Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wat Arun and Dusit Palace

After we left the Grand Palace, we walked directly down the street toward the river, through the market and onto the 3 baht ferry that runs you to the other side. Our destination: Wat Arun.

I have only ever taken pictures of Wat Arun from the opposite bank, by the palace. This was my first time exploring the temple and I was very excited.

In Cambodian, "arun" means morning, so I always thought this was the Morning Temple, or Sunrise Temple. I was wrong. Apparently Arun is a deity, and this is Arun's temple. Yup. So there's some random knowledge for ya.

Wat Arun has one tall tower in the middle and four less tall ones around it. The fun thing here is that you get to climb up pretty high and you get a sweet view of the river and palace on the other side.

The stairs to the uppermost level were crazy steep, and Isa's scared of heights, so she stayed at the second highest level.

But her view up to the top was pretty cool too. This place is so intricate!

I remember how steep some of the stairs at Angkor Wat are. Hopefully she'll be able to scale those. I told her and she said she'll be able to do that. Slowly and carefully.

After exploring the temple and the grounds for a while, we took the cross-river ferry again, and then waited at that same pier for the orange flag ferry to take us upriver. We learned on our awful day that traffic around Ratanakosin is terrible, so we thought if we took the ferry up for a while, the roads should be clear for taxis.

We were somewhat right. We got off at the N15 pier and grabbed a taxi headed for Vimanmek Mansion. This is only about a half mile ride, but unfortunately, some of the roads around the palace are shut down. So it took a lot longer and we sat in the taxi just watching the meter increase and at one point I opened the door and almost got out. Turns out there's an intense police and military presence in this area.

We didn't know what was going on and we didn't want to get in trouble for taking pictures of the army, especially because most of them were lounging around not doing anything. So we took a few pictures of the barricades instead. You can see some cops back by the car in full riot gear.

We asked one of them what was going on and he told us they were getting ready for riots. We asked if it was safe for us to be here, and he said yes, the riots were in a different part of the city today. Comforting, right?

So we went in to Vimanmek Mansion, and wow has it changed from 11 years ago. It's so much more strict now. This is the only picture you're allowed to take:

Then you put everything you own in a locker. Camera and wallet included.

Last time I was here, you were free to wander the grounds and they had a free traditional dance show that I actually participated in (the last song they ask if anybody from the audience wanted to join and I was all over that). Now, all the grounds are closed off and only certain rooms in the house are open for viewing. I don't remember going upstairs in the house before though, so that was new for me.

The mansion is beautiful and only because admission is free with your Grand Palace ticket do I think it's worth it to visit now. It's sad because this was one of my favorite attractions in Bangkok a decade ago, but now it's dropped way down on the list. :(

In the same massive grounds as Vimanmek, you'll find Dusit Palace. Well, more specifically, this building is the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall:

This building is magnificent. I've been all over Europe in some of the grandest and most beautiful structures, but never have I seen anything to rival this palace. It is absolutely stunning (inside). Again, you can only take pictures outside and then you have to leave your camera in a locker with your bags before you enter. So I don't have my own pictures, but here's a few from the interwebs:

This wasn't open a decade ago.. It was still used exclusively for royal events.

The building was donated by the King to the Queen to house works from her SUPPORT foundation. Artisans from around the country contribute to intricate works of art, from carvings to gold work, to silk weaving. SUPPORT is a program set up by the Queen for two reasons. First, the artisans are actually poor farmers. They run their farm during the day and then work on these projects in their spare time. They're paid for their work, so it gives them extra money. Second, it keeps the skills alive from old times. These skills are now taught and passed on from generation to generation because they're useful again.

The museum also provides an audio guide for free, so we got to learn about many of the pieces. The works of art are truly awe inspiring. Most of them are gifts to the King and Queen for their birthdays or the anniversary of their coronation.

We left Dusit and walked over to the Marble Temple. It was just closing as we got in, so we just took a few pictures and then worked our way out through the barricades.

It's funny. Because looking at the temple, it's all peaceful and calm, and then from where we're standing to take this picture, you turn around into this:

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