A DS Travel representative picked us at the scheduled pick-up time (4:30 PM) for transfer from Pattaya to the Royal Park Palace Hotel in Bangkok. There was a ten minutes minor delay when our driver was stopped, apparently for some license issue near the airport. Royal Park Palace Hotel is sorely in need of a major renovation - the rooms are infested, the carpets are way too limp, and the furniture needs more than a coat, etc. The indoor pool is 1.5 meters deep throughout. Room service at the hotel was average – it was hard to communicate in English.
Last Updated: 10/2012.
Breakfast was substantial and included Thai specialties, bread, few salads, decent coffee, watered juice, and one cereal option. (Breakfast is served from 6 - 10 AM but that day the place was packed by 8AM.) Our package included a half day temple and city tour of Bangkok and we were picked up for that at 8:10 AM. The tour consisted mainly of short visits to two temples followed by a driving city tour. The first visit was to the golden Buddha temple which hosts the world’s largest solid gold statue. It is located in the district of Samphanthawong in Chinatown. The statue is 3m tall and weighs 5.5 tonnes and is believed to have been made in the Sukhothai period between the 13th century and the early 18th century. At one point it was completely plastered and moved from Ayutthaya to Bangkok for hiding from the Burmese, who were besieging the city. Following that, its true composition was forgotten for almost 200 years. The rediscovery of the statue is truly an amazing story - An old abandoned temple housed a stucco-painted Buddha. Although, the statue did not appear attractive, the decision was to move it to Wat Traimit, a common pagoda in Bangkok. As that temple did not have a building to house the statue, it was stored under a simple tin roof for 20 years. In 1955, a new building was built and while moving it the cable of the crane broke and the statue dropped on to the mud. The wet plaster covering the statue cracked and during its cleaning the solid gold statue underneath was discovered!
The next stop was at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (aka Wat Pho), located in Rattanakosin district adjacent to the Grand Palace. The complex consists of two walled compounds. The northern compound houses the Reclining Buddha and the Massage School and the southern compound is a working Buddhist Monastery. Apart from the huge reclining Buddha statue, the temple is also popular as the birthplace of traditional Thai massages. The site was the center of education for traditional Thai medicine before the temple was founded in 1781 AD and is recognized as the first public university of Thailand. During King Rama III’s reign (1824 to 1851 AD), plaques inscribed with medical texts were placed around the temple. The reclining Buddha is 50 ft high and 143 feet long with the foot (10’x15’) displaying inlay work in mother-of-pearl. Adjacent to the reclining Buddha building is a small raised garden featuring a bodhi tree which is a cutting of the original tree in India where Buddha sat awaiting enlightenment. The site is huge and home to more than thousand Buddha images – the reclining Buddha is the largest with a length of 160 feet. The grounds outside the temple contain 91 stupas – 71 of the smaller ones contain the ashes of the royal family while the 21 large ones contain the ashes of Buddha. The driving tour included photo opportunities at Emerald Temple, Royal Palace, Lumpini Park, police grounds, and the huge flower market. The tour ended by ~10:30 AM (very short for a half-day tour) with a marketing stop at a Gem Gallery. We were dropped off at at Robinson Plaza upon request. Level 0 of the plaza has a variety food court – it is very popular with the locals – lunch including desserts for four was only 400 Bhats. A McDonalds and a large grocery store are available in Level 1 as well – coffee was about 45 Bhats but ice-cream was only 9 Bhats due to some promotion. Nearby is the intra-market (roadside stalls) where bargaining is the order of the day – T-shirts start around 150 Bhats while regular shirts start around 200 Bhats – both can be easily bargained down although they quote about 50% more initially.
Breakfast at the hotel the next day was a repeat of the previous day. We checked out around 9:45 AM and were transferred to the airport at around 10AM for our afternoon flight to KUL. Document verification in the airport went very smooth. Food options during our Air Asia flight was again very limited – managed to get three tandoori wraps and a Malaysian dish (Nasi Lemak). Overall, we felt a packaged tour is a good option for a first trip but anyone wanting to explore more should allot a week or more to this country.
Last Updated: 10/2012.