Just a two-hour flight from Singapore, my last featured destination, the Thai capital, Bangkok, is another favourite haunt of Australians. But while Singapore is orderly, Bangkok is chaotic, a maelstrom of people and traffic that never lets up. One of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in South-East Asia, Bangkok assaults the senses with colour, noise and aromas.
The smell of street food sizzling on every corner is ever present throughout the evening. The nightlife—from sleazy Patpong to elegant rooftop bars—is a drawcard for many visitors.
Then there is the shopping, especially at the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market – the largest in Thailand with more than 15,000 stalls. To keep up the pace you must be able to stand the heat and the traffic – both are intense and relentless.
So perhaps a day or two spent exploring Bangkok’s stunning palaces and temples would be less exhausting.
Many of Bangkok’s most spectacular and revered attractions can be found in the Old City and Chinatown, and all of them can be reached on the fast and efficient Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) system, the Thai capital’s subway.
The MRT Blue Line provides an easy and convenient way to go from attraction to attraction, eliminating the need to tackle traffic congestion when travelling by taxi, tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi, and resulting in less stress and more time to view the Old City and Chinatown.
Pictured above is the city’s largest Chinese Buddhist temple, Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (meaning Dragon Lotus Temple), which features a striking and very elegant décor of red and gold and a dragon-inspired staircase. One of the nearby MRT stations is named after it.
Wat Mangkon MRT Station (above) is on Charoen Krung Road in the very heart of Chinatown, making it the perfect stop for visitors wanting to experience the pulsating beat and kaleidoscope of dazzling neon lights (below) of this famous neighbourhood.
Yaowarat Road – Chinatown’s high street – is a food lover’s dream, attracting both tourists and locals to the tantalising array of street-side food including dim sum, noodles, omelettes and much more that’s on offer during the evening.
Also within a walk of the Wat Mangkon MRT Station is Sampheng Lane, a cluttered, hectic and fun Chinatown market. Packed along the narrow lane is shop after shop selling all manner of items from jewellery, shoes and watches to toys, fabric and a vast array of exotic foods.
Still in Chinatown is Wat Traimit, just a few minutes’ walk from the Hua Lamphong MRT Station. This temple houses a massive gold-seated Buddha and it’s a regular pilgrimage for Buddhists as well as curious tourists.
Within a stone’s throw of Wat Traimit is the Chinatown Gate, which marks the entrance to this end of Chinatown. It was built in 1999 to commemorate the late King Rama IX’s 72nd birthday.
Rommaninat Park is a few minutes’ walk to the north from Sam Yot MRT station, while a short stroll beyond the park is Wat Suthat and the towering red Giant Swing at its entrance.
Wat Suthat is among Bangkok’s oldest and most impressive temples, having been commissioned by King Rama I the Great and completed around the mid-19th century during King Rama III’s reign. The temple features an elegant chapel, magnificent wall murals, and exquisite hand-carved teakwood door panels. The Giant Swing stands over 21 metres tall and is a prominent landmark of the area. The original swing dating from 1784 was replaced in 2004 with a new one crafted from golden teak.
Bangkok’s most famous landmark, the Grand Palace is the spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom. For 150 years, this was the home of the Thai King, the Royal Court and the administrative seat of government. Today, it stands resplendent and awe-inspiring, its beautiful architecture a sight to behold for even the most jaded spirit. No trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit here.
Situated in the grounds of the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, another must-see for visitors and for Thais, the kingdom’s most sacred Buddhist temple. Enshrined inside is the highly revered Emerald Buddha statue named Phra Kaeo Morakot, which is carved from a single jade block. Other highlights include a model of Angkor Wat, murals telling the Ramayana epic, and the five-metre-tall Yaksa Tavarnbal or Gatekeeping Giants.
Half a kilometre or so from the Sanam Chai MRT Station is Wat Pho, another of Bangkok’s best-known temples and also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha for the 46-metre-long, gold leaf-covered reclining Buddha that it houses. Named Phra Buddha Sai Yat, it is the third largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.
A short walk from the Sanam Chai MRT Station in the other direction is Pak Khlong Talat flower market, the city’s biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market. While it’s usually open 24 hours, the best time to see the market is around midnight when it’s at its most lively, and in the pre-dawn hours when truckloads of fresh flowers come in from around the country and when traders and retailers come to buy their stock.
Itsaraphap MRT station, on the Thon Buri side of the Chao Phraya River, is the best choice for visiting Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), which is less than a kilometre to the north on the Chao Phraya riverside. Wat Arun features a different design to other temples in Bangkok, its main Khmer-style tower rising to a height of some 66 metres and with a decoration of seashells and bits of porcelain that glimmer in the sunlight. It is also an internationally recognisable landmark, having been used as a location in several Hollywood movies.
When you’re tired of chasing temples but not ready to tackle the chaos of the city, a good place to relax is Lumphini Park. The 57-hectare park offers rare, open public space in the heart of the capital and contains an artificial lake where visitors can rent boats. Paths around the park totalling approximately 2.5 km in length are popular with morning and evening joggers.
Lumphini Park is dotted with the ubiquitous food carts from which you can enjoy some local treats. The food carts are scattered throughout the park, but the area around the main entrance is where you find the widest selection. Note that most of the vendors close by noon because their primary customers are morning joggers.
Lumphini Park is also home to some huge but harmless giant lizards.
Additional photos courtesy of Tourism Thailand