Postcards & Passports

Bangkok: the New York City of Thailand

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“Bangkok: the New York City of Thailand” is the 3rd in a series on Thailand by my cousin, Ron Clinkenbeard. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read Thailand: Chiang Mai Adventure and Thailand: Discovering Phuket.       (Click on any photo to enlarge or to read caption)

On the final leg of my travel I flew from Phuket to Bangkok, a city with 8 million residents. A short one-hour flight revealed Bangkok’s characteristics vividly contrasting its developing status and its modern conveniences.

Transportation in Bangkok

Within Bangkok I used a variety of transportation methods which highlight the distinctive character of the city and of Thailand. The Chao Phraya River bisects the city and has a network of boats that carry passengers quickly up and downstream on both sides of the river.

Bangkok

Aboard the Chao Phraya Express

Bus routes are numerous and inexpensive. Taxis and tuk-tuks can also be found in most parts of the city, particularly around commercial neighborhoods and tourist attractions. There is also a high speed and air-conditioned elevated train system that connects several modern business districts and the international airport.

Exploring the City

Bangkok is the Thai equivalent to New York City in that it bustles 24 hours a day, traffic is horrible, and has few places to find solitude. But it also has no end of neighborhoods to explore, foods to eat and sights to see.

Bangkok

Panang curry and jasmine rice

I focused on visiting areas close to the river as it was an easy ‘landmark’ with which to get and maintain my bearings.  I chose to spend one day exploring several regions in town, that near the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, transiting Chinatown, and the area surrounding Wat Phra Kheo and the Grand Palace.

Bangkok

Lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

The Mandarin Hotel was the first which catered to foreign business interests and met western style tastes and standards. The lobby is still noted as a place for doing business over drinks while classical music is performed on the grand piano. Once built, it became the anchor for other western-aided development which ultimately led to other hotels, skyscrapers and luxury housing.  


Yet in close proximity to this are small open markets where trucks are loaded and unloaded by bare chested men; adjacent stalls might contain dried fish and Sanyo radios, and many of the proprietors live above the market place. The neighborhood is home to Assumption Cathedral, a 100-year old Romanesque Catholic church which was undergoing extensive renovation to its Rococo style interior.  This was also an area in which you could have a tailored suit made in 24 hours.

Chinatown

I traveled through Chinatown, another distinctive district that displays its heritage through signage, shops, and restaurants tailored toward Chinese tastes.  The flower market was bustling, beautiful, and fragrant beyond what I had anticipated.

Grand Palace Complex

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kheo are highlighted in most travel books as ‘THE’ main attraction in Bangkok and I had to agree, due to their scope and magnificence. The grounds within the walls incorporate numerous buildings that have religious and civic importance and use. Though many of the buildings allowed no entry, the palace and temple structures themselves are artistic works that parallel the craftsmanship and works of devotion reflected in the great cathedrals of the Western world.

Bangkok

Grand Palace Chakri Throne Hall

There were gifts to the king on display in several places including a scale model of Angkor Wat presented by the people of Cambodia.

Bangkok

Angkor Wat scale model, gift from the people of Cambodia

There were also several small themed museums (armaments, cultural artifacts, decorative arts) which offered air-conditioned respite from the heat!  Adjacent to the palace grounds is another temple, Wat Pho, which contains the largest reclining Buddha in the world and houses a renowned traditional medicine center and its Institute of Massage.

Bangkok

Wat Pho, 150-ft long reclining Buddha

Bridge on the River Kwai

I escaped Bangkok proper for a day trip to see the Bridge on the River Kwai near Kanchanaburi, approximately 60 miles away.  I went for the adventure of it, riding the vintage Thai Railways System train complete with wooden seats and wide open windows, enjoying the evaporative cooling effects in the sweltering heat and humidity.

Bangkok

Tourist train to and from River Kwai

At many stops along the way, industrious vendors would board the train to offer snacks and drinks – fresh mango, toffee nuts, curry and rice, and Coca-Cola. If the train left before they got off… well, they would get off at the next station and return via bus or the next train – which only ran twice daily. The train trip took about two hours and you can either get off in town or at the bridge, both places worthy of exploration.  

Bangkok

Arriving at the River Kwai Train Station

The story of the bridge, given notoriety and literary license by the David Lean movie, was repeatedly built, damaged and rebuilt in World War II by prisoner and slave labor.

There is a cemetery and a museum in town which tell the true story and provide a gripping context to the harrowing aspects of the war.

Bangkok

The Bridge on the River Kwai

I also walked across the current train bridge and took pictures, as there are only two trains crossing it daily, and then returned to the commercial area for a street food lunch and awaited my return train. It came, one hour late, and was greeted on arrival at the small Bangkok station by a torrential downpour and no taxis. It was all about adventure!

Dusit Park

There were several other worthwhile explorations in Bangkok.  Dusit Park is home to Vimanmek Mansion and the SUPPORT museum. This golden teak mansion was a retreat home for King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and relocated from a location on the Gulf of Thailand in 1901. Constructed without nails, it was the first building in Thailand to have electricity and an indoor bathroom. The mansion contains many beautiful artifacts ranging from exotic furniture to hunting trophies.

Bangkok

Vimanmek Mansion in Dusit Park

The SUPPORT museum converted a formerly used throne hall into a glorious exhibit of Thai artistry and crafts. There were amazing displays of beetle wing tapestries and ceremonial clothing, inlaid wood and enormous carved panels. Also gold and silver-work, weaving, embroidery and silk creations.

Lumphini Park

I later took a whirlwind stroll around the central lake in Lumphini Park which felt like New York’s Central Park (complete with surrounding skyscrapers) except for the water monitor lizards patrolling and protecting their individual territories. I made one additional stop for a tour through Jim Thompson’s House. He was an American businessman and art collector who launched the modern silk industry by establishing markets in the West. That he disappeared under mysterious circumstances adds to his legendary status.

Bangkok

Lumphini Park boating lake

 

Bangkok

Christmas decorations on display at the Central Mall (and my cousins, Ron & Linda, and Linda’s husband Jim, seated)

As I prepared to leave Thailand behind, I reflected a little on the significant experiences that will remain in my memories.  Places of beauty will be tucked away and are preserved by photos. Great memories of people are preserved in my journal. The tuk-tuk driver who gave us a lesson in Thai economics. The kindness of our Chiang Mai hotel attendant…the “Queen of Curry”…and Ning and her cat “Chicken”. And as I mentioned in the beginning of this report, the surprise of variance from expectation. There was the magic of lighting our paper lanterns and launching our krathongs during the festical. And observing the incongruities of life in this developing country — monks taking selfies, satellite dishes on huts with no plumbing, reliable cell service in the jungle. Who knew? I would happily go back to Thailand – but I know that it wouldn’t be the same.

Links

 

Stay tuned for Ron’s next post, Faces of Thailand, a photo essay & stories of the people he met in Thailand

Bangkok

 

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24 thoughts on “Bangkok: the New York City of Thailand

  1. Pingback: Thailand: Discovering Phuket - Postcards & Passports

  2. Darren

    For years Bangkok was my work travel destination & I loved it! Early morning runs in Lumphini Park. Getting lost in Chatuchak Market. Amazing sights & food. Wonderful people.

  3. Chris

    Much like Vijay’s post, this too has brought back a myriad of memories.

    Kanchanaburi holds a special place in Sarah’s family, as her grandfather was a POW there, and was put to work constructing the ‘Death Railway’ (so called for the toll on human lives)

    A visit to it, as well as Hellfire Pass was moving indeed.

    Thailand is indeed a wonderful place, with something to appeal to all.

    The food, the people, the vibrancy of life or simply in its natural beauty.

  4. Sandy N Vyjay

    Bangkok is truly Asia’s new York. It is really affordable. Love to shop here. And the
    food is worth dying for. Your post brought back memories of our own Bangkok visit a couple of years ago when we had a great time there.

  5. neha

    Bangkok seems so much closer to home in India. Whenever I read about it. You know we have a ‘lumbini lake’ and a park around it, which look very similar to the lumphini park and boating lake!! And same is true for public transit. Lovely post! Will help me prepare for the bangkok trip

  6. Tracie Howe

    It’s smart to stay near the river in order to orient yourself. I need that too! I have yet to stay in that area of Bangkok though. It is such an easy city to get around… only it makes me wish my own city had so many transportation options!

  7. Milosz Zak

    I heard that it is a very large city, and that runaway development has swallowed much of the surrounding countryside. I think you attribute NYC status to it on account of the beautiful park. Thailand is definitely making great strides on the urban front.

  8. Nicky

    Taking the river boat was the only way I stayed sane in Bangkok! The taxi drivers there are something else. Great article, and now I want to eat Thai food!

  9. Anne

    One of the things I love most in Bangkok is to have a foot massage. After a long day of wandering you simply cannot bliss the heavenly delights they bestow on your feet

  10. Mimi & Mitch

    Just reading and going through the images makes us want to book a flight and go asap. we use to live 1 hour flight away and would love weekend getaways.
    Wold totally go back!
    Cheers

  11. Barb

    Bangkok is such a fascinating city. I have been there 3 times and i feel like going back after reading your post.

  12. carla abanes

    Thanks for posting this. I will be spending a day in BKK this coming June and I hope to cover as much as I can when it comes to commuting around. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. stacey veikalas

    Great guide, we loved Bangkok and its crazy traffic, and beautiful temples. My absolute fave part was the food!! Super guide for hitting all the best sites.

  14. Sandy N Vyjay

    I am fascinated by the culture and traditions in Thailand and Bangkok being the heart of Thailand has a lot to offer. From natural beauty to architectural beauty Bangkok has it all. We really enjoyed the time we spent in Bangkok, a couple of years ago and would love to head back.

  15. Laura Lynch

    You definitely can make a correlation between the two cities. And they’re both regularly packed with tourists. The key in Bangkok is finding the hidden gems where all the people are not, but it’s such a fascinating place. I love all the street food.

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