A minor mistake in reading the dates when Vimanmek mansion would remain closed resulted in a major altercation with my wife. Vimanmek mansion was the official residence of the current king and has the largest teak house in the world.
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I insisted on going to this place on Monday and after a few transport modes – tuk-tuk, sky train, footwork and taxi – we reached there only to find it closed. And this was clearly mentioned at the Grand Palace that we visited the previous day and where I had also shown foresight by clicking a picture of the signboard stating thus. I had no moral ground to argue with her. And after profusely apologizing I improvised on the plan for the rest of the day. And as it goes, an impulsive trip is always more exciting and fun than a premeditated one, as it proved to be for us.
For a while, we moved around aimlessly in a taxi building up the meter. The debate was between going to the zoo which is next to Vimanmek mansion and the snake farm which is at the other end from where we were. Ditch both I said and lets go to the pier to visit all spots along the Chao Phraya river.
We asked the driver to take us to ‘Tha Thewet’ (the names of all piers are preceded by ‘Tha’, so I assume it means pier:)) and the scene changed immediately to that of a small fishing village. Locals passed time playing chess and other board games, visitors were busy shopping at the local market.
We were soon on board a large and crowded but comfortable boat dashing from pier to pier at rapid speeds, as traffic crawled on the bridges. The Chao Phraya river was flooding with water and has all sorts of boats and ferries traversing it. We also noticed small boats pulling massive containers laden with wood, a very effective way to transport goods.
The first stop was at Wat Rakhang, a temple pretty low on the ‘must-see’ lists. It has fewer visitors but lots of locals, great architecture and immense peace & calm, which made it a great stop for us. The walk from the jetty was lined with vendors selling all types of sea creatures – various types of fishes, snakes, eels, miniature turtles, water snakes and
other moving things I didn’t know names of. One lady told us not all of them are for eating, some are for aquariums too. Thank god, as my stomach churned a bit less.
This temple has a couple of things that I didn’t notice elsewhere. One, people actually come here to pray (as against just sight-seeing). It has a series of bells that people line up to ring, to augur fortune and prosperity. And there is a shed with tables and chairs to sit and worship the Buddha. Second, next to the main temple is an elevated wooden house with several stone Buddha statues. With large trees in its front yard and wooden tables & stools carved out from tree stumps, its an oasis of calm to sit and enjoy a private moment. I think we spent more than an hour here.
Back at the pier, we were boated to Wat Arun, which is Bangkok’s most famous landmark, due to its high chedis forming a unique silhouette against the setting sun along with its reflection in the golden waters of the river.
(Note: None of the boats plying up and down the river go to Wat Rakhang or Wat Arun directly. You have to alight at the pier opposite each of these temples and then take another boat whose job is to ferry you across to the temple and back). Most temples in Thailand have their spires/ towers painted in gold, however Wat Arun’s is encrusted with broken pieces of porcelain, this
makes it different and unique. With a broad base that suddenly tapers towards the top, the way up its chedi is an arduous task. The climb from the second to the third level has extremely narrow steps each a foot in height. Rashmi was more scared than Aarav in making the climb. Aarav’s enthusiasm had to be contained lest he come down tumbling on us. He insisted and asserted that he climbs on his own. With a huge bag on my back, a heavy camera around my neck, an even heavier tripod in my hand, a scared wife and an over-zealous son, it was a challenge getting to the top. We even caused a traffic jam enroute. But once up there, the views are exhilarating. The entire Bangkok panorama is at your disposal, the spires of Wat Phra Kaew, modern high rises far away, residential towers along the river and everything else between them.
A piece of yellow cloth is smartly draped around the tower to allow visitors write graffiti on it, rather than ruin the walls. Very smart:). We left our mark on it too. If ascending was a caper, just looking down the steep descent sent shivers and had our legs shaking. Thankfully everyone else up there shared the same predicament. We tried facing the steps, turning the other way round, holding the railings, holding each other and various other clumsy moves before finally making it down.
From here we took the boat to Saphan Taksin, which is a pier adjacent to the southern most stop of the sky train. Keen to avoid the traffic we decided to use a combination of the river & sky train to get us home faster. By the time we reached Saphan Taksin, it was late evening and the sky was turning into various shades of fiery red before finally settling down to a steel blue. I went up the bridge here to take in the sight of the river with beautiful lighting along its banks.
Back at the hotel, we spent the evening in the infinity pool on the terrace. It had started drizzling slightly as a few couples enjoyed beer with lounge music playing in the background. Within minutes, Aarav had gained enough experience to dive into the deep end of the pool.
- Tourist Attractions in Bangkok, Thailand (bangaricontentgallery.com)