On my walk to the Grand Palace, I wander through narrow neighborhood streets, enjoying the stillness and relative coolness of the early morning while it lasts. The awakening streets are lined with shops selling an array of used goods and food vendors are setting up their stands for the day. At busy intersections, I hesitate and then quickly learn the method of crossing the street when a local crosses and walking alongside them. When I see an ornate elephant statue in a roundabout and gold spires in the distance, I know I am close to the palace.
Just before I get to the entrance, a tuk tuk driver tells me that the palace is not open today. For a split second, I am disappointed. Then I remember what I’d read about drivers telling tourists the palace is closed and then luring them into jewelry scams or leading them astray in some other way. I tell him I’ll check it out anyway and keep on walking. Sure enough, it’s just about to open and there are already throngs of tourists there, waiting to get in. I join the line.
I walk around the golden and bedazzled palace as it shimmers in the haze-filtered Bangkok sun. I am surrounded by impossible details, overwhelming extravagance, and I feel pulled in all directions at once to take a closer look at the abundant ornamentation. Mythical figures stand guard with unintentionally comical menacing looks, and later, I see the ceremonial Royal Guards marching across the grounds. I make new friends. We take lots of pictures, sometimes smiling normally, sometimes with cheesy poses.
When I am ready to leave the Grand Palace, I continue walking and come across a market. I order my first Pad Thai of the trip from a street food vendor. It doesn’t look as pretty as the Pad Thais I’ve had at home, but it’s even more delicious. Later, I float down the Chao Phraya River and get one last glimpse of the Grand Palace’s glittering grandeur, then it’s time move on and explore everyday Bangkok.
Author’s note: I am not currently in Southeast Asia and I’m not planning on traveling in the region any time soon. I visited Southeast Asia in 2008 and recorded my stories from that trip on another site before I started blogging independently. I’m rewriting and sharing my favorite stories here.