that it is lot parcel 73 and building 23 on that parcel.  Somehow the taxis know, but we never figured it out.

Money

Thailand money is the Thai Baht, abbreviated THB or Bht or Bt.  1 THB is about 3 cents.  1 USD is almost 32 THB.  We were able to use our credit cards at nice restaurants and our hotel, but it is a cash-oriented society (like Japan).  For one purchase we had to pay a 3% premium to use our credit card.  The ATM fees are very high, often 250 baht ($7.50) per transaction, but when we tried to withdraw a larger amount  on arrival, we were consistently told the amount entered was invalid (the hour was late, perhaps the machines were empty.)  We were able to exchange US dollars easily at good rates, but the US currency has to be the latest version (“big heads”) with NO ink marks.   One bank rejected three of my “clean” $20 bills because their scanner detected ink marks.  Mid-trip we found an ATM at the entrance to a Thai military base, and it gave us all the Thai money we wanted to withdraw.

The natives are very polite and quiet.  They expect to negotiate 25-50% off the asking price, but it is done quietly, and patiently – make a low offer, smile,  and wait,  and wait.  Eventually they will make a counter-offer, higher than their minimum price, and it becomes your turn.

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