A vast, buzzing metropolis, temples to high-end luxury goods and shopping malls on the one hand; Buddhist temples, oases of calm and spaces to contemplate and treasure life on the other. We looked around for the special places in Bangkok where you can really choose life.
Bangkok is a place which an uncanny knack of polarising sentiment – people either passionately love the city, or hate it with a vengeance. For travellers coming into the city from the vast Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok is first and foremost a mega-city characterised by chaotic traffic, sweltering heat, swarming crowds of people, skyscrapers and colourful neon billboards. But this modernity, international business and luxury is just one side of the Asian city of 8 million souls. Immerse yourself in the alleyways and quarters of the exotic Thai capital, and you’ll find brightly-coloured marketplaces, seductively-smelling roadside kitchens, monks in saffron-coloured robes, royal palaces and more than 400 temples. Thanks to this exotic mix, Bangkok has one thing above all: some very special places to enjoy life.
The Royal Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
If there’s one thing that just has to be on your must-see list while in Bangkok, it’s the Royal Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, on the eastern bank of the Chao Praya River. Now about 250 years old, the building was the official residence of the Kings of Siam in Bangkok until the mid-twentieth century. The four ‘courts’ of the Palace, with their temples, murals and statues, are just breathtaking. The Wat Phra Kaeo – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – is home to the main attraction in the Palace complex and Thailand’s national shrine, the Emerald Buddha, made out of jade.
Huai Khwang Night Market
Huai Khwang Night Market is one of the most original and fascinating night markets in Bangkok. Colours, smells, sounds of the crowds of people buying and selling – this is a place you can enjoy pure, unadulterated Thailand. You won’t see many tourists here; it’s primarily Thais and expats who use the market to get hold of their exotic fruits and vegetables. In the countless restaurants at and around the market, as a non-Thai-speaking foreigner, you can (or must) pick out ingredients in the kitchen yourself, which the chef will then prepare for you personally. Amazing!
Rod Fai Train Market
There are markets absolutely everywhere in Bangkok. When you enter the site of the Rod Fai Train Market, though, you really do feel as if you’re moving into another world. The market is home to a vast array of shops, bars and restaurants, all in ships’ containers. The Rod Fai Train Market takes its name from the fact that it originally stood beside railway platforms. Nowadays the market is located behind the Seacon Square Shopping Mall, and provides visitors (primarily locals) with an extremely popular strip for nightlife and shopping, to stock up not just on clothing and accessories but also home furnishings.
There are roof terrace bars and restaurants in more or less every hotel or shopping mall over 20 floors high, of course. One truly sensational place to enjoy a tasty Sundowner is at the roof terrace bar of the Banyan Tree Hotel. And while not exactly cheap, the view from Vertigo out across the glittering backdrop of the exotic mega-city is worth every penny. The funkiest time to drop in, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, is at sunset.
The street kitchens beside Bangkok’s roads are culinary world leaders, of course, the city also boasts an eclectic range of restaurants good enough to take the most discerning gourmet to seventh heaven. Particularly worthy of note is the trendy Soulfood Mahanakorn, in the Japanese District. It’s just impossible to get it wrong here, no matter what dish you choose on the menu. Uncle John in the Sathon District is an award-winning streetfood restaurant, and a genuine insider tip. Here, the former chef of the renowned Sukhothai Hotel transforms his culinary dreams into reality in French and Thai haute cuisine.
Bangkok’s nightlife is as legendary as it is notorious. The hottest club of the moment is Beam on Thonglor Road, one of Bangkok’s best-known nightlife strips. Beam has the city’s most powerful sound system, its laser show is said to be the biggest in the world, and the 1,500 guests here party away to top local and international DJs every night. Badmotel on Sukhumvit Road is a hotel, restaurant, bar and art space all in one. Over several levels and in a comfortable garden, trendy locals and international Bohemians like to let fresh mango daiquiris melt in the collective mouth while enjoying traditional Thai cuisine, hot electronic music and exhibitions by young artists.
Relaxation. Koh Kret is around a 45-minute boat ride along the Chao Praya from the city centre. The small island, which you can walk around in about three hours, is a journey into Thailand’s past. The friendly locals in their untouched villages offer culinary delicacies in front of their homes – it’s a great, cheap way to get to know the very best of the country’s cuisine, in fact. The 200-year-old temple Wat Poramai Yikamat is mesmerising thanks to its dazzlingly white pagoda.
And another highlight – people on the island still cultivate the centuries-old tradition of pottery. In one of the seven villages, you can even watch over the shoulder of the master potters as they work live. Reproductions of the traditional turtle ovens still used here are particularly charming. And any of you needing an adrenalin kick can hire a traditional long-tail boat instead of the ferry on the way back, which will take you over the waves back into Bangkok Downtown at breakneck speed.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya
You can experience fascination, calm and contemplation at Wat Phra Dhammakaya – the temple in the north of the city popularly known as the ‘UFO’. Along with Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the largest temple complex in the world. Wat Phra Dhammakaya is captivating due to its symmetrical layout and unique aesthetics. The apparent simplicity is deceptive, however: the golden ‘UFO’ consists not of a flat surface, but 300,000 small, golden statues of Buddha, which can only be made out with binoculars.
The temple is particularly impressive on the Buddhist holiday of Magha Puja, held on the third full moon in February each year, when more than 100,000 monks and the faithful come here – all dressed in gleaming white – to meditate together at sunset. Afterwards, they encircle the centrepiece of the temple, the UFO, while all holding candles in their hands. Finally, there’s a huge firework display.
It’s no secret, of course, that Thailand in general and Bangkok in particular is a massage and wellness paradise. Which makes it all the more difficult to pick the gems out of the wide range of products on offer. The Health Care & Spa Massage Centre is some way outside the city centre, on Srinakarin Road – diagonally opposite the famous Paradise Shopping Mall. The good-value and highly-qualified product range includes the usual Thai massages, foot reflex zone massages, oil, pain and water massages, as well as Swedish massages, body scrubs and treatments against sunburn. The Centre also does highly professional Ayurveda and anti-cellulite massages, and even waxing and cosmetic face and body treatments. A true oasis of wellbeing, health and beauty right at the heart of the urban jungle.
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