Wat Arun Temple and Chao Phraya River
Over the last few decades, Thailand 's capital city, Bangkok , has changed into a modern, exciting and sophisticated city. It offers to visitors not only the cosmopolitan amenities they would expect from other big cities, but also a unique treasure trove of cultural attractions. Thailand , in the heart of Southeast Asia , was never colonised and thus kept its unique culture and heritage intact.
Bangkok offers visitors the opportunity to experience fascinating glimpse of Thailand 's gentle culture amidst the bustle of a great and dynamic metropolis. This great city has had astounding success in combining the ancient and modern world.
For tourists, Bangkok has a feast of attractions to offer. The city is dotted with 400 glittering Buddhist temples of great beauty and fascination, magnificent palaces, classical dance extravaganzas, numerous shopping centres and traditional ways of life, especially along the "Venice of the East" timeless canals and the Chao Phraya River of the "River of Kings" winding through the city. It is worth taking a trip along its waters before exploring further into different canals to take a glimpse of old Bangkok.
The Chao Phraya River, with its constantly running ferries, water taxis, long-tail boats and freighters, is one of Bangkok's most beguiling features, and there is perhaps no better place to take in its charms than the terrace bar at the Oriental hotel. Have a Singapore Sling - if not here, then where? - as you watch this watery procession glide by. Ferry stop: Oriental (N1).
The contemporary Thai art scene hasn't generated the buzz of either China or Vietnam, but you can get a quick glimpse of what local artists are up to at Eat Me . This coolly elegant restaurant, with seats in both the sleek dining room and the inviting outdoor garden, features rotating exhibits of local artists, often in conjunction with the well-regarded H Gallery on nearby Sathorn Soi. Among recent offerings were lemongrass prawns with coconut cream and betel leaves (260 baht, or about $8 at 33.5 baht to the dollar),
a tea-smoked spatch**** with eggplant relish and tamarind butter (590 baht) and a dessert of "spiced, drunken fruit" with ginger ice cream (280 baht). Skytrain stop: Sala Daeng.
Tacky, even offensive, but still worth seeing, is the red light district of Patpong (and its nearby gay counterpart, Soi Pratuchai) in the Silom neighborhood. You'll need to use strong-arm tactics to keep the touts at bay - hawking everything from strip clubs to "sexy DVDs" - but Patpong is an undeniably lively scene that gives you a glimpse of this indefatigable economic institution, practically unchanged since it was first memorialized in "The Deer Hunter." Skytrain stop: Sala Daeng.
The National Gallery is a great place for a crash course in traditional Thai art, including ancient Buddhist paintings and numerous holdings from the personal collections of King Rama IX and King Rama VI. One eye-catcher: a rather festive portrait of a royal cremation ceremony, circa 1887. A popular artist is the portrait painter Chamras Khietkong, who seemed to specialize in flattering likenesses of the aristocracy. The museum is air conditioned, worth the 30 baht admission on a hot Bangkok day - which is to say all of them. Ferry stop: Phra Arthit (N13).
Follow the hordes of tourists marching toward the Grand Palace (Thanon Na Phra Lan), an inevitable spot on the Bangkok itinerary. This dauntingly huge complex dates back to 1782 and is home to the royal residence, various chapels and galleries. The big draw is the Emerald Buddha (which, despite its name, is actually made of jade), one of the most venerated treasures in all of Thailand . Appropriate dress (modest cover-ups for women; no shorts for men) is strictly enforced. Admission: 250 baht. Ferry stop: Tha Chang (N9).
6) LUNCH ON THE RIVER
A short walk from the Grand Palace is a pleasant spot for lunch, the S&P , in the Maharaj Pier Building (1st floor, Maharaj Road ; 66-2-222-7026), part of a well-regarded local chain. Deftly prepared dishes include steamed sea bass, soft shell crab and delicious fresh fruit drinks. Lunch for two should run about 1,000 baht. Ferry stop: Maharaj.
For an up-close view of Bangkok , take a ride on one of the dozens of long-tail boats that navigate the Chao Phraya and its surrounding tributaries. As you glide past the city's traditional stilt houses or wind your way through one of the floating markets, you'll get a quick sense of the city's rhythms and traditions. You can hire a long-tail boat at several stops along the river, including the Tha Chang ferry stop. Expect to pay about 100 baht per person.
There are dozens of wats (temples) in the city, but there is perhaps no better one-two punch than Wat Pho and Wat Arun . You could easily spend an entire day wandering the sprawling temple complex of Wat Pho, off of Thanon Thai Wang (admission: 20 baht) admiring the mesmerizing tile work and the beautifully tended gardens.
It's not exactly a tranquil spot - you'll spend much of your time darting among Japanese bus tour groups, Thai schoolchildren on a field trip and camera-wielding visitors from around the world - but it is worth visiting because of the famed reclining Buddha. (Amazing!) Then, take the commuter boat (3.50 baht) across the river to Wat Arun, a somewhat downscaled version of Angor Wat, with its own dizzying climb to the top (admission: 20 baht). Ferry stop: Tha Tien (N8).
Visitors with acrophobia might want to skip a visit to
Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar , the aptly named rooftop bar at the Banyan Tree hote. But others will be dazzled by the incomparable views from this open-air perch set 61 stories above the sprawling Bangkok metropolis. Stifle a scream ("Don't jump!") as other patrons lean over the railing to peer down at the city below, and instead order another icy martini to calm your nerves. Skytrain stop: Sala Daeng.
It's not every restaurant that greets you with an out-of-season Christmas tree decorated with brightly colored condoms and then offers more condoms on your way out. But then not every restaurant combines Thai cuisine with safe-sex education. That just about sums up Cabbages and Condoms (10 Sukhumvit Soi 12; 66-2-229-4610), a lively spot serving up simple, yet well-prepared local specialties (deep-fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaf; sweet and sour grouper) in a decidedly eccentric setting. Dinner for two, with wine, shouldn't run more than around 1,600 baht. Skytrain stop: Nana.
Start the day with a walk down leafy Soi Rambuttri , a somewhat bucolic alternative to the tourist-heavy Kho San Road . Grab some freshly squeezed orange juice from one of the many street vendors, shop for knickknacks among the web-like alleyways and then finish your morning with a leisurely ferry ride on the Chao Phraya , watching the city reawaken. Ferry stop: Phra Arthit (N13)
Exhibit A for the seductive power of Bangkok is the Jim Thompson House. This artfully designed complex of six teak buildings is the former home of an American architect-turned-intelligence-officer who was posted to the Thai capital in the waning days of World War II and then moved there permanently. Thompson disappeared in the jungles of Malaysia in 1967, but his house remains as a monument to traditional Thai architecture. Admission is 100 baht. Afterward, have lunch in the lovely riverside restaurant, where dishes include refreshing Thai salads (120 to 180 baht). Skytrain stop: National Stadium.
bThe secret to getting around Bangkok comes down to two things: water and sky. Between the efficient (and incredibly cheap) ferry system that navigates the Chao Phraya, with colored flags designating express and local stops, and the equally efficient (and almost as cheap) Skytrain, you can get almost anywhere you want without once getting stuck in a cab. In fact, a good rule of thumb for visiting Bangkok might be this: If you can't there by boat or by train, don't go.
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