WAT TOOK YOU SO LONG

by Carmel on December 9, 2013 · 16 comments

Upon arriving to a new city, we like to spend some time perusing the Internet for suggestions on what to do and what not to miss. Being on the road long term makes it hard to really plan. We are lucky if we know what day we’re leaving and where we’re going – forget searching out the best tourist attractions ahead of time.

We tend to lean toward Trip Advisor because I’m a sucker for lists. This is how we ended up finding the Bangkok Snake Farm. We needed something to do and didn’t want to travel far after what ended up being an epic trip to and from Wat Pho, the first site we chose to explore in Bangkok.

With so many wats (temples) how does one begin to choose which one to visit? Well, we didn’t even know there was a temple when we found a recommendation for The Reclining Buddha. Learn something new every day, right?

According to our research, Wat Pho was only about 8 km away and we could take the bus there easily from the main road near our hotel. Google Maps told us to take one bus line, but after looking up the official Wat Pho website, we saw there were multiple buses that would get us there, giving us more options when to leave. We set off late morning after finding breakfast (often an arduous chore when we’re in a new city and uncaffeinated). We crossed the street to pick up the bus and took the first one that would get us where we needed to go.

There’s something to understand about the Bangkok mass transit. There are a few different types of buses – the more “local” buses will cost you less and often you’ll pay by the distance you’re traveling. If you end up on this type of bus, you get on, tell the fare collector how far you’re going and he or she will give you a price. In our case, we got onto this rickety old bus, told the collector where we wanted to go, she laughed at us, nudged one of the passengers nearby telling her where we wanted to go, continued to laugh at us, then asked for 13 baht (about $.40) for our ride.

An hour into our bus journey, we saw something that looked like it could be a temple. “It’s gold and big, so let’s get off” was our thinking. After pressing the red button to request a stop, the fare collector signaled to us to sit down. We weren’t there yet. Twenty minutes later, we arrived – no mistaking it. Tour buses, tuk tuks, cars, taxis all lined the streets outside this massive complex. Yep, we were there…in under 90 minutes no less!

We paid our 100 baht fare for the temple, opted to grab our free water bottle (included with our admission) for later, and headed in with the masses in the 90+ degree weather to get a glimpse of this Reclining Buddha.

Wat_Buddhaface

Wat_Buddha

The Reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long with feet that are each 3 m high and 4.5 m long, inlaid with intricate patterns of mother-of-pearl. The feet have 108 panels displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified – flowers, dancers, elephants, etc. (source: Wikipedia) The hallway around the Buddha itself is rather narrow, so getting clear pictures of anything is difficult unless you’re smart enough to come early.

Wat_feet

The 108 bowls lining the walls of the hall indicate the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People drop money into these bowls for good fortune and to help maintain the wat.

Wat_bowls

Wat_walls

After getting a glimpse at the Buddha, we walked out of the building completely unaware of the size of the complex we just entered.

Wat_map

Wat_buddhas

Wat_us

Wat_Shawn

It was a beautiful, clear day in Bangkok, so we had a perfect setting for photos. There are so many details to appreciate around Wat Pho, so it was hard not to take photos with every step. As we roamed around the various sections of the wat, we couldn’t help but marvel at the intricate work of every temple. Even the small gardens dotting the courtyards outside the temples each had a unique charm.

Wat_guard

Wat_flowers

Wat_statue

As I said, it was a gorgeous day, but eventually exhaustion from the trip and the sun set in and we decided to head back. We have this tendency to not take care of our needs, like eating and hydration, before setting off on more adventures, so we made sure to stop and get some food before heading back, now knowing that we had a long trip ahead.

Wat_coconuticecream

After a couple of skewers, the coconut ice cream was a necessity

The streets around Wat Pho are not so easy to navigate. We knew where we were dropped off, but couldn’t decipher where to catch the bus back into town since it looked like the street looped around. We were also still orienting ourselves to the streets since in Thailand they drive on the left side of the road. After walking for about 25 minutes (and unsuccessfully seeking out a Bangkok city map), we saw a bus, which we remembered was listed on the Wat Pho website, heading back to the city. Or so we thought. It was heading the right direction, but were we sure that it was going to our section of the city? We had already boarded, but given how hot it was outside, it seemed like a pesky afterthought. We were going the right direction, so we sat back and enjoyed the bit of breeze provided by the fans on the ceiling as we endured the infamous Bangkok traffic.

Wat_fans

Wat_bus1

An hour into our journey, we started feeling a little disoriented. But we had been in this situation before, in Seoul, where the bus took a different route on the way back into town – maybe this would be another bus that did a loop rather than going out and back. Maybe?

Shawn turned to me and looked worried. What were we going to do, though? We didn’t know where we were, which made it impossible to know how to get back.

Finally, the fare collector came over to us and asked where we were trying to go. We replied, “Sukhumvit,” but apparently she only really knew how to ask the question, not respond to it. We were at the end of the line. Hot, tired, and disoriented, I was starting to feel like Lisa Simpson trying to get the special museum exhibit by bus.

Wat_Crackton

“I should have gotten off at Crackton”

We got off the bus, grateful that we had left when we did and there was still some daylight. We bought a SIM card at the 7-11 for our phone to see where in the world we were and I broke it when trying to dislodge it from its plastic casing. I managed to stick it back together long enough to get it jammed into the cell phone, but it was taking forever for the GPS to find our location and the phone eventually ran out of battery.

Completely lost and hopeless to find our way back, we checked our finances and found we had enough to get back to our hotel by taxi. We found a cab, negotiated a price (although I would have paid almost anything at that point), and started back into the city. I’m still not sure where we ended up. It appeared we were almost as far as the airport. How that happened, I’m not sure.

Lesson here: if you’re going to Wat Pho, save yourself 3 hours of your life and take a cab.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Gina & Richard December 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

So many ways to use the spot as a pun… not PC, but so many ways… Of course, just last night we saw the Asian members of the Seattle Men’s Chorus perform a-could-be-considered-not-PC “Asian Christmas Carol”. So, you go there, but you got lost – Wat Pho?

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Carmel December 12, 2013 at 12:58 am

Oh there are endless possibilities…

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Megan December 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Hey, at least you got a good story out of your adventure! Sooooo, something interesting I learned about taking cabs in SE Asia:

You’ve probably heard the recommendation to have the hostel/hotel write the address / directions in Thai (or whatever local language) so you can show it to the driver. Downside: not all cab drivers can read :-( Get a map in the local language also (if you can).
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Carmel December 12, 2013 at 1:00 am

It’s funny that you mention that because when we book through Agoda, they send a confirmation with the address and name in the local language besides English. Since we have a hard time printing things out, we usually just save a copy to the iPad where I can enlarge the size and show it to the cab driver. Know how many times that’s helped us? Zero. Not once has the driver been able to read it or trust it. So they usually just end up calling the hotel. Oh well!

In Mongolia we had the problem where the streets on the map would be in English and none of the street signs were in English. So…that wasn’t helpful.

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Ana December 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm

No puns or why you need a map or directions in their languages from your mama. I feel the adventure is worth the price of getting lost sometimes, besides the photos are incredible. So many stories to tell us when you get back home and so many stories to share with your future children too. Your whole life view will expand because of these side trips and the experience of living in cultures so different than the one you were born into. Truly enjoy seeing the photos and reading your blog. :) XOXOXO mama

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Carmel December 12, 2013 at 1:00 am

We will be infinitely more patient, that’s for sure.

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Amy December 11, 2013 at 12:19 am

Sometimes getting lost can be sorta fun, other times it can just be a complete pain! We also visited the reclining Buddha while in Bangkok but as we were staying near Khao San Road we were able to walk there, which was pretty simple. We found the local river boats and skytrain good for getting around Bangkok; we could hardly ever find taxis willing to actually use their meters, as I’m sure you guys found out too!
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Carmel December 12, 2013 at 1:02 am

I agree! I have had many great experiences getting lost and unexpectedly finding something cool or just figuring out the layout of a city. However, Bangkok is just huge and confusing. It never helps when I’m tired, hot and/or hungry, though.

We never found anyone who would use the meter, but we never felt truly ripped off. In fact, we paid 200 baht for the ride that day, and considering just how far away we were and what a desperate situation we were in, I wasn’t really that upset about it.

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Steve C December 12, 2013 at 10:33 am

Carmel, Just saw your comment on Kim’s site, posting on Prague. I’ve read many of your comments on many of the blogs, but this is my first to you on your site. Two things:

First, I am sooooooo……… jealous of you being in Bangkok. It is, above all, my favorite city in Southeast Asia. I’ve also been on buses to who knows where and been pleasantly lost. What I liked most were the river taxis. Also, even with your eyes closed, you know where you are in the world just by the smell of the air of Bangkok. It’s like no other city, anywhere.

Second, on your comment about the cost of traveling around Europe on your long term RTW journey, I can recommend very highly how we did it at a very low cost. We bought a VW camper van from Aussie travelers in London, who had just used it to travel around Europe. We bought it for $3,000 dollars, drove and lived in it for six months and 15,000 miles, then sold it to a Kiwi couple for $3,000 dollars who planned on touring Europe the same as we did. The van was about 20 years old and had had many many traveler owners. That van practically knew it’s way around Europe with it’s headlights closed! As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only way to see Europe long term. I can fill you in on any details that you may need. Just ask.

Have fun in Bangkok, and Beyond!

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Carmel December 16, 2013 at 4:22 am

We really love Bangkok. We were just discussing it tonight – it is just a vibrant and interesting city that still seems very Thai, if that makes sense.

I love your idea about Europe! That sounds really fun. I think we’ll probably end up just visiting the folks we know around Europe and (possibly??) settle down in Spain for awhile. I love it there and want to practice my Spanish. I have family in Spain, too, so that helps! Thanks for your idea…might have to store that one for a future trip…

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) December 16, 2013 at 3:43 am

So far I have managed to avoid using the buses in Bangkok through a combination of the MRT, BTS and good old fashioned walking. But Tony and I have been on plenty of buses to nowhere on this trip, most notably when we were in China and were trying to use the local buses to see the sights. I am a big fan of using local transport where possible, but the tradeoff is that you rarely get anywhere in a hurry… if you get there at all!

The important thing is that you made it to the Wat and wound up with quite the story to share at the end of it all!

(One tip for getting taxis who will use the meter is to flag down the solid colored cabs, preferably the pink ones. These cabs invariably are part of an official company rather than privately owned ones and so are far less likely to give you a hassle. We’ve actually taken taxis many times this past week and the pink cabbies always turn the meter on right away without us even asking.)
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Carmel December 16, 2013 at 4:25 am

We have had some luck getting a meter here this trip! We have stories to tell from those rides, though…

I am usually a fan of using public transportation, but those buses are ridiculously slow. I couldn’t believe how long it took to get to Wat Pho. The traffic is crazy, so usually the trains are the better bet, right? I prefer to walk when I can, that’s for sure.

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Brian December 18, 2013 at 5:45 am

I can’t believe it – I can’t think of any good puns! As a pun lover, I’m hanging my head in shame.

I have to second the notion that sometimes getting lost can be a great adventure, other times, no matter how much you want to roll with the punches, it’s a pain in the arse. Add in hunger & a lack of caffeine and it turns south real quick.

I remember when Kim and I were hiking the Annapurna Circuit and we were talking and not paying too much attention to where we were going, and we must have missed a detour sign because we ended up, literally, at the end of the road and in a blasting zone for making more road. One one side, a huge waterfall was cascading down into the tiny path & the other was a cliff about 200′ high & we had only about 10 inches of path to walk on. Needless to say, that wasn’t a “great adventure” kinda getting lost.

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Carmel December 18, 2013 at 11:57 pm

For shame, Brian…for shame.

So, there were no cabs on the Annapurna Circuit that could just take you where you needed to go when you got lost? Huh…yeah, that’s much worse. ;) Not all getting lost stories turn out to be fun stories later. Sometimes they just suck. Glad you found your way out!

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Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 20, 2013 at 9:20 am

Oh gosh, I chuckled because I remember that feeling well. ;) Nothing like transportation woes in gigantic cities…

I’m a little envious of you being in Bangkok. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d hate it before we got there, and I ended up feeling completely different about the place. We spent two different visits before and after our circuit up through northern Thailand/Laos/Cambodia, and I’ve many times since wished I could pop back in for a bite at our favorite little holes in the wall.

What are your Christmas plans? Wishing you guys a wonderful year’s end!
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Carmel December 20, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I wasn’t really sure how we’d do in Bangkok after being so overwhelmed by Manila, but something just clicked when we got there. It was hard to say goodbye to it last night.

We are currently in Siem Reap with some of my extended family for Christmas. We couldn’t be happier to be able to spend our first big holiday abroad with family. It’s been such a treat already! Have a wonderful first Christmas with the little Peach!

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