bangkok action
  

Getting from Point A to B

Skytrain

For destinations located along its route, the sparkling clean Skytrain system has eliminated the misery of Bangkok’s gridlock. Depending upon the distance traveled, tickets range in price from 10 to 40 baht. Single journey tickets can be purchased in vending machines that only accept 5 and 10 baht coins. There are no change machines available so it is a good idea to insure that you have coins to buy a ticket rather than having to wait in line to get change. There are several multiple-journey tickets available that significantly reduce costs. Tourists most frequently purchase the 100 baht or 280 baht unlimited travel tickets that are good for one or four days (three nights). Visitors planning on staying a longer period of time can purchase one of the regular commute tickets. All of the stations have maps and signs in English explaining ticketing options; the Nana, Siam Square, and Saphan Taksin stations have tourist information centers.

Taxis

Metered cabs are now the norm in Bangkok and they usually present no significant problems for tourists. The rates are very low by international standards and although tipping is not customary, most people round their fare up to the nearest five or ten baht. Cab drivers rarely speak English, but most are fairly adept at deciphering foreign pronunciations of popular destinations. For other destinations – including your hotel – it is best to have the name of the destination written out in Thai. Drivers will occasionally refuse to take people to remote locations where they will have difficulty finding a return fare. In some instances, particularly at the Southern Bus Terminal or when it is raining, drivers will attempt to establish a set price rather than use the meter. These practices, however, are increasingly rare as the phone number of where to complain is now prominently displayed in all cabs.

Tuk-Tuks

They are noisy, dangerous and belch smoke, but virtually every visitor tries one of these three-wheeled contraptions at least once. Here are some guidelines to help you in your inevitable bout with insanity. Always negotiate your fare before climbing into the beast and never agree to be taken on a one hour tour for 10 baht. The latter is a scam to take you to shops giving the driver a kickback. If you refuse to go to the shop, he will inevitably become nasty and uncooperative. The fare you negotiate will probably be more than it would cost to use a metered air-conditioned taxi. Tuk-tuk drivers rarely understand any language other than Thai and many of them can’t read. If you are heading for an esoteric destination, it is best to have a Thai speaker explain to the driver where you want to go. Good luck!

Buses

Bangkok’s buses come in all shapes and sizes, but they share one trait in common: they are all crowded. Visitors usually take the air-conditioned models (pale orange or blue and white) with fares that vary according to the destination – rarely more than 12 baht. Buses without air-conditioning are hot, uncomfortable and invariably filled with exhaust fumes from the street. These buses have a fixed fare of 3.5 baht (red buses) or 5 baht (blue buses). There are also 25 baht micro buses available that only stop when they have seats available. The routes followed by microbuses are one of Bangkok’s great mysteries so they are rarely used by tourists. Maps showing bus routes except those followed by microbuses are available at newsstands throughout the city. Watch your belongings on crowded buses; the conditions are ideal for petty thieves.

Motorbike Taxis

On virtually every street corner in the city, you will see groups of men lolling about in brightly colored vests advertising bars and other places of business. The motorbikes gathered around them are used to transport people by weaving through traffic jams. Although expatriate business people often use motorbike taxis to save time, they are not recommended for tourists. Fares have to be negotiated and when they get onto the city’s main thoroughfares, motorbike taxis can be lethal – especially since only the driver is required by law to wear a helmet!

 

Sightseeing Bangkok

Wat Pra Kaeo and The Grand Palace

Sharing 945,000 square meters of common ground, Wat Pra Kaeo and the Grand Palace are Bangkok’s most popular cultural attractions. The wat, which was built in 1782 at the behest of King Rama I, consists of several gilded structures and is noted for its extensive murals showing scenes from the Ramakian, the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana. Also known as The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a large bot (main chapel) at the wat houses the small (75cm tall), but culturally significant statute. The origins of this much traveled piece of statuary are a mystery, but it was returned to Thailand from Laos in 1778 by General Chao Phraya Chakri, who later became King Rama I. The Grand Palace is no longer used as a royal residence, but serves a variety of other functions. The numerous buildings are constructed in several architectural styles that reflect the desires of the monarchs who created them. Chakri Maha Prasat, the largest of the buildings, was designed by British architect John Clunish in 1882, but is topped with Thai style spires. The room below the largest spire contains the ashes of several Chakri monarchs and their queens. When visiting the compound care must be taken to dress appropriately. Shorts, sleeveless shirts and shoes without toes and heels are not permitted. When entering the bot or other sanctuaries of the Wat shoes must be removed. Open daily from 08:30-15:30, the admission fee to the compound is 200 baht.

Wat Pho

The second largest Buddha image in Thailand is housed in this, the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok. Although the wat was built in the 16th century during the Ayutthaya period, it has been rebuilt and modified several times. The 46 meter long Buddha image was created in the 19th century during the reign of Rama III. Built around a brick core and covered with plaster that is finished with gold leaf, the eyes and feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Wat Pho is also the resting place for numerous gilded Buddha images that were brought from temples destroyed during conflicts with the Burmese. The wat has always concerned itself with traditional medicine, including Thai massage. For 250 baht an hour or 150 baht a half-hour, visitors can receive a massage. Those interested in learning the art can enroll in five to 10-day courses. Wat Pho is open from 08:00-17:00 and costs 20 baht to visit.
Wat Traimit. The central attraction at this wat is a 5 ½ ton gold Buddha that never fails to amaze visitors with its gleaming beauty and incredible value. Covered with plaster to protect it from people more interested in gold than its religious significance, the true character of the image was discovered only 45 years ago. While workers struggled to move it, a chunk of plaster fell off, revealing its solid gold interior. The statute is housed in a rather non-descript temple near Chinatown and Hualamphong train station. The wat is open daily from 09:00-17:00 and has a 10 baht admission charge.

Wat Arun

The “Temple of Dawn” is a Bangkok landmark. Dramatically jutting into the air from its location on the Thonburi banks of the Chao Phraya, the central Khmer-style prang has been elongated to give it an appearance that is unmistakably Thai. Four smaller prangs of similar design surround the main spire. All five of the spires have been covered with broken pieces of porcelain that were used as ballast by Chinese ships that formerly came to Thailand. Steep steps lead halfway up one side of the main prang to a point where there are dramatic views of the river and surrounding areas, including Wat Pra Kaeo and The Grand Palace. The interior of the temple’s bot is also worth exploring. The murals picturing Prince Siddhartha encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death are particularly impressive. The wat is open daily from 07:30-17:30; admission is 10 baht. It can be reached from the Bangkok side of the river by taking the ferry from Tha Tien Pier to the Wat Arun Pier.

Bangkok National Museum

For those seeking an introduction to Thai art, culture and history, this is the best place to start. Located near the Grand Palace, the museum’s buildings date from 1782 and are as much a part of the display as the objects contained within them. Popular items in the museum include an early Buddha image from Gandhara in India with obvious signs of influence from classical Greek sculptures; a display of traditional musical instruments from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia; and the collection of royal funerary carriages, including the massive and still used Vajayant Rajarot that requires 300 men to pull. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, beginning at 09:30, free tours are provided in English by National Museum volunteers. Free tours are also conducted in German, French and Japanese. Call the volunteers at 02-215-8173 for more information about the tours and the subjects covered. The museum is open from 09:00 to 16:00, Wednesday through Sunday. The admission fee is 40 baht.

Jim Thompson House

The legendary American who breathed life into the Thai silk industry shortly after the end of World War II and then mysteriously disappeared while on a walk in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967 formerly lived in this traditional Thai house. A former New York City architect, he was an inveterate collector of Asian art. Much of what he collected is on display in his former home, a place where he entertained the rich and famous when they came to Bangkok. The guides at the house are charming and informative and everyone leaves the place feeling they know much more about Thailand than when they arrived. There is a small restaurant and gift shop on the premises where visitors can buy excellent silk products. Located on a small soi near the Mahboonkrong Shopping Center, the house is open Monday through Saturday and has an admission fee of 100 baht.

Wang Suan Phakkard

Formerly the residence of Princess Chumbot of Nakhon Sawan, this collection of five traditional wooden Thai houses is a delight to visit. The structures of the “Lettuce Farm Palace” are filled with antiques, art, porcelain and furnishings. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and the pond contains ducks and swans. Although not a particularly popular destination with Thais, foreigners always seem to enjoy the peaceful respite from hectic Bangkok and the useful information they receive about Thai history and culture. Located on Si Ayutthaya Road near the Siam City Hotel, it is open every day except Sunday from 09:00-16:00. There is a 150 baht admission fee.

Bangkok Activities

Visiting the Weekend Market

Everyone seems to love a bargain and there are plenty to be had at Chatuchak Weekend Market, a happening that occurs in Bangkok every Saturday and Sunday from 09:00 to 18:00. Items sold include everything imaginable and much that is unimaginable, including clothing (new and used), flowers, plants, massive goldfish, rare tropical fish, handmade candles, modern paintings, ceramics and kitchen ware, used magazines and books and virtually every kind of handicraft produced in Thailand. To get the best prices, you have to bargain. At one time the Weekend Market was difficult to reach, but it is now easily accessed by getting off the Skytrain at the Mo Chit station and walking the short distance to the market. It can get very hot at Chatuchak so be sure to drink lots of water and to occasionally stop for a rest. A useful map of the market’s layout, produced by Nancy Chandler, is now available at the market and in Bangkok bookstores. It is indispensable for finding things in the maze produced by Chatuchak’s 15,000 stalls.

River and Klong Tours

Bangkok’s numerous waterways provide a fascinating way to get around and to view the city. The Chao Phraya River Express is a river “bus” that goes up and down the river between the Tha Wat Ratchasingkhon pier (just north of the Krungthep Bridge) and Nonthaburi, a Bangkok suburb near the airport. The 1½ hour trip costs less than 20 baht and offers a fascinating view of life along the river and of some of Bangkok’s most famous landmarks. The best way to familiarize yourself with the river buses is to go to the Central Pier located at the foot Saphan Taksin Skytrain Station. There is a large sign that explains where the different types of boats stop. The trip is much more enjoyable if you avoid traveling at commute time. If you are interested in seeing Thonburi’s numerous canals, you can rent a longtailed boat for about 300 baht an hour, a price that is very reasonable when spread among several people. Be sure, however, that you have established your price before getting aboard the boat. The Boat Tour Centre, near the River City Shopping Complex is recommended by many and charges competitive prices. Tha Chang, the pier near the Grand Palace is another good place to charter a boat.

Dinner Cruises

The major hotels fronting on the Chao Phraya River all have some sort of a dinner cruise. Boats, ranging from massive river cruise boats to charmingly converted rice barges, provide meals while diners view the sights along the river. The big boats feature buffets while the smaller vessels often provide individual service. Several riverside restaurants also have dinner cruises at much lower prices. Two of the most popular cruises are operated in rice barge conversions by Loy Nava (02-437-4932) and Manohra Cruises (02-476-0021). The latter, which operates out of the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa, is particularly appropriate for couples who want a romantic evening.

Touring Chinatown

Bangkok’s Chinatown is located in the area around the intersection of Yaowarat and Ratchawong Roads. It is a warren of shops selling jewelry, hardware, food, fabrics, clothing, household goods and a multitude of other things. Invariably packed with dense crowds of people, it offers sights and experiences you won’t find anywhere else in Bangkok. Although much of what is sold isn’t what tourists want, if you find something that tickles your fancy, be sure to bargain. The Chinese love bargaining and the initial price of anything they sell is far higher than what they expect to receive. Adjacent to Chinatown, centered on the intersection of Pahurat and Chakkaphet Roads, is a small Indian settlement usually referred to as “Pahurat.” This is a good place to shop for fabrics and clothes. If you are seeking authentic and reasonably priced Chinese or Indian food both of these areas have some excellent restaurants. The Lonely Planet Thailand guidebook has devised a walking tour of Chinatown and Pahurat. The walk is definitely not for those who have trouble handling crowds, but it offers a trip into a world many don’t even realize exists. If you take the tour, don’t forget your camera.

Traditional Thai Massage

Although massages in Thailand are often associated with sexual hanky panky, an authentic Thai massage is something many tourists enjoy. It involves kneading the muscles, stretching and applying deep pressure to specific nerves or pressure points. The system has evolved over the centuries and a massage will differ very little from one trained practitioner to another. Responsibility for maintaining and propagating the art is the responsibility of Wat Pho, a place where many people go for a reasonably priced and authentic massage. Some of the best massages in Bangkok are given by blind masseuses. In the last couple of years, massages of the feet have become popular with tourists. It is amazing how relaxing a foot massage can be after a day of walking and sightseeing.

Nightlife

Bangkok is a city that seems to inspire everyone to have a good time. It has probably the most diverse collection of restaurants, nightclubs, go-go bars, bars, pubs and other nightspots of any city in the world. There is something for everyone, but remember to exercise common sense to avoid an unwanted lightening of your wallet or losing it altogether. Nightclubs come and go with rapidity, but a variety of publications describing the city’s nightlife will let you know where the latest action can be found. Massive microbreweries with their own beer, live entertainment and food (often German) are currently the rage. For those who simply want a drink, there are a variety of pubs and bars in the city where people gather to drink and talk. Many of these spots are hangouts for various ethnic groups who want to use their native tongue and talk about things back home. For those interested in visiting one of the city’s famous (infamous?) go-go bars it is probably a good idea to give Patpong a pass. It has been diminishing in popularity recently and this has caused a corresponding rise in the aggressiveness of the numerous touts in the area. Most people seem to have the best time at the bars in Nana Plaza on Sukhumvit Soi 4 or at Soi Cowboy on Sukhumvit Soi 23. Although obviously not designed for female customers, women sometimes accompany their mates to see what all the talk is about.

Day Trips Outside of Bangkok

Cruises to Ayutthaya

Several companies and hotels offer trips that combine bus and boat travel into a tour that includes lunch; a stop at Bang Pa-in Palace, a “summer” retreat for Thai monarchs; and a whirlwind tour of the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya. Horizon Cruise (02-236-7777), operating out of the Shangri-la Hotel, for example, has a trip available for 1600 baht that takes guests to directly to Ayutthaya by bus where they visit four monuments. They are then whisked by the same bus to Bang Pa-in where they visit the palace. After this they board a luxury cruise boat for lunch and a leisurely trip down the Chao Phraya to Bangkok. The Oriental Hotel (02-236-04000) operates a similar trip using its luxurious Oriental Queen. For those who want to spend more time in Ayutthaya, rice barges converted into sumptuous four and 10-cabin cruisers decorated with antiques and oriental carpets offer overnight cruises to the ancient city. The Mekhala and Manohra 2 operate out of the Maenam Hotel (02-256-7168) and the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa (02-476-0021) respectively. Call for details about these luxury trips as itineraries change with demand and the season.

Nakhon Pathom

Although it is one of the oldest cities in Thailand and may have been inhabited as early as 300 BC, Nakhon Pathom offers only one visual connection with its past: Phra Pathorm Chedi, the tallest Buddhist monument in the world. The 127 meter spire was given its present form in 1860 by King Mongkut who restored and significantly modified a structure that had lay in ruins since 1057. The initial monument at the site was erected in the early 6th century by Theravada Buddhists and is contained within the orange-glazed dome of the present structure. In the early 11th century, the city was conquered by Suriyavarman I, a Khmer king from Angkor who built a Brahman-style prang over the existing structure. A short time later the city was sacked by the Burmese and the prang lay in ruins until King Mongkut recreated it when he built a chedi over the remains of the prang. Nakhon Pathom can easily reached be reached by both bus and train.

Tourist Train to Kanchanaburi

On weekends and holidays, the State Railways of Thailand operates tourist train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The train first stops in Nakhon Pathom for one hour so people can view the massive chedi. It then proceeds to the bridge popularized in the movie Bridge Over the River Kwai. Although the original version was made of wood, it was quickly replaced by an ordinary looking steel structure. After an hour at the bridge, passengers are taken by minibus to Prasat Meuang Singh Historical Park, a fascinating site containing the remnants of a 13th century Khmer outpost of the Angkor empire. Other highlights include lunch alongside the river, a visit to a bat cave and a stop at one of the areas war cemeteries. The trip only costs 250 baht for adults and half that for children. More information can be obtained from the SRT

website
at www.srt.motc.go.th

Visiting a Floating Market

At one time it was relatively easy to visit picturesque floating markets where fruits and vegetables were sold from small boats by colorfully clad women. The urbanization of Bangkok, however, and the arrival of the automobile have eliminated authentic markets within the city itself. The real thing, however, still exists on klongs (canals) outside of the city. The closest market is a small affair on Klong Bang Khu Wiang in Thonburi. Boats to this market leave from Tha (pier) Chang near Wat Pra Kaeo every morning between 06:15 and 08:00. The market, however, is pretty much over by 07:00 so it is probably best to charter a longtail boat in order to get an earlier start. Klong Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi Province, about 100 kilometers outside of Bangkok, is another popular floating market option. The most common way to visit one of the three markets on or near Klong Damnoen Saduak is to go on a package tour. It is also possible to rent a boat for about 350 baht an hour to tour the area, but this can be expensive as it takes a considerable time to reach the market. Although the floating market at Wat Sai is popular with some tour companies, most people agree it isn’t worth the effort as tourists far outnumber the vendors in the market.

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 Thailand and Asia
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  Tropical Living Magazine
  Koh Samui
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 Benjarong Magazine - October 2005, Volume 8 Issue 10

 

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