Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand. I recently spent a number of days there as part of a family holiday. It is over 600 square miles in size and is home to north of 8 million people.
Bangkok is a heaving metropolis that has everything you would expect of a large regional business centre. The first thing you’ll notice is the proliferation of skyscrapers, including the very cool MahaNakhon that reminded me of the half-finished death star from the Star Wars movies. The presence of sky scrapers of this size and quantity makes Bangkok feel, superficially at least, like any other major metropolis you would find in the US or Europe.
The traffic in Bangkok is pretty chronic, so driving is not something I would recommend. Where possible use the BTS which is very efficient, clean, cheap, and air-conditioned to the point where a Polar Bear would be looking for a duffel coat if he had to go three stops on it. It’s a welcome respite from the heat, in a city that feels considerably hotter than any of the other places I visited in Thailand.
If the BTS doesn’t go where you need to be (and that’s a lot of places in Bangkok) then a taxi is your next best option. Whilst the traffic can be chronic, if you avoid the peak hours and plan your day so you’re going in a sensible sequence rather than crisscrossing the city, you can do it. Taxis are cheap, very cheap, by European standards. A ride from the airport to where we were staying which took an hour and twenty minutes cost me around six euro’s. Be aware that the taxi drivers by and large speak no English, so have where you’re going written on your phone, or on a piece of paper in Thai, that you can show to him.
Tuk-tuks are available everywhere and will work for shorter journeys but get uncomfortable after a while and you’re exposed to the elements so if its rainy season, you’re gonna get soaked. There are busses which we didn’t use because we didn’t need to. They look like they are from the 70’s and judging by the depressed faces of everyone on them and all the windows being open, I’m gonna say they aren’t airconditioned so make your own choice.
In terms of what to see and do in Bangkok there is literally an endless list. I’m going to break the stuff we did into two categories, “shopping” and “everything else”. I’ll start with the everything else category.
The Jim Thompson house is a the home of an american who is credited with getting the silk trade up and running in Thailand. He disappeared into a jungle and never came back, but his house has been preserved. The tour doesn’t take long, you’ll have it covered in less than 90 minutes and its a nice introduction to Thailand and to Bangkok and a means to dip your toe into the culture fountain if you’ve just arrived. This is definitely a good first day activity to help you ease over the jet-lag and get your feet moving after a long flight.
The Snake Farm is another attraction that is worth a visit. It’s quite cheap and they have a good collection of snakes. The farm exists to make anti-venom, snakes are a problem in Thailand in all areas and there are a wide range of venomous ones that can cause serious issues including death if you get tagged and don’t have medical assistance nearby. The farm is run by the red cross and uses tourists to supplement its income. Do try to catch the show, it’s very entertaining. Bear in mind that its only open till about lunchtime and the show runs earlier than that, around 11 o’clock.
The Summer Palace is outside the city, about an hours drive. Its worth the trip built when we visited there was a lot of construction and restoration/maintainance going on. A new king is going to be crowned in Thailand in 2019 and I imagine they are sprucing the place up in advance of that. The gardens make for a lovely walk.
The other item to see on the outskirts of the city is Wat Mahathat which is the old capital of Thailand. It was destroyed by the Burmans when they came through and they knocked the heads off all of the statues of the Buddha, I guess they wanted to say there was a new religion in town. The ruins are impressive, again, bring your walking shoes, there’s a bit to see. The most impressive thing is the Buddha head which has had the roots of a tree grow around it, it’s very cool.
Back in the city itself, you have to visit Wat Pho, specifically to see the reclining Buddha. I could fire a load of numbers at you, its X big, Y long. None of these things will do it justice, it needs to be seen to be believed for sheer scale. It takes time just to walk from one end of it to the other. I’ve given a short few words to it here which don’t do it justice, go and see it.
The jewel in the crown, in terms of history and culture in Bangkok and probably all of Thailand, is the grand palace. The grand palace is busy, crowded, hot, teeming with life (mainly Chinese tourists) and has to be seen to be believed. The complex is massive, it will take you a few hours to get around it. Go early in the morning if you want to beat some of the crowds, but I can’t imagine it’s ever quite there. You absolutely must hire a tour guide to explain what you are going to see, it will bring the place to life in a way that walking around it unaided simply will not. There are registered guides touting for business. Our’s was brilliant, thank you Jackie, you were one of the highlights of our trip. Be aware that legs and shoulders have to be covered, that’s guys as well as ladies. There are people outside selling elephant pants if you need them but you’ll get them cheaper in the markets if you buy in advance.
In a first for Edrates, this is going to be a two parter. I’ll talk about the shopping experience in a separate blog post at a later date because otherwise this is going to turn into War & Peace.
Bangkok – Culture & general 9/10
There is an endless stream of things to see and down in Bangkok from a history and culture perspective. I have only scratched the surface. It’s not getting 10/10 because nothings perfect, but a point has to be deducted for the traffic which can be pretty infuriating. Don’t let it put you off though, Bangkok and its culture and history are worth a wait in a traffic jam to see.