Thailand is my favorite Asian country. Known by the nickname “Land of Smiles,” no nation better lives up to that name. From the friendly locals to the contrast between ancient art and modern sometimes a bit seedy culture Thailand will thrill you, Thailand will change you.’’
Within the country, Bangkok is the most popular tourist destination. And for good reason.
The dazzling Grand Palace is the city’s most famous landmark. The extensive grounds were built in 1782, and for 150 years it was the home of the king and seat of the government.
The city is awash in ancient “wats” or temples. Wat Arun (“Temple of Dawn”) is a Buddhist temple on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Wat Phra Kaew is located within the Palace perimeter and houses the renowned Emerald Buddha. Wat Traimit is known for its 15-foot high seated golden Buddha made of about 83% pure gold and weighing in at 5.5 tons. Last but not least is Wat Pho which houses the impressive 150-foot long reclining golden Buddha. Note: be sure to be dressed appropriately or you could be denied entrance. I always carry a sarong with me when I travel which can be used to cover my arms, legs or head in respect to local customs.
The floating markets are one of my favorite ways to spend a morning. My favorite is Damnoen Saduak. This market is the most well-known which sometimes makes it crowded, but it’s exactly that frenetic hustle-and-bustle that draws me in.
It’s a cacophony of colorful fruits and handmade souvenirs colliding with mouthwatering smells of fresh meat cooking on spits – all sold from boat-to-boat.
I’m an ancient ruins enthusiast and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya doesn’t disappoint. This magnificent archaeological site is just a short drive from Bangkok. In 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam (Thailand). The Burmese invaded in 1767 and burned the city almost down to the ground. The wats, towers, and palaces which were made out of stone and the headless Buddha’s and other statuary are all that remain, giving the grounds an ethereal atmosphere worthy of the lost kingdom. I can wander for hours through the winding pathways, awed by the remaining vestiges of history I was seeing.
Unless you have nerves of steel, I don’t recommend self-driving through the traffic-jammed streets. The Skytrain transit is excellent, inexpensive, and easy to use. You can also hire a tuk-tuk to ride through the city. A tuk-tuk is a small, brightly-colored, three-wheeled, open-sided vehicle which dashes in and out of noisy city traffic. It’s great fun for short rides, but not during rush hour when the exhausts can be overpowering.
I think shop ’til you drop was first coined in Bangkok. The riot of color and noise is mesmerizing. There are quite a few places to find bargains – Patpong market, Suan Lum night market, Silum and Sukhumvit Roads and the crazy Mahbonrong shopping center. Shopping is as much a cultural as a consumer experience and bargaining is a must! The last time I was in Bangkok, I brought along an extra suitcase, which was easily filled with treasures.
Cruising down the Chao Phraya River is a relaxing way to watch the Bangkok skyline pass by. You’ll be treated to a wide diversity of views from the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) to primitive local homes along the route.
Another fun excursion is to the Bangkok home of the late Jim Thompson, also known as the “Thai Silk King.” Surrounded by lush tropical jungle, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand.
Cuisine in Bangkok is out of this world. The Pad Thai was so much better than back in the United States. It’s a stir-fried rice noodle dish commonly served as street food and at casual local eateries in Thailand. It is made with soaked dried rice noodles, which are stir-fried with eggs and bean sprouts and flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, red chili pepper, and palm sugar, and served with chopped roast peanuts on top.
And of course, there’s my luxurious hotel on the Chao Phraya River where I go back to rest my weary feet and reflect on all the sights and culture I take in every day.
Why Bangkok is My Favorite Asian City first published by International Living Magazine in 2018.
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