One of the cities with Visa on Arrival, my first step out of Suvarna-bhumi airport at 2 AM in the night, and I thought I was back in my beloved Mumbai. That was my first impression of Thailand. It looked very urban, with flyovers and well lined streets, it took us about 25 minutes to exit the widely spread airport district. The roads looked familiar, even the street signs listed district names which sounded very “Indian”. “How is this place any different?” I thought, and BOOM- our first “Thailand experience” came our way.
On the way to our hotel, past 2 AM at night, all cars including ours were suddenly redirected to the fringe of the highway. While we thought it must be a drill common in Bangkok when government officials are passing by, this turned out to be a much bigger affair.
Several cars were asked to line up along the borders emptying the highway. We were asked by government officials to switch off our headlights while they strangely turned their backs to the highway facing us! While this sounds very strange right now, when I explain why this happened you will probably understand the drift of how things work in Thailand. Within 10 minutes, a rally of about a dozen cars and motorbikes sped by us, with members of the Royal family.. the guards wouldn’t face the highway as a mark of respect, similar reasons why cars were not allowed to shine headlights in the presence of the royal troop.
I am not from Thailand, I had never been to Bangkok before.. but the thrill I felt at the mere passage of the royal troop in the middle of the night gave me goosebumps and for some reason, I felt one with the locals in that moment of time.
Bangkok, or simply Krueng Thep is fondly referred to as the seat of the king, the city of palaces, the city of angels or the great city of Immortals. For me, Bangkok is simply the city of exotic experiences, my favorite cuisine and unbelievable dimensions.
7 reasons why Bangkok is one of the most “exotic” destinations in my opinion
1. Exotic Tuktuks!
Some of the most fun experiences you will have in Bangkok is probably traveling by the very adorable, and massivke infamous tuktuks! These are like Indian rikshaws, only with horizontal leg spaces and with much more color and character.
The tuktuk drivers are carefree, very tourist friendly and charge as per their will. They can charge anything between 100-400 baht for a short one way journey and I recommend you travel about with a local incase you’re in the mood for some tuktuk time!
Luckily for us, we were visiting my dear dear friend from university who lives in Bangkok, and seeing her bargain with the tuktuk drivers probably gave me the highest sense of satisfaction I’ve felt in ages!
2. Tail boats- The backwater experience!
A large and conspicuous part of Bangkok is the Chao Phraya river, which runs along most of the tourist attraction sites of the city.
Water transport is a very relevant part of the daily business and there are several boat cruises which can provide several splendid views of the city from the river.
However, once you have cruised along the beautiful river lines on a tourist boat, I strongly suggest you take the tail boat cruise, for the real Bangkok experience!
Tail boats are used for transport and tourism along the back waters of the city of Bangkok. This tour provides some amazing visuals and insights into the city’s local life.
One can see the low lying boat houses, wood homes suspended less than a feet above water, porches crowded with the most interesting chimes you will ever see.
I may be looking too deep, but I remember seeing low lying houses with uncanny paintings inside, intense graffitis, floating Art houses with real life statues, floating markets and Iguanas basking in the sun casually while children play in the water a few feet away from them! You have to see it to believe it!
The tail boats are low lying and very close to the water, and the thrill of this experience is unparalleled.
3. The City of Temples
Bangkok is rightly called the seat of palaces and temples. The temples of Bangkok are intricately designed, conventionally run and spiritually inclined. Old Bangkok has most of the temples, and a stark difference is portrayed between the two sects of the city.
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
The three main temples are Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and What Pho! A must visit on the itenary of everyone visiting the city of Bangkok.
Wat Arun is the temple located directly on the river bank and you can reach this temple using the short ferry service which runs continuously.
This Buddhist temple is built in levels and not for the weak heart-ed. Climbing up the first level is easy, the second level is difficult but the climb up to the third level is so steel that one cannot climb up without using the rope railings as the climb is almost vertical. If you do make it up to the third shrine, the climb down is heart stopping and probably one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
The temple is intricately carved, with great attention to detail. The dress code is strict and they assert that all body parts be covered before entering the temple.
Each temple has its share of markets and tourist engagement counters but one visit to the stunning temple towering 79 feet above the river is enough to highlight your Bangkok experience.
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace
One of the most stunning temples in the world, the Wat Phra Kaew is located within the grand palace grounds and is a visual treat.
The temple is breathtaking at first sight and seat of the Emerald Buddha as well.
It is colorful, photogenic and majestic and even has meditation houses where one can commonly sit and meditate with the monks.
Walking around the three main structures can take a while and the sheer aura of this temple provides spectacular photo opportunities.
The Grand palace is the royal seat of Bangkok and common sights are those of the traditional guards, chinese temples and stupas, iconic statues and museums.
The Wat Pho is another stunning temple of Bangkok which is the seat of the “Sleeping Buddha” or the Golden reclining Buddha!
The temple house housing this statue is elongated and huge but it is the magnificence of the sleeping statue which has one awe struck from the second you lay eyes on it.
Serene, calm the sleeping Buddha statue seems to be in a blissfully meditative trance. A must visit if you’re in Thailand!
Each of the temple has several of its own cultural rituals, like the shaking of numbered sticks till one falls, following which one must pick the prophesy with the corresponding number to know their fate! Thailand is a land of faith and that is what makes it very very endearing.
4. Thai Food
Thai is my favorite cuisine and I am often found scavenging around town for the best Thai places to eat at! So imagine our delight when we landed in the country from where this food comes! As we were staying in the Sukhumvit area, we got to check out some great eateries and delis along Soi 11, the most dynamic street lined with clubs, pubs, lounges and cafes catering to tourists. Some must tries are:-
The food around Bangkok, whether at a restaurant, cafe or along the road shops is rich and delicious. If nothing else, visit Thailand for the food. It is worth it. 🙂
5. Thai traditional coffee
The concept of traditional coffee really intrigues me. I have had the Vietnamese coffee made from beans grown in elephant dung in London, and that had bestowed upon me a sense of accomplishment. However, I was in for a delightful surprise when I came across the local stall of traditional Thai coffee and tea, which is serves with Milk and Ice and tastes divine.
The best coffee tasted so far, the flavors almost burst in your mouth as you gulp down this strong intense coffee! Definitely makes it to my “exotic Thailand” list.
6. The night market- An unconventional shopping experience
Shopping in Thailand is a pleasure during the day! At night however,there is a more carefree, forbidden feel to the market which happens to be open through out in some places.
While malls like MBK and Palladium are amazing shopping retreats, it is the roadside window shopping which must be indulged in! The streets are lined with several low priced clothes, shoes, accesories, home equipment, sunglasses, tourist gifts and what not!
The interesting bit however, is the Night market which literally sells anything and everything. Adult tourism in Bangkok is very tourist friendly but avoided to a large extent by the locals and the government. Along the night market on open roads one can buy adult equipment, accessories, drugs and films. These shops are more aligned with the interests of foreigners and tourists and the sex tourism industry is probably one of the most lucrative industries of the state. Massage parlors are present after almost every two shops but what is the most incredible thing in my opinion is how easy going and “relaxed” the locals are about this. “It is what it is” is the mantra they have lived by and it seems to be working wonders for them. Also, I definitely recommend Bangkok for Bachelor parties.
7. Our sweet Ladyboy friend- Boi
This brings me to the another reason why I feel Bangkok is exotic and immensely gratifying as a travel experience.
As we were staying at the Ibis hotel in Sukhumvit, we unknowingly walked into the Nana plaza, which is the largest adult playground in Thailand, located three blocks away from us. Walking around in and out of bars and clubs we ran into one of the sweetest travel friends I have made over time- Boi. Boi works and performs in one of the largest ladyboy clubs of Bangkok, and while we sat there talking to her, the conversation flowed from one dimension of her life to the next as she discussed her problems, relationships, work and daily struggles! Boi wanted me to remember her and meet her the next time I visit Bangkok… This is for Boi 🙂
Bangkok has an amazingly relaxed aura. Its a land of stark disparities and an equal amount of unity. Grey, monotonous buildings infiltrated with eccentric colorful monuments, adult tourism to cultural delights, river banks ranging from dingy dirty ports to fabulous ones with floating markets, shocking backwaters to gorgeous riverscapes, skytrains to tuktuks..
My visit to Bangkok has been incredible and I hope you make it there at some point, hopefully with friends, with an open mind, with a lot of shed inhibitions and well…lots of heart!