Bangkok
Bangkok,  Southeast Asia,  Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand: A Fabulous Mix of Tradition and Culture!

We would spend a busy two and a half days in Bangkok! It was a destination that we were really looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint! We knew our time spent in Bangkok would be exciting with two excursions planned. We also decided since we would be there for an extended period of time, we would venture out independently as well.

In this article, I will cover a brief history of Bangkok and the city we see today.  In addition, I will also share the events of our time spent in Bangkok including detailed information about our fabulous adventures.

Bangkok: The Hottest City in the World!

According to the World Meteorological Organization, by mean average, Bangkok has the highest temperatures year-round. We visited in October and it was hot and humid beyond our wildest imagination.

Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, near the Gulf of Thailand, the city occupies 605 square miles and has a population of over 11 million people. Bangkok is known for its vibrant temples, busy street life, outdoor markets, and many canals.

A Short History Lesson

Bangkok began as a small fishing village in the 15th century. Once again, the importance of location is highlighted. The location of Bangkok is considered strategic. It is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Over time the city grew to be of huge economic importance. Its first international trade relationship was with China in the mid-19th century.

During WWII, Thailand was aligned with Japan and took heavy Allied bombing. As a result of aid from the United States, after the war, Bangkok’s economy grew. Part of the country’s growth came from its promotion as a tourism destination. During the Vietnam Conflict and the Korean wars, US troops used the city as a location for R&R, and sex tourism also grew.

Once the United States withdrew from Vietnam, Japan poured tons of money into Thailand, most notably, Bangkok. The export business grew exponentially until the 1997 Asian Financial crisis stalled growth. But by this time, the city had had a taste of modernization. One could make a case of unintended consequences as tourists continued to visit the rural businesses relocated to the city causing the infrastructure to be unable to handle the traffic, It is at this point that socio-economic and political issues arose.

Bangkok Today

During the 1960s, zoning laws were created to organize the growth of the city. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that these zoning laws were enforced. The result? The city grew haphazardly in land acquisition (horizontally) and in height (vertically) with the building of skyscrapers. Between the crazy vehicular traffic, pedestrians, and unenforced city planning, today the city is one of the most difficult to navigate in the world with not much green space. Believe it or not, there are 50 districts that define Bangkok, most to the west of the Chao Phraya River.

There are 50 Districts in Bangkok

Bangkok is the economic center of Thailand. Wholesale and retail trade is the largest source of revenue. Tourism comes in a close second. Bangkok has its own stock market and is home to the country’s largest banks. Based on the low cost of labor and operations, it is also home to many international businesses. Income inequality is an issue with the socio-economic classes noticeably divided.

Tourism

Of 162 cities evaluated, in 2018, Mastercard ranked Bangkok as the top tourist destination. This placed Bangkok ahead of London. Since 2010, Bangkok has consistently ranked as the top destination by the likes of Travel and Leisure, Global Destination Index, and Euromonitor International.

The city offers tourists the opportunity to visit Royal Palaces, temples, museums, markets, and experience fine dining. There is vibrant nightlife. While sex tourism is huge, few locals will acknowledge that sector.

Our Time In Bangkok

We spent an exciting two and half days in Bangkok. Since we were docked for three nights, we could come and go from the ship at all hours of the day and night. This was great because we were able to experience the city at night which has an entirely different personality than daytime adventures. We took two organized excursions and then got our “brave” on and ventured around the city on our own. We are seasoned travelers, but as previously mentioned, English is not widely spoken and the city is quite difficult to navigate despite the language barrier.

Pro Travel Tip:

DUring the time that we were out on our own, we carried detailed information on our ship, where it was docked and the telephone number to our butler. This way, if we found difficulty in getting back to the ship, we could hand the information to a taxi driver or telephone for assistance. 

Our First Day

We arrived sometime in the middle of the night, enabling us to hit the streets right after breakfast. We had a tour on the first day to Wat Traimit Temple Wat Pho and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Wat Traimit Temple

Located in the Chinatown district of Bangkok, the Temple dates back to the 13th century. It is globally famous for housing the Golden Buddha. Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Ptimkon, the Golden Buddha weighs 5.5 tons, is 9.8 feet tall, and is the world’s largest solid gold Buddha. While many theories exist, the origin of the Buddha is unknown.

The origin is unknown, what is known and well-documented is the actual discovery of the Golden Buddha. In 1955, several attempts were made to move the enormous statue. On the final attempt, the ropes broke and the statue was dropped revealing an unknown treasure- the Budhha was solid gold! It is believed that sometime in the 14th century, to prevent robbery, the Buddha was covered in plaster. When the statue was dropped, pieces of the plaster broke off, revealing the true composition of the Buddha. Carefully, the remaining pieces of plaster were removed and it was then discovered! At the exhibit, pieces of the plaster are displayed.

Wat Pho Temple

Next up was Wat Pho Temple where we would see the remarkable Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon is one of the largest temple complexes in the city.

The ginormous Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long, 15 meters tall, and is covered in gold leaf. Buddha’s feet are five meters long and decorated with 108  mother-of-pearl illustrations of Buddha’s characteristics. The number 108 is significant in that it refers to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.

While we were at Wat Pho Temple, in our free time, we wandered into a courtyard where we found a large group of boys ranging from age 5 to 12. Each year these children spend seven days preparing to become a monk. When they are deemed “of age” based on knowledge and commitment, they make their final commitment.

Bangkok
Seven Days per Year, These Young Boys Study to Become Monks
The Jade Buddha

Housed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the Buddha is not actually made of Jade but instead, it is made with the semi-precious stone, Jasper. Due to its color, it is referred to as the Jade Buddha. Seated in a meditative position, clothed in gold, it is only 26 inches tall. Despite its size, it is considered the most sacred palladium in Thailand. 

According to the legend, the Emerald Buddha was created in 43 BCE by a sage named Nagasena in the city of today’s Patna, India. Nagasena allegedly had the help of the deities, Vishnu and Indra, 500 years after Buddha attained Nibbana. He was said to have predicted. It stayed in that location for 300 years. To protect it from civil war, it was then relocated to Sri Lanka. A version of the legend stated that in 457, King Anuruth of Burma sent a mission to Ceylon to ask for Buddhist scriptures and the Emerald Buddha, in order to support Buddhism in his country. These requests were granted.

During this transport,  the ship lost its way in a storm and somehow landed in Cambodia. Seated in the meditation position with the right leg resting on the left one was not a popular position in Thailand at the estimated time of the creation of this gorgeous statue. This fact gives credence to the portion of the legend that stipulates the Buddha was originally from India, a country where this sitting position was common.

Jade Buddha
The Jade Buddha Decorated with the Rainy Season Appointments
Jade Buddha Fun Fact:

The Jade Buddha is adorned with three sets of gold seasonal decorations. These decorations are changed by the King of Thailand in the 1st Waning of lunar months 4, 8, and 12 (around March, August, and November).

  • Hot/summer season from March to August – a stepped, pointed crown (makuṭa); a breast pendant; a sash; a necklace, a number of armlets, bracelets, and other items of royal attire. All items are made of enameled gold and embedded with precious and semi-precious stones.
  • Rainy season from August to November – a pointed headpiece of enameled gold studded with sapphires; a gold-embossed monk’s robe draped over one shoulder (kasaya).
  • Cool/winter season from November to March – a gold headpiece studded with diamonds; a jewel-fringed gold-mesh shawl draped over the rainy season attire.

Day Two

Our first day in Bangkok was a “Day of Temples”. It was a day full of history and gave us a wonderful picture of the religious culture of Thailand. Day two was set to be an adventure into the city of markets and daily life. We would also spend time on our own.

Tuk Tuk Adventure

We were picked up at the ship for our tuk-tuk adventure. A tuk-tuk is a motorized rickshaw and is used for hire or for private transportation in urban areas where traffic is heavy. Typically, they are 3-wheeled and maneuver quite easily through the heavily congested roadways. In Bangkok, there are approximately 10,000  licensed tuk-tuks. Open air, with a driver, seating two or three passengers.

Bangkok Tuk-Tuk
Typically 3-Wheeled, A Tuk Tuk is a Motorized Rickshaw
Pro Travel Tip:

After being seated in a tuk-tuk, we were instructed to secure our backpacks, purses, or any other bags, by putting a leg through the straps. Because there are also many motorbikes on the roads and with heavy traffic, an unsecured bag is a target for a bike rider. They will sometimes come alongside the tuk-tuk, snatch the bag and quickly ride off. 

Adventure on the Roadways

Leaving the port in the tuk-tuk was an amazing experience at a top speed of 40 mph. Once we reached the city center, the speed was much slower. I’ve been in traffic jams before, but this traffic was nothing like I had ever experienced! We shared the road with cars, motorbikes, trucks, buses, and pedicabs. Apparently, lanes are only a suggestion as vehicles were moving in all directions. If there was room and a vehicle could claim the spot, it did. There was no standstill. It was exciting and scary at the same time! The sounds of horns blowing, the voices of the hawkers, and police whistles all blended together in some sort of synchronized clamor! Navigating the roads in Bangkok seemed to be an art form requiring fined honed skills and nerves of steel.

Bangkok Tuk Tuk
A Caravan of Tuk-Tuks
Learning to Cross the Street?

This excursion not only included the tuk-tuk ride and also the exploration of several outdoor markets. Upon reaching our destination, we were asked to step out of the tuk-tuk and wait for the English-speaking guide. We were going to have to cross a couple of streets to reach the first market. The area we were in did not have stoplights and our instruction was as follows:

Step off the sidewalk. Do not wait for an opening in the traffic as there won’t be one. Once in the street, keep walking and don’t stop! The drivers are used to pedestrians and will maneuver around them,.if you stop, it will throw their timing off and you WILL get hit!

Talk about a leap of faith! The virgin crossing was scary! But after that, it seemed the natural thing to do. WOW! We all crossed without incident and headed for the market.

The Colorful Markets of Bangkok

Having traveled all over Europe, we were familiar with outdoor markets. But, the markets in SE Asia and most notably Bangkok were like a whole new world. We were immediately on sensory overload with the colors, the sounds, and the aromas. It seemed like there was nothing you wouldn’t be able to find. The area we were in was one continuous market organized into like goods: Dry food, fresh meats, and fish, cooked food, flowers, hardware, clothing, shoes, souvenirs, etc.  The aisles were like a maze but I suppose if you were familiar with the layout, it would not have been difficult to navigate. Some areas were enclosed and other areas were tented.

 

Each district and neighborhood had tier own market. The markets we visited were located in the Bangkok Center and the largest in the metro area.

An Adventure on Our Own

We met some people from the UK on the ship and they invited us to join them on an independent adventure into the city. They had a private driver booked. He would drive us around and make suggestions on “must-do” activities. We had gone back to the ship with the group from the morning excursion and the driver had agreed to pick us up there. By this point in the day, it was late afternoon and we were all hungry. The first stop was lunch and we all indulged in delicious Thai food.

A River Cruise

The driver had suggested a sunset river cruise on the Chao Phraya river which runs through Bangkok. Along the banks of the river is the Asiatique night market. Unlike the market we had been to earlier, this was more of an entertainment venue offering some stalls, restaurants, cafes, and a small carnival. Along the way, there are also important historical and cultural sites. Some of the sites we saw were, of course, more temples. We also saw the Royal Navy Academy and the beautiful Pagodas. We shared the waterway with barges, ferries, party boats, and sampan boats. One thing that struck us was speed boats up and the river. These weren’t the normal speed boats…. these boats had car engines mounted on the back and were flying up and down the waterway!

Interestingly, we saw a floating Starbucks and Pizza Hut. For some reason, the sight of these two very American establishments was hysterical. I think we found it ironic that in the midst of this culturally rich area, there would even be a desire for the offerings of these two establishments.

The Night Market

We were already going on 11 hours since we originally left the ship in the morning for the Tuk-Tuk/Market excursion but on an adrenaline high, we were ready for more adventure. Next, the driver took us to the infamous Ratchada Train Night Market in Bangkok. Although there are a number of night markets in Bangkok, the Ratchada is the largest with the best nightlife and street foods.

Map of the Ratchada Train housed in an Abandoned Train Station

We were all hungry again so we opted for what turned out to be the best pork satay I have ever had! I had been good all day not shopping but I could no longer resist the urge. The colors and fabrics were calling me so loudly that it was deafening. I bought tee shirts for .50 each and wide-leg pants for $2.00 each. As I have mentioned in previous articles, when buying clothing in SE Asia, always either try it on or buy a size or two larger than you would normally buy.

Sex Tourism

As I have mentioned in previous articles about SE Asia, sex tourism is a big deal. We saw many clubs that offered adult entertainment. I have to say that these establishments are not normally my cup of tea.  Bangkok being known for its adult ping pong shows, I was told that a trip would not be complete without a viewing.  Now, this had my curiosity peaked! Ping-pong shows are sex shows; strip shows. Women wearing either bikinis or bras insert objects by inflating or ejecting them using their vaginas. These objects can vary from being ping-pong balls, chopsticks, and darts to razors, candles, and cigarettes.

After much debate, as a group of two married couples, we decided we couldn’t leave Bangkok without this experience. We found one that looked clean and attempted entry. After we paid the cover charge, we were informed that men and women couldn’t enter together as there were designated entrances for each gender. Being separated from our spouses didn’t feel right and certainly, put us on alert. Consequently, we all agreed to forgo the show.

The driver delivered us back to the ship at about 1 am. We had left in the morning at 9 am and after a long but thrilling day, we were all exhausted. The next day we would visit the Royal Palace before we left Bangkok at 5 pm.

Back on the Ship, A Very Tired Me!

The Royal Palace: Our Last Day

We would be leaving Bangkok late in the afternoon but we had one more excursion to the Grand Palace of Bangkok. Surrounded by walls the palace is located in the center of Bangkok. The complex is 218,000 square meters. Not only does the complex serve as the official residence of the Royal Family, but many government buildings are also located within the walls. Because of the size and the fact that we had already seen the Jade Buddha, we purchased a ship excursion that provided transportation and entry tickets only; more or less an independent tour. With this excursion, there were several drop-offs and pick-up times which would allow us to spend as much or as little time as we wanted.

Arriving at the Palace

It was a very hot and humid morning with the skies threatening rain. Knowing in advance the dress code, wearing a sleeveless, below-the-knee dress, I had taken a lightweight pashmina to cover my shoulders. Rick was wearing below-the-knee Bermuda shorts with a collared golf shirt. Upon arrival, to our dismay, we were told that we weren’t dressed properly. I had to wear my raincoat to cover not only my shoulders but my arms as well. Rick had to rent pants.

Bangkok Grand Palce
Rick Had to Rent Pants
Bangkok Grand Palace
I Had to Wear My Raincoat to Cover My Arms and Shoulders
A Bit About the Royal Palace and the Complex

The palace was built when King Rama I ascended to the throne in 1782. In 1925, the Royal Family moved into Chitralada Palace within the complex. The Grand Palace is now used for official events, royal ceremonies, and state functions.

The Grand Palace complex is made up of several buildings, halls, and pavilions. Being set around open lawns, gardens, and courtyards, the entire complex is spectacular! The diversity in style is a result of successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. When visiting, you will notice that the complex is divided into several quarters including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Outer Court has many public buildings. The Middle Court showcases the Phra Maha Monthien Buildings, the Phra Maha Prasat Buildings. and the Chakri Maha Prasat Buildings. Finally, in the Inner Court, you will find the Siwalai Gardens quarter. The Grand Palace is partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace

More About the Royal Palace Complex

 

Bangkok Grand Palace
Map of the Grand Place and Grounds: Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Place complex is huge and opulent. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Bangkok. You can see from the photos above, the crowds of people. The heat and humidity were dreadful and wearing the clothes we were wearing, it was an uncomfortable day. We only spent about 3 hours wandering the grounds of the palace since we were still worn out from the day before. In hindsight, had we known how beautiful the grounds were, we would have paced ourselves the day before a bit shorter.

Final Impressions

Bangkok was absolutely spectacular. We thought that three days would be enough time to see the things we wanted to see and it was. Our adventure had taken on the theme of an Evelyn Woods speed adventure. Our biggest regret regarding our time in Bangkok was not being able to spend an entire at the Grand Palace. Mia Culpa!

We loved the hustle-bustle vibe of the city. The colors, the sounds, and the aromas were spectacular and unforgettable. Taking the Tuk-Tuk ride into the city to the market was a real highlight. It gave us a real feel for life in Bangkok. All things considered, we were beginning to grasp the importance and the impact of the religious culture and tradition in SE Asia. Consequently, we knew the rest of the trip would be equally as spectacular. We do, at some point, plan to return this trip remains one of our favorites.

Until next time, friends, remember “To Travel is to Live!”

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangkok

The Amazing Story of the World’s Biggest Solid Gold Buddha Statue

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_Buddha

https://www.hotels.com/go/thailand/wat-pho

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Buddha_(statue)

https://www.holidify.com/pages/ping-pong-shows-in-bangkok-2472.html

 

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