5 Things You Need to Do in Bangkok
Over two centuries ago, Bangkok started out as a small trading centre and port community on the beautiful west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Today’s city is a contemporary metropolis, but the grandeur and glory of its illustrious past is still interwoven with its vibrant, incandescent present. From dazzling temples to spectacular palaces, a world-famous floating market to colourful China town, Bangkok is a place of wonders, new and old. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting this stunning location, here are a few things you can’t afford to miss out on.
The Houses of Buddha
Buddhism is a religion with some of the most beautiful places of worship on earth. To go to Bangkok and miss out on seeing the beauty of its wats (temples), swan-like chofa finials, ornate gables, roofs of green and orange tiles, crown-like windows, conical chedi clad in gold, stucco and ceramic mosaics, and the delicate pattern of leaf-shaped sema boundary stones around the chapels, would be to miss out on one of Bangkok’s greatest wonders. Wat Kalayanamit, in particular, with the largest indoor sitting Buddha anywhere in Thailand, the highest chofa and biggest bell, should be at the top of your list of places to visit. Try to attend one of the wats many periodic festivals for sights you’ll never forget.
The ‘Venice of the East’
Many visitors to Bangkok view their boating experience as the most enjoyable part of their trip, even though many of Bangkok’s canals have now been lost to road-building. Khlongs thread through the Thonburi west bank, carving winding, silver ribbons across the city’s landscape. From the west bank, waterways branch into the plantations of Nontahburi, before wending their way across Thailand’s Central Plains, the ancient boating paths connecting rivers, rice farms, towns, temples and floating markets. The longer you spend, the more rewarding the experience will be. Half a day should be long enough to see the mostly urban canals of Thonburi, heavily scarred by flood barriers which prevent the Delta from overflowing. A full day will take you upriver, into an archaic landscape with minimal signs of modernisation.
Your typical tourist menu will be hugely de-spiced, and the attempt to produce something suitable for a western palette will have taken away all of the flavour. Instead of sticking to tourist areas, find somewhere local to eat. Bangkok’s position between India and China has led to a national menu that combines the best of both. The delicious food marries fresh local herbs, seafood and meats in piquant salads, and spicy soups with curries to create heavenly tastes.
Classical Thai dance-drama embodies sacred rites, and Thai thespians believe that they must succumb to their character’s spirits. Before every show, members of the cast and crew will convene to perform a wai khru rite to honour their masters. The moves are mesmerising. Dances are performed many times every day, as devotees believe that by commissioning resident dancers to perform they can channel and appease the gods through the sacred movements.
Thailand is a world holistic centre, with a dedicated Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine supplementing the expertise of Wat Pho, a vast, mellow temple where visitors can learn the art of Thai massage. When you’re done, visit Wat Mahathat to receive a lesson in how to meditate. Come day’s end, aid your relaxation by retiring to Siam Kempinski or another of Bangkok’s many luxurious hotels. Choose one which offers massages and spa treatments to help you unwind at the end of your long day.