Sawasdee kha! (Hello in Thai)
After India I passed to a very different unique country Thailand. Now I was in souteast Asia for the first time. Thailand is separated into regions and each region has its own unique cultural and geographic features. In my upcoming 3 months journey here, my route would take its shape according to my instincts. It would take me from one jungle to another valley, from one coast to another island, from one monastery to another temple, from one farm to another community.
So my explorations started from the capital Bangkok that is the most populous city of Thailand. The city is known for its vibrant street life and cultural landmarks like Buddhist temples. Bangkok is among the world’s top tourist destinations. It is also an important transport hub between south and north Thailand.
The Chao Phraya river meanders through the city in a southerly direction, emptying into the gulf of Thailand. An expedition on the river gives a good idea about the scale of the city and its current appearance with many high rise buildings.
Water-based transport plays an important role in Bangkok between the upstream and downstream towns. Several water busses work daily which have almost fifty stops along the river. Frankly speaking, coming directly from India and seeing a well organized, neat and clean city like this quite surprised me.
Many of Bangkok’s main attractions are within 5 km from the city center. This center is located around Kao San road which is the touristic hub of the city with a vibrant day and night life. There are many shops, cafes, restaurants, night clubs, massage parlors here that contribute to the mass-touristic appearance of this area. I was glad to be in the off-season here as there were remarkably less tourists.
In order to discover well, I mainly do not choose to use public transport but walk instead. All those streets, boulevards, even the little alleys in the neighbourhoods with their heavy traffic were so dense to my taste. I have crossed China town with many neon signs in Chinese characters, the Indian market and huge food and flower markets. Fortunately the parks in the city are so beautiful. Thai people are really good at landscape design. You can escape from the hustle bustle of the city and relax in one of these parks.
One of the most significant attractions in Bangkok are the Buddhist temples. They give you an introductory idea on how Buddhism influenced the Thai culture.
In the whole country there are thousands of temples and monasteries (city and forest) that preserve and spread the light of Buddha. There are a great number of temples in Bangkok as well but I am going to give you two examples that were my favourite ones.
First is the Wat Pho temple (above) that is the biggest temple in the country that dates back to 16th century. It is also the home to the school of traditional Thai medicine including Thai massage. In the temple there is a 46m long reclining Buddha statue that represents Buddha’s departure into final nirvana. There are so many different images of Buddha, sometimes reclining like this, sometimes holding various symbolic objects or making symbolic mudras (gestures) with his hands.
Inside and outside the temple, the delicate details of coatings, rellefs, gold leaf laminations, illustrations, depictions, different Buddha statues, the forms and colours, all displays beautifully the traditional Thai Buddhist architecture.
The other remarkable temple is Wat Arun (above) that is located in the west side of the river. It has fabulously ornate floral mosaics made from broken Chinese porcelain. If you cross the river to this side I recommend you to go to the colourful Wang Lang bazaar.
Bang Kachao (above) is a nice isolated spot in the city, located in a peninsula by the river. By taking a small boat you cross the river and there you are, in a totally different atmosphere compared to Bangkok. This was the first place I saw monitor lizards just wandering here and there. It surprised me a lot to see this quite wild looking animal in the city. (Can you see him on the picture above?)
How good it was to be away from the chaotic city. I rented a bicycle and discovered the 5x5km peninsula all day long. I enjoyed wandering around the natural parks, jungles, fields and wetlands. It was like an introduction to the tropical look of Thailand that would be with me in my upcoming months in the country.
Food markets are one of the main characteristics of Thai life and culture. They are everywhere in the country as significant places to eat for the locals. Apart from the rural areas it seems like Thai people rarely cook for themselves but rather eat outside. Street food is amazingly diversed and the prices are so resonable. I have written more detailedly about the delicious Thai food in Chiang Mai days.
Wide food varieties in the stalls are really unbelievable. But I must say it is not really easy to find vegetarian food. Even there is no meat inside the dish it is so common that they put fish or oyster sauce to add flavour. You may have some difficulties to tell the people that you want a fully vegetarian food because so few people speak English.
Being a vegetarian naturally makes your perceptions selective. Here I once more witnessed how humanity eat so much of meat, way more than we need. It is almost the fundamental ingredient of people’s diets. My other important observation was that wherever I go I see that we are consuming crazy amount of plastic. It was unbelievable to see how much plastic was used for packaging the food at the stalls. Taking into account how a huge population we are on this planet we should definitely start changing our consumption habits starting right now!
Thailand is a heaven of flowers. Yes also in India flowers were so much in life, in the temples or on women’s hair but here it is way more common. It was such a feast to the eye to wander around in the huge colourful flower markets (above) in Bangkok.
I am generally skipping big cities as they are not within the field of my interest. So discovering Bangkok for couple of days was just enough. I also let myself relax during the transition days of changing a country and I did a little bit of planning for my upcoming days. And then I was ready to hit the road to North Thailand to Chiang Mai.