Bangkok in 8 Hours

We’ve had one of the best days in our expat life when we scored a great deal on airfare for a December holiday (read: peak season). The only downside of this, however, is a long layover in Bangkok – 8 hours! So what did we do to kill our time while waiting for the connecting flight to Manila? I googled city tours and found Transit Tour by Oriental Escape. Designed for long layovers i.e. longer than 4 hours, this tour gives a quick glance of Thailand’s capital starting off with one of its important landmarks. The longer your stopover, the more places you can discover!

After spending some time in the immigration queue, we raced to the gates to look for the tour operator’s representative. He turned out to be our private guide, too. (Don’t ask for his name coz I have completely forgotten it for its complexity – sorry, Mr. Guide!) We were whisked to the parking area where we met with our driver for the day. On our way to the city, Mr. Guide shared Bangkok facts and bits of history. And as expected on a Friday morning, we were stuck in traffic for almost half an hour.

Our first point of interest was Wat Pho, more commonly known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is home to the… well, the giant, gold reclining Buddha that’s about 15 meters tall (about 4 storeys high!). The building isn’t big – just enough for the giant Buddha to fit himself in it. The ceiling and walls were adorned with impressive details and paintings. Our last glimpse of the giant Buddha was his feet intricately decorated with illustrations that was said to be Buddha’s characteristics.

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We moved out of the temple and emerged to a complex with colorful and elaborately decorated stupas and (more) temples. The whole scene is a feast to the eyes – very photogenic and good source of design inspiration.

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The famous Thai massage traces back its roots to the four walls of this “school”. Walls are plastered with illustrations depicting the human body and the “pressure points” deemed useful in the traditional massage.

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Being a Buddhist complex, it was no surprise that corridors after corridors were filled with gold-plated Buddhas of different shapes, sizes and poses.

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This particular corridor where the newly restored ones are kept is my favorite.

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One thing I noticed about these big Buddha shrines is how they were out of scale with their shrines. The head almost hits the ceiling and the enormous body seems to envelop the whole room, creating a sense of awe and making you feel insignificant. There’s probably a reason for this that I hope I can figure out soon. But for now, here you go with another big Buddha in a small temple.
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This one right here’s a small Buddha housed in a big temple.

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We had Wat Pho almost all to ourselves so imagine our shock when we arrive in the uber crowded gates of the Grand Palace! Through a narrow path we went, to which we had to squeeze ourselves to get in. I thought it’d be a breath of fresh air once through the entry but boy, was I wrong. The vast palace complex was filled in every square meter with tourists from all over the world.

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The moment I looked up, I was stumbled by the spires that glisten as the sun hits its golden surface. Giant and richly decorated demons or yaksha loom over, as if trying to scare the hell out of you, as they “guard” the temples and ward off evil spirits. From this moment, I only had a blur memory of the places/temples we stopped after because everything was an explosion of color and gold embellishment, coupled with amaaaazing and intricate patterns. I had my fill of design inspirations that day.

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BUT the heat. Ugh, that burst our happy bubble. Thank God for the lychee drink cart around the corner for a great relief to the dizzying heat (plus crowd!)

Anyway, our group headed to Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, to pay the small Buddha a visit. Photography is prohibited.

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Before reaching the gate, we dropped by Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles to check out the evolution of the traditional dress with a feature of the famed silk worms. The museum’s architecture is modern, a lot different compared to the traditional Thai style of the other buildings in the compound.

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Our short and sweet Thai introduction won’t be complete without a taste of a local dish. From the Grand Palace, we crossed the road and looked for a small eatery that serves Pad Thai, of course! Two plates for me coz it’s so good, not to mention so affordable!

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After a hearty meal, our guide told us that we’d not be able to make it to the river cruise. Well, it was our fault to begin with, since we took our time on the three places we visited. But, we didn’t mind at all because we were after quality than quantity. We’d rather take it slow and see less than rush to see more ;)

Our driver handed out towels and ice-cold water before we were driven to the airport. We thought that’s a sweet touch. With the usual traffic jam calculated, we arrived in the airport just in time. Very good, Oriental Escape! Two thumbs up!

 

Cheat Sheet:

  • Bangkok City Tour for Transit Passengers at Suvarnabhumi Airport varies depending on the length of your layover. Available for layovers that’s 4-6 hours long, 7-10 hours or 10-18 hours.
  • Calculate hours by subtracting time spent in immigration (in and out) ~ approx. 1.5-2 hours
  • The tour package includes airport transfer and a guide. Admission fees, food and tips not included.
  • Prices vary according to tour length and number of people in the group. Ours was at 1,600 Baht (approx. 175 AED) per head for 3 pax for 4-6 hours transit tour. (traveled in December 2014)

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