Bangkok: A Tourist in His Home City

Bangkok: A Tourist in His Home City banner image

natt-vikitsrethHave you ever feel embarrassed when friends have asked you to take them around your own city, only to realise how little you know about it? You’re so stuck in the same daily routine that you didn’t have time to explore your own doorstep?

I’m about to find myself in that situation, so I decided to do something about it!

I set out to explore the old city of Bangkok – Krung Rattanakosin.  I could have driven there in my Mercedes, but that’s not what a tourist would have done – public transport it was.

The flashing green dot just above the doors of the BTS Skytrain indicated the next station: Sapan Taksin.  Here the station is connected to Sathorn Pier, where I would be taking the river cruise to enter the old city in style.  Well, when Thai people say “river cruise” it’s really just a ferry painted in orange, as opposed to no paint at all. The benefit of paying just a small extra fee for this orange tourist boat (it costs 40 baht – less than £1) is that it comes with an English speaking guide, and just possibly enough life jackets for everyone on board.

As the boat sped along the Chao Phraya River, I finally came up with a plan for the day. I would visit a temple, get lunch, visit another temple and another, and then maybe one more temple until I’m sick of temples (that’s what any guide book would have recommended you to do), then grab dinner somewhere and call it a day.

Well, it didn’t quite turn out like that.

After twenty minutes, the guide announced that we were arriving at Tha Tien Pier. Opposite the pier stands Wat Arun, one of the most famous temples in Bangkok.  With the central prang (tower) encrusted with colourful porcelain, I finally understood why it’s called the Temple of Dawn. Now I encountered my first dilemma: visit the Grand Palace first, or Wat Pho – closer to where I was?  (“Wat”, by the way, means temple, if you didn’t already know.)  I was getting hungry so I decided to go to the nearer attraction first.

Wat Pho is famous for two things – the massive reclining Buddha, and its Thai massage school. In fact, Wat Pho is considered to be one of the earliest institutions for public education to preserve traditional Thai medicine and Thai massage, especially during the colonial era in the mid-nineteenth century.

Although there were throngs of tourists everywhere, once inside the main hall the atmosphere was unexpectedly peaceful.  The forty-six metre golden reclining Buddha was simply awe-inspiring.  Alongside the decorative walls stood rows of brass pots inviting both tourists and locals to throw in coins.  Many believe this will bring them good luck.

After emptying my fair share of coins from my wallet, it was about time for lunch and I really fancied somewhere with air-con!  I chose The Deck.  This well-known restaurant is situated at the end of Pratu Nokyung Alley – a five-minute walk from Wat Pho.  Blessed with the backdrop of Chao Phraya River and Wat Arun directly opposite, this was a very good decision.  They serve both Thai and Western food, but for lunch I went with Thai. I highly recommend trying their tasty pad Thai and roti beef massaman – southern Thai style red curry served with flat bread.

Just as I was finishing, I overheard another table talking (yes, I was eavesdropping) about a museum – Nitasrattanakosin, or Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall.  The name speaks for itself – this is where I could find out more about the history of Krung Rattanakosin.

Time to hop into a tuk-tuk!

Bangkok and its tuk-tuks are infamous for charging tourists overly high prices.  But these three-wheelers are still very convenient especially for travelling short distances.  Since I’m not a farang – what Thai people call foreigners – they went easy on the fare.  If you ask them nicely, they might even take you on a quick detour around the Grand Palace.

Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall is surprisingly good.  Museums in Thailand are generally poorly funded, with outdated facilities and lacking in modern attractiveness.  But here, they had clearly thought through how to really make history come to life.  The two-hour guided tour showed me the traditional Thai lifestyle from the 1800s – during the reign of Rama I, the first King of the current Chakri dynasty – to the present day under Rama IX.  During the nine reigns, the kings played an important role in keeping Siam the only country free from colonisation by mighty Western powers.

If you’ve ever wondered why Thai people respect and worship their kings so much, you should really take the time to visit this museum.

There is no better way to round up this one day excursion than with a visit one of Bangkok’s hottest night time spots, Sky Bar at State Tower on Silom Road. It is one of the highest rooftop bars in the world – open air and 820 feet up.  Their innovative cocktails and spectacular view are guaranteed to impress.  Remember, though, that they take their “no shorts, no flip-flops” dress code very seriously and you won’t get in if you fall foul of it.

But hey, it’s Bangkok, there’s always a quick fix.  If you ask them what to do, they’ll point towards the exit, where there’s someone selling trousers out of a suitcase.  They are pretty cheap, but there’s no fitting room.  Of course, there is also an option to rent the trousers too… but would you?