The ship docked at Laem Chabang, the port outside Bangkok, and a 2 hour drive to the city itself.
I had booked an all day tour to the city, and joined 7 others in my cruise critic group for the day. Our guide, Lift, from BKK Tours, picked us up in a beautiful, comfortable and air-conditioned van and off we went.
Our day's sights were to be the Grand Palace, Wat Po, a long tail boat ride along the canals, the food/flower market, and a nice lunch at a local restaurant. We left at about 8:30 and returned shortly after 5 PM. The day included 4+ hours in the van....
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and has a population of over 11 million. There are miles and miles of high rise buildings, temples, palaces, canals and busy street markets - something for everyone.
Situated just north of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis, full of traffic, people and smog. Despite these negatives, Bangkok is full of friendly residents, always helpful and smiling. The Guinness Book notes that Bangkok's full name is the world's longest location name. Our guide, Lift (so nicknamed because she was born in an elevator) said the name out loud for us and it took her over 30 seconds to say it. OMG!
Bangkok's growth took off following World War 2 and today the city is a thriving cosmopolitan area. With that comes prosperity, and millions of Thais moved here bringing with them hopes for better lives for their families. They have, in large part, succeeded, but there is also massive amounts of pollution and hours and hours spent sitting in traffic. Our guide said that because of the bad traffic, most people don't cook and many urban dwellers live in small studio apartments with no kitchens. She referred to herself as a "plastic housewife" because she does not cook, and instead, visits the food markets along the street each morning, noon and evening and picks up food for her meals, and puts them in plastic containers and bags - hence the word "plastic". Lift is a funny guide. She had us laughing a lot.
The Grand Palace is a stunning place. It was built to serve as the official royal residence although the current king (Rama IX) does not live there these days. It has very unique Thai architecture, and on the grounds sits Wat Phra Keo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Many of the statues, Buddhas, pagodas and shrines are gold leafed - I have put some photos on my album in facebook and will post a full album upon my return home to my photo site - and mother of pearl is used extensively on many of the royal buildings and shrines, including the reclining building at Wat Po. Simply beautiful when you look at it up close and appreciate how much work goes into building and creating these.
Bangkok is also known as the Venice of the East, due to the many canals slicing through the city. An aside - Lift told us she was 24 years old before she even knew that the city had canals - Bangkok is so large that millions of its inhabitants aren't even aware of them, as they have never traveled that far outside of their neighborhoods in which they live. That, coupled with the fact that her mother continually warned her that if she rode a motorbike she would die, kept Lift from venturing too far from home in her early years.
We took an hour ride on a longtail boat, an easy-to-navigate long motorized canoe type of boat, through the maze of canals hidden inside the city. Since it was so incredibly hot and muggy, (about 90 degrees with similar humidity levels), the ride was welcome, as we enjoyed cool water breezes and a shady cover over our heads. There are many small homes built up along the banks of the canals, and for many of them, the only access is by boat. Boats are not allowed to run, even private ones, after dark, so people that live there plan their days accordingly. Some areas now have streets and bridges that connect their homes, but large parts are still only accessible by boat. Residents usually do not sell or buy their homes along the banks - no one is allowed to build anything new, so the houses are handed down to members of the family.
The canals are filled with catfish, as well as water monitor lizards - some big ones at that! They like to sun themselves along the grassy areas on the canal banks, and occasionally slide into the canals for a bite to eat- of catish, mostly.
After visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Po, and our canal boat ride, we went to a local restaurant for a scrumptious lunch of seafood, rice dishes, vegetables and ice cold beer.
We had a bit more time before having to head back for the 2 hour ride back to the ship, so we visited the flower and food markets that lined the streets. We walked through blocks and blocks of food stalls, and enjoyed the aromas of thousands of roses, orchids, and other pretty flowers along the flower section.
I really enjoyed being able to visit Bangkok. Since I am not much of a big city kind of girl, I would probably not desire to visit it again, although I would like to come back and visit Ayutthaya, which is the old capital of Thailand. It was a Siamese kingdom that was in existence from the mid 1300's until 1767, when it was attacked by the Burmese and fell. You can visit this city and there are many temples ruins that are in remarkably good condition, even today. To visit this area requires a full day, including another 4 hour round trip by car or bus. Since our ship departs in mid afternoon, a second day trip was not possible this time.
Next up, tomorrow, is Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I've got another tour planned that will give us a view of the Cambodian countryside, a pepper plantation (whoo hoo, I can't wait to taste-test some!) and a visit to Kampot, a town with French colonial architecture. I believe we will also visit a fishing village. Sihanoukville is also known to the locals as "Snooky". And no, it has nothing to do with Jersey Shores....