We travelled by van, because the entry into Bangkok did not promise to be a nice ride. A few people chose to ride in, and did fine, but it was a very urban ride. Bangkok is a car-oriented city, even motorscooters are not common on the big roads; bicycles are very rare. The city planners must have deliberately made life difficult for scooters, and easy for cars, because it is hard to believe that cars would win over motorbikes in a crowded city, but it has happened in Bangkok. This is a city which is veryhard to get around any way other than by car. Walking was difficult, but still possible.
Our hotel was in the older part of town, fortunately. Our local guides had proposed a ride on the river by boat before a tour of the National Palace, and the four of us signed up. The boat ride was fun. We rode in long, relatively narrow boats with very powerful motors connected to propellers on long shafts sticking way out the back to negotiate shallow water. As we headed out into the main river, when the driver pushed on the accelerator, the heavy boat with its load of passengers shot forward like a lightly loaded truck. Amazing acceleration up to a certain speed.
The boats generated a huge wake, so there was lots of wave action to negotiate in the river. Second highlight of the ride was feeding the “catfish” bread; we passed by a vendor who supplied loaves of bread for us to share, and we were told to hold the bread in the water, where the catfish would pluck it out of our hands. What a hoot! Most times, although it was a feeding frenzy involving dozens of fish, the fish would very carefully take the bread in their mouths, sometimes the motion of the water would result in lip-contact to the fingers, where the fish would be sure to get the bread, but without causing any biting sensation.
After a tour up and down the river, with lovely air flow, we were dropped off at a pier near the royal palace. What an amazing place; it is a ceremonial and religious site with a richness of decoration which is a feast for the eyes; lots of gold finish, shiny stones and vivid colours. A mix of meditating buddhas, garudas, nagas, and characters from Hindu stories. All beautifully maintained in relatively tight quarters.
We also toured the museum about the queen’s work to revitalize traditional textile production activities and create jobs by promoting Thai textiles abroad.
We were getting hungry, but the only cafe in the palace grounds offered just drinks and ice cream, which did not carry us far, so on leaving the palace we went looking for a rather late lunch. This proved frustrating, because there was a big opposition demonstration going on, but finally we found a couple of carts selling banana crepes and dumplings, so we refueled before heading back to the hotel.