Bangkok, 30 January – 2 February 2020
With a population of over 8 million, the capital city of Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand. Though (in)famous for its abundant nightlife and sex tourism, in Bangkok we experience a forward-thinking and entirely pleasant mega city.
After arriving at the Centrepoint pier from Ko Chang, a big bus is waiting to take us straight to Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, the touristic heart of the city. The first thing I notice when we reach the outskirts of town is the public transport. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS), also known as the Skytrain, began its operation at the turn of the millennium and soars over the traffic-congested streets below.
Then there is also a convenient subway system, an extensive network of public buses, and last but not least, public ferries, connecting all the different piers on both river and canals. It’s easy to get around in Bangkok.
There are currently 1,682 canals (khlongs) in Bangkok, totalling 2,604 km in length. Khlongs were used for transportation, floating markets and sewage and helped gain Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East”. (The list keeps growing..)
The majority of sightseeing in Bangkok revolves around temples – almost too many to count. We check out a fair few, starting with Wat Saket: The temple of the Golden Mount. This Buddhist temple on a steep, artificial hill offers round views over the city. Phu Kao Thong (The Golden Mount) has become a symbol of Bangkok.
Now that we have seen the lay of the land, our temple tour continues at Wat Traimit, home of the Golden Buddha. Weighing in at 5.5 tonnes, this holy statue is believed to have been cast in parts in India.
Wat Chakkrawat, our next stop, is not usually included in the circuit, thpugh this temple stands out for its resident crocodiles. Legend is a canal was dug from the temple to the river, after which one of the monks found a croc in the garden and decided to keep it. With so many temples in Bangkok I guess it’ll help secure a few donations!
We follow the canals past Wat Pho, a big temple complex known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This 46m long statue represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana at the end of all incarnations. After a lot of walking we can do with a bit of rest ourselves, so we end the day watching the sunset from a pub on the river, which has a great view of a lit up Wat Arun on the opposite bank.
The next day we continue where we left off and visit a couple more godly residences. Though India officially only has one temple dedicated to lord Brahma, located in Pushkar, Thailand has many. Still no visit would be complete without paying our respect to the naughty god!
Around the corner from the Brahma temple is Wat Suthat, which you can recognize by the 30m high, giant swing in front of it. An annual swing ceremony was held here until 1935, where Brahmins would swing in an attempt to grab a bag of coins from one of the swing’s pillars. The temple itself dates back to the 18th century and is considered one of 23 first grade royal temples in Thailand.
At this point we make a sidestep to try and procure some hand sanitizer from the markets. Since recent reports on the Coronavirus, almost every Western tourist in Bangkok is wearing a £1 surgical mask (along with a customary set of elephant trousers), but keeping clean hands seems more useful to us. Turns out every shop’s sold out. When we find ourselves giving it one more go on a cramped market street in the middle of Chinatown we have got to stop and wonder; this might be defeating the purpose..
Keeping our grubby fingers well away from our mouths then we head to our final sight of the day, the Grand Palace. First stop inside the walled complex is yet another temple: Wat Phra Kaew, or, Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
This temple is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. At the very least it’s probably the most adorned, both inside and outside.
The compound walls are decorated with some fantastic murals. In 178 scenes they illustrate the complete sanskrit epic Ramayana. I’d be lying if I said I know much about the story, but any barbarian can still appreciate the beautiful craftsmanship that has gone into its creation. Beautiful stuff.
Finally it’s time to head inside and catch a glimpse of the famous emerald Buddha. According to legend, this Buddha image originated in India as well, where a sage prophesied it would bring prosperity and pre-eminence to each country in which it resides. Hence the statue is deeply revered in Thailand as the protector of the country. This means there’s no photography allowed inside, but I couldn’t keep this from you now, could I?
Delighted in having seen the coveted emerald Buddha we still have the Grand Palace to go, the icing on the cake, the home of the Thai King who’s face you find plastered on billboards all over town. The Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held here every year.
Bangkok has lots to discover, not least of all its food scene. Thai cuisine ranks up there with the best in the world and in Thailand’s capital it’s easy to find some mouth-watering dishes, such as Som Tam, Tom Yum Goong, Massaman Curry and Tom Kha Gai, all extremely flavourful and super cheap, sold at food stands found literally everywhere in the city. Plus you can bring your own beer, doesn’t get any better than that.
On our final day in Bangkok we check out some of its hypermalls. As part of the Japan Expo Thailand 2020 event we witness a really terrible yet extremely popular Japanese girl band performing at Central World and find a gourmet food store at Siam Paragon which sells anything needed for a little picnic in the park by the river. Wonderfull! I’ll admit I didn’t expect Bangkok to be such an easy-going place!
True we may have missed Soi Cowboy, go-go bars, ladyboys and being fall-down drunk, but in return had a pretty darn good time in Thailand’s capital. Bangkok has been a city full of pleasant little surprises.
Next up we’ll be taking the train to the Bridge on the River Kwai.