A January 2003 trip
to Bangkok by Gwilym Owen
Quote: This is a vibrant and dynamic city full of life, exquisite temples, and fantastic shopping neatly bisected by the languid Chao Phraya River. Be warned, however, that the stifling heat, oppressive pollution, and endless traffic jams may not be to everyone’s taste. Intrigued? Then read on!
Upon arrival, it is easy to understand why many people develop an instant dislike for the place, thrust as we were into the seething and anarchic centre of this city as we stepped off the train at Haulamphong Station.
It helped fearing the worst, as I found Bangkok quite pleasant with open spaces and many of the best sights in easy walking distance of each other.
The highlight is most definitely seeing the many Wats (temples) throughout the city, of which Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po are most popular.
I also enjoyed seeing how Buddhism permeates Thai culture from Buddhist monks in saffron robes travelling free on the ferry - to a taxi driver who had a picture of himself when he took his Buddhist rites, on his dashboard...
The food was fantastic, the bargaining was brilliant - you couldn't help feel alive in such a hypercharged city!
Stifling humidity drenches you in sweat and makes breathing a chore. This in turn exacerbates the already dangerous levels of pollution! In January it was bearable (30c) and not too humid; also the pollution didn't seem any worse than say a London rush hour.
Also avoid the rush hours by taking a ferry or the Skytrain as they are the most efficient means of travel throughout the city.
Things to do include:
Visiting the Wats. The reclining Buddha at Wat Po was something else!
Chatuchak Weekend Market - easily the biggest market I've ever been to and that is including the markets of Istanbul!
Take a ferry - apart from being one of the best ways to avoid the traffic this is a fantastic way to see the city.
Patpong Night Market - it is the red light district, but that is part of what makes Bangkok, Bangkok. We just toured the night market outside the many bars and clubs in a slightly voyeuristic manner...
There are far more things to do in Bangkok, but we only spent two nights there...
Boat – The Chao Phraya ferries are by far and away the best mode of transport as it is a much more interesting and peaceful way to see the city without having to fight your way through the city's terrible traffic.
Skytrain - This monorail was meant to be the answer to Bangkok's transport woes. It is modern, simple to use and air conditioned on two lines linking a great number of the best shopping and hotel districts of Bangkok. It also links to the Chao Phraya river to the south, the Pat Pong district and runs out to the vast Chatuchak Weekend market.
Taxi - The best way to get around the roads as they are cheap by western standards with a set distance based fare and air conditioned for those nasty jams.
Bus - These are frequent and extremely cheap, however in our experience they were not as convenient as the taxis for comfort and hassle…
Tuk Tuk - These little tricycles seem to be the bane of western tourists, everyone warns you about their scam tactics – avoid!