By: Mike Argyle
One of the top tourist destinations in the world, Bangkok is home to beautiful weather, delicious food and markedly different culture than those in the west. If you arrive into Bangkok the first thing that will hit you are the pictures of the King along the highway and just how much they love gold. With an exchange rate that favours most western currencies, Thailand is a place where you can find many treasures for good prices and gives you a chance to sharpen your bargaining skill. With this in mind, there are many instances for you to get gouged by locals looking to profit off tourist ignorance or guilt towards their relatively low standard of living. Another point to beware – while the street food smells delicious and is ridiculously cheap, it can also get you ridiculously sick if you are not used to it. My advice: avoid the risk, eat food from a restaurant or grocery store food counter for a few dollars more and avoid spending a few days in the hospital. Food counters are unbelievably delectable and cheap – the best pad thai I have ever had was in one of them, so don’t be afraid to eat there. Tourism is one off Thailand’s chief industries and quite popular among both backpackers and luxury travelers alike, with it’s amazing Bangkok hotels and variety of things to do. This tourism also makes the people some of the most friendly and welcoming I have ever met.
Below are some of the top places to visit while in Bangkok and the surrounding area. If you don’t have tours booked, the best thing you can do is find a good, reliable driver as soon as you get to the city and have them take you around. This will save you a lot of stress and gouging – we found one and we got a tour guide and driver all in one for 2000 baht a day (about $60 Canadian / 40 Euro) and it was the greatest investment I made. Just so you know, everything in Bangkok costs money and even the cheapest things do add up.
This list is G-rated because some of the best sites can be overwhelming to find if you don’t know where to start. If you don’t know where to find the more… interesting things… don’t worry, they will find you.
Grand Palace – The official residence of the king of Thailand is a spectacle of gold and bejeweled buildings that is one of the most visited venues in the country. Always busy, the Grand Palace is a must-see site for everyone, but keep in mind the dress code of long pants and collared shirts for men and tasteful dress for women. If nothing else, check this place out for the assault rifle wielding guards.
Ayutthya – Of all the sites to visit in the area surrounding Bangkok, Ayutthya amazed me the most, partly because I’d never heard of it but also due to its magnificent presence. Ayutthya is the old capital of Siam, or rather what remains, that fell to Burmese invaders in the mid 18th century and can be accessed by a few hours drive from Bangkok. Burnt temples, fragmented statues of the Buddha and structures in various states of disrepair serve to remind you of the once great city and its importance to the Thai national identity.
Floating Market – A few hours outside of Bangkok lies a market entirely on the water and accessible by boat. Get here early in the morning, like 7 or 8 am, to see all the market has to offer, keeping in mind the market operates for locals around dawn and a tourist trap after that. My advice would be to not buy anything in the market as the same things can be had in Bangkok minus the cost of shipping it to the market. I will say this, if you have no desire to see a market on water or have already ridden a boat in Thailand then this stop may hold little appeal to you, as it is an expensive outing, but it is still worth visiting.
Marble Temple – There are too many temples to list that are worth visiting in Bangkok, but one that should not be missed is the Marble Temple. Home to over 50 unique Buddha statues ranging from local to foreign, including anorexic African and square-jawed European varieties, this temple shows the far-reaching influence of the Buddha.
Weekend Market – As the name suggests, this market is on the weekend and should not be missed by anyone. You can find anything you want, provided you don’t mind wading through hordes of people and haggling with the vendors over the price.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) – Buddha is a big deal for Thai people and no temple will demonstrate this better than Wat Pho. Home to over a thousand Buddha statues, Wat Pho is also the site of the 46 metre, 15 metre high golden Buddha which you will be hard pressed to fit into a picture.
Jim Thompson House – A museum dedicated to the American man who built the Thai silk industry after WWII is the second most visited site in Bangkok after the Grand Palace. Much mystery surrounds the legend of the man, namely his disappearance, but his house is a beautiful testament to Thai architecture and silk products, which may be purchased in addition to taking a tour of the building.
Bridge on the River Kwai – When I found out the site of my favourite war movie was reachable from Bangkok, I knew I had to check it out and I wasn’t disappointed. Take a boat down the river and take in the jungle landscape framed by gentle mountains to where the rebuilt bridge, the original having been destroyed during the Allied bombing in WWII, serves as a popular tourist spot. Worth visiting along the way is an immaculately maintained commonwealth POW cemetery and a cave network with a temple inside – definitely a great day trip outside of the urban madness of Bangkok.