Thursday 31 May 2012

Grand Palace Bangkok - top attraction In Amazing Thailand??

Part of the 218,000 sq metre palace complex.
Wow, I can't believe I have not blogged about the Grand Palace Bangkok before. After all it's is the biggest attraction in Bangkok; well, the most visited structure lets put it that way.

How could I have not wanted to rave about it before now ... The world's longest painting in the form of the diorama depicting the Ramayana which runs for seemingly kilometers along the inner wall of the temple complex. The intriguing story of the origins of the Jade Buddha Temple (or Emerald Buddha, depending on who is telling the story). The glinting 24 carat gold leaf on just about every surface except the floor. The millions of shards of crushed glass and crockery painstakingly placed to embellish decorative walls. And so on. And so on.

Hence my surprise that I haven't covered it before.

Whoever coined the phrase the Grand Palace was sorely underselling it. (What is the opposite of hyperbole anyway?)

I mean if a Hyatt hotel can be Grand, then surely this is Awesome, Stupendous, fantasmagorical, or The Friggin Amazing Palace, to be more colloquial. Bigger than Ben Hur. More pulling power than Lady Gaga. You get the idea ...

Speaking of which, Lady Gaga found herself embroiled in a little controversy last week -- when she landed she tweeted 'I'm in Bankok honey and gonna go the the lady market and buy a fake Rolex'. Well that's just ridiculous, Lady! What kind of town do you think this is??? Lady market? Like you can just go anywhere and buy one of their bar girls from their stock. Huh. As if. Fake Rolex? Like you can just buy pirated goods here. Huh again. As if. What kind of outdated stereotypical perceptions of Amazing Thailand you have, Your Royal Gaganess.

Buddha is in the details.
Anyway, back to the Grand Palace. The complex comprises Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Burmese and Indian temple styles, an eclectic mixture, plus the Euro-classic stylings of the king's former residence and halls, now only used for ceremonial banquets and state functions. There's even an original scale model of Angkor Wat dating back at least 200 years,showing the reverence for that temple in the Buddhist world even back then.

Any downside to being the biggest tourist attraction in Bangkok if not the biggest attraction in Thailand?

Yes, it attracts scam merchants, snake oil salesmen, touts.

Ignore the gap- toothed clown at the taxi stand telling you that foreigners must buy tickets up at the top gate. No! They are available only officially at the main central gate entrance. 400 baht per head for the temple and palace. Also ignore him when he tells you it closes at 1.30. Bullshit -- you are good till 4 pm.

My guide, Khun Tavee. Or maybe this is something from the Ramayana.
And make sure you hire a guide. Once again make sure he or she is qualified, with the appropriate badge of accreditation. A 45 minute tour should cost no more than 500 baht (for a couple).

Kuhn Tavee was a cheerful chap with plenty of dignity even if he didn't veer one word from his script. There again maybe he did ... when describing the 5 pillars of Buddhism. When he came to the last one, 'thou shalt not drink alcohol', he paused.

"Many Thais are bad Buddhists," he said, "because many of us drink. But 4 out of 5 is good enough ... "

He gave me a big grin and a conspiratorial wink. Indeed an ice cold Chang beer is exactly what I needed on that boiling summer's day. Oh, and maybe something from the lady market and a fake watch, too.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Google Street View now in Amazing Thailand

So, Thailand has become the 35th country in the world -- and second in South East Asia after Singapore -- to be StreetViewed (Ok, maybe that product name is not a verb yet).

Well, parts of it anyway ... Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai for starters. And Google claims that 90% of all streets are covered.

That in itself is a BIG number, and, dear readers, I am not about to go out and double check it. But Bangkok is riddled with streets, sois, minor sois, sub sois, sois off sois, and little access ways that just don't plain exist on any map.

After all, where do you think U2 got the inspiration for their song Where The Streets Have No Name?

Does Google Street View really cover 90%? That's not the point. The point is that as a tourist in Thailand or before your travel to Bangkok etc, you can have a look at some of the places you might want to stay ... such as Khao San Road. Maybe some of the dreadlocks and tattoos you spot on incidental passersby or brochure-toting touts will put you off. Or maybe make you say, Get Me There Now, Darnnit!

Street View makes you virtual judge and jury. But it's never as good as being there and seeing it for yourself.