Bangkok is an exotic place. It is an urban jungle with very little greenspace. You can feel the heat from the concrete that has no room to escape. Strangely, it is a place will with monumental temples and an abundance of massage parlors. The city is very modern, and like many countries in Asia, it is crowded, and traffic overwhelming.
After a 20 plus hour trip from Atlanta that included Delta flight delays in both Atlanta and Narita, Tokyo, and enduring crying babies in both legs, the arrival in Bangkok turned out to be a breeze.Immigration was not a problem, almost non-existent. ATMs were everywhere, so getting Thai Bahts (THB) to pay for the taxi was not a problem. Luckily, there was a cab system that worked. You pick a ticket from three kiosks and one specifically for seniors. The ticket number will be your lane where your taxi will be. It seems pretty straightforward except that there were at least 70 lanes. If you picked #63 as I did, you'd be dragging several large suitcases (or boxes favored by Asians) from one end of the airport to the other.
I booked a city tour with the hotel concierge. I had 1 ½ days in Bangkok and half a day on my return from Chiang Mai. I wanted to make sure I see the essential sights in the city. They did not have a "Hop-On, Hop-Off" bus, which would have been ideal for a short stay. My husband and I would typically sit on the bus (especially on that first jet-lagged day) for the entire route to get an overview of the city and decide what stops we wanted to explore the next day. With the traffic and the heat in most Asian cities, these tour buses may be impractical. In Seoul, there was a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus, but the busses did not fare any better. It was faster to take the metro.
I had a few hours to kill, so; I decided to explore my neighborhood and walk to the Thong Lo metro station and a nearby shopping center. Looking outside the window of my Marriott hotel room, I observed that I was obviously in an upscale part of town with tall condos buildings with many more under construction. The streets seemed narrow, but it teemed with fruit and food vendors and makeshift outside seating. Dressed in what I thought was appropriate clothing, comfortable shoes, backpack, map, and camera, I ventured out. As soon as the front door opened, I felt a rush of hot and humid air. I wanted to turn back immediately to the cold comfort of air conditioning! I quickly got over that "whinny" feeling and walked two blocks to the Thong Lo Station. It did not look like the big city station. Street vendors around the station were hawking not just fruits but all sorts of produce and prepared foods. Oh dear, that "whinny" feeling was coming back.The street I was looking for was not much of a destination. It was a suburban street with a few coffee shops but no retail. I walked as far as I could but decided to turn back. The heat was so intense, and my clothes were soaked. Bangkok was going to be a two shower a day city, and my laundry bill just went up! You don't know what heat is until you've experienced weather in Southeast Asia. There are only two seasons -- hot and hot and wet. Peak summer is April through September, with average temperatures in the high 80 to 90 plus degrees. Temperatures frequently exceed the 100-degree mark. The hot and wet season starts from July to early October. You will have cooler weather from November to early February.
One thing hard to miss is the massage parlor, and there are a lot of them. Thai massage is a distinct massage form that combines yoga and acupressure. I remember trying Thai massage in the U. S., and I thought there was too much body to body interaction between you and the massage therapist.Foot massages appear to be the rage as well. I don't know what happens "behind the curtains" of a massage parlor. There seemed to be too many establishments to be all good and all legitimate. Get recommendations from the hotel or friends, if you want to try them.
If you've seen your share of Buddhas, you will note that the Thai Buddha and Thai temples are different. You will see similar temples in Cambodia, Laos, and Burma. That is because, these four neighboring countries have a shared past, either as conqueror or warring enemies.The Thai dynasties stretch from the 13th century to today. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who recently passed, was king since 1972 and was part of the last Chakri Dynasty. There were many waves of kingdoms, but the Chakri Dynasty, from 1782, was the longest and appeared to have brought the golden age to Siam or Thailand. The source of my information is from my 1 ½ days with my tour guide, Gon (like Gone with the Wind), who knows more about Thai history than I. Rama I, the first king of the Chakri Dynasty moved the capital across the river from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. (Ayutthaya was in a valley and was prone to flooding.)
Rama I constructed the Grand Palace in 1782. It was the royal residence and the hall of government. The Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most famous temple in the complex. The Emerald Buddha the protector of the country and most revered in Thailand. Its origin is unknown, but it goes back to the 14th century.
The legend is that in 1434, a lightning storm struck a temple, and the Buddha statue fell and became chipped. The monks discovered, after removing the plaster, a perfect statue made of solid green jade.
You will see four dominant temple spires in the Wat Phra Kaew that you will see throughout your travels in Thailand. The names won't mean anything to you (or me), but the shapes are distinct. The green and orange colored roofs with pillars of marble or gold are typical of the "old Bangkok" style architecture. Curved, winged gold tips are another distinct feature.
Scattered around the complex are statues of elephants, which are considered mythical beings and bearers of good fortune. The Grand Palace complex sits in a very tight stretch of land in downtown Bangkok. There are minimal grounds around it, so city traffic merges with tourist traffic. By the way, it was sweltering, and there was no air conditioning. Be warned that you have to be appropriately dressed—no shorts or skimpy clothing – and no shoes allowed in the temple.
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a short distance from the Grand Palace. This temple is a Rama I structure, where his ashes are enshrined. The temple houses the most extensive collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including the 150 foot long and 50-foot high reclining Buddha (circa 1832). The soles of the feet of the Buddha are 10 feet tall and 15 feet long, inlaid with of mother-of-pearl. In the center of each foot is a circle representing a chakra or energy point.
There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor leading to the Buddha. Each dish represents each of the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors may drop coins in these bowls (you buy them for a dollar) for good fortune. Interestingly, the temple was considered the first public university of Thailand in the fields of religion, science, and literature. Traditional medicine and massage were established here in 1955 and continues today.
The next day, I went to see the old capital of Ayutthaya and the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace is where royal dignitaries from other countries stay. It's a pleasant and restful place but is relatively new. I would recommend passing on this site if your schedule is tight.
The historic city of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It reminds me of Angkor Wat, also another World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya was one of the Thai dynasties that existed between 1351-1761. After 400 years of power, the kingdom was brought down by a Burmese war. The Burmese reign was brief, and Siam made a rapid recovery and established the next dynasty, Thonburi.
There are many temples in Ayutthaya that you have to choose which ones to see. Many of the temples reflect the wars endured by the dynasty. You will see cut-off heads or re-installed heads of Buddhas.
In one temple, the Mahathat Buddha head is in a tree amid ruins. The Wat Chai Wattanaaram, Wat Phra Si Snaphaet, and the Wat Yai Mongkol (which also has a reclining buddha) are other famous temples. Temple spires are fascinating! See the gallery of photos.
That was visit to Bangkok. It's worth a visit but be prepared for the sprawl and heat. On my next visit, I will head to the coast!