Friday, April 9, 2010

Bangkok - Touring and Tasting

A holiday in Bangkok with its attractions, foods, massages and vibrant street life and nightlife is a dazzling experience for Westerners. Levelers will love it because it is flat and the more contemporary temples don't come with four flights of steep, narrow stairs.

Tip: There are stairs to the temples but I never counted more than eight.


                                                                          So have a cold coconut.
My one caveat: It is hot. The only thing hotter than the temperature is how your mouth feels after eating Thai food at native spice levels and you'll have to ask several times for that.  But back to the weather. Not just hot but walk across the street and sweat profusely hot.

Thais know this. Tour companies provide cooled towels and ample water, but it is at best a temporary alleviation. Change and wash clothes three times a day; shower yourself three or four times. Pack accordingly or do as one friend did, keep buying cheap T-shirts.

Getting around Bangkok
The other consideration: Bangkok is big. Huge and teeming with people (at least 8 million of the 10 million residents seem to be cooking, selling, walking or eating on the sidewalks), traffic, buildings, wires and incomprehensible signs. Fortunately taxis are cheap and tuck-tucks are cheaper. Use them.  Also use tours, especially when taking side trips outside the city.

Warning: The skyway is modern, air conditioned, cheap and convenient, but there are stairs. Sometimes escalators, but always stairs.

Bangkok hotels
Many, modern, elegant or efficient. I stayed at the Pullman Hotel, adjacent to the huge King Power Duty Free complex and near Victory Monument, where I was attending the meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers' Freelance Council. We liked our rooms, loved our beds the few hours we had to crawl into them but found it a lo-o-o-ng walk from the hotel's front door to the elevators; a consideration when you are weary, footsore and worn out from a day of sightseeing.

Where to eat
I had two memorable meals in Bangkok, dinner on the street in the Nana area and lunch at the elegant waterfront restaurant Supatra River House.

What to see
Wherever you look it is entertaining. The city is a no-ring circus with life and activity occurring everywhere and all the time. My not to be missed list includes the following.

Grand Palace. Indescribably beautiful, opulent, colorful and fascinating. Photos won't do it justice which is a good thing because I learned a painful but valuable lesson here: Don't believe what you read in guidebooks, even those put out by a country's tourist authority.

Photography is banned in several buildings, notably the Temple of the Green Buddha and buildings used by the king. However, the guidebook said if you stand just outside the doorway and your camera has a long enough zoom lens, frequently you can get a decent picture. I tried that successfully with the Green Buddha and at one other spot.

Then, as I ended the self-guided tour during which I had shot at least 100 images, I came to the King's Coronation Room. After gazing upon his gilded throne I left, turned around and snapped off a photo at which point the armed guard jumped from his chair, grabbed me and ordered "Delete! Delete!" repeatedly until that and all of the day's other photographs had been removed.

Reclining Buddha, Wat Po
Wat Po and Wat Arun. Wat Po contains the humongous and impressive Reclining Buddha and is Thailand's first open university, the temple where Thai massage and many Eastern healing methods evolved. Nearby you can get a Thai massage from the professors at at Wat Po Massage School, where the manuscripts and lore were assembled and organized courses of learning were first developed.

Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn is beautiful but you will encounter stairs. See it from the water at sunset.

Khlong tour/Floating Market. You shouldn't miss the river life along  Chao Phraya River and its tributaries.  Tip: Get to the floating market early - by 7 a.m. - if you want to see anything besides tourists.

Chatuchak Weekend Market. Largest outdoor market you are likely ever to see. Buyer beware but buyer have fun and photographer, keep lots of spare batteries handy. Drink lots of water, everyone.

The Pad Thai lady

Street life, day or night. Give yourself half a day to wander, eating on the street and              
getting a feel for what life here is like. It's the only place you are likely to encounter Pad Thai, Americans' favorite Thai food.
Ayutthaya. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this was the capital of Thailand for 417 years.  It will be a day trip to see even a few of the sections of this 14th-18th century complex but well worth the expense and effort.

Tip: The nimble kneed can climb the countless stairs but you can have just as satisfying an experience staying on the flat - if uneven - or occasionally tackling a few of the easier elevations.
Whatever you see, the Thai people, their ever present smiles and their knack for beauty and hospitality will win you over. Get a good bite of Bangkok from its palaces and its temples, massages and street food and the heat be damned. You'll want to return for more.



Romantic bed and breakfasts said...

Well, the post is really good and interesting I really enjoyed after read thanks for sharing us. I’d definitely visit there.

October 15, 2010 at 5:12 AM

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