Bangkok at first glance can be overwhelming. Buzzing with activities, the city is larger than life and many find its sheer dynamism intoxicating. Same same, but different, the signature T-shirt philosophy aptly captures the spirit and contradiction of this multidimensional city, for where else will you find swanky mega-malls sharing space with 200 year old homes; or gold-spired Buddha statues within minutes from the city’s sleazy nightclubs; or street vendors selling cooked insects overlooked by swish restaurants serving Royal Thai dishes and international cuisine? Here in the morning rush hour, you can see the saffron-clad Buddhist monks weaving their way through nose-to-tail traffic to collect alms or the locals eking out a living from skills that have remained unchanged since time immemorial, right under the shadows of the magnificent commercial centers.
Delve a little deep in its swanky exterior and you will find that Bangkok offers an experience that is completely and uniquely Oriental – beautiful temples and equally stunning palaces, bazaars overflowing with silks and antiques, warm hospitable people, and a philosophy of live and let live, exemplifying a spirit of tolerance and binding everything together in one unexplainable whole.
For many, the biggest attraction of Bangkok is its legendary nightlife; others come to experience the traditional Thai massages to rejuvenate the body, spirit and mind. Then there are those who seek treasures in its shopping havens and giving them company are the people who come here to explore the city’s visual delights. Whatever the reason for the visit, Bangkok can satisfy the most cynical of the visitors by offering a slice of life that is unmatched in the world.
Things To See
The sprawling city of Bangkok has much to offer travelers. Traffic on roads can be a major problem but you can travel across the city quickly by the Skytrain or Metro.
Some of the main places of interest, such as the Royal Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the National Museum, are located to the east of the Chao Phraya River in Rattanakosin Island. The Sukhumvit Road area, with its exotic nightlife and tourist sights, such as Suan Pakkard Palace Museum and Jim Thompson Thai House is another major draw. You can gain a bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck on the 77th floor of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, one of the tallest hotels in the world.
Bangkok is home to more than 400 temples. Whether you are visiting palaces or temples, you should be conservatively dressed. You can be refused entry if you don’t follow the rules.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha): The oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho contains an enormous gold-plated reclining Buddha, which is 46m (150ft) long and 15m (49ft) high. The temple is also famous for traditional massages and teachings of herbal medicine.
Royal Grand Palace: This glittering walled complex is home to several beautiful palaces, and Wat Phra Kaeo, the holiest of all Thai temples. The main attraction is the statue of the sacred Emerald Buddha. The statue is actually covered in jade and not emeralds.
Sanam Luang: This is a beautiful public area located to the north of the Royal Grand Palace. Surrounded by old tamarind trees, it is used for many ceremonies throughout the year, such as the Ploughing Ceremony. Kite flying is a favorite pastime here.
Museum of Siam: Interactive exhibits in the museum trace the history of Thailand up to the modern day.
Chao Phraya River: This river running through Bangkok is a prime tourist attractions, famous for being the location of the spectacular Wat Arun, and the world renowned snake farm. Boat trips are readily available, and there are water taxis for hire.
Dusit Palace Park: The Park has on its grounds the Vimanmek Palace, the world’s largest teak mansion, impressive manicured grounds as also the Ancient Cloth Museum and the Royal Thai Elephant Museum. The Park is royal property and so you need to be suitably (read conservatively) dressed to explore the grounds.
Dusit Zoo: You can spend an entire fun-filled day picnicking in the grounds. The zoo, which was once a botanical garden, also has a plethora of eateries, a playground, and a big lake for paddle-boating.
Forensic Medicine Museum: You will need nerves of steel to browse through the museum. On display are pickled body parts, crime-scene evidence, and other ingenious murder weapons. A display worth a mention is the preserved cadaver of Si Ouey, one of Thailand’s most prolific and notorious serial killers. He is believed to have murdered and eaten more than 30 children in the 1950s.
Chinatown: This lively area has a fascinating maze of narrow lanes and open-fronted shops selling a plethora of items. The main attraction here is the solid gold statue of Buddha, which is 3m (10ft) high and weighs over five tons.
Wat Benjamabopit: Located on Si Ayutthaya Road, the area houses government buildings and the current royal residence. Made out of Italian marble, the place is a unique example of European and Thai architecture.
Lumphini Park: This haven of tranquility is located in the heart of the city. The park is dotted with pavilions and two small lakes.
Bang Pa In: Situated to the north of the city, Bang Pa In was the former summer residence of the royal family in the 17th century. The buildings reflect Oriental and European influences in the architecture.
Ancient City: If you do not have the time to explore the entire city, simply visit the Ancient City, an open-air museum with full-size and scaled-down replicas of famous buildings, monuments, and temples from across the country.