Some call it the “Venice of South East Asia,” but in essence, Bangkok resembles very little of any European city. In fact, this city was like none other I had ever traveled to, although driving from the airport, the views outside my cab window mirrored similar city landscapes, but as I got deeper into the streets, I began to realize that this city was quite special.
My first stop was to one of the city’s famous Royal sites, and speaking of royalty, the Thai people REALLY are in awe of their King, Bhumibol Adulyadej. All around you can find huge billboards, posters and monuments dedicated to him, and it’s considered very rude to say anything negative about him, so be careful!
Anyway, my journey began at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which is beautiful. It’s fairy-tale-like architecture consists of gold roofs and towering facades, with geometric patterns lining the ornate temple walls. The level of detail is extraordinary; tiny shapes of motley colored glass are woven into the outdoor palace, and the faces of statues are quite grandiose. The highlight of the Grand Palace is the famous Wat Phra Kaew, where one will find the Emerald Buddha. When you enter the temple you will see a band of gold statues positioned in a pyramid shape, with a small emerald Buddha at the very top. It’s amazing and the entire palace is unbelievably grand. The temples have been kept in great condition, and it’s evident that the people take great pride in taking care of its preservation. As you might have guessed, it was very hot, and you’re not allowed to wear shorts or any kind of skimpy clothing, so be prepared to break a sweat.
To get to my hotel I took the water taxi. Bangkok is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River (which I suppose is where it got the Venice analogy). The river is used as a major mode for public transportation, and for 13 baht (around $0.38USD) you can get around the entire city. One of the special things about taking the water taxi is you get a glimpse of Thai lifestyle. People live right along the river in the tiny wooden shacks that are built upon thin, crooked stilts. You can see inside their living quarters and see clothes hanging from thin lines of string or people washing dishes/taking baths using small buckets of water. There are even some markets that are right along the river. Although the water isn’t in great condition, the sights along the river are the real attraction.
My hotel was in the Silom area, where there is always a lot going on. Nearby is a well-known weekend market, Chatuchak. It’s a good idea to do some shopping because you can literally find anything (jewelry, clothes, puppies, great food, pirated DVD’s, art, furniture, more great food like Tom Yam Soup) for jaw-dropping bargains. It’s pretty crowded on the weekends and the sun’s heat doesn’t provide any relief throughout the day (it’s also kind of smelly), so another option is to shop at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Around 7pm many shops and boutiques open up, and it attracts a lot of shoppers, but the alleyways are wide and the night air keeps the temperature bearable. I did most of my souvenir/gift shopping there, and I also bargained like crazy!
Come nightfall, Bangkok becomes a definite eye-opener. Sidewalks are lined with food sellers cooking things like fried crickets and chicken feet. You’ll find clothing vendors nestled under tiny tarps and crowded booths selling fake designer sunglasses and Louis Vuitton bags. Of course, I walked down the infamous Patpong Street (aka the Red-Light District). It’s just like everything you’ve heard on TV and more. Along the street are these neon-lit Go-Go bars that feature women dancing in bikinis. I won’t go into too much detail but let’s just say there’s a lot more offered than just dancing. Continue walking along and you’ll eventually spot some women all dressed up, sitting along the street in front of their respective clubs. These aren’t Go-Go Bars, but more like pseudo brothels, and for a price you can “spend some time” with one of these Thai ladies. There’s also locals who hackle anyone who walks by to witness special X-rated, circus-like shows. There is literally a menu you can order off of to see some pretty crazy things. It’s funny, I actually ran into a guy from San Antonio wearing a Spurs shirt. He was with a young Thai woman. He told me he was on “vacation” and the woman he was with looked like a local. There was this awkward silence and he definitely looked embarrassed. Looks like the Las Vegas motto applies to this city too: What Happens in Bangkok, Stays in Bangkok.
Whether or not you’re into the hustle and bustle of Bangkok nightlife, it’s important to at least see what’s it like, because I guarantee it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen!
Overall my trip to Bangkok was truly a memorable adventure. The other day I was discussing my trip with some friends over dinner at a steamboat restaurant. They weren’t surprised by my city tales, and laughed about the culture shock. Despite the different lifestyle it’s evident that people still love Bangkok just the way it is, and tolerate its rather different lifestyle. I myself found Bangkok to be one of those cities that you never forget; You’ll feel excited sending postcards to your friends. It’s a wild city.
By the way, at a steamboat restaurant friends can cook their own food in hot boiling water or along a small ring-shaped stove placed in the middle of the table. It was so neat, and really delicious too! Unfortunately, everything you pick up from the buffet must be eaten, or you’ll get charged. At my table, this meant everyone having to eat more than our stomachs could carry. Thankfully, nobody got sick.