September 19, 2012 00:00
By Christiane Oelrich
Bangkok is more than just a stopover on a trip to Asia
Any tour of Asia often begins and ends in Bangkok, thanks to the number of cheap flights from other continents to the Thai capital. But Bangkok is fascinating in its own right and it is well worth your while to spend some time here.
The city is famous for its traffic jams. But there are fast, cheap, and picturesque boats that run every couple of minutes up and down the San Saeb canal. The trip is extremely cheap, and the hard wooden benches are covered by tarpaulins to keep the canal water from spraying on weary travellers.
From the terminus in the city centre, it is only a couple of minutes on foot to Wat Saket (Temple of the Golden Mount), a Buddhist temple in Pom Prap Sattru Phai district.
A well-known landmark, the towering gold chedi of Wat Saket, was once the highest point in Bangkok. It is notable for its spectacular views and its hosting of the annual Loy Kratong festival.
Wat Saket dates back to the Ayutthaya era and was restored under Rama I in the 18th century, while the Golden Mount is an artificial hill constructed later during the reign of King Rama III, during the first half of the 19th century.
From here, the taxi ride to the former royal Vimanmek Palace costs no more than Bt120. Not a single nail was used in the palace’s construction in 1900, while the building’s interior is a mixture of traditional and European neoclassical style.
“It is the largest palace in the world made out of teak wood,” explains the tour guide.
Tourists looking to sample some local cuisine are spoilt for choice on the Sukhumvit Road, with unusual establishments such as Cabbages and Condoms - where the walls are decorated with prophylactics as far as the eye can see. Near Equal is a more traditional restaurant while Na Aroon offers fine vegetarian fare in an old Thai villa.
Sukhumvit Road, which is the longest road in Thailand, is also home to numerous fashionable bars and shops as well as the red-light districts: Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy.
Every few minutes small boats travel to the north from Taksin Bridge over the Chao Phraya. However, the tourist boats are expensive, so it makes more sense to travel with the locals on the cheaper boats flying yellow or orange flags.
From pier 8, it is just a couple of steps to one of Bangkok's main landmarks – the Buddhist Wat Po temple, with its 46-metre-long reclining Buddha. Also nearby is the Wat Suthat, one of the oldest and largest such temples in Bangkok, famed for its beautiful roofline, huge golden Buddha, magnificent frescoes and giant swing out front.
Another must-see location is the open-air Vertigo Bar, a sky restaurant on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Eating here is probably too expensive to be worthwhile, but a drink or two while enjoying the bright lights of Bangkok is certainly worth the price.