About the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is a marvel of Thai architecture and a must see if you are in Bangkok. Dating back to 1782, the massive complex contains many structures worthy of exploration. The Grand Palace is currently used, in part, as a location for government offices but the biggest draw for us was the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most important image of Buddha in Thailand. If you have limited time we recommend identifying what you want to see beforehand and planning accordingly, the official webpage has a map to help with your planning. The heat can be fierce so mornings are a great time to start your visit, keep in mind that respectful and appropriate temple attire are strongly enforced. Expect large crowds whenever you visit.
The River is the Road
We started our trek to the Grand Palace by way of boat, our preferred method of navigating the sights of the city. Our hotel operated a private boat which was a huge plus for us, with a short walk to the the dock we were instantly on our way to experience the wonders of Bangkok. The Chao Phraya River was a fabulous way to see parts of the city that you might not otherwise see. Plus, getting on and off the boats was its very own mini-adventure. And while the temperature difference traveling by water was negligible, every degree counted for me. Generally speaking, Southeast Asia is hot and humid but that day in Bangkok was the second hottest I’ve ever been on any of our travels. More on that later.
A Comedy of Errors
We disembarked and walked the ten minutes to the Grand Palace; at 8:30 a.m. it was already sweltering and the lines for security were long. We were very comfortable with our attire as it had been satisfactory for all of the other temples we visited, however, my knee-length dress did not pass muster for the guards. We had to leave the secure area and try to find something for me to wear. After a quick dash through a souvenir shop I grabbed a loose shirt to wear over my dress and tied my scarf around my waist. We were ready to go through security again. Security consisted of a passport check, bag search and a body wand. After making it through security we followed the crowds and unwittingly exited the temple complex. Good grief! Not our best move by a long shot. We repeated the entire entry process but by then the heat was more intense and exacerbated by the crowds and the airless interior courtyards of the Grand Palace.
The Splendor of the Grand Palace
At this point we decided to spend about an hour in the Palace complex and see as much as we could before heading back to the hotel pool for the afternoon. What an hour it was! Everything we had the opportunity to see took our breath away. Photographs just don’t do justice to the exquisite and detailed Thai architecture, the sheer number of temples, the endless stupas, the intricate carvings, and inlaid stone details. Stunning!
By the time we were ready to leave quite a crowd had built up near the exit gates. It was wall-to-wall people going nowhere. If we thought it was stifling before, this was next level. We were surrounded by people on all sides, literally. Someone was breathing on my neck and I was breathing on the neck of the person in front of me. After about 20 minutes the crush of people started to move forward, hundreds of people pushing and shoving, everyone eager to get out. After we exited we assumed that it was a controlled access point situation but who knows. We were just glad to be out in the open and I stripped back down to just my dress and put the scarf and the new shirt in Graemes trusty backpack.
Score: Heat 1/Carla 0
At this point I was not feeling very well. The heat, the extra clothing, the crowds, the long wait to exit, and the impossible task of hydrating had taken a toll on me. I felt faint and nauseous and my heart was racing. I actually just sat down on side of the street while Graeme went to get more water.
Using our trusty Thai translation app we were able to connect with a doctor at the first aid station and he diagnosed dehydration. With a heat index of 107 F , 57% humidity, and all of the other variables it made perfect sense. Thailand is known as “the land of smiles” and our experience reflects exactly that. Seeing the smiling faces of the helpers at the medical tent was such a welcome sight. The Thai people were so helpful and kind and I loved that we were able to seek and find help in spite of the language barrier.
We took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel and Graeme hit the pool while I rested, drank Gatorade, and was back to normal by the next morning. Just in time to head to Cambodia and Angkor Wat.
While our visit was sidelined by poor planning and not paying close attention, we highly recommend going to the Grand Palace. The next time we are in Bangkok we plan to take advantage of what we learned and visit again. Please don’t underestimate the heat like we did and if circumstances dictate that you have to be out in the middle of the day don’t forget to hydrate.
Pro Tips for Bangkok
- Chose a hotel with river access and preferably a complimentary river boat or shuttle
- Respect the heat – hydrate more than you think you need to
- Buy tickets in advance, it will save time and confusion
- Wear appropriate clothing to temples – a scarf or pashmina is a must-have
- Take an umbrella, cap or visor, depending on your sun tolerance
- Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently
- Make frequent stops, use the time to enjoy a cup of tea, have a light snack, take it all in
- Use the hotel pool during the afternoon, plan to be out and about during the morning and evening