Getting Acquainted – Bangkok, Thailand
Getting to know all that Bangkok has to offer would take months, but if you’ve got limited time, think about stopping by these popular attractions:
Craving architecture and history? Bangkok boasts an amazing array of wats, or temples. Look at the airport or at travel offices for maps, since they often depict monuments as points of interest. Beware of tuk-tuk drivers willing to take you to several wats for an extremely low price. In between the wat tour, more likely than not you’ll end up at a less-than-reputable gem shop, or, the most popular during my stay, a suit shop. Other tourists I encountered said they were actually told to stay in these shops for 10 minutes, even when they didn’t want anything, so the tuk-tuk driver could get a commission (most often coupons for free gas).
Marble House Temple
Popular wats to visit include the Marble Temple, Golden Mount (the city views from the top are breathtaking) and the Standing Buddha at Wat Intharawihan. Of particular interest is Wat Pho, the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok. It costs 20 baht to get in (more if you want to hire a guide), and you can see impressive spires with ceramic decorations and a huge Reclining Buddha that is 15 meters high and 46 meters long. Wat Pho is also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of Thai massage. You can get a massage there or take classes in the art. Then hop over to see the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. When planning a day of seeing wats, watch what you wear. Many sites have a dress code that bars tank tops, shorts or sandals.
Gardens of Wat Pho
Want a relaxing day trip? Take a boat on the Chao Phraya River south from Khao San Road to Chinatown, a great place to find cheap crafts or antiques. From there, take a tuk-tuk to Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s largest and most popular park. It has an artificial lake in the center where you can rent paddleboats. Nearby is the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute (Snake Farm), formerly known as the Pasteur Institute. This Red Cross research institute milks venomous snakes (cobras and king cobras, kraits and pit vipers) to make antivenin. Milkings are at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends. If you go to a show, you can get your picture taken with a snake. If you’re scared of slithery creatures with fangs, skip the reptile farm and head straight to Marble House, where blind masseurs can work you over with a nice Thai massage. After your massage, take a taxi to Siam Square, a more upscale shopping district that mirrors New York’s glitzy Times Square. Here you’ll find brand name shopping, like real Louis Vitton purses instead of the usual sidewalk knockoffs. Fair warning: If you want real designer products, it’s certain that you will pay designer prices (bartering won’t work here).
Feeling the urge to shop? Try the Chatuchak Weekend Market. However, be prepared to be patient. The market is very crowded and smelly, and if you see something you like and keep walking, it might be difficult to find your way back to the stall. (This market takes up 35 square acres and brings in 200,000 people a day!) If you just want to observe local crafts and have a giant selection to choose from (there’s everything here from school uniforms to used books to live animals), this is a fun day trip. If want something specific, your time might be better spent tracking it down elsewhere. Chatuchak is great for low prices, but with 15,000 stalls, you might not necessarily find what you’re looking for.