We spent the last few days of our trip in Bangkok, which we found to be much less laid back than Chiang Mai. Because our time here was limited, we focused on the major tourist attractions: Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, which is the home of the Reclining Buddha, and Wat Arun across the river. These three temples are absolutely worth seeing. The visual impact and sheer quantity of decorative detail in the Wat Phra Kaew complex is staggering and must be seen to be believed. Tourism is understandably a big slice of the local economy, especially in the area right around these three attractions.
The downside of this is that the touts outside the temples are absolutely relentless. We found we couldn’t walk fifty feet without someone (aggressively) offering us a ride, a tour, a souvenir, a one-day sale on gemstones, etc. When we sat down inside a restaurant for lunch to try to get a reprieve, we even had our waiter pitching us on a river tour one of his relatives offered. I truly don’t begrudge any of the individual hawkers trying to scrape out a living this way. It’s a life that is much harder and probably far less comfortable than mine. It just becomes exhausting to deal with in the aggregate, and it makes you start to close yourself off from everyone around you because you think they’re trying to scam you. I really don’t enjoy operating that way. The lesson we took away from this is that next time we’ll probably hire a local guide,more as a shield from this kind of solicitation than for actual help getting around and finding things.
Setting those small annoyances aside, these temples are marvelous. It’s worth feeling a bit hassled to get to see them.