Travel writer Jennifer Johnson shares her first impressions of Bangkok and the beautiful riverside Anantara Hotel, of glittering, bustling temples and tourists in baggy pants.
The aroma of sweet coconut and zesty mint fill the air. I inhale deeply. The scents are from my body scrub treatment at the Anantara Spa in Bangkok. Lying face down on the massage bed in one of the spa’s private rooms, my skin is relishing being scrubbed with the white coconut and mint concoction. Each stroke by my Thai massage therapist, erases any lingering jetlag in the best way possible.
Rewind 15 hours earlier, to me racing into Brisbane International Airport, the last passenger checking in on an overnight flight to Bangkok. I’m not sure what possessed me at the time of choosing my flights to take the overnight option. I thought with a little sleeping, the eight and a half hours would pass quickly. I hadn’t factored in the ongoing cries from a baby, preventing me from any shut eye. On arrival in Bangkok, I felt far from ‘refreshed.’ But I did have my pre-booked spa pampering at Anantara Hotel’s spa to look forward to.
Hotel on the river
The 27-year old Anantara Hotel has retained a traditional ambience. Inside the foyer I’m drawn to the sound of cascading water. From the floor above reception a waterfall spills into two dug-out canoes stacked on top of the other. Nearby, another water feature is filled with small floating arrangements of white flowers on large green philodendron leaves. I like the tropical touches.
I have an hour to spare before my spa appointment, so I take the opportunity to wander the hotel grounds. The pool is the hotel’s central feature, surrounded by lush vegetation. The white columns and orange tiled roof over the swim to bar draw the eye. I pass a family with young children, one of whom is pointing excitedly at something he sees in the pool area. I look over the balcony ledge and spy what has caused his excitement. Two water dragons (large lizards) are sauntering across the tiled surrounds of a pond, close to the pool’s perimeter. I watch their long scaly bodies slip into the water, silently disappearing beneath the lily pads.
Relax and unwind in the Anantara Spa
Following my heavenly coconut and lime body scrub I take a long shower and for the first time since leaving Brisbane, I feel refreshed. During my 30-minute body massage I drift off under the strong, caring hands of my therapist, Suphee. The finale is a foot soak. Chatting to Nok (Suphee’s Thai nickname) I ask her suggestions on what to see in Bangkok. Her almond brown eyes sparkle and she says with a big smile, “you need to come back to spa for more treatments.” Sounds very tempting Nok, but I must leave the Hotel comforts and explore Bangkok.
Take a boat ride to the Grand Palace
Bangkok is a thriving metropolis bustling at a pace you would expect of a capital city. I’m keen to explore and decide on the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Transferring from the Anantara Hotel to the Saphan Taksin terminal (a central point connecting to many of Bangkok’s attractions) is easy. The Anantara guest boat departs every twenty minutes (from 6am to midnight.) The concierge suggests I take the ‘Express Boat – Orange flag’ to the Grand Palace. It was a little confusing to work out which boat was the Express Boat (the orange flag is small) at the Saphan Taksin terminal. But once I grasped the Thai system, it’s simply a matter of following the queue. Somehow, I end up on the boat displaying an ‘orange’ flag. Crammed into my boat are both tourists and locals, including a group of five young solemn faced monks cloaked in luminescent orange. Floating on top of the murky brown Chao Phraya River for 15 baht (50 cents AUD) is not only an inexpensive passage but an insight into Bangkok life.
Nine stops later at ‘Tha Chang’ Pier (N9) I exit the boat with most of the tourists and follow the crowds past a jumble of small shops. The roads are barricaded to allow tourists safe passage and within five minutes I’m at the gate entrances. About 150 metres inside is the ticket office and I purchase an entrance ticket to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew for 500 Baht (around $20.)
The 94.5-hectare Grand Palace grounds were consecrated in 1782, to mark the founding of Bangkok as the new capital. The self-sustaining city within a city was the Royal residence for King Rama 1 (1782 – 1809) to King Rama V of the Rattanakosin Kingdom (1868 – 1910.) The Royal family now live in Dusit, but the impressive old-style temples and buildings including the resting place for the sacred Emerald Buddha (Phra Keo) are open to visitors from 8.30am – 3.30pm daily.
Warning! As a significant pilgrim destination for devout Buddhists and one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, expect to find a chaotic mass of tourists and tour guides. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid the guides who shout to their groups, with minimal regard to anyone else attempting to enjoy the spiritual significance of the religious site.
Modest Clothing please
Visitors to Thailand should be respectful of the conservative nature of Thai culture requiring modesty in behaviour and dress. Before entering any sacred site, knees, shoulders and heels must be covered. Maybe it was the heat, or the jetlag catching up to me, but once inside the Grand Palace walls I was amused by the varied assortment of loose fitting Thai style yoga (chong kraben) pants covering knees everywhere.
Matching pants and clashing colours everywhere, instead of taking selfies, I couldn’t stop photographing Thai yoga pants. In the Land of Smiles, I couldn’t stop smiling.