Review by: Bruno Singier, Marketing Manager Europe & Asia, Pro QC International
To many, Thailand is known as the “land of smiles”, a country of white sandy beaches, fertile rice fields and warm hospitality. To me, Thailand is of course all this, but it is also so much more. Being ideally located on the route of my way back to France, I have been visiting Thailand for about twice a year for the past fifteen years. To me, it is a place where I can relax and often spend a few days during the holidays with my family and friends.
Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, is known to Thais as Krung Thep, which can roughly be translated as “City of Angels”. However, the city’s full official name is Krungthep maha nakorn amorn ratanakosindra mahindrayudhya mahadilokpop noparatana rajdhanee buririom udom rajnivet mahastan amorn pimarn avatarn satit -sakkattiya vishnukarm prasit. It is certified as the longest place name in the world and can be translated as “The city of angels - the great city – the eternal jewel city - the residence of the Emerald Buddha - the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of god Indra - the grand capital of the world endowed with mine precious gems - the happy city - abounding in an enormous reigns the reincarnated God - a city given by Indra and built by Vishukarm.
Today, Bangkok is Thailand’s commercial, cultural, educational and spiritual hub and is home to more than ten million people. From a rather homogenous Thai population, Bangkok’s population is now increasingly a more vibrant mix that includes Chinese, Indians and Westerners. Over the past few decades, Bangkok has turned into a modern and exciting metropolis, offering visitors a mix of cosmopolitan amenities that anyone would expect from a world class city, along with traditional cultural attractions. As a result of never have been colonized, Thailand and Bangkok have kept their unique heritage and culture intact while moving ahead with the modern world.
Getting There and Around:
Located in the heart of Southeast Asia, Bangkok’s new International Suvarnabhumi Airport is used by 90 airlines, connecting Bangkok to most major cities around the world. Savarnabhumi Airport is used as the hub of Thai Airways International, Thailand’s national carrier, and is one of Asia’s main gateways to popular tourist and business destinations in Asia.
Bangkok's main airport is located to the Southeast, 30 kilometers away from the city. The most comfortable and fastest way to or from the airport is to take a taxi, which will cost approximately USD8.00 – USD12.00, depending on where you go in the city. Taxis depart directly from outside of the arrivals hall.
On August 12th 2009, the Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link will conveniently link the airport to the BTS Phaya Thai station and the MRT Phetchburi stations in only 15 minutes.
Various transportation options are also available to travel around the city, although metered taxis are an economical way to get around. A much more fun option for shorter journeys is to take the three-wheeled open-air vehicles called “Tuk-Tuks”. This is absolutely a must do during your stay in Thailand, and I highly recommend that you negotiate the fares first. When travelling with these two options, prepare to sit idle for long periods of time. Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams are still a serious problem, although massive efforts have been made in the past few years to alleviate this problem. For faster transit time, you can travel by MRT (Underground Mass Rapid Transportation System) or by the Bangkok Skytrain (BTS), which offers great elevated views of the city below.
Another fun way to explore the sights of the city that are dotted along the Chao Phraya river is to take one of the Express Boats that connect the piers on both sides of the river and give fantastic views of historic Bangkok. One of the main piers is Saphan Taksin, just below the BTS Station of the same name. The boats runs at frequent intervals.
When to Go:
November to February is considered the coolest of the three main seasons in Thailand (cool, hot and wet) and it is the most enjoyable time, with temperatures still above 20 degrees and low humidity.
Bangkok gets more visitors than any other city in Southeast Asia. It is not difficult to imagine why, since it offers scores of attractions, among which include 400 gold-spired Buddhist temples, palaces, night markets, canals etc. Here are some of my recommendations:
Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace - The Temple complex of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is an architectural wonder and is also the spiritual core of Thai Buddhism and Monarchy, symbolically united in what is the country's most holy image, the Emerald Buddha. Next to the temple complex is the former royal residence, or Grand Palace, which is nowadays used by the King only for special occasions since the Royal Family now lives in the Chitralada Palace (closed to the public). One of the main places of interest at the Grand Palace is the Dusit Hall, which served as a venue for royal audiences. Construction of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaewn started respectively in 1782 and 1785. www.palaces.thai.net/day/index_gp.htm
Wat Pho - The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. It dates back to the 16th century and houses the longest reclining Buddha and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. The Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high and is decorated with gold plating on his body and pearl on his eyes and the soles of his feet (the latter also displays 108 auspicious scenes in Chinese and Indian scripts). Within the complex, you will also find a famous school of traditional Thai massage where massage can be enjoyed for a very small fee. www.watpho.com/en/home/index.php
Wat Arun – This 86 meters high Khmer style temple, most famously known as the Temple of Dawn, was built on the west side of the Chao Phraya River in 1809, although the surrounding peaceful monastery was built in the days of Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayyuthaya . The bulky monument is decorated with delicate mosaic details and is best viewed during sunsets from the other side of the river. www.watarun.org/index_en.html
Royal Barge Museum – Thailand is one of a very few countries that have their own fleet of royal boats on display. As an ancient culture very much centered around rivers, Thailand still maintains the royal barges, which were once used daily by the royal family for outings and events and are now used only for grand ceremonies. One of the best times to see the fleet in action on the river is during the royal kathîn ceremony that usually takes place in October or November. www.thailandmuseum.com/thaimuseum_eng/royalbarges/history.html
The above four sights are located along the river and can also be accessed by boat.
Jim Thomson’s House – For those interested in authentic Thai wooden architecture, Jim Thomson’s house is a place not to be missed. Located at the end of a small lane, at walking distance from the Siam Center BTS station, this wooden house once belonged to the American silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson, who deserves most of the credit for the worldwide popularity of Thai silk. Jim Thompson was a New York architect who briefly served in the Office of Strategic Services in Thailand during WWII. After the war, he moved from New York to Bangkok, where he started to develop the international trade of Thai silk. During that time, Jim Thomson collected parts of various derelict Thai homes in central Thailand and had them reassembled in 1959, where his house now stands. The house now also accommodates Thomson’s collection of Asian art. Adding to his legend, Jim Thomson’s mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while hiking in Malaysia. His body was never found. www.jimthomsonhouse.com
For those dizzied by the sprawling urban jungle that is Bangkok, there are also a few “green pockets”, where it is possible to forget that Bangkok is one of the world’s biggest cities:
Lumpini Park - It is Bangkok's largest and most popular park, ornamented by an artificial lake, itself surrounded by broad lawns and lush tropical vegetation. It is one the best outdoor escapes from Bangkok without leaving town. Lumpini is conveniently located close to the main commercial and shopping areas of the city. It was built in the early 1920s by King Rama VI, with the intention of being Bangkok’s equivalent to Central Park. The best time for a walk in this green haven is at the end of the afternoon when the park is abuzz with families and joggers, as well as elderly residents taking dance classes.
Phrapadaeng - Another way to forget about the pollution, noise and traffic jams of Bangkok is to make your way to the tranquil neighborhood of Phrapadaeng. This area is located across the river. After crossing the Chao Phraya, you will enter a world of jungle-strewn land replete with tropical landscape, including klongs (canals), fruit plantation, mangroves, ancient temples and traditional wooden Thai homes. Phrapadaeng is a favorite place for hikers and bikers and it is the best place in Bangkok to discover the traditional Thai way of living.
Being of one of the world’s hot spots, Bangkok and Thailand as a whole offer a great choice of very good hotels at unbeatable prices. For a fraction of the rates of hotels in Europe, India or Hong Kong, you will be able to stay at the numerous five or four star accommodations. Most of these can be found in the major commercial and tourist areas of Sathorn, Silom, Ratchadumri, Wireless Road/Chit Lom, along Sukhumvit Road or along the Chao Phraya river. The following are those I have tried and recommend:
Fraser Suites Urbana Sathorn (Serviced Apartments) - 55 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok. Tel: +66-2-227-9999. http://bangkok-sathorn.frasershospitality.com/
Food and Drink:
Most visitors to Thailand are impressed by the delicious flavors and tastes of Thai food, which is made of ingredients such as glass noodles, brown rice, Thai curry paste, coconut milk and lemongrass.
Tom Yam Kung (Spicy Shrimp Soup), Pat Thai (Fried Noodles), Kao Pad (Fried Rice) and Som Tham (Papaya Salad) are names of Thai dishes known all over the world. Those, as well as many other types, can be found from street vendors to high-end restaurants. Here are places that are worthwhile to explore for food or just for a drink:
Sala Rim Naan - Located on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, this restaurant offers a wide selection of Thai cuisine, as well as the choice to have lunch or dine al fresco on the terrace overlooking the river or in the richly decorated wooden Thai pavilion. In the evening, classical Thai dancing is performed. The restaurant is part of the Mandarin Oriental hotel and can be reached by crossing the river on one of the hotel boats.
Sirocco - Nestled atop the 65 story State Tower, Sirocco is the highest open air restaurant in the world. It offers unbeatable views of Bangkok and great Thai and Mediterranean food. Drinks alone can be taken at the circular bar or at the next door Distil Bar that also offers great views. State Tower , Silom Road, Bangkok. Tel: 66-2-624-9555
Aquatini - Part of the newly opened Navalai River Resort, Aquatini serves up a vast selection of Thai and international recipes at pocket-friendly prices. This restaurant has a large open air area next to the river where you can enjoy the fresh breeze. 45/1 Phra Athit Road, Bangkok.
Face - Set in chic and trendy surroundings, Face is one of Bangkok's most stunning bars. It is also part of a complex made of a restaurant (Lan Na Thai) offering delicious classical Thai cuisine, an Indian restaurant (Hazara) and a Japanese sushi bar and restaurant (Misaki). Sukhomvit Soi 38, Bangkok
Shopping in Bangkok is an experience that even the most discerning of shoppers will enjoy. From comfortable air-conditioned malls to the hustle and bustle of its buzzing street markets, Bangkok has it all, making it hard not to spend your Bahts.
Shopping Malls - The area located around the intersection of Ratchadmuri Road and Phoen Chit Road, also known as the Central World Plaza, is dotted with a handful of very good shopping malls offering international brand names, local designers goods, local furniture, arts and crafts and Thai food. Some of these malls are the Central World Plaza, Siam Paragon, MBK Center, Siam Center/Discovery Center and the Gaysorn Plaza. All are within walking distance from each other. The closest BTS stations are Chit Lom station and Siam Center station.
Chatuchak Weekend Market - Located next to Chatuchak Park, this market, only open on Saturdays and Sundays, is a Bangkok landmark where it is possible to buy just about everything from furniture, clothing, plants and even pets. Beware, some of the animals for sale are endangered species sold by unscrupulous vendors. There are more than 5,000 stalls to chose from, so be ready to spend a day there. The easiest way to get to Chatuchak is to ride the BTS and stop at the Mo Chit station.
Lumpini Night Bazaar - For those who are not able to be in Bangkok during a weekend, there is always the possibility to visit the many night markets. Some of the best are the Lumpini Night Bazaar and the night market located near the notoriously sleazy Patpong red light district. Patpong consists of a few streets of clubs and go-go bars located off Silom Road.
If you need more advice before you travel, contact your account manager or Bruno Singier at email@example.com. Or, obtain useful information from the official website of the Bangkok Tourism Board: www.bangkoktourist.com.