Bangkok For Tourists

By Jane | May 14, 2014

14,067 km so far.

After a few days exploring some of the expat neighbourhoods in the city, we decided it was time to see two other Bangkoks. First up, Bangkok for tourists. Then, Bangkok for locals.

From The Water

The big must-see tourist spot in the city is Wat Pho, so, even though we are a little watted out, we thought we’d better go have a look. Turns out, much of the fun is in getting there.

The Skytrain (or BTS) is a fast, efficient way to get around the city. It also affords views of the many supermalls and highrises that make up the modern side of the city, where we are staying.

We took the train to the banks of the Chao Phraya, and then boarded the river ferry. Unlike the boat we took yesterday, this one is strictly for sightseeing. In case you’re in any doubt, there’s even a big sign that says Chao Phraya Tourist Boat.

As you motor noisily along the water, a river guide announces the sights. We only caught every 10th word or so, but we think we noticed the key buildings.

You start by passing the fancy hotels: The Peninsula, The Shangri-La, The Mandarin Oriental.

Then come the religious structures: Assumption Cathedral, the Holy Rosary Church, Harroon Mosque, and a couple of lesser wats.

The Holy Rosary Church on the shores of the Chao Phraya, Bankgok.

The Holy Rosary Church on the shores of the Chao Phraya, Bankgok.

The ancient Wat Arun looked glorious in the sun, though I didn’t envy the folks gamely making the climb to the top in this heat.

Wat Arun from the river, Bangkok.

Wat Arun from the river, Bangkok.

Next are the less prestigious hotels: your Hiltons and your Sheratons.

It’s all downhill, metaphorically speaking, from there. Soon, the riverside loses its touristy sheen and becomes home to thousands of less-monied residents of the city.

Much of the waterfront looks like this in Bangkok.

Much of the waterfront looks like this in Bangkok.

We were surprised to see a “slum” with river views in a city where there is so much money and, we assume, so few regulations over development.

The Mother Of All Wats

There’s one thing to be said for the dry season heat: it sure keeps the tourists at bay.

Rainbow around the sun at Wat Pho.

Rainbow around the sun at Wat Pho.

Wat Pho was very quiet today, and we got to enjoy the beauty of the grounds, the structures, and the hundreds of golden statues of Buddha in relative peace.

Stephen’s note: The conical towers of Wat Pho, rising high into the sky, covered in tiles and sparkly stones, are reminiscent of Watts Towers in Los Angeles. It made me wonder if Simon Rodia had ever been here and thought, “I’ll be very clever and witty and recreate these Wat towers in Watts.”

Towering tower at Wat Pho.

Towering tower at Wat Pho.

The crowning glory of Wat Pho is the golden Buddha statue.

We were surprised to see that this was the only crowded spot on the whole grounds. I guess many tourists just come to see Buddha and drop pennies in the long line of prayer bowls inside his temple.

Like Chinacountry, But Not As Big

The old center of Bangkok encompasses Chinatown and Little India. I felt that to miss exploring these streets and alleys would be to not have visited Bangkok at all.

If you worship at the altar of markets, this is your holy ground. It seems like Chinatown is one big market with every imaginable item on sale. There are saris and parachute pants and t-shirts galore. Beads, buttons, bows, bags, baskets, and bandanas. The contents of every Home Depot, Homebase, and Canadian Tire in the world seem to have spilled out onto the streets of Chinatown; if you need sprockets, springs, or spiggledy widgets, this is where you belong.

All of this commerce, all family owned and run, was impressive. But the heat was oppressive, so, though we couldn’t hail a cab to save our lives (what is this, Manhattan?), we didn’t linger long.

In And Out

After much hemming and hawing and changing our minds, we have decided to ride the rails all the way south, skipping the wonderful Thai beach scene, in order to give us more time in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Our walk finally led us to the train station. Sometimes Thailand is a lot like China. Not so at the train station.

Booking train tickets couldn’t have been easier. We walked into the small station (hard to believe it’s the main hub for all trains in and out of Bangkok) and a friendly staff member directed us to the correct window. There was no line, and the teller spoke perfect English. In minutes he’d outlined our options, booked our tickets, explained what to do with our bikes, told us what platform we’d be going to, and sent us on our way.

The total cost for a 16-hour ride in an air-conditioned sleeper car? $25 each. Let’s hope “you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here.  

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