Friday, January 6, 2012

Thailand (2011): Bangkok

POST DOSTĘPNY TAKŻE PO POLSKU


Full name of this city counting 11 million inhabitants is for many impossible to remember and even pronounce (Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit), that’s why even the locals call it shortly Krung Thep. It’s a city with many faces. Palace and temple complex in the district of Rattanakosin is amazing, and the National Museum is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever seen!



We arrive in Bangkok during the biggest
flood in 50 years
As I’ve already written, at the air port we encountered an unpleasant surprise. Information on how to get to the city center on the airport’s website is much outdated. Despite the fact that since June there has been no direct bus to the vicinities of Khao San Road in Banglapmphu district, where tourists usually stay, you can still read about this route in the Internet.
It’s best to get to the city by Skytrain. Depending on whether you want to go to Khao San Road or to the commercial and business district, you have two options.
To Banglamphu it’s not so straightforward. First take a Skytrain. There are two lines:
-Express Line– 150 THB, only one stop at Makkasan where you can catch a taxi to Khao San Road or a bus to take you to the Democracy Monument. It's only a few steps from Khao San Road. Note: it’s not that easy to find a bus stop because it’s hidden behind a column; and people asked for help don't seem to know what you want and show you a totally different direction.
-City Line– 15 THB, much slower because it has several stops. You can go to Makkasan and from there as above.
If you choose the business district, it’s better to go a bit farther, to the last stop called Phaya Thai, where you can take another line, the one going near Siam Square or the other to Silom Road.
Of course you can take a taxi. It should cost 300-400 THB. But beware: you’d rather not get in a taxi without a meter.

At peak hours the city is totally chopped

Good to know: transportation

*Railway station Hualamphong
This is the main station from which most of the trains depart. There is left luggage, stalls with food (but no restaurant), exchange, you can also take a shower (20 THB).
*Bus stations
Located on the outskirts of the city – www.transport.co.th
-Northern Bus Terminal (Sathaani Mo Chit) – buses going north and north-east as well as some going east (e.g. to Pattayaa)
-Eastern Bus Terminal (Sathaani Ekamai) – buses towards east
-Southern Bus Terminal (Sathaani Sai Tai Mai) – buses towards south
*Public transport
Operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (www.bmta.co.th)
-buses – air-conditioned (11-19 THB), euro-buses (12-24 THB), ordinary (open, 7 THB)
-taxis – expensive; 35 THB for the first 2 km and 5 THB for each additional kilometer
-tuk-tuk – it’s best to catch those with a white sign „taxi” on the roof, which means that they have a license; slightly cheaper than taxis; it’s better to avoid them because a driver will probably take you to a friend’s shop
-Skytrain – BTS,www.bts.co.th; operates 6.00-24.00; ticket prices depend on the route, 15-40 THB, information and route maps can be found at each station
-metro – www.bangkokmetro.co.th; one long route; operates 6.00-24.00; trips based on tokens; map and prices at each station
-boats – standard, express, water trams; useful in the districts of Rattanakosin and Banglapmhu


Find out more: information

*Round-the-clock information point of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is located near Banglamphu, 4 Rajdamnoen Nok (Ave). Staff speaks English fluently, is very helpful, provides you with free maps with major attractions and routes of the Skytrain and metro.
*In the „7Eleven” stores you can buy for 99 THB a map with a red writing „Bangkok bilingual map”, containing descriptions of the most important attractions and the transportation system. If someone doesn't intend to uses buses, there's not need to spend money on it.

Assumption Church

Good to know: churches

There are many churches in Bangkok, including catholic ones. Some of them offer services in English. Proven church (service in Thai): Assumption Cathedral, 23 Oriental Lane, Charoen Krung Road; Sundays 6.00, 7.30, 8.30, 10.00, 17.00. Several churches located near Silom Road.

Accommodation

Guidebooks recommend Banglamphu district because it’s cheap and close to major attractions. Thanon Khao San (Khao San Road, www.khaosanroad.com) running through Banglamphu is full of guesthouses, travel agencies and restaurants. It’s a place suitable for backpackers. Accommodation is not expensive (500-700 THB for double room with a bathroom) but don’t expect comfort; in addition Khao San Road is alive until late at night, or better said: dawn.


In the evenings Khao San Road changes into a big market
It’s better to look for something in one of the cross-streets where it’s much quieter. Alternatively, in the neighboring districts of Rattanakosin or Chinatown (but it's more noisy there). Another option is the Siam Square area, lying between old and new Bangkok, on both lines of Skytrain. Accommodation in this area is more expensive, there is significant noise, there are plenty of department stores. You can as well choose Silom Road area, which is quieter, unless you take a room near Patpong (read below) but the rooms here are more expensive. Be ready to pay 700-1200 THB per night, the latter for a comfortable room in a lower class hotel with breakfast.
During our first stay in Bangkok we choose Khao San Road as befits true travelers. We've been seduced by a lively atmosphere of this short street. There’s everything here! Stalls with imitations, trolleys with food which is prepared in front of you, massage salons (not erotic, but relaxing, you can look inside through glass windows), agencies where you can buy an excursion to every corner of the country, stands with figurines and souvenirs as well as tailoring establishments where they’ll sew a chic suit for you on the spot.
Be careful with the travel agencies. You can by a transport to the airport here but not every place is reliable: the agency where we bought tickets proved to be unreliable and a bus didn’t come to our hostel. In the last minute we managed to catch a taxi and we never recovered the money – it was 4 a.m., the office was closed, nobody answered the phone – no wonder at that hour.
In the evening we regret a bit that we chose Khao San. This street is alive almost all the time, until dawn and nobody cares that there are hostels and guesthouses here and maybe some tourist went to bed already. Nobody turns off the music, what for?, basses pound and shake the grounds of the buildings. And I’m not talking about midnight but long hours after.
Therefore if you want to visit many places and not to walk too sleepy through the day, better look for accommodation in one of the side streets, the farther away from Khao San the better.


Mobile exchange and ATM arrives every evening to Khao San Road
If somebody wants to run shopping in huge malls better move to the center, close to Siam Square. You need an hour to get there from Khao San. We did it that way. During our first stay we were just visiting places so Khao San was the best solution. When we came to Bangkok for the second time, we chose Silom Road from where you can easily reach the pubs and discos on foot, as well as huge malls and a big weekend market Chatuchak by metro or Skytrain.

Attractions

Rattanakosin
The most important monuments and buildings are located here; it’s easy to get here from Banglamphu, you can also take an express boat
*Democracy Monument– commemorates the ideals of the 1932 revolution and transition to constitutional monarchy; good orientation point


One of the royal chariots in the National Museum
*National Museumwww.thailandmuseum.com; open 9-16, 50 THB (includes a brochure and a map), one of the biggest and best museums of this kind in South-East Asia



Palace and temple complex
*Royal Palace and amazing Wat Phra Kaeo temple – the most worth seeing buildings; www.palaces.thai.net; 8.30-16.30; 400 THB (includes a brochure, a map and an entry to Wimanmek Mansion); it’s still a venue of the most important royal and religious ceremonies
Chapel of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Phra Kaeo is the most outstanding achievement of the Thai religious art, famous as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the object of the highest veneration by Thai people. Note: it’s the most sacred place in Thailand – no tanks, shorts, transparent clothes
The complex contains also: model of Angkor Wat, gold Chedi Phra Si Ratama, Dusi Maha Prasa (Deception hall, the essence of Thai architecture), original throne Phra Ratcha Banland Pradap Muk (a masterpiece inlaid with mother of pearl), Krailas (model of Mount Meru – habitat of gods in Khmer mythology, crowned with castle and prang)

*Wat Po (Wat Phra Chetuphan)www.watpho.com; close to the Palace complex; 8.30-17; 30 THB; the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, known for its Chapel of the Reclining Buddha; considered the oldest Thai university; on its premises there are also statues of the giants and four great chedis

*Golden Mount (Phru Khao Tong) – in the temple of Wat Saket; 7.30-17.00; you can see the city skyline from its observation deck



On the Golden Mount
Thonburi
*The Memorial Bridge
*Wat Arunwww.watarun.org; large Temple of Dawn; its prang raises to a height of 20 floors and is decorated with multicolored Chinese porcelain; 8.30-17.30, 50 THB; this is the temple known from the TAT logo; on the opposite side of the Palace; boats run between them

*Wat Prayoon– below Wat Arun, next to the Memorial Bridge, it’s also worth to see a collection of the miniature stupas and shrines here as well as the gallery of styles (chedi and bot but also a house from the Wild West)

*Santa Cruz Catholic Church (Wat Kudi Jeen) – 10 minutes from Wat Prayoon, in the heart of the former Portuguese district

Chinatown
*Wat Trimit – there’s a world largest Buddha statue here, made of gold, 8-17, 40 THB

Pahurat
Indian district on the southern edge of Chinatown
*Siri Guru Singh Sabha Temple

Dusit
*Wimanmek Mansionwww.wimanmek.com; the world’s largest teak building; built in 1901 as the residence of King Rama IV; now houses a museum of royal memorabilia; 9.30-15.30 (last tickets 15.00), only guided tours every 30 minutes; pay attention to the way you’re dressed; free admission with the ticket to the Grand Palace; nearby Chitrlada Palace is a house of the present king

Other
*Lumpini Park– in the city center, at the eastern end of Silom Road; good place for a moment of rest


Lumpini Park - a place for a little rest during a hot day
*Floating Market Damnoen Saduak – rush hour 8.00-9.00, tourist buses arrive at about 10.00; it’s best to depart from Southern Bus Terminal early in the morning, buses leave every 20 minutes, journey takes approx. 2 hours; the Ton Khem market can be reached by boats which leave every 15 minutes from the place near the bus stop in Damnoen Saduak, ticket: 30 THB; more pleasant way is to take a walk along the channels
*Crocodile Farm – a few kilometers from Samut Prakan, daily 7-18, 300 THB, show from 9.00 very hour (feeding crocodiles, elephant training), there are also tigers, monkeys and snakes; access: buses 7, 8 or 511 to the end of the line and from there take a songthaew to the farm gate
*Safari World– on the outskirts of Bangkok; www.safariworld.com, daily 9-17; 370 THB; divided into two parts:
-Safari Park – you can see here: giraffes, elephants, lions and other species; you can join a bus excursion which can be purchased on the spot, it takes approx. 45 minutes;
-Marine Park – you can take a boat trip through the jungle and see many rare species of animals as well as training shows


Amazing of Bangkok are really amazing
As can be seen from the above description there is much to explore in Bangkok. Most of the temples and palaces are located in the districts of Dusit, Banglamphu and Rattanakosin. You can visit them in one or two days. The architecture of the palaces and temples is really impressive. Detailed elements made of gold glitter in the midday sun, not letting your eyes rest for a moment. Sculptures, reliefs and intricately arranged mosaics of colored tiles enjoy your eyes, giving evidence of the virtuosity of the builders and craftsmen of that time. After all, a king regarded by the nation to this day as a demigod, could not live in something that was not pristine, hence the great attention to every detail. It’s a pity that in some places it’s forbidden to take pictures. However some tourists from time to time manage to snap a picture, such pictures made in haste, without a flash, never show the real beauty of the photographed item.

Night life

Brothel district Patpong is squeezed in a small area between the eastern extremities of Silom and Suriwong. Its center is in fact two joint streets Patpong 1 and Patpong 2, going off Silom, near BTS station „Sala Daeng” and metro station „Silom”. There are plenty of bars, night clubs and discos here. This place used to be visited once by crowds of tourists from Europe, now it’s not that popular. In the Internet many stories circulate about various kinds of shows you can see here, with the most famous ping-pong show. Admission to these shows is usually free but note: a beer in a sex-bar may cost up to 600 THB (more or less 60 PLN, €15). Neon lights glare the eyes, music rumbles, scantily dressed girls, waiters and beaters in front of the premises encourage you to take advantage of their offer.
For several evening hours the streets become full of stalls and stands where vendors press cheap imitations of various kinds of products to passers-by.

Shopping

*Center of Bangkok is actually one big shopping mall. There's a dozen big department stores here. Some of them are connected by a so called skywalk. They’re open usually from 10.00 until 21.00, some of them even until 22.00. The biggest stores are: Siam (composed of three malls – Paragon, Centre and Discovery), MBK, Central World, Chitlom, Emporium to name but a few. You can find here everything your heart desires, both the most exclusive brand shops and stalls with pirated CDs.


City skyline as seen from the Golden Mount
*Tourists who stay at Khao San Rd. can choose from among dozens of stalls installed here every evening.
*Gigantic Chatuchak Weekend Market, Sat-Sun 7-17, located between Northern Bus Terminal and Skytrain stop „Mo Chit”; you can find here everyting you’d imagine.

**
In Bangkok, as in most other cities, you can eat well for 60 THB (6 PLN, €1,5) or buy a lunch for 500 THB (50 PLN, €12). From my experience (and not only mine) it’s best to go where local people go. The food there will be cheap and tasty. In addition, most of these installments are just an oven in the open or even a trolley with a frying pan and a gas oven, so you can watch the food being prepared for you. Even if you don’t know the name of the dish you can just show with your hand the one that appeals to your eyes and nose…
Coffee and tea in such establishments is pretty cheap, 20-40 THB. Note: you will usually get a very sweet kind of instant coffee. If you want a real coffee you must go to one of the coffeehouse chains, such as “Coffee Heaven” or “Starbucks”. There you’ll get a real, freshly ground coffee, but much more expensive, usually 80 THB, a cake to accompany it would cost 120 THB.

**
We spend several days in Bangkok, in two rounds. Once before we go to Malaysia and for the second time, after we’ve returned from Koh Samet to see more of this large city and to do some shopping! As for now, at dawn on November 15, we have a flight to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of the second country we’ll visit during this year’s holiday, Malaysia…

Read also:

Thailand (2011): Intro
Thailand (2011): Pattaya
Thailand (2011): Koh Samet
Thailand (2011): Ayutthaya


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