Bangkok, Oriental setting, but the city don’t know what the city is getting — Murray Head
Happy Songkran! The Thai New Year starts today, so to celebrate, here’s a oldie, but goodie…
Bangkok is an amazing city. It’s the type of city that will pick you up, turn you upside down and shake you. It’s crazy, exciting, fun, and always a whirlwind. It’s very seedy and uncomfortable in parts, and yet the most luxurious high end classy experience in others. You can’t catch your breath here, there’s always night markets or bars or beach or grand palaces to see. Some of the world’s most opulent architecture exists smack dab in the middle of this metropolis, I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.
As you drive into the city from Suvarnabhumi airport, you’ll see the skyline filled with skyscrapers. Bangkok is a financial center for Southeast Asia, with a lot of commerce and business, despite mostly being known for having a huge tourism trade. The Chao Praya is the large river that runs through the city, and there are any resorts and hotels dotted along the banks of this body of water.
The best thing about staying on the shores of the river is that each hotel has a water taxi that will take you to and from town. They’re the fanciest ferries you’ll ever see. You’ll pass lots of high rise condominium buildings and yachts, and even a giant reclining Buddha. He is very popular amongst locals and tourists alike.
The best thing about Thailand’s busy streets is that there are open air markets on every corner, really, everywhere you turn. Try some exotic fruits! Fresh, juicy, tropical flavors burst in your mouth, it’ll change your life and make you hate supermarkets.
There is an abundance of it, and it’s so fresh and cheap, you could make all your meals fresh fruit and no one would fault you for it.
If you’re fancy, head to the Mandarin Oriental hotel for tea. This extravagant hotel boasts Lord Jim’s, one of Bangkok’s 4 star dining experiences.
Next door is the fabulously trendy China House, which has sleep, sexy decor and elevated new Asian cuisine.
Close to our hotel, was the Asiatique shopping center, which is a lively entertainment district at night. Visitors like to catch shows, ride on the big wheel or dine at any of the areas many restaurants on the river.
We had a decent dinner at its al fresco Thai spot, Baan Khanitha. When in Thailand, you must drink young coconut milk.
There’s lots to see here and it’s pretty family friendly (not so much the case for other locations in Bangkok). This bloke allowed me to take his picture because there’s no way in hell I would let parasitic fish bite my feet after biting other people’s feet.
On your first full day in the capital city, make your way to Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples, thought to be from King Rama I’s reign. Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand and there are MANY temples and shrines throughout the country. This, however, is probably one of the most iconic.
There’s no time like now because this place is always crowded. You will be elbow to elbow with people from all over the world, and it can be very congested at the most popular sites, so try to get there as early as possible.
You’ll pass more markets. Don’t worry, the mangosteens and longans will still be there when you’re done.
Make your way to the reclining Buddha. This symbolizes Buddha’s entry into nirvana and the end of reincarnation, and is therefore a popular image in Buddhism. This particular gold-plated statue is 46 meters long, and 15 meters high. He’s gorgeous.
Thai architecture is some of the most striking in the world. I can’t get enough of it, I’ve spent hours looking at pictures of their tiered stupas and temples.
So intricate, so extraordinary. The thought and planning that goes into every mosaic or decorative element. It’s incredible.
Phra Ubosot is the term to designate a main hall used for Buddhist rituals. There’s a gold Buddha that sits below a tiered umbrella, which is supposed to represent Thailand.
Wat Pho is known as the birthplace of Thai massage, an ancient practice of wellness, now popularized and practiced all over the world. Based on pressure points, it’s like acupuncture but with direct touch. You’re going to have to get a massage while in Thailand–literally like $10 for an hour on some of the beach towns. It’s the best.
Another must see (there’s a lot of them) are the cloisters of Phra Rabiang. These halls are where you can find hundreds of Buddhas all from varying time periods and regions all brought to the temple, restored and covered in gold leaf by King Rama.
On your way back to the hotel, you’ll pass many sites including the UN complex and the Royal Palace, Dusit. Recently, Thailand’s beloved and long serving King Bhumibol passed away, so the country continues its mourning as his son is set to ascend to the throne.
The next day, visit the Grand Palace. They’re not overstating with this name. It is a huge complex of over 2 million square feet, where the Kings of Siam held court since the 1782 until 1925, when absolute monarchy started its decline into abolishment.
Garudas are hybrid bird man creatures that represent a hybrid of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Prius of mythical creatures, if you will. Their brut force and violence are used in a positive way as stewards of guardianship around the country.
Again, the detail! These patterns were all hand lain tile and glass!
Gilded thai architecture is something to behold once in your life. Astounding.
The palace grounds also boast lovely frescoes depicting scenes from history and Thai folklore.
The hallways are filled with these images which have been immaculately restored.
Wat Phra Kaew is the temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Buddha is wonderful, but the building its housed in, its Phra Ubosot, is something else.
Depending on the different seasons, the Emerald Buddha has different outfits. Here he is debuting his Summer finery.
Garudas and their sworn enemy, the snake Naga adorn the exterior of the ubosot.
I just can’t. It’s incredible craftsmanship. I can barely tie my shoes.
I couldn’t get enough of this and could literally take pictures for days. One of the most beautiful manmade places in the world for sure. THE DETAIL THOUGH.
When you’re all splendored out, shock your senses in another way by fighting through throngs of people at Pratunam Market. This is one of the cheapest places you can buy clothing and textiles. This is where you go to buy the ubiquitous elephant pants and Chang beer t-shirts that every young tourist wears (including me, sorry not sorry, it’s hot as hell in Thailand).
Spend the afternoon exploring a different kind of manmade wonder, a shopping mall. Bangkok has a ton of gargantuan shopping centers I’ve seen. There’s so many of them, and they’re all crowded somehow. One of the best is Central World, conveniently located a few large city blocks from the market.
Central World has a large open air market in front of it selling stalls after stalls of glorious food. Pad Thai, while I know is very basic and American of me, is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I ate my weight in it while in Thailand because they have many street vendors and restaurants that serve it up like the woman below.
There’s so much food here that I almost forgot about shopping. That’s how amazing it is. There’s something else you should try while in Thailand. It may be the most polarizing thing in the world, with people either declaring war on it or greedily hoarding it away. It’s the durian. This spiky fruit is like no other, literally there is no other food that tastes like it. It smells like hell, but it is buttery and smooth and delicious. I’m of the unpopular opinion, but I enjoy it in small doses, like when tripping through Asia. It is not allowed in any hotels, so don’t try to take a souvenir with you. They’ll ban you, for real. Worth a try though, seriously.
Tonight head to the infamous Patpong red light district of Bangkok. It’s something worth seeing. I’m not going to lie, some of the things I saw there grossed me out. And it’s not like I was heading to the hidden fetish clubs or anything, but more than anything it made me feel fortunate to not have to be in certain situations in life. There’s a lot of characters around, many that probably know better, but many that probably traveled to this part of the world for this purpose. This is not an area recommended for kids.
It’s always struck me that Bangkok has such a lurid underbelly because traditionally, Thai people are very pious. I guess sometimes you have to do what you have to do to survive and that’s led to somewhat of an evolution in culture. But, as it most places in Thailand, there’s thriving night markets around the area, and there are lots of bars and pool halls that aren’t as depraved as others.
After finishing our trip throughout southeast asia, which you’ll read about someday I’m sure, we returned to Bangkok for another full day–always recommended because there’s always more to see.
Ride the skytrain to Siam Station, one of the most popular stops to get to all the malls. Siam Square not only has all of the huge shopping complexes, but also has street vendors everywhere. On your walk from the station to Siam Center, grab some street foot. It smells too good, will power not strong enough.
Siam Center is a huge plaza. There’s a huge Muay Thai boxing ring in the middle of it, for some added entertainment benefit.
There’s pedestrian bridges that link the big centers, and MBK is a more understated center, but they have an international food court, and that in itself is notable.
Now, Thailand is famous for its gorgeous floating markets. These tourist attractions hail back to the days when water commerce was a necessity of life–not so much now with your Amazons and your drones and what have you. But these visually aesthetic markets draw in a lot of people and rightfully so. The most famous is Damnoen Saduak which is about a 100 km journey from Bangkok and from what people tell me, it’s super touristy and expensive and crowded. That was too far for me this time, and maybe one day I’ll see it, but there are lots of local markets in Bangkok that are more easily accessible.
Taling Chan is a floating market that’s more like floating kitchens, but the perfume of seafood grilling makes it worth visiting.
Save your appetite though because you’re heading to Or Tor Kor market, where fried delicacies can be seen to the horizon.
More pad thai!
There’s fruit too, but whatever. Fried food!
Speaking of fried foods, just down the road is Chatuchak Market. This maybe rivals the flea markets in Paris as my favorite outdoor market. There’s an unending abyss of stalls selling antiques, ceramics, clothes, home goods, art, fabric, animals, food, books, you name it. It’s like the best flea market swap meet in the world.
Chatuchak is open on the weekends and has 8,000 stalls. The clock tower in the center of the market was built to commemorate King Bhumibol’s 60th birthday in 1987. Use it as a meeting place because you can very easily fall down the rabbit hole of shopping and get lost.
Get a foot massage at any one of the parlors located in the market. Your feet are going to hurt after walking around for a few hours here. Before heading back on the skytrain, grab a McDonald’s parfait with pandan sticky rice and mango. Love foreign McDs treats.
Siam Paragon is probably one of the nicest malls I’ve ever seen. And I’m a bit of a mall connoisseur. There are top brands and luxuries from all over the world. There’s a Garrett Popcorn and Fauchon and Laduree for pete’s sake. We can’t get a Garrett Popcorn in Los Angeles, but they’ve got one in Bangkok.
There’s also a spendy international food court, with meat on a stick, which is a great way to end this trip and any trip, really.
Actually, there’s one thing that would be even better…more durian 😉