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Ahh….Bangkok. My home away from home on these RTW trips and the only place I’ve visited on all 7 trips.
Why? Because it was love at first sight on RTW #1 and – truth be told – I fall more in love with Bangkok every time I visit.
From gleaming temples to exotic markets. The chaos of hot pink taxis dodging rainbow-colored tuk-tuks to the electric hum of the backpacker ground zero of Khao San Road. A winding river lined with 5-star hotels next to ramshackle fishing huts and aromatic street food beckoning from seemingly every corner.
Blend them all together and you’ve got one of the greatest cities in the world.
Having long-ago tackled all the main tourist sites in Bangkok, these days I typically use my few nights in the city to wander the weekend market, get daily massages, buy anything I’ve run out of on Khao San Road, do laundry, enjoy true high-speed internet and eat my weight in street food.
But since Susan was with me this year and this was her first visit to Bangkok, I decided a re-visit of the top tourist attractions was in order. Besides, it had been years since I visited the major temples and that was well before I was traveling with a good camera.
We would have one full day and one half day to see the city, so for our first day, I suggested a trip down the river to Khao San Road for a visit to the heart and soul of this tourist-driven city followed by a full day of temple-hopping. It made sense to combine all the temple visits into the same day since we’d have to adhere to temple dress-code (covered shoulders and knees) on that day.
We landed in Bangkok from Koh Samui at 9:30am and the car from the Royal Orchid Sheraton was there waiting. Normally, I just take a taxi in from the airport but the Sheraton had offered to pick us up and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Though there are several Starwood options in Bangkok (and I’ve stayed at most of them), I always keep coming back to the Royal Orchid. While it may not be the most exclusive of the Starwood properties, it has a million-dollar location right on the Chao Phraya River next to a tourist boat dock and a terrific lounge with panoramic views over the river. When it comes to convenience for seeing the city, it’s hard to beat the Royal Orchid.
A Visit to Khao San Road
By 11:00am we had settled into our suite and were ready to tackle Bangkok. We boarded the tourist boat and 15 baht (about 50 cents) and 20 minutes later were hopping off at the dock for Khao San Road. I had a few items on my afternoon agenda: get my first cheap massage, sell back a paperback I’d finished and buy a new one at a used book store and get some pad thai from a street cart. Sometimes I’m a girl with simple needs.
Susan wanted to try the fish spa experience that I’d tried last year, also get a massage, sample some exotic Thai street food and do a little shopping. We stopped by the fish spa/massage place first and both got massages after her fish spa.
Then we grabbed some food from a street vendor and decided to split up for the afternoon. I wanted to head to the bookstore and then back to the room. I’d been up all night working the night before and was looking at another night ahead of more of the same. And she wanted to spend the afternoon exploring the shops and food stands.
After selling my book back and buying a new one (for a net expense of only about 50 cents) at my regular book store, I hopped on the boat and headed back to the hotel. We reconvened later that evening in the Sheraton’s Towers Lounge and rehashed our day over wine and a sunset view of the Chao Phraya.
Perfect Day in Bangkok – Day #2
The next morning we hit the lounge for breakfast and then headed back to the dock to catch the tourist boat for the temple circuit. The beautiful thing about Bangkok is that most of the major temples are located right along the river and easily reached on the tourist boat (which is by far the best mode of transportation in Bangkok).
We started with the striking Wat Arun (or Temple of Dawn). The temple consists of four “stupas” positioned around an elongated Khmer tower all covered in a mosaic of broken pottery and seashells. The colorful mosaic is quite elaborate and can only truly be appreciated up close. On each side of the main tower, daringly-steep staircases invite those without a fear of heights to climb up and enjoy a panoramic view of the river.
Next, we crossed back to the other side of the river to visit Wat Pho. Bangkok’s largest and oldest temple, it is also home to the famous Reclining Buddha – Thailand’s largest. The giant Buddha is 150 feeet long and fills almost every each of the temple’s interior. Exquisite mother of pearl inlays cover the base of the feet. The surrounding temple grounds have a number of smaller temples with huge golden Buddha images and towering statues of Chinese mythical heroes.
Our final stop on the temple tour was the Grand Palace, Thailand’s most famous attraction. Within the grounds of the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, home to the revered Emerald Buddha. Dating back to the 15th century, the image has been enshrined all over Thailand.
The Grand Palace itself is an homage to the ornate eccentricity of Thai temples. The gleaming facades are incredibly grand with vast amounts of gold inlay and glittering, colorful statues of mythical beings.
After wandering the grounds for a while, we pronounced our abbreviated temple tour complete. Since it was our last day in Thailand and Susan still had some shopping to do, we decided to head back to Khao San Road for some lunch and one last Thai massage before splitting up again for the rest of the afternoon; me to work, her to shop.
Later that night we again reconvened for a glass of wine in my favorite spot – the Sheraton’s Towers Lounge – sad that it was our last night in Thailand. I am always so sad to leave this beautiful country.
But it was so much fun to be able to share this city that I love so much with one of my friends. I could tell that she loved it as much as I did and totally understood my overwhelming desire to keep returning each year. Thailand is a special place and I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of exploring it.
But for now, it’s on to Hong Kong!