My first day in Bangkok was a free day, as the other days were planned out with various group trips. I really wanted to visit the Grand Palace while I was in Bangkok, as everyone had told me how amazing it was and how it's a 'must visit'. Well...I can confirm they are all right. It was breathtaking, and absolutely stunning. I took way too many photos, and it was so difficult deciding which ones to use in this post!
After landing in Bangkok and checking into my suite at the Tower Club at Lebua, I unpacked and then got onto wifi to google how to get from the hotel to the Grand Palace. Google told me the ferry was the quickest way, so off I went. I stopped by the concierge to check that the ferry was the quickest way, and the lovely gentleman told me it was and showed me the best stop to get it from on the map.
As I stepped out of the hotel and walked down into the street the smells, sights, and sounds of Bangkok hit me, and I found it really overwhelming. I had a mild panic and suddenly forgot everything the concierge had told me, and so followed the map as best I could, but the small side-streets were missing from it. I stepped over broken pavements, electrical wires, rubbish, and unknown liquids running down the street, around food vendors and street sellers. I held onto my bag and camera tightly as I tried to look as if I knew where I was going. Scooters whizzed past, making me flinch every single time they came inches away from me, the sound of them hurting my ears and making me jump.
My senses were in overload and I didn't know where to go, what to do, or how to react. I desperately wanted to take photos but at the same time didn't feel comfortable enough. I was too 'on-guard'. It was my first time by myself in a big new city, and my first time in Asia by myself where I didn't know or recognize the language or even the alphabet. I finally found the ferry port after taking a slight detour/wrong turn, but there were two sides and I didn't know which to use. I saw some other tourists go to the one on the right side, so I followed, and paid my 100baht (around £1.80) for a ticket.
When I saw the boat I knew this wasn't right, it was a small water taxi low down in the water, and I was not comfortable getting into it - as in, I didn't actually think I could without falling in the water. I froze. The man yelled at me in Thai gesturing for me to get in, I literally panicked and froze and had no clue what to do. I didn't know a word of Thai other than 'hello', and the guy was kinda scaring me. I just said I think I have the wrong boat and turned and hurriedly walked towards the other side. The ticket for the actual tourist ferry (blue flag) was about 30baht, and looked way easier to get on to. I took a seat and enjoyed the easy ride to the Grand Palace, taking in the sights enroute...
I got off the ferry at the Maharaj Pier, and as I walked through the car park to go down the road to the Grand Palace, I saw a small cafe called Favour. I was super hungry and hadn't eaten since the plane (and the Thai airways business class food was...not good), so I went inside and was instantly sold. It reminded me of the little cafes in Freo in Australia, all mismatched and polished wood everywhere. The menu was simple, and I was instantly drawn to their waffles. I ordered the plain waffles with berry sorbet and berry coulis, and paid my 40baht (a bargain 75p).
They arrived and I ate them so quickly and instantly wanted more...but didn't want the staff to think I was super greedy to left before I changed my mind, haha. I walked the short walk to the Grand Palace, diving inbetween the traffic to try and get across the road (crossing the road in Bangkok is hard), and was taken aback with how huge it was just from the outside...
I followed the crowds and manged to find the entrance, paid my 100baht, and again followed the crowd of people inside to the temple, Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha). As soon as I stepped inside it took my breath away...it was just beautiful. Everywhere you looked there were bright colours, and intricate designs and tiles. The temple and Grand Palace were built in the 1700's, and the Emerald Buddha looks quite small in real life compared to many of the other Buddha's in the city. It was carved from a single piece of jade! Only the King of Thailand is allowed to touch the Buddha, and three times a year he changes the cloak around it to display the changing seasons; summer, winter, and rainy.
No one is sure when the Emerald Buddha was made, but it was found in Chiang Rai in 1434.
Sadly I couldn't get a photo of the Emerald Buddha as you're not allowed to take photos inside the temple itself. But it was stunning! One thing I learnt on my day of solo travel in Bangkok, was that it's really difficult to get photos of yourself! I tried putting the camera on timer but couldn't really find anything the right height (and people kept walking in the way...)...
And I also tried selfies, but it kept focusing on my face and not on the background as well...
And I tried asking someone to take my photo but it was a bit awkward as I had to give them a quick lesson on how to use the camera (seriously, it's not that hard...just point and click)....
So anyway, I gave up and just continued snapping photos of the beautiful temple. I was starting to get very hot, and I was wearing black leggings and a long black shirt as you have to cover up when visiting the temples. I didn't realize you can just rent long skirts from the temple, doh. So I decided to go and see the Grand Palace itself, and then head back to the hotel.
The Grand Palace itself is also very beautiful, and after wandering around I grabbed a bottle of water then made my way back to the ferry port. This is where things got *really* stressful. The Bangkok smog was starting to irritate my lungs, and I could feel myself yawning over and over again, not from tiredness, but from my body trying to get air into my poor asthmatic lungs.
I decided to get the local ferry (orange flag) on the way back, so got to the ferry terminal (Number 9) and while I waited took a couple of puffs on my inhaler. But 20 minutes later I was still waiting for the ferry, and it just wasn't turning up. I asked the guy and he said '10minutes'...well...it was 10minutes, 20minutes ago. There were a few American and British couples and groups of friends also waiting for the same ferry, and everyone was getting fed up and irritable. We were all confused and had no clue what was going on. There was little shade and everyone was hot and bothered, and the staff refused to tell us what was going on. Every time one of us tried to ask they would just push us aside. Literally, push us out the way.
I started to wonder whether it would be quicker to just get a taxi, but the Bangkok traffic is notoriously bad...and what if the boat turned up just after I left? Eventually a ferry turned up but it was completely full and they wouldn't let anyone on. So we waited again. More puffs of the inhaler as I could feel my lungs aching and closing. Around an hour to an hour and a half after I first got there, I finally got on a ferry. I have never been so relieved to get back to a hotel from an outing. Oh my days. I was so stressed and exhausted, I just collapsed onto my bed, and then went down to the pool to lay in the sun for a bit before showering and changing for dinner.
It was my first solo outing in a big new city, an Asian city, and a city whose language I couldn't understand. It was my first ever experience of Thailand, and I was terrified most of the time. The only cities I've ever wandered alone are London (duh), Perth (duh), and Sydney. I've only ever travelled solo to Sydney, Perth (home), and the Isles of Scilly (tiny islands just off Cornwall - my ancestral home), so to suddenly be thrown into Bangkok was a bit of a shock to the system. But I'm proud of myself for getting out there and exploring rather than just staying in my room, I may not be very brave, and I may be a total scaredy-cat, but I am glad I did it. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved being taken around the city in a group for the rest of my time there, it was far more relaxing, and it's always nice to experience things with other people rather than by yourself!
And you'll be pleased to know that my solo travel experience in Chiang Mai a few days later was much more successful ;) But more about that next week! In the meantime, check out my Bangkok Travel Vlog and make sure you subscribe!
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*I was a guest of Lebua Hotels throughout my stay in Bangkok, however as always my opinions are my own.