Our first day in Thailand was spent in Bangkok, the nation’s capital as well as the most populated city in the country, with over 8 million residents occupying the 605 square mile city. We arrived early on the morning of December 2nd and after we freshened up a bit, we decided to explore the city. After all, we hadn’t traveled 22 hours to sit in our hotel room.
Our hotel was located near China Town, a popular tourist area and a haven for foodies who flock here after sunset to explore the vibrant street-side cuisine. In the day time, it’s no less busy, as hordes of shoppers descend upon the less than 1 mile strip adjacent to Charoen Krung Road. Packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants and a dense concentration of gold shops, Chinatown is an experience not to be missed.
Our first mission upon exiting our hotel was to trade in our US dollars for baht. We discovered that the best place to do this was at the FOREX located at the nearest temple, the Temple of the Golden Buddha. This 15 ft tall statue weighs an impressive 5.5 tons and is the world’s largest solid gold statue, estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.
Once we had cash in hand, we were on a mission to explore the city and find food. We asked one of the locals for a food recommendation and soon enough we were in Tuk Tuks being driven through the crazy streets of Bangkok. A Tuk Tuk is a common means of transportation in Thailand. It’s a 3-wheeled auto rickshaw and vehicle for hire. Keep your hands and feet inside when you’re driving through the streets because no one seems to know what lanes are for. Bangkok drivers are nuts! Mopeds are also a common means of transportation and we saw some with entire families on them. I’m surprised there are not more accidents there, but everyone seems to be used to the insanity.
After lunch, our Tuk Tuk took us to a couple of shopping areas, which we assume they must get commission for bringing people, because there were nothing but tourists in these shops filled with everything from fine jewels to cheap souvenirs. Since this wasn’t what we were looking for, we quickly asked for an alternate activity and a longtail boat tour seemed to be the best idea.
Bangkok used to be called “the Venice of the East” with its many canals and the communities that still live on them, right in the heart of the modern metropolis. Riding a longtail boat is a bit of an adventure in itself! The distinct narrow, beautifully crafted wooden hull is powered by a car engine that is mounted on an inboard turret-like pole which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring. The propeller is mounted directly on the driveshaft with no additional gearing or transmission. Usually the engine also swivels up and down to provide a “neutral gear” where the propeller does not contact the water. The driveshaft must be extended by several metres of metal rod to properly position the propeller, giving the boat its name and distinct appearance.
The longtail boats are native to Southeast Asia and were made famous by the chase scenes in the James Bond film, “The Man With The Golden Gun.” A longtail boat will comfortably hold at least six people and rates are generally 1500 to 1800 baht per boat for an hour and half trip around the klongs. There are all sorts of routes you can take, with lots of extra attractions to go and see and places to disembark for lunch or explore. You could make a whole day of it if you wanted.
To enter the klongs, you pass through a lock which was built to prevent the houses along the canals from flooding when the main river rises during the rainy season. Sometimes it can take 15 minutes of waiting or so before you enter into the network of canals proper. The canals consist of all manner of houses from the most dilapidated to the impressively grand. There’s also an elderly woman who has a floating market, waiting for visitors to come by so she can sell them trinkets — or beer.
Wat Pho, or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is accessible from the canals and definitely worth a visit. The temple is one of the largest and oldest and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as the largest single reclining Buddha, measuring 50 ft high and 142 ft long. The 10 ft high and 15 ft long foot of the Buddha displays the 108 auspicious symbols of Buddha, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. There are also 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicating the auspicious characters of Buddha and people drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune.
While we didn’t spend a lot of time in Bangkok, the time we did spend was quite adventurous. I look forward to going back to explore more of this incredible city.