Bangkok


Established in 1782 by King Rama I as the capital of Siam and literally means the City of Angels, since then, Bangkok has developed into a huge metropolis that is packed with skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, high tech shopping malls and a modern Int'l airport as well as an endless variety of good restaurants. It is a mixture of old and new, of the East and West and this is apparent wherever you go which offers a wealth of great temples, museums and other historic sights.

Things to do in Bangkok:

Sightseeing If you stay in Bangkok for only a few days then you won't be able to see all the many attractions. For visits of 3 to 4 days we would recommend Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Benchamabophit, the NationalMuseum, Erawan Shrine, Jim Thompson's house, Vimanmek Teak Mansion and a river or canal trip. For a 2 day stay, leave out the National Museum and the shrine. If you have longer then include a trip to Chatuchak weekend market (where you can buy almost everything) and visit a Thai boxing match at one of the 2 boxing stadiums. If you're in for shopping then include any of the full A/C shopping malls like Siam Centre, Tokyo, Robinsons, MBK or Isetan or try your luck at the countless street vendors. Evenings are a good time to sample the diverse Bangkok cuisine, especially at one of the riverside restaurants or during a riverboat cruise where you can feel the atmosphere of the old city.

The Rivers and canals have long been a traditional mean of transport in Bangkok. When the city was founded in 1782, the Chao Phraya River formed part of the strategic defense system, and canals were dug in the low-lying marshy ground as moats and as a means of communication. In fact, the first roads were not built until the 1860s. Building Bangkok around the river and canals is what led European visitors to describe the city as the Venice of the East. Today, even though Bangkok is a modern metropolis, the architecture and way of life along the river and canals, especially those on the Thon Buri side of theChao Phraya, remain remarkably true to the city’s origins.

Thai boxing Thai boxing is said to be one of the most demanding disciplines in the world. Unlike western boxing, the pugilist can use his elbows, fee and knees to strike blows on the opponent. Bouts last 5 rounds of 3 minutes and can be quite violent. The rules are complicated and the scoring system is difficult to follow, however, a visit to one of the boxing stadiums is recommended as you can experience the atmosphere that is difficult to describe. Thai boxing can be seen at 2 boxing stadiums in Bangkok: Lumphini (on Rama IV Road near Sathorn Tai Road) and Ratchadamnoen (on Ratchadamnoen Roadnet to the TAT office). Action starts usually at 5:00 or 6:00pm.

Thai massage Massage parlors have been firmly established as a way of life in Bangkok for generations. This is partly due to the healing qualities of traditional massage and partly due to the fact that Thai culture is male dominated. It is not unusual for Thai men to visit massage parlors on a regular basis. Although there are massage parlors that act as fronts for brothels, it is possible to get a legitimate massage at most of the venues.

Shopping in Bangkok is not limited to one or two major streets but to many areas throughout the city, affording ample choice and easy access. The best places to go for are Mahesak Road between Silom and Suriwong, the Oriental Plaza and the River City shopping complex near the Chao Phraya River just south of Hua Lampong railway station and Chinatown.Bangkok's largest centers for ready-made clothing can be found on Khao San Road near the Grand Palace and the daytime markets of Pratunam near the Amari Watergate hotel and Bo Bae near Prince Palace Hotel. Department stores and luxury shopping can be found near the World Trade Center and around the Siam Skytrain station.

Dining Thailand is famous for its eating places with a variety of cuisine available. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, French, Italian and of course Thai restaurants can be found in abundance all over the city. For the adventurous, there are thousands of cheap Thai eating houses which offer excellent local cuisine at very reasonable prices. Eating out Thai style is very much a social occasion and something not to be rushed. The China town houses some of the best and most expensive Chinese restaurants in the city as well as the best and cheapest food stalls, especially at night. The restaurants mostly specialize in southern Chinese cooking, with noodles, seafood and, at lunchtime. Dim sum dumplings dominating the menus. Large restaurants line the bustling Yaowarat Road, but venturing into Soi's will lead you to less impressive yet equally enjoyable establishments. On Sukhumvit Road there is no shortage of eating places. On Silom Road several food streets are linked inBangkok’s busiest area. Many restaurants are found along the main thoroughfare, but there is an even greater number tucked away in its side alleys. The nearby Convent Road offers everything from Italian, Swiss, and Californian to an Irish tavern.

Nightlife Bangkok is well known for its nightlife in all the various versions, from dining to dance shows, from music performances to discos, from karaoke to go-go bars. Indeed one can find something in this field to suit any taste. All the major hotels have trendy nightclubs, many feature live music. There is a large number of karaoke bars in Sukhumvit and Silom Roads where you can sing your favorite songs. Also there traditional Thai dancing performances with Thai music on the background and dinners in Kantoke style. The restaurants, clubs, bars, discos and other entertainment venues are all reasonably priced, especially when compared to other major cities. The choice of venues and things to do here are countless.

 

Where to go in Bangkok:

Erawan Shrine Built in 1956 next to what is now the Grand Hyatt Erawan, the Shrine stands defiantly at the center of a busy corner plot, right next to fume-belching buses. In a sumptuous pavilion at the center of this yard, a gilded statue of the four-faced Hindu god of creation, Brahma, named Phra Phrom in Thai, is enshrined. Its construction is believed to have put a stop to all the accidental deaths of workers involved in the hotel site, and due to such mystic powers, it is today one of the most revered spots in the kingdom.

Jim Thompson’s House American architect Jim Thompson settled in Bangkok after World War II where he worked for American Intelligence and became fascinated by Thai culture and artifacts. He dedicated himself to reviving Thailand's ebbing silk industry, bringing in new dyes to create the bright pinks, yellows, and turquoises we see sold today. It was Jim Thompson silks that were used by costumier Irene Sharaff for the Oscar-winning movie The King & I starring Yul Brynner. Mr. Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while vacationing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. Despite extensive investigations, his disappearance has never been resolved.

Thompson's legacy is substantial, both as an entrepreneur and a collector. His Thai house contains a splendid collection of Khmer sculpture, Chinese porcelain, and Burmese carvings and scroll paintings. In some rooms, the floor is made of Italian marble, but the wall panels are pegged teak. The house slopes toward the center to help stabilize the structure; the original houses were built on stilts without foundations which must have been magnificent 50 years ago.

Royal Barge Museum If you've hired a long-tail boat on the Chao Phraya, stop by this unique museum housing the sumptuous royal barges. These elaborately decorated sailing vessels are used by the royal family on state occasions or for religious ceremonies. The king's personal barge, the Suphannahong, has a swan-like neck and central chamber; the boat itself is decorated with scarlet and gold carvings of fearsome mythological beasts.

The Grand Palace The number-one destination in Bangkok is also one of the most imposing and visually fascinating. Though it's seen by thousands of tourists who arrive at the gates in busloads, its immensity still dwarfs the throngs. After passing muster with the fashion police at the main gate and queuing at the turnstiles for your ticket, you'll be directed to the temple entrance on the left of the kiosk. There, you'll come to the Wat Phra Kaew, one of the highlights of a visit here.

It's easy to see that the buildings here were greatly influenced by Western architecture, including Italian, French, and British motifs. As you enter the main gate, built in the 1780s, you'll see the Pavilion for Holy Water, where priests swore loyalty to the royal family and purified themselves with water from Thailand's four main rivers. Nearby is the Chakri Mahaprasad, The Grand Palace Hall; built by British architects as a royal residence for Rama IV to commemorate the centennial of the Chakri dynasty; it features an unusually florid mix of Italian and Thai influences. The Thai temple-style roof rests physically on top of an otherwise European building.

The National Museum Just a short walk north of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the country's central treasury of art and archaeology.

The current museum was built as part of the Grand Palace complex when the capital of Siam was moved from Thonburi toBangkok in 1782. To see the entire collection, take a free map at the ticket office and give yourself a few hours. Start with the Thai History and the Prehistoric Galleries in the first building. Another essential stop is the Buddhaisawan Chapel, built in 1795 to house one of Thailand's most revered Buddha images, brought here from its original home in Chiang Mai. The chapel is an exquisite example of Buddhist temple architecture. The Old Transportation Room contains ivory carvings, elephant chairs, and royal palanquins. There are also rooms full of all kinds of memorabilia: royal emblems and insignia, stone and wood carvings, costumes, textiles, musical instruments, and Buddhist religious artifacts.

Vimanmek Mansion Museum Built in 1901, this mansion once stood on the small island of Koh Si Chang and was restored in 1982 for Bangkok's bicentennial. It's now a private museum with a collection of the royal family's memorabilia. An hour-long tour here does take you through over 80 exquisite apartments and rooms. Also in Dusit Park is the original Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, housing a display of Thai handicrafts and buildings displaying photographs, clocks, fabrics, royal carriages, and other regalia.

Wat Arun Formerly known as Wat Jaeng, the 79m-high Khmer-inspired tower was renamed the ‘Temple of Dawn’ by King Thaksin. The original tower was only 15m high but was expanded during the rule of Rama III (1824-1851) to its current height. The exterior is decorated with flower and decorative motifs made of ceramic shards donated to the monastery by local people, at the request of the King. At the base of the complex are Chinese stone statues, once used as ballast in trading ships, which were gifts from Chinese merchants.

Wat Mahathat (Temple of the Great Relic) Built to house a relic of the Buddha, Wat Mahathat is one of Bangkok's oldest shrines and the headquarters for Thailand's largest monastic order. It's also the Center for Vipassana Meditation at the city's Buddhist University, which offers some programs in English.

Wat Phra Kaew Sitting to the east of the enormous compound of palaces, lawns, and old tamarind trees at the GrandPalace is the royal chapel Wat Phra Kaew, or "Temple of the Holy Jewelled Image." The temple, more often called ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’, is one of the most revered by Thai people. The temple's name refers to the petite jadeite statue that sits atop a huge gold altar in the temple's main hall, orbot. The Buddha, like many others in Thailand, is clothed in seasonal robes, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy months. The changing of the robes is an important ritual, performed by the king, who also sprinkles water over the monks and well-wishers to bring good fortune during the upcoming season.

Wat Po is among the most photogenic of all the wats in Bangkok; it's also one of the most active. Also known as the Templeof the Reclining Buddha, Wat Po was built by Rama I in the 16th century and is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple inBangkok. The compound, divided into two sections by Chetuphon Road, is a 15-minute walk south of the Grand Palace. The northern area contains the most important monuments, and the southern portion is where monks reside. Wat Po is also home to one of the earliest Thai massage schools. Today you can learn about traditional Thai massage and medicine at the Traditional Medical Practitioners Association Center, an open-air hall to the rear of the wat. True Thai massage, such as that taught here, involves chiropractic manipulation and acupressure, as well as stretching, stroking, and kneading.

Wat Saket is easily recognized by its golden chedi atop a fortress-like hill near busy Ratchadamnoen Road and Banglampoo. King Rama I restored the wat, and 30,000 bodies were brought here during a plague in the reign of Rama II. The hill, which is almost 80m high, is an artificial construction begun during the reign of Rama III. Rama IV brought in 1,000 teak logs to shore it up because it was sinking into the swampy ground. Rama V built the golden chedi to house a relic of Buddha, given to him by the British. The concrete walls were added during World War II to keep the structure from collapsing.

The Golden Mount is interesting for its vistas of Rattanakosin Island and the rooftops of Bangkok and is beautifully lit at night. Every late October to mid-November (for 9 days around the full moon) Wat Sakhet hosts Bangkok's most important temple fair, when the Golden Mount is wrapped with red cloth and a carnival erupts around it, with food and trinket stalls or theatrical performances.

 

How to travel to and in Bangkok:

By Plane Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Int’l Airport, opened in September 2006, is now the major hub for all international travelers arriving to Thailand. The airport also handles domestic flights. Just 30km east of the city, Suvarnabhumi offers a wide range of services, including luggage storage, currency exchange, banks, a branch of the British pharmacy Boots, ATMs, a post office, medical centers, Internet service, and telephones.

Getting to & from the Airports: From both Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, it takes about 40 to 60 minutes to drive to the city. Taking a taxi into town is your easiest and fastest option for both airports.

By Train While a few southern-bound locomotives still use Thonburi's Bangkok Noi Station, most intercity trains to and from the capital stop at Hua Lampong Station, east of Yaowarat (Chinatown). Inside the station, clear signs point the way to the public toilets, pay phones, food court, and baggage check area.

By Bus Bangkok has three major bus stations, each serving a different part of the country. All air-conditioned public buses to the West and the Southern Peninsula arrive and depart from the Southern Bus Terminal on Nakhon Chaisi and Phra Pinklao Road (near Bangkok Noi Station in Thonburi; west of the river over the Phra Pinklao Bridge from the Democracy Monument). Service to the East Coast (including Pattaya) arrives and departs from the Eastern Bus Terminal, also known as Ekkamai, onSukhumvit Road opposite Soi 63. Buses to the north arrive and leave from the Northern Bus Terminal, aka Mo Chit,Kampaengphet 2 Road, near the Chatuchak Weekend Market, and a short taxi or bus ride from Mo Chit BTS or MRT stations. Affordable, long-distance VIP buses leave from various locations in town and can be booked by any of the agents along Sukhumvit or Khao San roads.

Bangkok is lively throughout the year. The best time to visit Bangkok is really depending on personal preference. Most people preferred to visit Bangkok between November to March, this is considered to be high season (Christmas and New Year time). The climate at this time is definitely not as hot as the rest of the year with temperature averaging about 25 to 30 Degree Celsius. High season also means flights and hotels are more expensive, prior booking of these services is the preferred option for a visit during this time because hotels are likely to be booked out.


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