bangkok -56 Wat Pho

How to describe Bangkok? For me, no doubt, a completely paradoxical city!

We found ourselves in front of old and shinning temples competing with modern and giant skyscrapers, frantic traffic 24 hours a day (YES, 24h! I never in my life saw so much confusion together) competing with serene images of Buddha and an immense religious devotion (It seemed to me like more respect and devotion than fanaticism) side by side with sexual pleasure! Everything has its touch of refinement and peace associated with authentic chaos!

Through my eyes, this would be enough for me to fall in love, but what truly amazed me was the people. The tolerance, the kindness, sincerity and the art of welcoming captivated my heart in its total!

This city, which never sleeps, is located in a floodplain that extends along the margins of the Chao Phraya River.

bangkok -106 at any time of the day 

One of the big Ifs for me is the intense heat and humidity, the city is considered the warmest metropolis in the world, and as soon as we arrived Bangkok the feeling was of being in a Turkish bath! Then I got used to it, but it was not easy.

The history of Thailand’s capital is relatively new. It had its origins in the beginning of the XV century, when it was a village in the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, under the governation of Ayutthaya. Due to its strategic location, near the river mouth, the place gradually increased its importance to the kingdom. After the fall of Ayutthaya’s Kingdom to the Konbaung Dinasty, that ruled Burma in 1767, King Taksin established its capital in the city, which became the Thonburi’s Kingdom base. Few years later, in 1782, Rama I, The Great assumes the power, changing the capital to the Rattanakosin Island, founding the Rattanakosin Kingdom. Here, the beginning of the city is marked on the April 21st.

peninsula -18 Chao Phraya River

But now you ask, what to visit in Bangkok?

And I tell you, the most you can! It is a frantic city with never ending traffic, so organize yourselves very well and save some days for this city in your travel to Thailand, because when you take a cab to visit a place that should be 15 minutes away, I assure you it’ll take at least 45 minutes! This is the big problem about Bangkok!

bangkok -105 Bangkok has an agitated and modern nightlife 

But keep calm, the city has some division spots that are useful to orient ourselves and decide what to visit. The original city center, in other words, the former royal part of town is located in the east margin of Chao Phraya River, being many times called the Rattanakosin Island. To the north is the Dusit area, where is located the “recent” royal city, and has the official residency. To the south we find the Silom area, an authentic district of commerce, business and tourism.

To help you in this journey I prepared to you a list of places that you can’t miss.

bangkok -49m

Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha
This is the oldest and biggest temple in Bangkok, and for sure one of the most incredible. It dates from the XVI century and was remodeled and enlarged by the King Rama I and renovated in the following years. It is located in the old royal city, east of the river.
This temple is basically an immense complex of churches, pavilions and Buddha figures. The temple is also known as the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, and has a school where it is possible not only to have a massage, but also learn the art.
The highlight is the golden giant statue of 46m of the Reclining Buddha. A monumental image!

bangkok -53             bangkok -45             bangkok -59

bangkok -77 Grand Palace

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
Right next to Wat Pho there’s a kind of fortress with a lot of white walls and massive and imposing gates, which serve to surround and guard the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Pay attention to one detail although it may seem you just need to cross the street to go from Wat Pho to Grand Palace, it’s not that easy, the entrance is precisely on the opposite end!

The Royal Grand Palace is a combination of buildings with different functions, from a library to a Pantheon, from official residency for visiting foreign kings to former royal court where the royal birthdays are nowadays celebrated, presenting in between a model of Angkor Wat that reminds the old domain of Thailand over part of Cambodia, and, to finish, the most important of the functions, it was the official residency of the King of Thailand since the XVIII century and it so was until the XX century, with the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol in the Baromphiman Palace, his brother, the King Bhumibol Adulyadej designated the Chitralada Palace, in Dusit as the official residency.
The construction of this palatial combination started in 1782, during the reign of Rama I. The combination covers a group of buildings ornamented with gold leaf, colored glazed tiles and embedded mirrored glass. An authentic delight for our eyes.

But the most important place is the royal chapel, or Wat Phra Kaew. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred in Thailand, concluded in 1784 and used till today as particular church of the monarch, being the only Thai temple in which monks don’t reside.
Despite the temple being open to the public, the Emerald Buddha can only be seen in certain days, and cameras are not allowed.
It is believed that the statue has magical powers and whom who possesses it will rule the entire kingdom.

Nobody knows for sure the origin of the statue, but it’s thought it appeared for the first time in the XV century in the city of Chiang Rai, and was taken to Laos in the mid XVI century, from where it was moved to Vietnam and finally brought to Thailand by the King Rama I.

Made of Jade or Nephritis, the statue shines in a glass box overhead the tourists. Only the King can approach it!

bangkok -91 Wat Saket

Wat Saket/Golden Mount
Wat Saket, located in the Rattanakosin Island is basically a giant hill created by men (there are around 300 steps to the top). The Golden Mount is an amazing tower, situated at 260 meters of height. The temple’s construction started in 1800, during the reign of King Rama III and was concluded in the kingdom of Rama IV. It holds indigenous relics of Buddha, Sri Lanka style.

It is easy to climb this mount, because at every combo of steps we find small gardens, with waterfalls and we realize the marvelous view over the city.

bangkok -84             bangkok -98             bangkok -83

bangkok -24m Chao Phraya and Wat Arun at the bottom

Wat Arun
It can be defined as twilight temple, or breaking dawn temple, it is located in the region of Thonburi, in the west margin of Chao Phraya River, not least because is one of the few temples preceding the Chakri Dynasty, the current rulers of Thailand.

It is one of the idyllic images of the city, mainly at night when it’s all illuminated.
The temple is an architectural reproduction of Mount Meru, the center of the world in the Buddhist cosmology.

bangkok -88

Wat Traimit
This temple is situated in Chinatown (all the cities must have theirs), south of Bangkok, it’s far away from being as magnificent as the previous ones, but it is special for being home to the biggest solid gold statue of the world, and one of the most precious treasures of Thailand and of Buddhism, the Gold Buddha.

It is a statue of 3 meters of height and represents Buddha seating on the floor with crossed legs, in the position he assumed when receiving the Bodhi (lighting).

It is thought that it was built in India and kept in Ayutthaya for centuries until the reign of Rama III, who brought it to Bangkok.

bangkok -101The unmissable street food in Bangkok 

Lumphini Park and Lumphini Stadium
This enormous green space works as city park and offers a moment of rest and escape, right in Silom, the business and commercial center of Bangkok.

The chance to have some rest from the frantic atmosphere of the city, not feeling or seeing the cars is something rare and worth to be enjoyed in Bangkok. The lake, though artificial, is very beautiful and allows the visitors to rent a boat and go for a ride. The Lumphini was created in 1920 by the King Rama VI as royal property. Nowadays is a place of rest but also of celebrations, concerts, festivals and even political manifestations.

Very close to the park there’s the famous Lumphini Stadium, opened around a decade ago, and managed by the department of the royal army, place to where all the profits of the combats go for. It is an honor for any fighter to combat in this place and be crowned up Muay Thai champion, the national sport.

In this place the presence of women is not allowed and it’s one of the few places in Thailand where gambling is legal.

bangkok -90Egg threads, symbol of the Portuguese heritage in Thailand  

The Jim Thompson house
I can’t talk about the house without telling you about this famous man in Thailand and a bit all over Asia.
Jim Thompson, born in March 21st of 1906, was an American entrepreneur (for many, also a spy) that helped to revitalize the Thai industry of silk in the decades of 50 and 60. Soon before that he was a crucial element in the freedom of Thailand from the Japanese domain, which made of him an important man already. However, and after some failed businesses, he became one of the biggest traders of Thai silk, business which still prospers these days. There is a lot of controversy about his disappearance in March of 1967, in Malaysia and the biggest search ever in Asia was made.

Today, the Jim Thompson House is a museum and a complex of several old Thai structures the entrepreneur collected from every corner of Asia.

He became a great collector of art from the Southeast Asia, building a big collection of Buddhist and Secular art, not only from Thailand, but also Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

We’re able to see the traditional Thai art legacy in it’s almost original form, with the occidental influences Jim left us.

bangkok -38

Vimanmek Palace
Vimanmek Palace, in Dusit’s Garden, was the house of King Rama V. Considered the biggest mansion in the world, built in golden teak, exhibits collections of Thai objects and artifacts.
To the visitors is possible to meet the main house, the galleries, walk through the gardens and visit the museums in order to absorb and appreciate the atmosphere of the past.

This palace was built in 1900 at the behest of King Rama V, with inspiration in the European Palaces.
In 1982, the Queen Sirikit transformed it into a museum in honor of King Rama V.

bangkok -6Santa Cruz Church

Kudee Chin
This region is an authentic return to the past, combining the fusion of the ethnic cultures and religions that formed the basis of the distinctive character of this riverside community, which is known nowadays as Chinese sanctuary.
It was a journey we had the pleasure to do while staying at The Peninsula Bangkok (see here), within the Peninsula Academy. After a pleasant travel on the Chao Phraya River, we arrived at the place of the former kingdom of Thonburi, finding the historical neighborhood dating from more than two centuries ago and which has temples from different religions, from the Santa Cruz Church (of Portuguese origin) and Wat Kalayanamit (Buddhist temple) to the Bangluang Mosque.
Here it was possible to imagine the old Bangkok in its fullest.

bangkok -18             bangkok -7             bangkok -12Obviously, this frantic but serene city has a lot more to know, live and enjoy, these are just a few must-visit places, however, in another article I’ll talk about the things you really must do in Bangkok, because the city is not only made of temples and palaces!

We had the chance/luck to attend an important date and Thai ceremony, the Loy Krathong, also known as Festival of Lights! The city was crazy, everyone invading the streets, we were “bowled over” by people selling flower arrangements with candles and incenses (the combination constitutes the Krathong).

bangkok -62Traditional dancers representing Loy Krathong

In this ceremony, Thai people go to the streets to launch their Krathong to the river. The act of tossing it to the river represents homage to the Water Goddess and at the same time the wishes of a better future. As well as it expresses the act of letting all the tragedies go and the start of a new, promising life.
In other places of Thailand, namely to the north, there’s also the habit of launching the Kom Loys to the night sky, or illuminated objects (which we had the chance to watch later in our trip to Chiang Mai).

bangkok -23             bangkok -35             bangkok -21

Where to stay
The Peninsula Bangkok
Intercontinental Bangkok

Flavors & Senses in Thailand with the support of Emirates
Text: Cíntia Oliveira | Photos: Flavors & Senses.

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