They say that the streets in every Asian city have the same things to offer. You would always find China towns selling fake Rolex watches or corners where shiny knick-knacks are spread out neatly to demand a second gaze. However, walking down the streets of Bangkok is a different experience altogether. Amidst the jamboree of the varied sights, sounds and smells, you experience warmth radiating from the people and the milieu around you. No canny wisecracks are tossed over to sell the wares nor any attempts made to bamboozle a rookie traveller.
Combing the city streets also serves as a crash course in discovering the nuances of Thai food and culture. And I discovered a street-food favorite, a sweet Thai roti made of maida, banana, and egg sprinkled with condensed milk. Don’t be surprised if you espy a heap of mess in and around the street shops. This is one of the upshots of the devastating floods that Bangkok experienced only a few months back.
There are a few Indian restaurants that you might want to visit if you are missing Indian food (Bukhara and Khana Khazana on Sukhuvit Soi 11 are the best ones so far!). To learn a bit about Bangkok’s rich history, I paid a visit to the Grand Palace situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya river. I have to make a mention about my two dear friends in Bangkok who despite their busy schedules volunteered to show me around the historic centers. While conservative in its own way (huge placards informs you to dress appropriately inside the palace), the Grand palace has to offer a myriad mythological or mystifying tales in each nook and cranny.
The palace covers an area of 218,000 square meters and was established in 1782 by King Rama I as the center of administration. It houses several throne halls and government offices. The palace is mainly used as the venue to celebrate royal functions such as the King’s birthday. The palace has a Buddha shrine which is considered to be the most important or revered spot. The Buddha idol made of green jadeite is believed to be first discovered in 1434. The green stone was mistakenly thought of as emerald (hence this place also goes by the name of Emerald Buddha). The walls of this temple are decorated with mural paintings and other grandiose architectural features that create an aura of pure bliss.
In the gallery section, you can see the paintings of the Ramayana. Stories of Ram, Hanuman and Ravan (they call him Thosakan here) are narrated gleefully by the local guides. The Indian influence definitely shows and how! The shimmering pieces of glass and structures made of mosaic or gold are held securely in the palms of the temple’s rich history.The architecture of the palace interiors is a mélange of Chinese, Buddhist, Indian, and European. This is evident from the structures, mythical idols, and window panels found within and outside the palace walls.
The wind chimes hanging on the roofs make delightful clinking sounds and also serve the purpose of driving away the small birds, innovative isn’t it? Within a few kilometers, you have the Wat Phot temple (popularly known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha). This temple has the statue of a reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf.
Inside the vicinity of the temple, you will also find a place that offers a traditional Thai massage. I signed up for an oil-less massage and waltzed out soon with a relaxed smile. And who can forget the pleasures of shopping in Bangkok! The mall closest to me was curiously named “Terminal 21” (because it has an airport theme). There are electronic display boards everywhere and the receptionist at the information kiosk is dressed like an air hostess.
But the places to be visited by any true-blue shopping aficionado are the JJ Market and MBK mall. You can wander across the vast stretch of the markets to hunt for the right curio at the right cost (and can even lose yourself in the maze). And Bangkok is considered as one of the best places on earth to grab a bargain! The best buy in Bangkok is the Thai silk fabric which is traditionally hand-woven. To identify the real Thai silk, look for the peacock symbol emblazoned on it.
The best ways to commute in Bangkok is via the trains. You can use the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) as well as the sky train or BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) that connects most parts of the city. In addition, you have the Airport Rail Link (ARL) which forms the triumvirate of the Bangkok’s rail transportation. A train ride can give you a glimpse of the city through its glass doors and also prove light on your pockets. A taxi ride which is an expensive option is not a very good idea because of the woeful road traffic problems (though the traffic there is much more organized and disciplined unlike any other city in India).
Bangkok is the land of tuk-tuks which resembles our rikshaws but have more of a leg space thankfully. You can also pillion ride on a motorcycle in exchange of a few Thai Bahts. I enjoyed a boat ride across the River City too that was replete with a live commentary and Titanic-like perch.
Along the riverside, I noticed the ruined piles of houses which were destroyed during the floods. Most of the city dwellers (at least 50 per cent of them) were affected by the floods and are still rebuilding their old houses or buying new ones. And amidst all the bedlam, they still smile radiantly and carry on with their usual chores.
On the last day of my visit, I quickly gathered memories of the city that glimmered in the lights of spas, nightclubs, boutiques, restaurants, and high-rise buildings. Bangkok which was known a few years back as a sleepy Asian town visited only by pleasure-seekers has now truly become a bustling metropolis pulsating with life and fervor and making it a charming discovery for travellers. However, the fondest memories that I carry back are of Bangkok’s people whose simplicity, honesty, and kindness simply blew me away. It would not be wrong to say that the real treasure of the city is its own people. Three cheers to the dazzling city with a heart of gold.
Pooja Nair likes to look at the sunnier side of things. Writing is her hobby as well as passion an she has attempted different genres of writing. One of her short stories have been featured in a book titled Inner Voices that was published internationally. Additionally, three of her short stories were published in the Chicken Soup for Indian Woman series. She writes regularly for Indian weeklies and ezines.