While writing this travelog on Bangkok, the fact that many of my readers must have visited this place not once but many times, made my job much tougher. What differentiators can I introduce to my readers and moreover this was an official trip wherein time management was key for the sight seeing plans. Before I allowed that thought to overpower my brain, I made up my mind to write about this amazing tourist destination called Bangkok, the City of Angels or Krung Thep as this city is known locally.
I reached Bangkok at 5:30am and the airport, which always gives the tourist a first glimpse of the city did not disappoint me. Since I had a business visa, the immigration was a breeze and it took me hardly 15 minutes to clear the process and come out of the airport. The Suvarnabhoomi Airport can be compared to any top international airport of today. What also struck me is the name of the airport (meaning Golden Earth in Sanskrit), roads and places that sounded Indian. Thailand had strong roots with medieval India much before Buddhism prevailed in this land. The airport terminal opens up to a large statue of Amrit manthan (churning of the ocean) as depicted in our Dasha Avatar. Tourists cannot miss this gigantic statue before they move on to the respective gates.
I had asked Poonsuk, the cabbie to pick me up from the Airport. Poonsuk nicknamed “Funsuk Wangdu” by me, was referred by a friend in India especially since he spoke good English. In Thailand, the local populace hardly speak good English. One has to use hand gestures or use calculators to communicate especially in the local markets or even in the Malls. Poonsuk played latest Bollywood chartbusters while on my way to the Hotel. I could see very few people on the road and asked Punsuk about it. He laughed saying Bangkok wakes up at night while people sleep in the mornings. Bangkok roads are notorious for the worst traffic jams in this part of the world. However the early morning ride was extremely smooth and it took us just 30 mins to cover a distance of 20 miles, whereas the same journey takes not less than 75 minutes during normal traffic hours.
On the way, I was very impressed with the infrastructure especially the roads considering Thailand is still a developing country coupled with political turmoil at regular intervals. The country is ruled by the 86 year old monarch, who also happens to be the world’s longest reigning head of state. The current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra exiled her borther Thaksin before taking over the premiership. She is the youngest Premier at 44 and looks more like a model than a Premier. Thai citizens actively follow politics and have a strong opinion on the leadership. Incidentally the Yellow shirt movement started during my trip but the Thai Police never allowed such a movement to affect traffic or tourist activities. This shows how much importance this country gives to tourism since it earns them the highest revenue percentage in terms of GDP.
The weather at Bangkok was very balmy, humid and not too comfortable especially after you step out of the air conditioned hotel or mall. Maybe May-June is not the right time to visit thanks to the south west monsoon and high humidity. But that did not seem to deter the high inflow of tourists to Bangkok especially from India, perhaps used to this type of weather. The flights were full, the airport, streets and shopping malls were choc a bloc with tourists from all over the world especially Indians. Lady Gaga had visited Bangkok a few days before I reached there and seems the Bangkok crowd went gaga over the Lady. During my trip another world renowned celebrity, Aung San Suu Kyi visited Bangkok to attend the World Economic Forum. She made headlines on all 3 days she was at Bangkok, who is passionately called Mother Suu Kyi especially by the Burmese migrants in Thailand.
The country once called Siam with a pseudo name “Land of the White Elephant” is today the fastest growing economy in the ASEAN region with heavy focus on the tourism industry. The male-female sex ratio is about 0.98 with a high literacy rate. The Thai Baht currency is strong against the Indian rupee (1 Thai Baht is equal to Indian Rupees 1.8). I was told that the buses running in Bangkok are free for general public and even the tourists. They were not luxurious but seemed comfortable to ride, atleast from the outside. The Sky Train is the most popular mode of transport in Bangkok and can be relied upon to reach a destination on time. The crazy road traffic at Bangkok can always play a spoilsport to your well designed plans. Sky trains are cheap (Thai Baht 15 for shortest destination), quick and convenient. The Tuk Tuks (akin to the auto rickshaws in India) are also popular among tourists but the fare needs to ne negotiated well before you take the ride. The glitzy shopping malls are a good place to shop for clothes and electronics especially the Indra Market and MBK. However most of them close after 9pm and if you still wish to shop till late night, you can look for night bazaars around MBK Mall open till dawn. Food is not a problem for Indians. There are lot of Indian restaurants but I preferred to taste the local Thai food which is now the rage in India. The MBK mall offers Global cuisine at very reasonable rates and I strongly recommend this place. For the adventurous ones, Bangkok streets offer roasted cockroaches,locusts, crickets and other insects. I also sighted mangoes and litchis being sold in the market but I was drawn towards a fruit called “Rambutan” which is covered by a thick red thorny skin but very sweet inside.
My stay at Four Seasons was extremely memorable. I was amazed to see people still using traditional ways of welcoming a guest (folded hands like our Namaste in India) with a warm greeting called “Wai”. I rarely shook hands during the entire trip and perhaps that’s the most hygienic way of greeting people, which we Indians have forgotten this practice. The Hotel is situated close to the Sky Train station and that was a great advantage. Due to high humidity and heat (it was around 38 to 40 degrees Celsius) I preferred to avoid long walks.
Poonsuk was my guide during this trip and he strongly recommended that I take the river cruise to reach the Temple of Reclining Buddha. The high speed boats takes you through the canals of Bangkok and it’s a ride one should not miss. You can see the floating market and also feed shoals of fishes waiting to be fed bread crumbs. The so called guides around the Reclining Buddha temple can be very misguiding. I was told that the temple was closed for the day and while I took a chance to see if the temple had really closed, I was surprised to hear that temples in Bangkok generally remained open until 6pm everyday. Also one needs to be careful of pick pockets and thieves, who target tourists. One of my colleagues encountered a very bad incident when some thieves on motorbike snatched her bag, which contained money, cards and passport. The Reclining Buddha statue is 15 meters high and 43 meters long with his right arm supporting the head with tight curls on two box-pillows of blue, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Thai massage is not to be missed but you need expert guidance to choose the right place. I then visited the Golden Mount temple of Buddha located on a hill. By the time I reached the top of the hill after climbing some 200+ steps, the dark clouds hovering in the sky suddenly opened up. The weather was much cooler now and the view of Bangkok from the hill top is just breath taking. On the way back you can see the grand Palace, where the King resides.
On the last day, since I had time on hand, I opted for the Safari tour. The Safari World is located close to the airport and far away from the main city. This is perhaps the only safari, where private cars are allowed inside the main park. Here one can see the zebras, rhinos, ostriches and even the lions and tigers at kissing distance. I had never seen a large group of giraffes before, where we can feed them directly from a platform built for that purpose. At an extra cost you can get photographed with a tiger cub or a pair of orang-utans. Inside the park there are several shows that happen during fixed times. I watched the Orang-utans boxing show, the Sea lions show and the Elephant show. I had never seen an elephant paint a picture before and it was just amazing. The safari also has a Egg Museum and they show the entire lifecycle of a bird right from the time the egg is hatched. And this is live!! An enthusiast can spend the entire day at Safari World but I had a flight to catch and hence could not enjoy all the other remaining shows. But I just had time to meet the white tigers, polar bears, seals and walruses before saying Goodbye to the Park.
Since this was an official trip and I was travelling without my family, I dropped my plan to visit Kanchanaburi Tiger Temple, Bridge on River Kwai etc with a promise to return again very soon. Amazing Bangkok, it was.
To view the snaps clicked at Bangkok, please click on this link
Date Visited: 27th May 2012 to 1st June 2012