I was so impressed by the spendour and extent of Wat Pho when I visited it on my first day in Bangkok that I assumed incorrectly that I had covered off Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace (the number 1 tourist sight in Bangkok) next door as well. Having realised my mistake I realised I could just about fit them in on the morning of my departure.
I took my by now well trodden path of the Skytrain to the central pier at Saphan Taksin (the Skytrain is a couple of railway lines built on elevated trackway along major streets in the centre of Bangkok) and then the ferry up the river to the Chang Pier (Pier No. 9) where I negotiated my way through the street market to the entrance to the Grand Palace Complex.
Skytrain at the National Stadium Station
Skytrain tracks at multiple levels outside the MBK Center
View from aboard a ferry on the Phraya River
Getting off the ferry at Saphran Taksin
Street Market by the Chang Pier on the way to the Grand Palace
Once I got to the Grand Palace it was overrun with tourists, especially the older initial Phraw Kaew that houses the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha itself is tiny when compared with others I have seen - only 66cm tall - but the spendour of the gilded temple that houses it you would hardly notice. Dress code was particularly enforced at the Emerald Buddha and many of the ladies ended up wearing borrowed sarongs and no photographs are allowed inside so the picture I have got was taken using zoom.
Wat Phra Kaew viewed from the outside
Giant guarding the entrance to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The Emerald Buddha
Me by the Temple to the Emerald Buddha
The upper terrace at the Grand Palace, including the Golden Chedi, Phra Mondop and the Royal Pantheon
Detail from around one of the spires outside the Royal Pantheon
Next door to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Complex is the Grand Palace itself. This is a much newer and contains buildings that are still used for state occasions and also is guarded by ceremonial guards. Just like in London the guards constantly had tourists jumping beside them to have their photo taken!
The Grand Palace
Changing the Guard outside the Grand Palace
Me outside the Chakri Maha Prasat and Dusit Maha Prasat Hall at the Grand Palace Complex in Bangkok
The Dusit Maha Prasit Hall next to the Grand Palace
With only a limited amount of time in Sydney (and having got the Blue Mountains out of the way), I signed up for 2 days of touring Sydney and Bondi Beach by bus followed by a cruise of Sydney Harbour. Unfortunately for the open-top bus tour of Sydney it was raining, not only making the top deck seats wet but also weighing down the branches of the trees causing them to sweep the top of the bus! Sometimes when it rained we braved the weather, sometimes we dived downstairs for cover.
Open-top double-decker bus tour of Sydney - in the rain!
The tour started from the currently being restored Sydney Town Hall just across the road from the very ornate Queen Victoria Building, built in 1898 and full of speciality shops. The first place of note awe passed as we got underway was Scruffy Murphys, an Irish Bar on the edge of Chinatown. When I returned later in the evening it turned out to be a very friendly but basic rough local with good Guinness and lots of impromptu Irish singing and dancing!
Sydney Town Hall being restored
Inside the Queen Victoria Building on George Street
Scruffy Murphys - the most famous Irish Bar in Sydney
Hyde Park (named after the famous park of the same name in London) is the oldest public parkland in Australia and marks the eastern boundary of Sydney's Central Business District (CBD). The focal point of the park is the Archibald Fountain overlooking the Roman Catholic St Marys Cathedral. The spine of the park is a pretty impressive looking avenue of fig trees.
The Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in Sydney
St Marys RC Cathedral with the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park in the foreground
St Marys RC Cathedral (note the fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce cars outside awaiting a wedding party!)
The fig tree lined avenue through the centre of Hyde Park in Sydney
On the south side of Hyde Park is the ANZAC War Memorial and Lake of Reflections. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 during World War I and the day has been remembered as ANZAC Day in both countries ever since. Nearby there is a statue of Captain Cook to commemorate his discovery of the east coast of Australia in 1770 and there are also very good views of the 1,014 foot (309 metre) high Sydney Tower Eye amongst the city's skyline.
The ANZAC Memorial and Lake of Reflections in Hyde Park
Inside the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park
Captain Cook's Statue in Hyde Park with the Sydney Tower Eye amongst the skyline in the background
Heading east out of the CBD we passed through Kings Cross, Sydney's red light district. It was originally named Queens Cross in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 but nearly everyone got it confused with Queens Square on Kings Street so it got renamed. Dominating the area is the iconic 42 feet (13 metre) high Coca Cola Billboard sign originally erected in 1974, it's apparently the largest billboard sign in the Southern Hemisphere but isn't heritage-listed as most people assume. Kings Cross itself surprised me with how narrow its tree lined streets were although as expected nearly every second building seemed to be a strip-club or bar touting for business!
The Coca Cola Sign at Kings Cross, the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere
Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross - Sydney's Red Light District
Continuing north towards the Harbour, we passed the main east coast base of the Royal Australian Navy on the east side of Woolloomooloo Bay and also past a peculiar piece of street art of a car crushed by a large rock in the middle of the roundabout. We then caught our first sight of the two big Sydney iconic landmarks of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge although I was to get a much better view of both of these while on the Harbour Cruise the following afternoon.
HMAS Newcastle and HMAS Sydney moored up at the Naval Base on Woolloomooloo Bay
Street art in Sydney
The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
Close by where the Hyde Park Barracks, built with convict labour in 1819 and now a world heritage site. Between 1819 and 1850 over 50,000 convicts passed through these barracks on their arrival in Australia, including potentially one of my ancestors (I found 2 convicts sharing my surname amongst the database of former inmates!). I also found the gallery on the Irish orphan women particularly interesting because of it potential relevance to my own family history. In the walls of the barracks was the An Gorta Mar, Australia's national memorial to the Irish Famine of 1845 to 1852.
Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks where 50,000 convicts were landed between 1819 and 1850
Convict uniform on display in Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks
Convict hammocks at the Hyde Park Barracks
The Court Room at the Hyde Park Barracks
An Gorta Mor - Australia's National Memorial to the Irish Famine
Moving back towards the city centre is the Circular Quay, Built by convict labour in the 1850s this was the original main port for Sydney. Today it is mega busy with tourists boarding ferries going to all the different parts of the harbour as well as being where the big cruise ships (such as the "Carnival Spirit" that arrived while I was there) moor up when they are in town.
The Circular Quay from the Sydney Opera House
The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Circular Quay
Aboriginal Cultural Performers on the Circular Quay
By the following morning the weather had returned to normal for Sydney without a cloud in the sky so I was able to take the open-top bus tour to Bondi Beach, 4 miles (7 kilometres) to the east of the city and one of the most famous beaches in the world. After enjoying a stroll along the beach for a couple of hours I caught the bus back to Sydney, catching fleeting glimpses of the city views that are the reason why this area has some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
My first view of Bondi Beach
The Lifeguard Lookout and Pavilion on Bondi Beach
Me by the Lifeguard Lookout on Bondi Beach
Lifeguards on duty on Bondi Beach
Millionaires Row view of Sydney on the way back from Bondi
Once back in Sydney I boarded a catermaran in the Circular Quay to do the Sydney Harbour Cruise. The first stop was Fort Denison, a martello fort about kilometre offshore built in the mid 19th century to protect Sydney. From there we sailed onwards towards the ocean past the net-protected Sharks Beach in Vaucluse before reaching the affluent suburb of Watsons Bay.
Sydney's Circular Quay
Fort Denison in the middle of Sydney Harbour
Shark Beach protected by nets
Watsons Bay was the furthest we travelled east towards the open ocean before we turned around. The views of Sydney, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as we made our way back were stunning.
Looking beyond Watson Bay towards the Ocean
Looking towards Sydney on the way back from Watson Bay
The replica of HMS Endeavour beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Me sailing past the Sydney Opera House
The 'Carnival Spirit' Cruise Ship berthed at the Circular Quay next to the Sydney Opera House
After brief stops at Taronga Zoo and the Circular Quay we passed under the Harbour Bridge and turned into Darling Harbour opened in 1988. The National Maritime Museum with its impressive fleet of historical ships (including a replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour) occupies the west side of the harbour while the Sydney Aquarium, Madame Tussaud's and more tourist boat jetties occupies the east side. Sydney also has a monorail which runs across Pyrmont Bridge at the bottom of Darling Harbour but this was due to close in June 2013 so I was probably one of the last to ride on it.
Replica of Captain Cook's HMS Endevour in Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour and the fleet of historical ships of the National Maritime Museum from the Pyrmont Bridge
The Sydney Monorail coming into its Darling Harbour Station on Pyrmont Bridge