Denizens of any given city have their own peculiar pace. In extreme conditions the pace is usually slow, that’s the case in La Paz – maybe due to the lack of oxygen and the cold – and in Vientiane – probably due to the heat. Near the last, Bangkok surprises by its vitality and fast pace despite the humidity, lack of winds and the eternal heat.
This unconscious pace dictates the pedestrians’ behaviour, allowing them walking without colliding or delaying others. It is part of the local culture and it can be appreciated only while walking around.
This walk begins at Khaosan Road - the backpackers’ home in Bangkok and ends not far away from there amidst some of the most spectacular royal and religious structures in the world; advancing from the lower echelons to royalty within a few hours and offering thus an instant social ladder for the impatient traveller.
Despite the short distances involved and despite being within a modern urban area, a good traveller is always ready for the worst, thus I recommend beginning the walk with a healthy breakfast at one of Khaosan Road many attractive restaurants.
Once heavy and happy, advance towards Khaosan western end, where Wat Chana Songkhram blocks the way; it may be a small temple, but it is a good prelude to the other sights in this tour. Surrounding the central structure there is a lively market of Thai food attended by nuns and in the back-structures are many attractive relics from past eras; at the back-exit is a holy banyan tree, which is honoured with plenty of colourful ribbons, reminding the visitors of Buddha’s history.
Exit the temple through the main gate – on the Khaosan Road and Thanon Chakrapong junction – and turn northwards. One block after that begins the Banglamphu Market. Part of it is on Thanon Rambuttri (eastwards) and part on Thanon Chakrapong itself. This market is interesting mainly due to its lack of fame. Among the typical neighbourhood markets in Bangkok it is the closest to the Grand Palace. It offers a look into the Thai life and is a good place for buying traditional fisherman’s pants.
Thanon Chakrapong (and the market) ends by Khlong Banglamphu, a typical water canal in this Venice of the East. Turn westwards on Thanon Phra Sumen – which runs parallel to the canal – and follow it until it sharply turns to the south and changes name to Thanon Phra Athit. At the corner is the Phra Sumen Fort, right on the Chao Praya Riverside. The fort is worth a second visit at night, when it is delightfully illuminate and provides amazing views of the Saphan Phra Ram VIII Bridge and the river.
Around the fort are the Santi Chai Prakan Park and several attractive coffee shops; the last are more expensive then those on Khaosan Road and attract mainly local yuppies. After recovering the lost calories with an espresso and a piece of cake, continue through Thanon Pra Athit which displays an eclectic mix of Thai nobility houses and typical Thai shop houses.
After passing the College of Dramatic Arts, the National Museum appears at the left. Even if skipping the collection it is worth taking a look t its garden which is populated with tasteful sculptures and works of art.
Just after it, still on the left, are the Thammasat University and Wat Mahathat, in this order. Silpakorn University is on the intersection of Thanon Maharat with Thanon Na Phra Lan and in front of the Grand Palace.
Few places manage to transfer its visitors to another, magical world as the Ratanakosin Grand Palace does. While approaching it spires and stupas densely rising above the wall surrounding the complex in an impossible kaleidoscope of colors and shapes act as an irresistible magnet for visitors. A view from another world, where spirits are believed to live within talismans, statues and little, colored houses.
The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were built after King Rama I ascended the throne as the founder of the Chakri Dynasty on 6 April 1782 and have undergone several repairs and renovations; they are at the very heart of Bangkok on Ratanakosin Island.
Leving the Grand Palace turn right on Thanon Na Phra Lan; at the kitty corner from the palace is Wat Lak Muang - the city pillar.
Thai cities always include a pillar - a symbolic representation of a linga - which is considered to host the city’s guardian spirit or deity. As such, these places are located in the vicinity of – or within - larger temples and are an official center of worship for the city’s welfare, though usually they are the preferred temples for fertility rites as well.
After exploring it, continue walking around the grand palace on Thanon Sanamchai. Beyond the palace southern wall is Wat Pho, the biggest and oldest temple in Bangkok.
Wat Pho, also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is located next to Bangkok’s Grand Palace, on its southern side.
This is Bangkok’s oldest and biggest temple; built in 1688 (before the city’s foundation!) it has ninety-five pagodas and 394 Buddha images, an amount unmatched by any other temple in town.
Beyond its impressive statistics, Wat Pho is best known for the Reclining Buddha. If an ideology does not impress, the size of its structures may compensate; this seems to be the case with this Buddha which is forty-six meters long and fifteen meters high. Its soles are decorated with 108 Lakshanas or auspicious signs inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The graceful Bot at the compound centre has attractive teak doors showing stories from the Ramayana and decorated with mother-of-pearl.
Finish the tour with a professional and restoring Thai massage there. Thai massage is very different from other forms of massage and is based on the twisting and bending of every limb in somewhat unconventional ways. Slightly scaring at the first time, it provides a wonderful relaxation and is able to heal the physical damages of a strenuous morning walk.