Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide

15th Feb 2014
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 1/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Less frequented Chao Mae Tuptim shrine
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 2/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Fine variety at Chatuchak market
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 3/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Best deal on street meal at Chinatown
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 4/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Ornate yet supreme: Grand Palace
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 5/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Crystal clear waters at Koh Samet Beach
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 6/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Beautiful performance by New Calypso Cabaret
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 7/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Muay Thai fight at Ratchadamnoen stadium
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 8/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Charming Taling Chan Floating Market
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 9/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Majestic Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Photo of Bangkok Adventures: A City-Lover's Guide 10/10 by Pritika Behrawala
Wat Phra Kaew temple

Every once in a while in our lives comes a time when you realize you have saturated your bank of excuses and there is no way you can get out of the situation. Yes, this happens to me every winter when my big fat Indian family decides to go on a vacation. I am all in for a polite hello at my second cousin’s third uncle’s wedding, but 24 hrs with my extensive family is quite a no-no. Of course, I didn’t want the whole emotional monologue about how important family is, so I decided to be on board without any fuss.

Planning a family vacation is not easy. You need to consider everyone’s work schedule, exam timetable, wedding calendar etc,. It had to be an international trip, but not too far, I was promised. Some wanted beaches, some only wanted to shop, some looked forward to good food and wine, some obviously wanted to see temples and some demanded a great nightlife. And, I wanted to be Kevin McCallister, either left home alone or on the wrong flight all by myself. We finally zeroed in on Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. It is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. This place truly caters to diverse needs. Due to the varied interests of my family, this itinerary has a variety of the most popular as well as not much known places in the city.

Travel Tip- Keeping in mind the age group traveling with you, you might want to leave the kids behind for some places.

We went early in the morning (The Grand Palace opens at 8.30 am) as we were told that once the tourist buses start to roll in, the place gets annoyingly crowded. The Grand Palace, built in 1782, is a former residence of the king, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. A large part of the complex is used for ceremonies and is off-limits to tourists. The well-crafted floors, ceiling and walls inspire respect for the craftsmen who worked on this majestic palace. The intricate designs and architecture took me by awe. The palace is ornate and even after so many years reflects a sense of supremacy. Travel Tip- Ladies make sure you cover your upper arms and legs completely. Men must wear long trousers and suitable a T-shirt.

Photo of The Grand Palace Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

It shares a common compound with the Grand Palace and is regarded as the most important temple in Bangkok. At the heart of the temple is a fabulous Buddha image, carved from a single piece of Jade. The image is meticulously carved. This sacred temple was built in 1784. The Emerald Buddha is revered as the symbol of the Thai state today. One of the locals told us that changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country during each season of summer, rains and winter.

Photo of Wat Phra Kaew Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is the largest and probably the oldest temple in Bangkok. Wat Pho is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, more than any other temple in the country. The golden Buddha is more than 150 feet in length. Many enchanting and ornate murals adorn the walls. The temple area is stunning and we spent 3 hours wandering around and clicking pictures. We ended the day with a 2-hour traditional Thai massage inside the temple compound.

Photo of Wat Pho Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Next day, after breakfast we went to the charming floating market, famed for its hospitality. We enjoyed a great seafood lunch of huge prawns and blue crabs on the floor along with the locals and then rode the long-tail boat along the canal while shopping. The best part of the ride was tasting all kinds of sweets, fruits and snacks. It was not that crowded and hence enjoyable. This is a simple yet an irresistible way to spend your day. When we couldn't take the sun, we went to the open-air foot massage set under the trees.

Photo of Taling Chan Floating Market Taling Chan Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Located in the Siriraj Hospital are six distinct museums in two separate buildings. The notable displays are mummified remains of the first known serial killer in modern Thai history, Si Ouey Sae Urng. He was said to be a cannibal, eating kids in the 1950s. The body standing in the booth is supposed to be a deterrent against such violent crimes. Another museum has a room dedicated to all kinds of parasites. There is a human testicle affected by elephantiasis weighing 35 kilos. Not a sight for the faint of heart. Another museum has babies affected by genetic disorders preserved in formaldehyde. Though I was looking forward to this part of the trip, I couldn't save myself from the frowns of my relatives.

Photo of Siriraj Hospital Museums Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala
Photo of Siriraj Hospital Museums Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Watching a Muay Thai fight is a must-do if you are looking for a real Thai experience. Muay Thai or Thai boxing is the national sport of Thailand and immensely popular. Nothing comes close to watching a live bout in the stadium. The atmosphere is electric with yelling and aggressive chants. The noise and the energy in the stadium really grow on you. A match includes eight fights with a maximum of five rounds each. The fight on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday starts at 6 pm and on Sunday starts at 4 pm and 8 pm.

Photo of Ratchadamnoen Stadium Pom Prap Sattru Phai Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

It is a haven to explore the vibrant street-side cuisine. The food is cheap and fresh. Chinatown is definitely not to be missed. We had bird’s nest soup, suckling pig, roasted duck, and grilled prawns. It is a perfect spot for the best bargains as there are many whole sellers here if you need to buy souvenirs. Visit after sundown.

Photo of Chinatown Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

It is a weekend market spread across 35 acres in Chatuchak and is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. It was a little overwhelming and confusing as it was our first time in the market. You'll get a hang of navigating inside the various branches of the market in a while. From clothing to accessories to books to pets to home decorations to antiques, I was surprised at the sheer variety of merchandise this place had to offer.

Photo of Chatuchak Market Chatuchak Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Wat Pariwat is a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. The shrine is of gold, with three large Buddha figures in front of another incredibly intricate mural. If you didn't know it was here, you wouldn't necessarily spot the David Beckham statue as his image is actually carved into the altar itself. The gatekeeper told us that the statue was installed in 1998 where a Garuda used to reside. Thai sculptor Thongruang Haemhod wanted to add it because football is the new religion, and the temple’s abbot agreed as part of the World Cup celebrations. It is difficult to wrap your head around the story, but it does make a pretty fascinating sight.

Photo of Wat Pariwat Yan Nawa Bangkok Thailand by Pritika Behrawala

Dedicated to fertility and good-luck, the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine draws a constant stream of women offering prayers in the hope of getting pregnant. Over time, the offerings went from flowers and incense sticks to the phallus-shaped objects. Due to the nature of the exhibits, this is not a place advertised on most tourist maps.

Photo of Chao Mae Tuptim shrine by Pritika Behrawala

Calypso is Bangkok’s original ladyboy cabaret with Vegas-ish routines. This was a well-spent evening with dance, music, costumes and beauty. The transgender artists create this show with their uniqueness and celebrate human diversity. It would be unfair to leave Bangkok without a cabaret performance. This was my favorite part of the trip as I had never seen anything like this before.

Photo of New Calypso Cabaret by Pritika Behrawala

We wanted to end the trip away from the city and Koh Samet Beach was a perfect final stop. This is definitely a beauty! Not many tourists visit this tranquil beach and hence you won’t find much of a crowd. It is just 220 kilometers from the capital. It is ideal to come here and spend time with your family. It is a wonderful place to rekindle old bonds. We spent the next two days not just relaxing and treating ourselves to some of the best Thai massages, but also indulged in swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, diving. A perfect goodbye to an almost perfect city.

Photo of Koh Samet Beach by Pritika Behrawala

Bangkok may echo irony in terms of gleaming temple complexes on one side and scintillating skyscrapers on the other. To please the elders, we started our trip with Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha inside the complex of the Grand Palace. The day ended with a rejuvenating Thai massage inside the Wat Pho. 

We then headed to the much talked-about Taling Chan Floating Market where we met the most humble locals. We made a quick stop at the Siriraj Hospital Museum, which easily is one of the creepiest museums I have ever seen. Our next stop for the evening was Ratchadamnoen Stadium, home to the biggest Muay Thai fights. The first thing that the city welcomes you with is the sea of street-food stalls. I was delighted and quite taken aback with the variety of simple as well as exclusive street food. Yes, it felt like being on one of those TLC shows. And so, ending the day in Chinatown was the best call.

Many tourists visit Bangkok for a day or two for the incessant shopping options the city provides. The many small, colorful boutiques offer a range of choices at the best prices. Chatuchak market is the best place if you want to splurge. After this, we went to two places which do not usually make it to many itineraries: the David Beckham temple and Chao Mae Tuptim shrine. The multifaceted side of the city can be seen when the sun sets. Experience the popular and dynamic nightlife of Bangkok. We visited the New Calypso Cabaret to see the ladyboy cabaret perform in a costumed extravaganza.

We decided on spending our last two days in peace and quiet at the Kom Samet Beach, away from the bustling and chaotic roads. It turned out to be a beautiful choice. This quaint and serene beach was the best way to end this trip along with a great Thai massage. Bangkok is a city that slowly unleashes its charm. It’s not just a city of temples and traffic, but has a lot more to explore, especially with night markets, bars and street food. One day or one week, this city doesn’t disappoint.

PS- This trip was taken before the protests in Bangkok since January 2014. Things might be a little different now.