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.
Like so many places we have been in Southeast Asia, we are shocked at the state of the communications wiring
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are 26,000 Buddhist temples (wats) in Thailand. Relax… we only visited a few.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Numerous huge stone guards protect the gates between sections
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.
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.
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. )
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.
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.
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?
Our long tail boat ride was from the market through the nearby village
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.