Bangkok: Southeast Asia’s Exquisite and Exotic City

Few places can match the unique combination of charm, exoticism and notoriety of Bangkok. Thailand’s capital is a study in contrasts – modern skyscrapers and busy highways competing with old temples and aged dirt roads. Bangkok looks like the end product of a child’s fantasy real estate game, so it is almost expected to find one surprise after another. Culture-wise, this place is an interesting mix of both local and international mores and customs but the distinct Thai spirit overlooks it all. It is one of the world’s must-see places, an adventurer’s haven and a shopper’s paradise. Bangkok is a distinct entity – hate it, love it, loathe it, there is no denying that it is still one of the best cities to explore, lose yourself in or, as the Thais would have it, find sanuk – fun.

Free and carefree Bangkok City

Due to its accessibility via the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok was used as a trading post in the 15th century. Progress took over, turning the small region into the bustling center of Thailand’s social, economic and political life. It is now an urban center, competing with the likes of Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur in terms of regional importance.

Founded in the late 1700s, Bangkok is a relatively young city compared to the rest of Thailand. Majority of its young population have also made it their primary – and for many, only residence. About 90% of Thais are Buddhists, a religion that has a strong hold on the locals’ day-to-day living. It is also the influence of this religion that explains the carefree attitude and outlook of Thais. Buddhism teaches impermanence, the belief that life will change and evolve into something else, depending on how it was lived.

Bangkok’s royal

The kaleidoscopic pattern that is Thailand is held together by the collective respect and love for their symbolic leader, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He symbolizes many things for the Thais and works twice as hard as anyone to fulfill his role. The western-educated leader also mediates for dissenting parties particularly in situations where peace and safety in the country are being challenged.

What to do when you get there

Bangkok is not just a place for visitors to see, it is also a city to be heard, felt, smelled and tasted. The city is serviced by two world-class international airports. Upon arriving, visitors can expect to have a full day of exploration ahead, so where to start? Let us take a look at the many offerings:

Tour the famous canals – Bangkok’s canals, known as khlongs, are some of the best routes to take in order to get a feel of Thai culture. The riverside is lush and beautiful, lined with colonial mansions, wooden stilt houses and floating kitchens. Tours often pass by the Royal Barges Museum, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace before stopping at the Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn.

Visit the temples – Bangkok has many temples and unless you have weeks to spend in the city, trying to see each one would be impossible. If you have a few hours or a few days to spare, try and get any one or several of these temples in your itinerary:

Wat Pho

This temple, the largest in the city, is known for the 46m long gold foil-covered Reclining Buddha.

Wat Sutat

The Golden Buddha resides here, the largest image of a sitting Buddha in the world.

Wat Arun

The Temple of Dawn is also known as Wat Chaeng. In the old days, this was the place where the first rays of the sun fell on Bangkok.

Wat Phra Kaew

 

This temple, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, holds a significant place in the hearts of Thai Buddhists. It was named after the image of the Buddha it houses, which was carved out of jade.

 

Get a taste of the nightlife – Bangkok is famous for its nightlife. Once the sun goes down, a new persona comes alive. When heavy traffic lets up and people stop rushing to and from work, locals and visitors can begin to let their hair down. There are plenty of cultural shows offering traditional and Western style entertainment and live bands playing local and international hits. Some of the city’s best restaurants are at their peak during this time, as well as its famous bars and clubs.

Go shopping – shops, stalls, malls and stores… they have everything to offer the tireless shopper. Try the famous Central World and MBK for bargains or go to Siam Paragon and The Emporium for more glamorous choices. Free on a weekend? Check out the Chatuchak Weekend Market, a sprawling area that sells everything from beads and souvenirs, from blouses to vinyl records. For Bangkok-style street shopping, try the Maharat Road and Khao San Road. It is lined with vendors selling their eclectic wares on blankets spread over the pavement. Polite haggling is expected, so it never hurts to try, particularly if you are looking for a nice souvenir. After all, once you have been to Bangkok, you would want to bring a piece of it home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tobias Carlson is a travel writer and a businessman who often writes from his serviced office in Thailand.

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– A holiday to Thailand which includes Bangkok, Chang Mai and Phuket.

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