Breezing Through Bangkok

Feature, Thailand, Travelogue — By on January 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Upon arriving in Bangkok I am encouraged to see that even five years after my first visit, it still remains a gateway to Southeast Asia.  As it should be.  In many cases visits to the region will begin and end here and this may be the only glimpse of Asia some get.  What Thailand seems to provide is a place with enough crazy to loosen inhibitions, enough culture to get an Asian experience, and enough danger and uncertainty that most of us remain guarded.  Most of the country remains very tourist friendly with helpful agencies and taxi drivers that speak a surprising amount of English.  Getting around the country is quite easy.  I genuinely enjoy seeing young travelers here: they are green and innocent and won’t go home the same.  They will be shaped and defined by what they experience and if Thailand isn’t their first and only stop on their visit to the region, then it will serve as a wonderful introduction to its poorer, more dangerous, conservative and even corrupt neighbors. Through it all, they’ll develop a new personality trait that just isn’t found in everyone.  Most people that truly “travel” a lot just have it.

Bangkok is a mega city with decent infrastructure, great temples and a grand royal palace.  It is hot and sunny most of the year, taxis are metered and plentiful, and if you’re feeling adventurous, the ubiquitous tuk tuk driver can take you anywhere, although price must be negotiated beforehand.  Tuk tuks are a three-wheeled amalgamation of a motorcycle and a covered wagon welded together. They are open air, cheaper than a taxi and great for short distances.  Different variations are found in many cities in Southeast Asia.  Most travelers arriving or departing via Bangkok will inevitably flock to Khaosan Road.  This is the pulse of the traveler’s scene in the city: where you will find the bars, restaurants, budget hotels and most importantly…shopping.  The road is mostly closed off to vehicle traffic, and Khaosan, together with the surrounding streets, form one giant market.  Clothing, watches, sunglasses, shoes, music, DVDs, leather goods and more are all sold here for cheap.  They are, however, cheap for a reason.  None of it is real, the laws are just a little different (or differently enforced) but the t-shirts are great, as are the purses, man bags (murses) and wallets. The DVDs are pirated and likely won’t work in your DVD player at home so I don’t, and would never, suggest supporting that market.  But, if you want to impress your friends with a Rolex that looks and feels genuine, then do it!  They will never know it cost you $8.

Outside of shopping, which I definitely recommend leaving until the end, the feather in Bangkok’s cap is the temples.  Temples, temples and more temples.  They are each splendid in their own rite from boasting the worlds largest solid gold Buddha at Wat Traimit, a temple surrounded by a moat full of turtles (Wat Prayoon) or a giant Buddha statue at Wat Indrawiharn where one can pay to hold a large cloth, say a prayer and have it hoisted over the shoulder of the 100 foot tall statue.  There are also some floating markets that may interest visitors, the largest one being about 100 km from the city. However, there are also a couple of closer, smaller markets.  All of these are accessible via an organized day tour or by simply venturing out.  For most, Bangkok is nothing more than a stopover, but it really is worth a day or two.  Because of all the shopping that you will do, I recommend packing lightly!

Yes, indeed! Bangkok, Thailand

Big Buddha at Wat Indrawiharn, Bangkok, Thailand

The city at night, Royal Palace in the distance, Bangkok, Thailand

Market stalls on Khaosan Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khaosan Road, New Years Eve 2010, Bangkok, Thailand

If you order a drink in a glass bottle, expect it to be dumped in a plastic bag before they hand it to you! Bangkok, Thailand

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