Of Temple dancers and Tuk Tuk Races: Bangkok’s hidden pearls
One night in Bangkok and the world’s your Oyster, or so they say. The Thai capital is famously home to the Khao San Road, epicenter supreme of global backpacking culture. This vibrant city is also equally loved and hated for being ‘just exotic enough’ for newbie’s to become excited at the sight of fried cockroaches and cheap tat whilst still feeling safe as there’s a 7 Eleven and Boots just down the road.
The more self-important types of seasoned travelers snub their noses at the ‘over touristy hellhole’ whilst swarms of British, Swedish and Aussie (for years now joined by nearly all other nations) fresh-out-of-school ‘Gap Yah’s’ start having the time of their lives with help of Bangkok’s cultural decompression zone.
With all the controversy around spoiled neighbourhoods, ping pong shows and tat markets, it is easy to forget that Bangkok is so much more than a tourist hub. With invaluable tips from our wonderful local Pim, we explore Bangkok’s other side – where Thais from around the country meet with locals to enjoy relaxed Sunday boat rides and great food at Kwan Riam market, all whilst feeding miniature ponies and paying respect to the real life protagonists of the Romeo & Juliette-like story that gave the market its name.
In stark contrast to the understated and relaxed city outskirts where Kwan Riam is situated, the centre of Bangkok is a pulsating international metropolis where the super rich and super shoestring travellers rub shoulders in one of many shopping centres around the materialist rabbit hole that is the MBK. Hipster culture has firmly moved into the side alleys surrounding the glass and concrete skyscrapers and Bangkok’s street art scene is ever expanding with the city hosting its first Street Art Festival this year.
For more traditional sightseeing we head over to Wat Pho, the beautiful temple complex surrounding Bangkok’s famous reclining Buddha. Well on the tourist trail the 150 foot Buddha (that’s 45m, not a centipede) may be, but the intricate detail and craftsmanship of the statue and the surrounding temples make it well worth a visit, or two, or three.
After browsing the nearby markets full of beautiful antique trinkets, a refreshing river taxi and thrilling tuktuk ride takes us to Lumphini Park, usually filled with families and early morning/evening runners and aerobics groups, but currently taken over by government protesters, who are more than happy to explain their views to us.
After seeing Bangkok locals going about their daily business as usual (apart from the occasional peace-sign selfie with a passing military vehicle), Pim takes us out for a treat – an evening’s explosion of colourful lights, looking down at the city from her favorite secret hideout, the rooftop bar at Fraser Suites, Sukhumvit.
Bangkok may be such a famous destination with its major sites shouting so loud that they drown out developing places of interest. But a little exploration will lead to some surprising new discoveries and hidden pearls (pics here!) in what will most likely always remain one of the first and fascinating stops to millions of visitors from around the globe.