Experiencing Thainess

A Thai Welcome. Mythical creatures at the Wat Phra Kaew Temple Grounds.

“Travelling:  It leaves you speechless, then it turns you into a storyteller.”– Ibn Battuta

Finally, I ran out of sensible things to say except maybe to tell you about the series of crazy and unbelievable events that led me to this place and made me love it.  Bangkok was one of the last cities I planned to visit.  I have always loved the city and architecture which is quite evident in the subject matter of my photographs.  I honestly was never fond of shopping, night markets, night life, and the beaches which I have always associated with Thailand (or even Bangkok).  Did not really like ocean cruise holidays or water sports either (most of my friends live on land ). 🙂  A colleague however did a good job of documenting her last visit to Bangkok (her birthday) and with her interesting photos of the food and a convincing story of satisfaction, I was sold.

So I found this attractive deal at a hotel booking site.  Now because I was used to paying hotels when I actually get there, I was immature enough to assume that this one will allow me to do the same.  After clicking the “Book Now” button, I realized that I just paid the hotel in full.  Immediately, I lost a few hundred bucks.  So after that, you can just imagine how I really struggled just to make it to the end of the month.  Needless to say, this journey to Bangkok has officially started.

Then there was this APEC summit in Manila (my hometown).  I am not used to travelling alone and have always promised my wife and my daughter that whenever I get a chance, I will meet them in some part of the world and we’ll explore that place together.  But because of this summit, most flights coming out of Manila for that week have been either cancelled or rescheduled to give way to incoming APEC delegates (I didn’t see that coming).  So that meant my wife and daughter will not be able to meet me in Bangkok.  With the hotel booked, my air ticket already paid, and no more time for adjustments, I had to journey on my own.

Arriving at the hotel in Bangkok, I was told that I was given a free upgrade.  The small room I booked for three persons was upgraded to an entire flat.  The hotel was really kind enough to do that; having thought that I will be bringing my family along with me (Now I know why they call Bangkok “The City of Angels”). 🙂 So I had the entire flat for myself.  I actually slept in every room of the flat for each night of my 3-day stay there just to make use of the large space.  Honestly, I don’t know of anybody silly enough to do just that.

Bangkok Jam. Capturing rush hour traffic at Bangkok CBD.

Now, I was wrong about Bangkok. Dead wrong.  The city itself was a big surprise.  It seems like anything is possible here. Bangkok is a dizzying and dazzling array of contrasts, extremes and superlatives:  Speedy skytrains gliding past slow moving traffic; megamalls competing with shophouses for tourists and customers; sweltering tourist spots alongside refreshing sidewalk restaurants; and ultra modern high-rise buildings perched above ubiquitous traditional Thai temples.  And of course, modern shopping centers versus the weekend market and bazaar (the highlight for most tourists).  My hotel was even situated near a quiet urban park; a respite from the buzz of the busy urban hub.  In busy Bangkok, a place like this seems like an aberration.  Not to forget the food that tops off the tourist experience.

Bangkok Modern. High-rise office towers at the Chong Nonsi BTS Station in Bangkok.

I only had three days to spend in Bangkok (thanks to that silly hotel booking site) so i decided to visit only the major tourist spots: Wat Traimit, Wat Phra Kaew, The Grand Palace and Wat Pho.  This is the essence of a Bangkok visit.  A must-see.  From where I come from, you can’t come to Singapore without planning to visit Merlion Park. 🙂

I came in at around noon so I decided to spend the rest of the day at Chinatown and visit Wat Traimit.  Wat Traimit is the temple of the Golden Buddha.  I read somewhere that there are lots of gold in Chinatown, but it will not be enough to recreate this jaw-dropping, giant, solid gold statue which weighs around 6 tons and with a current value of approximately US$250 million.  Time is gold, so take the time to appreciate this impressive gold statue sculpted in the beautiful Sukhothai style.   The Golden Buddha is seated at the 4th floor of Phra Maha Mondop, the compound’s beautiful marble structure.  The best way to reach Wat Traimit is to take the Metro to Hua Lamphong station (exit 1).  From there, go by foot.  You might need to ask some locals for directions as the temple is not in a conspicuous location.

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The problem with major tourist spots are the tourists. 🙂 There must have been fifty busloads of tourists that day at Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace.  If you love photography (or selfie), it may take a while to get a clean shot of anything; one with less tourists in your photos.  But here, I guess it’s impossible even on a weekday.  So by actually being there, you just added to the problem. 🙂 The magnificent architecture and the grandeur of the temples and palace however were enough to hold my attenton and to forget the heat and the crowd.  The level of architectural detailing was unbelievable and the colors so vibrant that they make for wonderful photos.  I have a handful of Thai colleagues back in the office and now I am not surprised why they are so creative and have such keen attention to details.  My two cents: Arrive early on a weekday and beat a lesser crowd.  Don’t miss the Emerald Buddha and wear pants or long skirts while within the premises.  Bring lots of drinking water.  The best way to reach Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace is to take the ferry ride along the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok’s Central Ferry Station to Pier No.9.

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Among all the attractions, I’ve read Wat Pho perhaps holds the most notches in its belt.  It is the oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok.  It has the largest (or longest) and only Reclining Buddha.  It has the biggest collection of gilded buddhas (gold plated buddhas in the lotus position) and the most number of stupas and smaller temples within its temple grounds.  And if I may add, it is the only tourist spot that provided free bottled water for visitors. 🙂 But it actually felt it has lesser tourists compared to nearby Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace.  But it should never be missed.  My other two cents:  Don’t miss the Reclining Buddha and take the time to ramble through the minor structures beyond the inner walls of the temple grounds.  Like most major tourist spots, Wat Pho can be reached by taking a ferry ride along the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok’s Central Ferry Station to Pier No. 8.

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Surprisingly, I found extra time in my hands.  So I decided to spend my last night (a Friday) in one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars (a photographer should always take home at least one aerial photo of each new city). 🙂 There is never a shortage of rooftop bars in Bangkok.  With hundreds of hotels in the city competing for tourists, the quality of most rooftop bars can only get better.  I decided to try Cielo Skybar.  It’s not on the top of the list but the food here is great and reasonably priced; with lesser people even on a Friday.  The seats are widely spaced allowing for other people to stand in between and view the city below.  The sunset view is magnificent and unobstructed with the Chao Phraya River beyond bathed in golden light.  But since the bar is located in a somewhat suburban district, it has less of the iconic Bangkok high-rise buildings that would make for a wonderful twilight photo.  But if you’re into food, sunset, and a relaxed atmosphere, this is the right place.

Head Rush. Bangkok sunset viewed from Cielo Skybar.

Three days are not enough for a Bangkok visit.  Most of the people I know who have been here have always expressed intentions of coming back.  And they did.  When asked why, they just couldn’t explain.  There’s always that “something” that puts Bangkok at the top of their list. I think it’s called Thainess (or Thai-ness, if there is ever such a word).  It’s a word that just came up when I was sharing the experience later with the colleague I mentioned earlier.  It’s a common feeling shared and experienced by those who have been to this place before.  Maybe it’s shopping, the food, night life, the best bargain, or simply the warm hospitality of the locals.  For me, maybe it’s the architecture, the city, or simply the strange foreign beauty of a place that is ever looking forward and that says anything here is possible.  Whatever it is you’re looking for, Bangkok will always add its own twist and flavor to the experience; customizing and making it more personal and memorable.  That I don’t know how to explain either.  Besides, the events leading to this Bangkok experience were also unbelievable and unexplainable.  Crazy and silly got me here in the first place.  And with that, I dare not think anymore. 🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!

I will be adding more photos from this Bangkok trip here in this link.

3 Comments on “Experiencing Thainess

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