Visiting Bangkok and Loving Every Moment
Walking around a grove of mosaic-flowered chedis, two saffron-robed monks and a raised Bodhi tree garden on my way out of Wat Pho, I swear I’m floating. It’s a blissfully cloudy day (a godsend in Bangkok, consistently ranked one of the top-five hottest cities in the world), and after hours of exploring the temple complex, we’ve just received our first Thai massages here at the country’s headquarters for preserving traditional Thai medicine. Two hours later, I’m overlooking the glittering nighttime skyline from the 63rd floor of the The Dome at lebua, drinking a delicious Malbec and getting ready to gorge myself on Chinatown street food. Over and over I think, could this city get any better? and I know: I’ve fallen for Bangkok.
I’ve been in Thailand for two whirlwind weeks, the beginning of the year I’ll spend here as an English teacher at Wang Chan Wittaya, a secondary school in a small town about three hours east of Bangkok. In the short time I’ve been here, Bangkok is the place I’ve come to know best – a silly thing to say, I know, because I’ve barely dipped my toes into the pool of this sprawling city. Still, we’ve clicked, Bangkok and I, after a week of training here and a return trip this past weekend.
Last Saturday marked my best day in Thailand yet, and it exemplifies the reasons I’ve come to love the city so much – namely, because Bangkok offers incredible diversity when it comes to exciting, soul-fulfilling exploration.
Let me tell you about Bangkok’s Skytrain: it’s awesome. Clean, efficient, and fast, it can easily get you where you need to be in central Bangkok.
After some post-partying sleeping in at our hostel (HI-Sukhumvit, highly recommended for both its high level of cleanliness and location on a safe, residential yet central street), we started our day on public transportation en route to Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Let me tell you about Bangkok’s Skytrain: it’s awesome. Clean, efficient, and fast, it can easily get you where you need to be in central Bangkok. Taxis, unfortunately, are somewhat of a toss-up. Thailand is known as the land of smiles for good reason, but it’s also an easy place to get scammed – Bangkok taxis especially.
Taking a taxi from our BTS stop to Wat Pho (along with other major tourist sites, Wat Pho is located on the artificial island of Ko Ratanakosin, a notable exclusion from the Skytrain’s lines), we quickly realized we were being ripped off, driving circuitously around the city. Unfortunately, it was too late by the time we realized this and not worth our time to hop out and find another taxi.
Our limited Thai didn’t help, either; but hey, you live and you learn, right? Leaving Wat Pho, it took us a good twenty minutes to find a taxi willing to use its meter. When in Bangkok, never get into a taxi that quotes you a price but refuses the meter. You’ll get charged three to seven times the actual cost of the ride. Bottom line: use the Sky Train when possible, pay attention to where you’re going, and refuse a taxi that won’t turn on its meter.
Buddha’s reclining position represents his passing into nirvana, and the sight of it is awe-inspiring: we all gasped audibly upon entering the temple.
Dishonest taxi driver aside, we made it to Wat Pho and were pleasantly surprised by how uncrowded we found the grounds of the temple complex on a Saturday afternoon. Wat Pho’s most spectacular feature is the sanctuary containing the Reclining Buddha, who is 46 meters long and 15 meters high, dressed in gold leaf with mother-of-pearl inlay across the soles of his enormous feet. Buddha’s reclining position represents his passing into nirvana, and the sight of it is awe-inspiring: we all gasped audibly upon entering the temple.
The rest of the grounds contain four other sanctuaries with smaller but still impressive Buddhas, galleries with hundreds of gilded Buddhas (Wat Pho has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand), and chedis, towering wedding-cake like symbols of important stages in Buddha’s life that contain ashes from both Buddha and the royal family. A small raised garden outside the Reclining Buddha’s temple also contains a Bodhi tree, one propagated from the very tree where Buddha sat awaiting enlightenment thousands of years ago.
Even before Wat Pho housed the Reclining Buddha, the site served as the earliest school for the teaching of traditional Thai medicine, including massage. Thai massage tends to be characterized as more invigorating than relaxing, incorporating various yogic postures into its practice. Despite its reputation as a more aggressive massage style, I can’t imagine feeling much more peaceful than I did leaving Wat Pho after my thirty-minute body massage and three hours strolling the temple grounds.
Truly, I can’t recommend visiting Wat Pho highly enough. Of course, there a few rules you should follow while visiting temples: cover your shoulders and legs to the knee (I know it’s hot, but a tank top and shorts won’t cut it here!), don’t wear flip flops (nicer sandals are okay), and when sitting in a temple, take care not to point your feet at the Buddha. (Feet are considered dirty in Thailand; doing so would be extremely disrespectful.)
Though we’re traveling on backpacker budgets, we decided to spring for some luxury after touring Wat Pho. Sirocco Sky Bar may be a tourist cliché (yes, it is that bar from Hangover 2) and my glass of wine may have cost as much as two nights in the hostel (oops!), but the view of the city from the hotel’s location adjacent to the Chao Phraya River is pretty amazing. Attendants ushered us in at every turn, bartenders mixed fancy drinks from their glass bar, and the dome roof shimmered gold as the sky changed to a pale, twinkling dusk. Who doesn’t like pretending to be rich once in awhile?
Drinks, of course, called for dinner, and so we made our way to Bangkok’s famous Chinatown, also known as food heaven. Stalls selling everything and then some wind their way around the streets and alleys comprising this maze-like district. It’s all smears of bright lights and masses of people, intoxicating aromas and come-and-get-me food displays. The best way to do Chinatown is to nibble your way through: bring some friends, buy whatever looks or smells interesting, and share.
This is cheap feasting, and it might be some of the best food you’ve ever tasted. Consider, for instance, the fried oysters we ordered for 40 baht (at roughly 30 baht to the American dollar), which turned out to be a battered, fried pancake overstuffed with juicy mussels, served over crispy bean sprouts with delicious sweet and spicy sauce on the side. Is your mouth watering yet?
I might as well mention food poisoning, too. Thailand has too much incredible street food to let the risk of food poisoning scare you away, so my advice is to be smart.
It goes without saying that you need to be careful in a place as crowded as Chinatown. While I haven’t experienced a theft yet, a friend of mine had her purse slashed a week before I visited. Carry a smart purse, go in a group, and don’t let your guard down. I might as well mention food poisoning, too. Thailand has too much incredible street food to let the risk of food poisoning scare you away, so my advice is to be smart.
Steer clear of food that’s obviously been sitting out awhile, aiming instead for dishes being prepped and cooked in front of you, and cross your fingers. Even if you do get food poisoning (and keep in mind that I know people who’ve gotten sick from street food more often in the States than abroad), it just might be worth it!
And there you have it, one day in Bangkok – one version of one day doing three of a million things you could possibly do during a day in this overwhelming City of Angels. From temples like Wat Pho, luxurious view like Sirocco Sky Bar’s, and sinfully delicious food in Chinatown (and almost every other corner of Bangkok) to world-class shopping, gargantuan markets, museums, and parks, Bangkok absolutely begs to be explored. I’m only two days out, and I’m already planning my next weekend in my new favorite city.
Visiting Bangkok and Loving Every Moment
Two Weeks in Northern Thailand: Finding my Bliss
Visiting Koh Phi Phi, Thailand on a Budget
9 Things that Surprised Me about Traveling in Thailand
First Time Thailand… It’s Now or Never
Travel Thailand: Land of Smiles
How the Phi Phi Islands Surprised Me
6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles”
Have you traveled to Thailand? What were your impressions? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.