Bangkok travel guide
Along Th Phra Chan and Th Maharat, Bangkok
Buddhist amulets are a big thing in Thailand. It is believed these talismans protect and bring good fortune to the carrier. They normally have an image of Buddha or a famous monk and can be made in anything from clay, wood, bronze to bone, tusk or antlers. Theoretically, an amulet cannot be owned, but that doesn't mean you can't buy the right to carry it until you let go of it. The covered amulet market on Thanon Maharat is just for that kind of shopping. Some vendors are only selling a few very precious - and pricy - amulets, while other shops have anything amulet-related. Hardcore shoppers have their own magnifying glass for examining the amulets in detail, and you can even buy books and magazines about amulets. It seems that the more badass you are, the more amulets you need for some mafia guys are carrying the biggest and flashy amulets ever, while monks normally choose something more discreet.
Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya river snakes its way through Bangkok from north to south. It swings by many of the interesting areas like Banglamphu area (Khao San Road), Ko Ratanakosin with all the grand temples and wats, Chinatown, and is well connected with the Skytrain. So at rush hour when everything is stuck on the land you can still get around by the water buses, even in an enjoyable fashion. Don't buy the ridiculously overpriced day pass they will try to sell you at some piers. Instead, just jump on board one of the ordinary boats (like the ones with orange flags) and pay the ticket on board. If you are a bit more adventurous, hire a long-tail boat and explore the widespread canal network.
If you can't find it, you haven't looked well enough. The Chatuchak weekend market is massive and you can pretty much find anything under the sun; chopsticks, antiques, wannabe-antiques, trendy fashion, fluffy pets, not-so-fluffy animals, and food in any shape and taste. It probably takes more than a single weekend to get through it all for there are about 15,000 stalls. Yep, Chatuchak is the world's biggest flea market.
Th Yaowarat, Th Charoen Krung and Sampeng Lane, Bangkok
Chinatown in Bangkok is a wonderful mix of old merchant houses, Chinese temples, congested residential neighborhoods, yummy street food and hectic shopping. Originally, the Chinese immigrants came here to work on the construction of the Thai capital, but later turned to trading. The main roads are Thanon Yaowarat and Thanon Charoen Krung and it is here you find the gold shops and crappy Chinese souvenirs vendors. The side streets are packed with Chinese medicine stores and specialty restaurants (like shark fin and bird nest). If you want it even more cramped, head down Sampeng Lane (Soi Wanit 1) where locals and tourists zigzag through the goods while dodging delivery motorcycles.
Damnoen Saduak, two hours out of Bangkok
Most people associate Bangkok with crowded floating markets with boats heavily loaded with fruits in any colour of the rainbow along the many canals. Bangkok still has canals, but the authentic floating markets are something of the past. Today, you can instead visit some sad delusions outside Bangkok, where Damnoen Saduak is the most popular one. Here, the cargo of the boats have been replaced with tourists in any colour of the rainbow and the shores are lined with tacky shops selling the same crappy souvenirs. It is fun to see the Thailand tourist machine in full action, but if you are looking for a trip through some canals, it is better to rent a long-tail boat in Bangkok, markets or not.
Wat Saket, Bangkok
Golden Mount (Phu Khao Thong) lies on the grounds of Wat Saket and is an artificial hill covered in white painted concrete with a temple at the summit. On the temple roof stands the giant golden stupa, which you probably have seen from a distance. The 360-degrees view from the roof is amazing and you can join in on the praying and chanting: "The Enlightened one, may I spiritually pay homage to the Buddha's Relics and humbly and gratefully worship the well-proclaimed Dhamma and the Worthy Disciples. May this merit be a condition leading me to further welfare and happiness always until attaining the Nibbãna, the cessation of life sufferings, the Supreme Goal of Buddhism."
Ko Rattanakosin, Bangkok
Grand Palace was originally the residence of the Thai king. It was built in 1782 and over time was constantly expanded, so today it is a large complex of odd buildings ranging from shiny Buddhist temples to more humble administration buildings. The Thai king and his mother don't live here, so don't expect to bump into them. But one you can see here is the famous and very holy Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew). The statue, which is tiny (66 cm), was taken from Vientiane (now part of Laos) in the 18th century and is actually not made from emerald but jade. Every season, the king changes its robes to bring good weather and fortune to the country.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is not a place, it is an experience. Previously just a street with dirt cheap hotels to crash while passing through, it has now morphed itself into something more. A 24/7 backpacker-haven covering not just the original street but the whole neighbourhood, offering anything from visas, beers and Indian tailors over fire-dancing equipment, tattoos, and fake designer clothes to Starbucks, teeth bleaching, and cocktail sipping. It is now such a popular party zone that it even attracts the trendy Thai youth. But the toothless old fellow with the hammocks is still walking around. This place is unique.
Intersection of Th Phahurat and Th Chakraphet, Bangkok
At the edge of Chinatown lies Little India, and it is little. A few sois with Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants, sari shops, Bollywood music, and some colourful we'll-have-it-if-it's-Indian stores. The smells, sounds and faces make you forget that you are not somewhere on the Sub-Indian continent. There is even a shiny white Sikh temple, Gurudwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, which decorates Little India with a golden dome. It is good fun to get lost in the maze of narrow lanes behind the temple.
National Stadium stop on the Skytrain
MBK Center is a shopping mall with about 2000 stores spread out on eight floors. MBK boasts being the most visited mall in Bangkok, and we believe it. Hordes of tourists head here on their last days in Thailand to fill up the remaining luggage space, or to buy more bags. In the old days you could get some really good bargains on t-shirts, electronics and counterfeit fashion and DVDs, but these days the huge amount of money-spending holidayers has pushed the prices up. Even tour buses packed with Russian or Middle Eastern tourists drop by, making people-watching even more interesting.