Bangkok: Getting a Feel for the Place

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There are many, many angles from which to approach Bangkok, depending upon one’s interests, needs, desires, proclivities, and time available. One could tackle the city through the lenses of art or photography, architecture, food (of course), performing arts, history, religion, culture and many more themes.

Here we want to provide the first-time visitors and relative newcomers with a means to begin to get a handle on the teeming beast that is Bangkok; it is one of countless introductions you could make to the City of Angels, but one that will certainly give you an overview and a few fascinating probes into this dynamic Asian metropolis.

Many travelers will tell you of Bangkok’s striking contradictions, but perhaps the contradictions lie within the eye of the beholder – everywhere Bangkokians go about their daily business with the typical cool, calm, laconic, and often graceful nonchalance that Thais are noted for.

Let start with an overview – literally: get on the Skytrain and ride around for a while. Although you may not be heading anywhere particular, you are not without purpose. You are observing and taking in everything, from the changing views outside the window to the changing cast of characters inhabiting your car.

You could, of course, get off anywhere that takes your fancy, but as a gentle, introductory venue to enjoy while you’re still in approach and observe mode, Lumpini Park is an excellent choice. Relax or stroll the spacious grounds, watch the children and elders practicing tai chi, take a small boat out on the lake if you like, or just ponder how amazing this place is surrounded by Bangkok’s business district and bustling streets.

BKK river transportGiven that Bangkok is a river city at heart, once known as the Venice of the East, you simply have to head to the Chao Phaya River, around which the great city was founded in 1782. The Skytrain will get you there at Saphan Thaksin. If you’re so-inclined – and presentable – you’ll certainly enjoy a spot of tea in one of the world’s best hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, smack on the river.

grand palaceThen, board a river taxi and head upstream, choosing which spectacular site you want to visit first; Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, on the left (west) bank, is well worth a visit, after which you can cross over to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and finally Wat Po, home of the world’s largest reclining Buddha. This might lead you to consider a Thai massage, and Wat Po is the leading center in the country to get one. Just do it and you’ll end up reinvigorated and floating away.

Moving from religion to art and culture, you should consider doing at least some gallery-hopping during your stay. Bangkok has been developing a thoroughly modern art scene over the past decade, and what is on offer now could come as quite a surprise.

Disembark from the Skytrain – yes, it goes almost everywhere – at the National Stadium station, a vibrant area of the capital that could engage you for days. The Bangkok Art & Culture Centre is now very much coming into its own, despite its Guggenheim-inspired architecture, and is a great place to stop by.

Another must-see site for art-lovers is the Thailand Creative & Design Centre, where you can catch some great exhibitions and talks during your stay in Bangkok. Likewise with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

The famous Jim Thomson House is also nearby, and this turns out to be one of those places that, although inscribed on to every tourist map and itinerary, deserves to be on your itinerary. After this legendary American – who almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry –  mysteriously disappeared into the Malaysian jungle in 1967, his six gorgeous teak houses and phenomenal art and antique collection were restored and subsequently opened to the public.

mbk59 yA short distance from this area takes you from the world of art and culture to the epitome of commercialism and materialism: sprawling, humongous shopping areas for which Thailand is world-renowned: MBK,  Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, and so on to CentralWorld, Robinson Chidlom, Gaysorn Plaza, and finally The Emporium. This is basically all shoppers need to know.

Bangkok is another world at night, and once again you are limited only by your imagination. If it’s old Asia you’re after, you’ll find Chinatown a dizzying, dynamic area to explore. Clubbers have their choice of a variety of fab places, including the always “in” Q Bar, Club Culture, or Narz.

And to complete the overview of Bangkok from on high – very high – you can enjoy a meal or cocktail from an increasing number of skyscraping rooftop dining and drinking spots, including the Sky Bar, Sirocco, Vertigo and Moon Bar, or the Red Sky.

Of course, you’re going to need some time in the capital to even begin to cover the star attractions, much less all the amazing restaurants, markets, galleries, temples, shops, and shows. But don’t fret; Bangkok isn’t going anywhere. It’s only getting better and better, and you can simply keep coming back.