To celebrate the holiday season and project ourselves into a new year of travel adventures, I present you with a new travel destination every day. I hope these blogs will inspire you to dream big and make travel and beautiful experiences a priority for 2018.
Today we visit the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. I’ve got this magical destination on my mind because I’ll be there soon, in less than a month (squee!!).
As far as exotic destinations go, Bangkok is surprisingly affordable. Plane tickets from Seattle are under $1000, nice hotels can be had for under $75, and food is inexpensive. I was even able to afford a private guide for only myself, costing about $10 per hour. Locals speak English and it’s very easy to get around in a variety of transportation modes, including tuk-tuk, otherwise known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Bangkok is not what I expected. I think I’ve watched too many Indiana Jones movies, but I was sure it would be very exotic, ancient and plastered in red neon and rickshaws.
Instead, I found a city that could easily be mistaken for Los Angeles. Warm and sultry climate, palm trees, food trucks, sprawl and high rises just like LA or San Diego. Traffic. Lots of traffic.
My fantasy of Bangkok was of an ancient city, but the most ancient part of the city is quite recent by European standards. The ancient capital of Siam was an island called Ayutthaya in the past, about 40 minutes away from Bangkok. After a series of wars with neighboring Burma, the capital was destroyed, its remains left sitting on the island largely as they are today.
The city was relocated at the end of the 1700’s to the banks of the Chao Praya river. The oldest district, Rattanakosin, and the area around the popular Khao San Road have a character that feels colonial and tropical, sort of like the Caribbean.
The main sights to see are the temples or Wats, along with the Grand Palace, the home of the Thai royal family. For a westerner, these sights are wild. The royal palace is a compound of colorful, elaborately decorated buildings all packed together. I would try to compare it to Disneyland in terms of visual richness, but the Grand Palace makes Disneyland look boring.
I have been in about a million churches all over the world, but visiting a wat, a Buddhist temple, is a totally foreign experience. The imagery of the Buddha with his meaningful hand gestures is a language unto itself. Color and sparkle, with gold all over the place, the temples of Bangkok are a trip.
Their religious traditions are so interesting to learn about. I participated as best as I could, ringing bells and dropping offering coins in beautiful offering bowls. The perspective of the locals on the meaning of Buddhism–that happiness is your responsibility and wealth has nothing to do with that–was humbling and explained why Thai people generally seemed lighter than Americans. I appreciated that people were welcoming in all of the religious sites and seemed happy to answer my questions.
People in Bangkok are friendly and typically speak English. For a major metropolis, it’s impressive how personal it feels and I credit the people for that. Every person I talked to was interested in chatting and as curious about me as I was about them. Ok, I am probably the tallest woman they’ve ever seen, but still.
Aside from the big sights, the highlight of Bangkok for me is FOOD. I am currently working out and eating little in anticipation of my trip, because I plan to EAT ALL THE FOOD.
You cannot even walk a few feet down the street without being presented with tempting food options. Fresh passion fruit juice. Pad Thai noodles. Meatball skewers. Smoothies. Fresh mango. Some options more…sanitary…than others, but for the adventurous palette, the streets of Bangkok are paradise.
Restaurants of all kinds beckon with lovely tropical scents, and the prices are almost comical. Another favorite of mine is the cold coffee served with sweetened milk, for a tiny fraction of the cost of a latte at Starbucks. It’s so cheap to eat in Thailand, I’m going to order one of everything!
Speaking of great deals, the markets of Bangkok are a circus of color and cheap knock-off T-shirts. The big weekend Chatuchak market is the Queen, selling all kinds of things, from junk to Indy handmade coolness. Other markets abound, touristic souvenir markets, food markets, flower markets and floating markets. Did I mention that they sell food at the markets? Score!
All of these beautiful things mixed together with the madness of 8 million people living side by side with the river. It seems like it should be overwhelming, but it never really is. Getting out on the water, either by long tail speedboat or by river cruise at night makes the city feel intimate. The river is the artery of the city that connects the districts and showcases the main sights.
Thailand and Bangkok were a highlight of 2017, as I’m sure they will be in just a month! The only word that I could summon to describe Bangkok is this — bonkers. It’s an assault on the senses, in the very best possible way.
My 2019 Thailand tour for Imprint Tours is about to launch! Travel with me in February 2019, seats will be opening up very soon. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be the first to have a chance to reserve a seat!