The mash up of traditional and 21st century elements present in tropical Bangkok can be a true assault on the senses – serving up an urban abundance of smells, tastes, sounds and sights which can be both bewildering and enchanting.
An initial sense of being somewhat overwhelmed and a trifle daunted passes once you start encountering the unreserved warmth of the locals, exploring the fascinating temples, tucking into the wonderful cuisine and discovering that very real Thai culture is just a step off the main road away.
The number one must-do in my opinion is a thorough exploration of the Grand Palace in the Old City district. The Grand Palace is actually a complex of buildings which the royals and their entourage of first Siam and then Thailand called home from 1782. Expect to be dazzled by glittering glass mosaics, tiles and gilt details, all sparkling and winking in the sun. The architecture and intricate detail will hit you afresh with every corner you take and the sheer size and scale of it all is something you may never quite get your head round.
Make sure you check out the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Pra Kaew) (Top image), which is considered the most spiritually significant of all the temples in the city because it houses the solid jade carved Buddha statue. Adjacent to the Grand Pala ce is the ‘Temple of the Reclining Buddha’ (Wat Pho) – one of Bangkok’s largest and oldest temples which houses the awe-inspiring 160 foot long reclining Buddha along with another 1000 Buddha images.
By the way – appropriate dress for temples is considered to be clothing which covers up knees and shoulders and this is the one time the easy going Thais will point out your cultural faux pas should you try and break the rules. There are even a few enterprising folk on the street outside the Grand Palace entrance hiring sarongs and such like for tourists who have come garbed in shorts and vest tops and been refused entrance.
Markets are a big thing in South East Asia and Bangkok has some of the not-to-be-missed variety. Early mornings are the time to stroll around the cacophony of colours found at the vast flower market (Pak Khlong Talat) on Kamphaeng Phet Road; you can spend the whole day at Chinatown’s exotic Sampeng market or head to the Patpong night market after dark. A little further afield and possible on day tours are the iconic floating markets such as the first-of-them-all and therefore perhaps the most famous – Damnoen Saduak floating market. Imagine riots of colour, vegetables, fruit, flowers and all kinds of random produce piled high on a variety of longboats and watercraft paddled mostly by ladies. If you fancy a bite to eat no worries – some of the boats come complete with pots and charcoal burners and grills ready at a moment’s notice to whip up something tasty for the passers-by.
Talking of eating you’re going to be a littl e spoiled for choice whether you’re looking for an authentic, cheap and tasty street-food treat – not all of the scorpion-on-a-stick variety – or something a little more upmarket. For a drink to remember and a little jazz head to the Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower for evening cocktails with a 360 degree view of Bangkok by night from 63 stories up.
Bangkok has enough to keep you busy but there are a whole host of day tours possible from the capital. These include an adventure north of the city to the former Siamese capital and evocatively ruined Ayutthaya and a journey west to the site of the bridge over the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi. Highlights here include the mysterious stone Buddha head entwined by tree roots at UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ayutthaya and the Death Railway, memorial museums, bridge and war cemeteries at beautiful and tranquil Kanchanab uri.
More Thailand in the Travelman series:
Find out about the Travelmans Thailand’s Tropical Island Treats
Find out more about Thailand – Lesser Visited Ruins, Night Bazaars and a Fairytale ‘Castle’
To contact Jerry with your travel questions and for itinerary advice, please email him: [email protected]
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