I spent my fair share of time in the northern part of Thailand, volunteering at the elephant farm five years ago. I really enjoyed my stay with a local family and learned about their culture and where I began to understand why Thailand is called 'The Land of Smiles'. For some reason, I never had a strong desire to visit Bangkok, probably because big cities are off-putting to me. It’s only now that I realized how much of a missed opportunity this had been and glad to include it in my epic Southeast Asia travel this year. I began my trip to Bangkok with the knowledge I learned from volunteering in the northern part of Thailand where I felt safe.
Right after landing at Suvanabhumi airport and going through customs, I went straight to a transportation booth to ask where I could find a cab to my hotel. Instead of pointing me to the cab waiting area, I was led to believe that I was in the right place. A man pointed me to the clerk at the counter who started preparing a receipt for 1600 Baht and asked me for the hotel address and my credit card. Unbeknownst to me, it was a limousine service, but not the limousine as we know it in the US. To make a long story short, I was literally taken for a ride. I paid 1600 Baht (equivalent to $55.00) for a cab ride that normally cost 300 Baht. Welcome to the big city! I thought.
It was a long ride through miles and miles of elevated highway lined with huge advertising billboards before reaching the hotel. I could not help but notice the similarity of billboard advertising I saw in Manila (the last city I visited in Southeast Asia) where half-Caucasian-half-Asian looking models promote some sort of skin-whitening products. Modern skyscrapers spread throughout the city. After getting off the elevated highway and driving through the street level, I was once again reminded of Manila: there were buses, private cars, and tuk-tuks sharing the same lane, drivers weaving in and out, crossing the line into oncoming traffic. Pedestrians putting their hand up to the oncoming car to cross a busy street.
As I walked into my hotel room, I was greeted by the sunset over the Chao Phraya river. It was quite nice. I sat to absorb the view. Even though there were high-rise buildings spread out along the river, it was still relaxing to see the sunset.
The following day, I met up with my fellow travelers to Myanmar for a sightseeing tour of Bangkok. We visited Chinatown, the Indian district, and the old city.
We walked around the flower market, but the highlight of the day was a visit to Wat Pho, home to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand and the world’s largest reclining Buddha. It’s also considered the earliest center for public education in Thailand, and the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.
|The Buddha, named Phra Buddhajinaraja and cast in 1920 has a blue background that is illuminated|
Bangkok, Sticky Rice and Mango Again.After the trip to Myanmar, I returned to Bangkok and stayed in the same hotel by the riverbank. It was two blocks away from Asiatique Riverside, a modern open-air mall and a traditional night market combined. When I first arrived in Bangkok, I only ate at the recommended restaurant and it did not even offer sticky-rice and mango, but I ordered it anyway. I noticed the waiter went to a street vendor to fill my order.
I figured that I would not be experiencing Bangkok if I did not try the food scene. So, upon my return to Bangkok, I made it a point to explore the night market and try the street food. First, I went to 7-11 (my go-to store for water and fried rice when I was in Chiang Mai) to stock up on water. It was interesting to see street vendors selling sunglasses, bags, phone accessories, fruits and vegetables, and food vendors boiling chicken stock, frying bananas, and grilling seafood in their food carts along the way. I did not understand why vendors compete for a small space on the pavement when Asiatique, the big mall, was just a few blocks away. I was set on the idea of having street food for dinner but seeing a drop of murky water (probably from the air conditioning unit or the gutter) fell onto the grilled prawns ruined my appetite. Plus, the smell of spices and garlic mingled with exhaust from the tuk-tuks was not exactly appetizing.
I continued to walk to Asiatique to have a look. There, I found plenty of eating places – chain restaurants, Japanese restaurants, pastry places, juice and smoothies and everything that I could find from the malls of America – entertainment venues, designer brand anything, clothes, bags, wallets, watches, cosmetics, arts and crafts – plus produce, houseplants, young coconuts, fresh fruits for smoothies, massage parlors with live fish, donuts and giant prawns, etc. I ran into two people who traveled with me in Myanmar and we ended up having dinner together at a crowded seafood restaurant. We ordered grilled giants river prawns, soft-shell crabs that burst with intense flavor, and of course my favorite sticky rice and mango for dessert. I managed to get trapped in Asiatique. I went back the following day to buy a new suitcase, not because I bought a lot of stuff, but I left my other suitcase in Manila.
The next day was dedicated to temple hopping and photography: The Golden Buddha, the Royal Palace, and Wat Arun. I took a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River to explore Bangkok’s famous attractions. I headed across the river to visit the Royal Palace. I figured since it was the beginning of the monsoon season that there would be no crowd. I was wrong. The crowd was overwhelming, it was hard to take pictures without the people. I could not take pictures of the Jade Buddha anyway. So I gave up on taking pictures, but pushed my way through the crowd and endured the heat and humidity to admire the towering temples and sculptures, intricate carvings upon every surface and bejeweled everything. The Grand Palace was one of the most beautiful and amazing architectural achievements I have ever seen.
After visiting temples, I walked around to find some good Thai food for the last time. Somehow, I got lost and ended up in a giant air-conditioned mall’s food court. I eventually found a specialty ice-cream place that offered organic and special ice-cream flavors. However, the picture of a sticky rice and mango outside the coffee shop across the ice-cream place was enticing. So, I went into the coffee shop and ordered coffee, sticky-rice and mango. I passed by a Starbucks before heading back to the boat and went in to use the Wifi.
Next, I headed across the river to Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). The view from Wat Arun was amazing. I would have preferred taking a picture of it at night. But it was very photogenic during the day nonetheless.
The boat ride back to my hotel was a perfect way to end my trip in Bangkok. It took me around for a glimpse of Bangkok’s historical past through its temples and architecture and showed me the present through its modern skyscrapers along the river – sort of a good summary of Bangkok: a modern city, yet traditional and exotic.
All photos by the author