Monday 25 September 2017

36 hours... in Bangkok

The Thai capital is a heady mix of palaces and temples, mesmerising cuisine and vibrant street life, writes Tom Vater

Tom Vater

The Thai capital will be the world's most visited city this year, according to a recent study. So why would you want to join the throng? The city offers many compelling reasons, way beyond the stereotype of an exotic nightlife and budget hostels on the Khao San Road.

There is the year-round sunshine, the fascinating palaces and temples, as well as some of Asia's best food. Then there are the countless markets day and night, as well as the unreserved friendliness of the locals.

The crowds, traffic and pollution can seem daunting at first, but this tropical metropolis of 11 million people is both reasonably safe and surprisingly navigable, making it an urban cornucopia of smells, tastes, sounds and sights you are unlikely to forget.

On arrival

4pm: Bangkok is at its most picturesque along the banks of the Chao Praya River. Catch a ride on the Chao Praya Express Boat river ferry (60c) to Tha Thien pier. Visit one of Bangkok's most popular temples, Wat Po, and its famous reclining Buddha. Traditional massages in the temple are highly recommended.

6pm: Take a stroll through the market lanes around the temple before heading to the Aroon Residence, a great location to enjoy the spectacular sunset over Wat Aroon, located just across the river.

7.30pm: Head down river to Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut). On its eastern side, a sprawling night market is lively until around midnight (except Wednesdays), with interesting clothes, fashion accessories and great street food. The nearby flower market on Chak Phet Road comes to life after dark and blooms into the small hours.

Day one

10am: Start the day at Wat Pra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace Complex (8.30am to 3.30pm).

The temple offers intricate murals featuring depictions of the Ramakien, the kingdom's interpretation of the Ramayana, one of the great Hindu epics.

12pm: Included in the ticket to the Grand Palace is admission to the Dusit Palace Park. The main attraction here is the elegant Vimarnmaek Teak Mansion (9.30am to 3pm), the world's largest teak building. It's a short taxi ride between the two palaces.

1.30pm: Time for a traditional Thai lunch. Take a taxi south to Harmonique (22 Charoen Krung Road, Soi 34), which serves excellent Thai cuisine.

Otherwise, head to Chinatown, where countless restaurants sell delicacies such as crocodile steaks and bird's nest soup, as well as more conventional Chinese fare.

2.30pm: Take a stroll into the heart of Chinatown, along Yaowarat Road. Look out for Trok Itsaranuphap, a narrow lane off the main road, crammed with shops selling a vast selection of Chinese delicacies. Don't miss Wat Traimit (9am to 5pm), which houses the world's largest solid gold Buddha. The adjacent temple museum recounts the life story of the Buddha.

5pm: From Wat Traimit, it's just a short walk to the historic Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Catch a train from the adjacent underground MRT (Mass Rapid Transit System) station to Sukhumvit Station and change on to the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) sky train for Sala Daeng. It's a 15-minute walk up Silom Road to the impressively colourful Hindu Mahariamman Temple.

6pm: Indulge in a sumptuous, traditional Thai dinner at The Blue Elephant (233 South Sathorn Road).

8pm: For some, no visit to Bangkok would be complete without a wander into one of the city's infamous red-light areas. Patpong is lined with Go-Go bars and venues with bands playing pop and rock standards, embracing a lively night market.

A less seedy ambience can be found on Soi 4, a lively lane with bars, clubs, a British-style pub and outdoor seating.

Day two

10am: The Jim Thompson House (9am to 5pm) located in a beautiful garden, contains the personal baubles and furniture of one of Bangkok's most enigmatic foreign residents.

Head across the road to Mahboonkrong, known as MBK, one of Bangkok's biggest shopping malls, for last-minute souvenirs.

Tom Vater has lived in Bangkok for a decade – he has written about the city for many international publications and is the author of numerous books and documentary screenplays on south-east Asian issues.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life