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Bangkok City Trip

Bangkok's Royal Palace,also known as the Grand Palace
Bangkok's Royal Palace, also known as the Grand Palace

72-Hours in Bangkok

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At first glance, the Thai capital of Bangkok appears a sprawling mass of shimmering skyscrapers and moving metal, but step out onto the streets to find an organic web of humanity with a pulsing heart and Buddhist soul. The "city of angels" (as its Thai name, Krung Thep, means) revels in such head-spinning contrasts, and what ties it all together is the concept of sanuk, or having fun. For Thais, nothing is worth doing without it, so expect wide smiles, flirtatious glances and good humor at nearly every turn.

In a past life, Bangkok was little more than a riverside trading village when then-capital Ayutthaya was sacked by Burmese invaders in 1767. The royal court fled south and, in 1782, the first king of the Chakri Dynasty — which still reigns today — chose Bangkok and the surrounding rice fields as the site of his grand new capital. Since then, the city has expanded to encompass more than ten million people and competes for Southeast Asia's business crown.

The stunning lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
The stunning lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

As a result, Bangkok is home to some of the hippest and elite hotels in the world. Standouts include the celebrity hotspot Mandarin Oriental and the decidedly hip, yet surprisingly affordable Hotel Sofitel, which offers four types of rooms designed with the four natural elements in mind — water, earth, wood and metal. Business travelers do well at St. Regis Hotel, conveniently located next to the Skytrain and nearby most places of importance. For under $100 per night (and with the right deal, under $50), the Korbua House, offers a surprising amount of comfort for the cost.


BANGKOK DAY 1: Old City (Ko Ratanakosin)

The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (or Wat Phra Kaew in Thai) remains the spiritual core of both the monarchy and Thai Buddhism. The complex contains a mass of glittering, jeweled buildings covered in gold, the most important being the temple of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most revered image. Just over 2-feet tall, the figure is cut from a solid block of jade, not emerald, and mounted high above the temple floor. Be sure to wear (or bring) something to cover your legs and shoulders — both men and women — to bypass conservative fashion police at the main sights.

Shopping in Bangkok is a colorful experience
Shopping in Bangkok is a colorful experience

Rather than suffer the often horrific street traffic, take a river ferry to Phra Chan. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Amulet Market, where shoppers with magnifying glasses scrutinize dozens of tiny charms in search of the perfect protective amulet amid pungent fragrances wafting from traditional medicine stores and riverside kitchens.

Cross through the shaded, English-style Saranrom Royal Garden to reach Wat Pho, home of the awe-inspiring Reclining Buddha. Set in a monastery dating back dating back to the sixteenth century, the 50-yard-long, seventeen-yard-high golden statue with inlaid mother-of-pearl feet is probably the most photographed Buddha in Thailand.

Elsewhere on the temple grounds, Chinese statues and dome-shaped stupa shrines covered in fragments of broken ceramics also draw many cameras. The fragments come from Chinese traders, who carried them as ballast in their ships before off-loading them to make room for the return cargo. Wat Pho was also Thailand's first university and today serves as the national training center of Thai massage. Stop in for an invigorating (and cheap) afternoon rub. If it's the hot season, ask for the air-conditioned rooms down the road.

Supatra River House
Supatra River House

Suitably refreshed, head back up Maharat Road until you reach the paved Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong. Turn left and walk to the rooftop Amorosa Bar, where you can sip cocktails while watching the sun set over the river and grand stupa of Wat Arun. After drinks, head downstairs for a Thai or Mediterranean dinner at The Deck by the River, or get a boat from Tha Maharat (Maharat Pier) to one of the dinner theatre venues on the far bank. Studio 9 mixes modern dance with less spicy Thai dishes while Supatra River House serves a similar menu alongside performances of classical Thai dances (Friday to Sunday nights only).

Continue to Day 2

MORE BANGKOK INFORMATION

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* The following images are courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand: Royal Palace 1 and 2, Shopping, small golden Buddha

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(Updated: 03/19/13 CT)

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