There is so much to do in Bangkok that I almost don’t know where to begin but we’ll start with what is known as the “Big 3” tour. This is a ½ to a full day tour that just about every tourist that visits Bangkok for the first time ends up taking. It includes 3 of the major tourist attractions: The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew where you will find the exquisite “Emerald Buddha” and Wat Pho, the home of the giant “Reclining Buddha”.
Typically this tour might also be followed by a long tail boat ride through some of Bangkok’s canals or possibly a short hop to the other side of Chao Phraya River to visit Wat Arun Rajwararam (The Temple of Dawn.)
Every tour agent and hotel in town can arrange this tour for you but you can take it on your own if you prefer. However, be aware that when you approach the Grand Palace, very polite, nicely dressed people will approach you and tell you that the day you are visiting is a special holiday and the Palace is closed but if you follow them they can lead you to a special entrance where you can enter. This is a scam. Politely decline the offer and keep walking.
If you arrive by taxi, some unscrupulous drivers will tell you the Palace is closed for the specific hour you are arriving and offer to take you to a gem museum for free. This is also scam. He’ll be getting a kickback from the gem store he takes you to. Just pay your fare get out of the cab…unless you want to go to a gem store.
If you are arriving at the Grand Palace by Chao Phraya River express boat, you should get off at the Tha Chang Pier and walk straight through the market area to the street. The back side of the Grand Palace is right in front of you. In all likelihood, one of the polite nicely dressed people described above will approach you there. If you book a Big 3 Tour, it will begin with a walk around Grand Palace grounds and into the Grand Palace Museum. It really is an awesome sight.
From the Grand Palace typically you will next walk over to Wat Phra Kaew to see the “Emerald Buddha”, which is actually on the grounds of the Grand Palace. As an aside, when we’ve toured in Lao, we visited temples in both Luang Prabang and Vientiane where we were told “This is where the Emerald Buddha used to be.” There are also records of it being in Cambodia before Laos and legend has it that was actually created in India. But it was “relocated” to Bangkok in 1782.
In the case of this statue, the term “Emerald” refers to the color of the statue, not the stone. It is actually carved from a single piece of jade.
Next up you’ll come to Wat Pho, the home of the giant “Reclining Buddha”. I’ve been to this temple 3 times and every visit I see something new. The most recent time I was amazed at the detail of the casting of the bottom of the feet of the Buddha. The time before it was the small collection pots that line one wall of the temple that visitors drop small coins into as they pass the back of the Buddha.
At this point, you may want to continue across the river to Wat Arun Rajwararam (The Temple of Dawn) or you may want to take a ride down one of the famous canals. You can go on public boats for less but you can also hire a private boat for your group at Pra Pin Klao Bridge Pier, near Tha Phra Arthit Pier. Currently the price is now around 700-1,000 baht for the boat depending on how long your trip lasts (1-2 hours).