Our arrival in Bangkok instantly highlighted how spoiled we had been by Russia’s 2GIS, an incredibly accurate and informative Russian map and transportation program that absolutely surpasses anything Google has even dreamed about producing. Arriving in Bangkok without such a program made our navigation of the city a bit of a challenge initially. Bangkok is huge, spread out, has some of the worst traffic in the world and is, well, crazy.
After using the sky train and a local bus, we eventually reached the popular backpacker district centered at Khao San Road. Our bags didn’t arrive with us on the flight, so we were able to travel a bit easier on the crowded buses. Unfortunately, after sleeping at the Beijing airport and having traveled from Ulan-Ude via both Beijing and Hong Kong, our lack of luggage prevented us from the shower and change of clothes that we were very ready for.
During out first few days in Bangkok, we enjoyed walking around, eating and just trying to adjust to the heat. After months of the hearty meaty Russian foods, Thai flavours were definitely a welcome addition.
Chinatown in Bangkok is a busy area at any time of day, but particularly so during the evening dinner hours when restaurant tables edge out into the busy street and street vendors dominate the areas many alleys. And this is a bit different from Thailand’s other busy evening eating centers because of its obviously Chinese flavour, with every other storefront offering shark fin soup and the like and the street eateries serving up dishes with interesting mixes of Thai and Chinese tastes. It was easy to get lost among the back streets where the markets existed. The day markets within Chinatown are as you expect, a little bit of everything at cheap prices and heaps of people.
Thailand’s famous massive gold-gilded Reclining Buddha is housed at Wat Pho. The Buddha is 46m long and 15m high and its massive feet are soled with 108 images of inlayed with mother-of-pearl.
There are numerous temples and halls throughout the Wat, as well as the national headquarters for traditional Thai medicine (and massage). Wat Pho is also known for its many Buddhas, and the gold-gilded statues line the interior courtyard walls.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
The Grand Palace houses the Wat Phra Kaew, famous all over Thailand for its holy Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha was once covered by plaster and housed near Chiang Mai, but in the 15th century a monk there discovered a greenish hue under a chip in the plaster. He revealed what he thought to be a Buddha of all emerald and the name stuck despite the fact that the green Buddha is actuality of jade. After invasions and wars, the Emerald Buddha was finally set in the Wat Phra Kaew in the 1700s.
Being the Wat for the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew is lavishly adorned and kept as if it were new. While it nearly completely lacks the character of those old temples that have been used lovingly but not rebuilt, the Wat Phra Kaew does show what those now aged places might have looked like when they first were built.
Across the river from the Royal Palace and Wat Pho sits Wat Arun. It is used in many of the photos of Bangkok, as it sits on the edge of the Chao Praya. At Wat Arun, you can climb the tower and see 360 degrees, which is one of the few places in the city that allows this sort of view. Up close, the tower was quite amazing with the floral mosaics decorating it created from broken ceramics and porcelain.
A popular way to show your devotion to Buddhism in Thailand is by wearing amulets on large chains around your neck. Along streets, vendors set out their many amulets onto blankets or tables for inspection, and some potential customers come by with magnifying glasses to assess the quality of the tiny stone, wood, or metal Buddha images prior to purchase. It was definitely fun to see all the different amulets, how people use them, and the process of selection.
Queen’s Birthday and Mother’s Day
We had noticed decorations going up around the city, and were later informed that 12 August was the Queen’s 81st Birthday and, therefore, also Thai Mother’s Day (The King’s Birthday is also Thai Father’s Day). It is a public holiday and is well celebrated by the Thai people who love their royalty.
Anticipating this event based on the recommendations of a few Thais we’d spoken with, the three of us (Ali, Brett, and Ange) all went into the Sanam Luang Park by the Grand Palace to witness this festive evening. The celebration included a gathering of military and uniformed personnel, as well as students in school uniform and locals. One of the main events was the Queen’s Cup, a Thai Boxing Event that from our observations included all female boxers.
Around 7pm, the crowd began to swell and people started handing out yellow and light blue candles (the Thai King’s color is light blue and the Queen’s is yellow). Soon after, people began to light their candles and the singing began. It was a beautiful sight to see all the thousands of people with lit candles. The lights around the park were shut off, and the scene was great. After the singing, fireworks began shooting off right in the park. According to Ali, the firework display was better than any DC fireworks.
One of the best parts of Asian culture are the markets, and Bangkok has markets everywhere! We located produce markets, food markets, amulet markets, flower markets and more.
We haven’t written much here because its hard to explain the markets, but this is actually the best thing about Bangkok – there is nothing more entertaining than to just walk the streets and see what people are selling and how they are selling it.
There are food carts and mobile restaurants and shops everywhere and late at night they get packed up into neat little boxes and rolled down some dark alley for storage with no fear of theft of vandalism. One night as the rains threatened we watched a man pack an entire mobile t-shirt shop into a small box without even taking the shirts off the racks – he just unclipped the rack from the scaffolding, complete with hangers and shirts attached, and tucked it into the box, and then the scaffolding eventually fit on top before he locked it up.
The markets themselves, some of them at least, never sleep. The flower market goes all night. The morning food markets writhe with people and live fishes, eels, frogs, whatever you can name. The food markets serve every bit of everything – you can even buy a roasted pig face!
In all, we’ve probably spent two weeks in Bangkok now over four stops and the markets are the only part that really never gets old.