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Hold on to your hats, we’re in the sweltering heat of perhaps the Orient’s most infamous megalopolis, where morals and regular traffic patterns take a backseat to late night sin and chaos. Seemingly everyone’s favorite city for all the wrong reasons, anything your mind can dream up can be attained with far too little effort. Knockoff three piece Armani suit? Diploma from UCLA? Unspeakables with lawn ornaments and fruit? Welcome to Bangkok ladies and gentlemen. The world is in fact your oyster.
We actually arrived at Bangkok’s traveler mega hub, Khao San Rd. around 2am on our bus from Chumphon and the southern Thai islands. Khao San Rd. is the beating heart at the center of the city’s traveler scene, with most cheap vendors, lodging, and bars centered around this strip. Anyone looking to get a wink of sleep should consider staying at least a couple of blocks away, yet still within walking distance. A tip for any travelers to Thailand: Do all of your shopping in Bangkok, as the same goods are twice as expensive everywhere else, andthe selection is far greater than what you’ll find in say, the southern Thai islands.
At first I was concerned that arriving so late we’d be forced to walk the desolate streets devoid of all humanity other than hookers and drug dealers like so many other large cities in the early morning hours. What on Earth was I thinking? This is Bangkok, a city that pulses 24 hours with no signs of slowing down. At 2am the streets were packed with pedestrians and roadside cafes swelled with late night hunger fiends. Simply wanting a bed that wasn’t a bus seat, we settled for a room at the Four Sons hotel down a bustling lane paralleling Khao San,which I would never recommend to anyone. We promptly checked out at 9am. We settled on affordable ($15/night), clean lodging just down the street, and with a complete 180 from Four Sons I would highly recommend this place named OBangkok.
Our first major venture in the capital was a tuk-tuk ride down to Chinatown to buy a camera lens to replace the one that went swimming on the ferry from Phuket. The only two things to be said here is that Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers are all completely insane, and that Chinatown is a massive district of narrow streets selling completely useless crap. Unlike the Chinatown markets of other cities such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the Bangkok Chinatown features vendors on mere blankets selling everything that you would never need. One vendor had only three items: Two eggs, a used voltmeter, and a caged sparrow. Perhaps because the entire city of Bangkok is equivalent to other cities’ Chinatown’s in terms of being able to buy knock off goods that it makes this one so meager. The Chinatown here holds little allure other than the Wat Traimit temple which houses a huge Buddha made of pure gold that was once covered in stucco to hide it from invading armies. It wasn’t until years later that the disguise was shockingly discovered. The street numbers in Chinatown are horrendously out of order as well, so expect to get lost.
Opting out of another harrowing tuk-tuk right through Chinatown, we instead took our new lens on a ride aboard the Chao Phraya river ferry, which is a scenic and efficient way to get about the western portion of the city. Plus it’s much cheaper than a tuk-tuk or taxi, though the boats only run until 7pm. Choosing to do a little sightseeing while on the river we made a stop at the Wat Pho Temple complex, home of Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha. Not really knowing what to expect, the Buddha requires an entire building to house the length of his enormous golden frame that is 46m long and 15m high. Aside from its size, the Buddha famously has patterns on the soles of his feet outlined in mother of pearl. Less obvious than the enormous structure occupying the center of the room are the intricately hand painted murals on the walls and ceilings that form the temple’s interior. While there are other temples and shrines in the Wat Pho compound, the reclining Buddha is by far the sight to see. Wat Pho is located directly across from the architectural marvel that is the Grand Palace, and both are reachable via riverboat stop number 8.
Waking to a rainy day, we pretty much hunkered inside all day, saving our energies for the festivities on tap for that evening. While decidedly not arousing in the slightest, no trip to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to a famous sex parlor for a Bangkok “ping-pong show”. While some still scour the go-go parlors for some real action, the majority of spectators are curious observers such as ourselves. While entertaining, confusing, blatantly degrading, and just slightly repulsive, the shows are not all what they are cracked up to be. Similar to the sex show I witnessed in Amsterdam, the performers are obviously disinterested and quite frankly, pretty unattractive. It’s like going to a nude beach; the majority of people there you would never wish to see nude. While there are districts such as these all over the city, the majority are centered in Patpong, Soi Cowboy, or Nana Plaza.
After the Saturday night “Show”, Sunday morning took us 110 km west of the city out to the Damnoen Saduak floating marketplace. While definitely touristy, the market is a unique experience that should not be missed for those with a couple of days in the city. At the market, vendors cruise canals in dug out wooden rowboats or set up camp right along the banks of the canal. Visitors have the option of either walking the sides of the canals, or actually getting in a boat and being paddled around to the different merchants. While open 7 days a week, weekends on the water are crazier than a tuk-tuk ride through Chinatown. Rowboats compete with shockingly dangerous longtail motor boats, whose propellers occasionally leave the water in order to better navigate the crowds. Just like you’re sure your tuk-tuk driver is going to crash, everyone seems miraculously to escape unscathed. The markets are only open until midday however, so make sure to get an early morning start from town. Aside from the market, many tours arranged from town will make a stop at a handcrafted teak marketplace, where you can watch local artisans carve huge blocks of teak into exquisitely designed furniture that is to be shipped all over the world. If anyone has around $20,000 to blow on an enormous wooden table, this is the place to go.
This was trip number one of what I am sure will be many trips to this Oriental hub, if for no other reason than there are simply so many more things to see than you can squeeze into three days. A true city at the crossroads of ancient and modern culture, Bangkok is a must on every Asian traveler’s to-do list. When in the city, do yourself a favor and see the city for the true cultural treasures it really holds, and not the knockoff ones you can buy from a dingy street vendor. There’s so much more to Bangkok than it gets credit for.