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The Bright Sides of Bangkok
I’m overly dubious of a city’s reputation or stereotypes, as I’m constantly defending the fallacious ones about my hometown,Bangkok ; sure, there are the drugs and a few red light districts but it’s a damn beautiful city beyond that. In my experience on the traveler circuit, Bangkok seems to get a less-than-enthusiastic rap. We’ve all heard about the backpacker-infested Khaosan Road the grime that is Soi cowboy and the surrounding crowded, smoggy concrete jungle that deserves little more attention than a few days in transit to a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand. I disagree.
The slight disclaimer to my rose-coloured Bangkok glasses is that I actually fell in love with the place as a smelly backpacker many years ago.… Fair enough if you don’t like Bangkok as much as I do.. But give it a shot.
On first impression, flying down the highway into the city from the airport, Bangkok is impressively large and modern. The city rises up like New York, but also sprawls out like London, seemingly forever. Once you’re down on the ground, it’s got so many different areas to explore, all teeming with activity. Littered with parks, shopping malls, restaurants, as well as beautiful architecture (both traditional Thai and modern), Bangkok is a thriving metropolis that’s cut down the middle by a snaking river.
The sky-train and MRT are really nice, comfortable, and cover the city fairly extensively. You can head all the way up to Chatuchak park and its adjacent market (best on Sundays), which is a crazy place to walk around and do some shopping; go walk around Lumphini Park (and even hit the weights for free in the middle of the park); catch a tourist boat on the river from Saphan Taksin Station that will take you to Chinatown, The Grand Palace, or Wat Arun; and hit nightlife spots around Sukhumvit or Silom Road, all solely traveling by Sky-Train and underground metro.
Siam Station, which connects the two sky-train lines, Not only is it a main public transport hub, the area also has a few huge shopping malls (MBK, Siam Center, Siam Paragon), coffee shops, restaurants, and everything other kind of shop imaginable. Siam Paragon is legitimately the nicest mall I’ve ever been in. I don’t really even shop, but the Siam Station area is great to find some air-con and good wifi to get some work done in the heart of the city.
I’d recommend cutting out a good day or two to hit up some of the historic/cultural monuments of the city. Wat Arun, built on the bank of the Chao Praya River, is a beautiful Buddhist temple, with a towering “prang,” or spire, in the center. It’s ornately decorated with shards of colorful porcelain. The stairs that lead up to the top of the spire are the steepest, most death-defying stairs I’ve climbed, but the view at the top is worth the climb.
Across the river, set behind four high walls, The Grand Palace compound is probably Bangkok’s most popular tourist destination. I’d recommend going in the morning, as strolling around the complex at midday almost sent me into a heat-stroke-induced coma. It was well worth it though, being one of the more impressive architectural and historical assets of the city. Once you’re in, you could spend all day looking around the different temples, pavilions, halls, gardens, etc. The amazing sculptural and mural work surrounding Wat prakaew, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is enough to make the trip worthwhile. Regarded as the most sacred temple in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew houses a cluster of fascinating and elaborately decorated structures, statues, paintings, and corridors. Although I’m always looking to get off the beaten path, sometimes there’s a reason that certain places are highly frequented by tourists. Definitely worth the money.
I have now been in Bangkok for 5 years and still not discovered half of the interesting places and people there are to see here. So long may it continue !!!