One of the many things we like about Bangkok given its population of almost 10.5 million, is that the different districts are like many smaller cities, each with their own distinct feel and atmosphere!
This is our fifth visit to Bangkok, and this time round we are trying out two areas that we have never been to before.
We first snuggle into the Ibis Bangkok Riverside Hotel, an older establishment with a resort feel. Breakfasting outside watching boats go by on the Chao Phraya River is a fine beginning to each day.
The Riverside area neighbourhood is a perfect fit with its many fine small eateries. Rick waits patiently for his bowl of Tomyam (saucy rice noodles with fish and pork) and Thai ice tea (an intense blend of strong black tea laced with sweet syrup over crushed ice).
A walk takes us to Iconsiam, a Bangkok palatial mall.
The whole first level is an indoor floating market with boat-shaped stalls on the central waterway which are surrounded by more stalls along walkways all selling local treats: from sizzling/boiling foods, to fresh fruits, to prepackaged everything. The levels above are like being in another world – high end shops in dazzling glass/marble/chandeliers!
What!? A Porsche dealer four levels up? Rick says they probably have a sky-way for test drives. The top sixth level is a kid’s “Superpark” with a skating rink, bumper cars, skateboard ramps, arcade, and such.
Our hotel location has easy access to both BTS Skytrain and river taxies, and thereby is perfect for our mission to re-visit the major Buddha sites, which we last set eyes upon during our very first Thailand visit in 1998!
Our choice of transportation is definitely by water taxi, which is an entertaining experience in its own right. We bop back and forth by ferry across the Chao Phraya River for 5 Bhat per-person (23 cents CAD) from which we catch a “Public Boat” to sites up and down the river for 20 Bhat (92 cents).
A day trip to the Grand Palace starts with an unexpected halt at the entrance. We knew about and dressed appropriately for our temple visit, but the gate keeper pointed to my Capris pants which ended mid-calf with “no good”. My objection was met by more “no good, no good” and with his limited English, we just lined up at the handy stall a few feet away to purchase a sarong skirt for me…maybe he had a “no good” quota to fill.
Once we got into the complex it was as ostentatious as we remembered it. This complex was first established by King Rama I in 1782, consisting of the Royal Palace, Throne Halls and Wats (Temples) covering 218,000 square metres. The Palace was home to royalty until 1925, but is still used for official events.
Outstanding is Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The renowned 26inch (66cm) tall Buddha statue sits high above the heads of worshippers. Carved from a block of jasper (the emerald in the name refers to its green colour) this Buddha is clothed differently according the season (summer/hot, rainy, winter/cool) which now being the cool season the Buddha’s shoulders are draped with a jewel-fringed gold-mesh shawl overtop of the rainy season outfit. Alas photos are not allowed.
We next ferry across to Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). It’s most prominent characteristic is the 82m-high prang (Khmer-style tower) which appears lace-like in white stuccowork that is encrusted with colourful porcelain. Most impressive!
Our plan to visit Wat Pho on the same day is not going to happen as our bodies are screaming, no more, and we are glad we waited to start fresh another day. Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest covering 80,000 square metres of temples and Buddha images.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha holds a 46m long by 15m high statue. We walk alongside this tremendous Buddha from head to toe. Dating back to 1932 under Rama III, it was constructed with a brick core, which was then molded and shaped with plaster and a final layer of gold leaf.
The 3m high and 5m long feet are decorated with mother of pearl, displaying 108 different auspicious characteristics of Buddha.
Another day we walk from our hotel (about 4km) to Bangkok’s Chinatown, one of the largest in the world. Yaowarat Road is a large food street that bedazzles the senses with scents and movement. Being that it is almost the Lunar New Year the area is flooded with the colour red.
An evening at Asiatique was great fun! This night bazaar opened in 2012 on the docks and in renovated warehouses from the former East Asiatic Company (Denmark based, founded in 1897 to conduct trade with Siam).
Now, 1500 shops/stalls with souvenirs and everything else imaginable are in and around these old warehouses, including 40 upscale restaurants that dish up around-the-world cuisine.
Trust us to find the most interesting open air eateries with hawker stalls loaded with tantalizing morsels. Hmmm. grilled crocodile (labelled Bangcroc …ha,ha)…we are okay with just a photo. The skewers of chicken, fish and veggies, and steaming cobs of corn draw us in…followed by double scoops of gelato.
Our two weeks at the Ibis are up, and time to set up our new home in the Triple-Y Hotel, which is part of the Samyan Mitrtown Shopping Complex in Pathum Wan District.
We cannot believe our eyes seeing familiar signage and a gigantic big red cup as our taxi pulls into the parking area. Can’t be….but it is!! A newly opened Canadian coffee shop – Tim Horton’s or “Timmy’s” as we affectionately call it.
We know we will be in the line-up daily for a cup of brew and for some of their famous tiny round dough-nutty “timbits”.
One could live in this complex without ever leaving the air conditioned comfort – six levels of restaurants/cafes/supermarket/clothing stores/pharmacies/fitness centre/cinema….and if craving some sunshine just walk out to the 1500 square metre rooftop garden. Above level six is the hotel, then several floors of condos above. And beneath all this is the conveniently located underground link of the MRT (Metropolitan Rapid Transit) to whisk one away to other areas of the city.
A walk around the nearby Lumpini Park is greenery plus! Its sizable manmade lakes are dotted with folks in swan-shaped paddle boats. Birds flit about, fish stir the water, and tortoises sit on logs, and you will not expect this….we come across several sizes of Asian Water Monitor Lizards warming themselves in the sun.
One of these impressive creatures nonchalantly crosses a roadway in front of us. They can grow to be a couple of metres in length, and there are about 300 currently in the lake living on dead fish/birds (and are said to be no threat to humans…although we were not about to test this by being too close).
“That skyscraper looks like Godzilla took a swipe at it as he passed by” is Rick’s take on the tall structure with chunks of the exterior missing, which we are thinking was abandoned before it was finished. It turns out the King Power Mahanakhon is in the realm of unique architectural design. This 77 floor skyscraper of retail/hotel/residences are in fact luxury plus and the condominiums are selling for between US$1.2 and14million! The unconventional appearance is from a cuboid-surfaced spiral cut into the side of the building, for a “pixelated” look. Not our thing to do, but there is public rooftop observatory for a 360 panoramic view of the city, and a thrilling/chilling walk onto a glass floor jutting out from the building.
Our mega Bangkok activity was rewarded with no guilt of the sizable portions of delicious cuisine. Of our sampled array of Thai dishes/beverages our favourite is Pad Thai, and Thai coffee (rich freshly ground beans blended with sweet condensed milk).
Bangkok always leaves us with such warm and wonderful memories. Our re-visiting of sites and new experiences was a perfect combination and our thanks to the many gracious locals who we met along the way. And there are still some districts that we have not let stayed in – we’ll be back.