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Published: March 10th 2013
Bangkok is known for many things, one of the main things is being a shoppers’ paradise and the other is being very hot. We spent a good part of our first couple of weeks touring the outdoor markets and food stalls that are found virtually everywhere. We don’t have much room for souvenirs in our bags, so much of our time is spent looking vs. buying. After a couple of weeks strolling through the street markets, the heat finally got to us a little and we decided to head to some air conditioning in the many megamalls of Bangkok.
We spent one day visiting Siam Paragon, Siam Tower, Siam Center, CentralWorld and the huge MBK malls in central Bangkok. Each mall is different and has special features that make it unique and interesting in its own way. Siam Paragon is the most luxurious of all the malls. It is absolutely huge with beautiful design and ultra-premium designer stores. The indoor areas have fountains, artificial lakes, art displays and even a huge aquarium in the basement area. On the top floor there are even car dealerships selling some of the finest cars in the world. I bet you don’t have a
Ferrari dealership in your local mall! The food court was really more of a collection of fine restaurants rather than small stalls.
Siam Tower has an ice skating rink on one of the highest floors with a view over the adjacent skyscrapers that fill downtown. It has a wax museum with all of your favorite stars on display. Several of the wax figures are found in odd places throughout the mall and we were surprised to find Britney Spears greeting us at the top of one of the escalators. Most of the figures have many people posing for pictures with them, but Britney was kind of off by herself and it was a little off putting to see her very realistic wax likeness staring at us from across the displays.
Siam Center is designed with an urban feel that seemed appropriate for a gritty New York or Tokyo, complete with lots of modern art and displays that seemed designed for a younger, hipper crowd than the other malls.
MBK is unique and by far had the most visitors. It is as if all of the street vendors of Bangkok moved inside in the air conditioning. Literally thousands
of stalls selling everything from pirated DVDs to the highest end electronics could be found crowded together in this multi-level mall. Wall to wall tourists swarmed the aisles buying last minute souvenirs before their return home. The food court was excellent with different vendors selling choices from all the different areas of Southeast Asia and more. You are issued a credit card when you enter the area and go to as many booths as you want sampling food from different counties. Thai, Indonesian, Indian and Malaysian seemed most popular with another stall for wonderful fruit drinks. Everything was prepared fresh in open kitchens right before your eyes. For under 20 dollars for two a delicious feast was greatly enjoyed.
Another great way to beat the heat but still enjoy the shopping is to go out at night and enjoy the night markets. We spent an interesting night in the Siam Square area checking out the street market. Stalls line the sidewalks and with the coolness of the night and all the lights on it added a different dimension to the Bangkok shopping experience. We wandered the streets until we saw one extremely bright alleyway which looked like a mini
Las Vegas. We had found the famous red-light district of Soi Cowboy. Soi is the Thai name for an alley and apparently the Cowboy part of the name is from the first bar that was opened up by a tall foreigner who always wore a huge cowboy hat. We arrived at an interesting point in the evening, just before the big lights came on, so we saw all the girls arriving by motor scooter and the nights festivities being set up before the tourists began arriving. When the neon lit up at 8 the music got louder and the street filled with hundreds of people ready for a good time. A perfect time to make a clean exit for us.
Another way to keep cool is stopping for a cool beer in the hottest part of the day. We found an interesting bar called the Foreign Correspondents Club of Bangkok that is in one of the main media buildings downtown. A classic old school bar with nice views over the city with several old time reporters busily meeting deadlines on their computers while having lunch served by waiters with white jackets. Walking down the hall we saw the BBC,
NBC, ITN and Al Jazeera studios. A nice way to fulfill your dreams of being a reporter in a foreign country filled with intrigue and excitement for the price of cold Chang beer.
We attempted to cool off one day by taking an excursion on the local river ferries that ply the Khlongs (waterways) of Bangkok. While Bangkok is now full of multilevel highways, in the old days much of the city was navigated by all kinds of boats on the many waterways that make their way everywhere through the neighborhoods. At one time Bangkok was called “The Venice of the East” and for good reason. While many people still use boats to get around, it didn’t turn out to be as cool and refreshing as we had hoped. The boats move fast through the canals and are quite noisy and crowded. They stop for virtually seconds at each stop, and the passengers seem to stampede to make it to the small docks before the boat is on its way again. While exciting and definitely not a normal tourist mode of transportation, we had to be careful not to slip into the dirty water that seemed like it may
have been used as sewers at times, as well as a convenient route through the city. We thought that we could get some good pictures of the neighborhoods but a large blue tarp is pulled up on the sides of the boat by the passengers so they don’t get wet. Also a warning for anyone over 5 feet 8 (David is 6’ 4”) the roofs on the boats are very low. All in all fun, but not relaxing and we felt like we had earned our beer at the Jim Thompson house when we left the boat.
All things in Bangkok cannot be in the air conditioning and we had to head out to have at least one adventure outside of the city that didn’t have anything to do with shopping. Thailand has an interesting history of kings and grand palaces that we had to see. We chose to visit the town of Ayuthaya that was the capital of Thailand (then Siam) before the capital moved to Bangkok. Ayuthaya is filled with old temples and Wats that, while now In ruins, at the time of the Europeans arrival in Siam in the 16th
century, were on par with anything
in Paris or London.
We got up early so we could reach the Hua Lamphong train station in downtown Bangkok to catch our train to Ayuthaya. HuaLamphong is a large station filled with early morning travelers, both tourists and local commuters. We arranged our tickets for the 3rd
class train that left at 8:20. While the trains are a little worn and not air conditioned, we almost felt like we were stealing when we were told that the ticket was 20 baht (about 65 cents) for the 1 ½ hour ride to our destination.
The train departed right on time and we passed through the shanty towns and older neighborhoods of the inner city. Soon we began to see some of the newer areas of Bangkok on the outskirts of town which featured a new airport, modern factories and hospitals and many large universities. Soon we were passing rice fields and smaller houses on stilts in the countryside. The train was filled with many backpackers all sleeping or busily taking photos of the many waterways and people along the way.
We arrived at the Ayuthaya train station and passed through the market area on the way to
the ferry that takes you across the river to the island that once held the royal city. We caught a tuk-tuk to our first stop of Wat Phra Mahathat. The temples are mostly in ruins, having been destroyed when the Burmese attacked the city in the 1700’s. Much of the stucco that covered the red brick foundations of the chedi has fallen away, with only some of the area restored. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some restoration work is being done. This Wat is heavily visited by tour groups and therefore we didn’t really get the “Indiana Jones” feeling as much as we had hoped although it is a great place for photographers.
We next visited what was at one time the royal palace area of WatPhra Si Sanphet. This site has 3 beautiful restored chedi that once served as resting places for 3 kings of Siam. Although it was now in the hottest part of the day we enjoyed making our way around the temples and trying to picture what it must have been like when this was the capital of all of Siam.
Our last stop was the Chao San Praya National
Museum which holds much of the treasure of the ancient city. Thieves broke into one of the burial places inside one the temples and made away with a huge collection of priceless artifacts. When the police caught them, much of the treasure was recovered and this is what makes up much of the museum’s collection. A beautiful golden, jeweled sword that once belonged to the king is the centerpiece of the museum.
It was now quite hot and the train did not leave for a couple of hours, so we decided to opt for the comfort of an air conditioned minibus for our ride home. While not as cheap as the train, it was still under 3 dollars each for the hour long ride back to town.
We only have a week left in our visit to Bangkok before heading off to our next town and still have many more things we want to see. We have enjoyed our time here so far, but also know that as Bangkok is the hub of all of Southeast Asia we will definitely be back before long. We are busily planning our next stop. We plan to pick up the pace
a little and stay a shorter time in each place rather than our normal month or two.
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