When I discovered I’d be footloose and fancy free for a day by myself in Bangkok, I decided the easiest and most efficient way of getting a feel for the city was with a private guide. Staying at the upmarket SO Sofitel Bangkok I figured the hotel would only recommend quality guide services so I booked with the hotel concierge. I loved the the ease of not needing to read a map, negotiate fares with taxis and read up on attractions. It was a lazy approach, but a successful one. The day did get off to a rocky start though and I wondered what I’d got myself into.
The guide arrived promptly to meet me in the foyer of the hotel. As she walked towards me I noted her give me a swift look up and down which was quickly followed by a frown. I wasn’t appropriately dressed for our outing she informed me. Although I had worn a shirt with sleeves and pants which were just shy of my ankles, showing my ankles would be a problem at the Grand Palace she told me. I had checked the previous night with the concierge as I wanted to be respectful, and he said if my knees were covered I would be fine. Apparently, that was wrong. As I returned to my room to change like a chastised teen, I wondered if this would ruin any possible rapport between us for the rest of the day. Thankfully it didn’t.
I chose to do the tour using public transport rather than a private car and thoroughly enjoyed exploring Bangkok by taxi, tuk tuk, canal boat and ferry. My guide Pui took care of purchasing tickets, negotiating fares and took me to lunch, making it very easy for me.
Pui advised our first stop would be the Grand Palace to avoid the crowds which would accumulate as the day went on. We arrived at 9.30 and it didn’t feel like we had managed to beat the crowds at all.
My guide pointed to the sign at the front listing the appropriate clothing and the many people who were being turned away. I think that was her version of I told you so.
As we jostled our way to the entrance Pui advised me to keep my backpack in front for security.
Knowing my interest in all things accessibility, Pui pointed out wheelchair access throughout the day. She advised in the past she had taken private tours with people who were in a wheelchair and said it had been very difficult. We saw many wheelchair users at the Grand Palace but they were limited to the courtyards around the buildings due to the many stairs. The courtyards are beautiful but it’s a shame not everyone has access.
Ramps are in place around the palace to access the courtyards but tend to be steep and would need a bit of extra push for manual wheelchair users.
It’s important to remain respectful throughout your visit. Guards are on duty to monitor behaviour and where they weren’t stepping in to enforce the rules, Pui did. She told a man to take his hat off in the temple, reprimanded a boy sitting on a wall and gently hit a woman’s feet as she was facing her bare feet to the Buddha. I really liked Pui but I have to say she scared me a bit, just like a stern teacher does at school.
When visiting temples it’s advisable to wear shoes which are easy to slip in and out of as you will be required to leave your shoes at the door. At this point, Pui produced a small chapstick-like stick and put it under my nose. I was a little alarmed as I was unsure what she was doing, but she advised I should sniff it and get rid of the bad foot odour smell which surrounded us. A result of the hot humid day and the many sweaty shoes left outside.
After our time at the Grand Palace we hopped in a tuk tuk to visit The Wat Pho or “Temple of the Reclining Buddha”.
The Wat Pho is the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok, housing more than 1,000 Buddhas.
The temple is famous for its enormous gold plated Reclining Buddha which is an impressive 46 metres long and 15 metres high.
The soles of the Reclining Buddha’s feet are about 3 meters high and almost 5 meters long and inlaid with mother of pearl. The detail is incredible on such a grand scale.
Once I’d had plenty of time to look around we hopped into a Long Tail boat which was the perfect way to see another side to life in Bangkok.
Friendly locals waved from their verandas where they seemed content to watch the activity of the passing boats while their kids fed the enormous fish below.
At one point the boat driver slowed to purchase bread from a seller on a wharf.
The seller lowered a basket on a stick down to the boat for Pui to take the bread.
Eagerly surfacing to gobble the bread in what can only be described as a fish frenzy, they feverishly competed for the food with their slaps on the surface of the water splashing me in the boat.
In stark contrast to the fish frenzy, the monitor lizards of Bangkok laze on the riverfront, unfazed by the constant river traffic.
The boat trip was a highlight for me. It was the only insight into Bangkok life I saw outside of the tourist districts.
My main aim when I’m away from the family is to find somewhere to buy gifts to take back home. If I find any additional gifts suitable for BJ’s birthday or Christmas presents, that’s a bonus, and Bangkok delivered on all counts.
BJ absolutely loved my purchases from the Asiatique Market, particularly his new range of Simpsons t-shirts.
The majority of the market is accessible. Some alley ways are narrower than others but generally it’s pretty easy to get around.
I had greater success shopping for AJ at the larger malls rather than at the market. The shopping malls are enormous with a good range of international branded clothing and products. If you want to avoid the crowds shop during the afternoon or early evening. The later it gets in Bangkok, the busier it gets.
ADVANTAGES OF A PRIVATE GUIDE
With only a day to explore Bangkok, this was an efficient and pleasant way to experience a lot in a short time. Pui was happy to answer my questions regarding life in Thailand and Bangkok. It gave me a personalised insight into education, health care and the Bangkok lifestyle.
It was certainly easy having someone taking care of the logistics of the day and Pui’s inside knowledge meant she told me the best places to take photographs throughout the day.
Although happy with my own company it was nice having someone to chat to while we travelled between sights.
A private guide can tailor a day to your pace and needs.
Accessibility around Bangkok is difficult. I didn’t see a single accessible taxi or bus. If it’s an option, travelling with a folding manual wheelchair is recommended to access transport.
Wheelchair Tours Thailand comes highly recommended (thanks Srin from AirBnB) for arranging accessible transport and a tour around the city. This is the best option if you need fully accessible transport.
At the Grand Palace I found an accessible bathroom which was locked. We found a cleaner and much to his amusement asked him if we could take a look inside. I thought it would be interesting to see the facilities at a major site.
As is so often the case, the accessible bathroom seemed to double as the cleaner’s storage area but it was a unisex stand-alone bathroom. The fact it was padlocked was problematic if a cleaner or guard isn’t nearby when it’s needed. I bet Pui had never been asked to include an accessible toilet on a private tour before.
Bangkok electrified my senses with its chaotic, busy and exciting vibe. It has many challenges for a wheelchair user but a private tour may just be the answer to enjoying Bangkok and all its craziness.