I knew I was going to like Bangkok when I woke up in this new city for the first time, but I had no idea I would love it this much. And, indeed, the only thing that I did not like about it was that we too little time to explore it before making our way home after two relaxing weeks on the islands in the gulf of Thailand. But when I woke up that morning and saw the big sprawling city stretched out in front of us, I could not contain my excitement – I love being in cities. And Bangkok is a whole lot of city.
Without wasting any time, we put on some pants (very reluctantly in the 35°C, 80% humidity weather), grabbed our cameras, and headed out, ready to make the most of our one, single, little day in Bangkok.
I’m guessing you could spend a month in Bangkok and not see all of the gorgeous Buddhist temples (and all of the gold) in Bangkok. We set our sights on three of them – Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun – but our plans dissolved as soon as we managed to catch a taxi that was actually willing to take us to the temples. We were told that it was Coronation Day, and that the Grand Palace would be closed because the Thai King is there for some ceremony. And then, before we knew what was really happening, we were dropped off outside some other temple, told ‘go…beautiful inside’, and we abruptly exited the AC-zone.
The Marble Temple – Wat Benchamabophit
It would appear that we ended up at the Marble Temple, in an area called Dusit. It wasn’t one of the temples we originally wanted to go to (or knew about), but it was sort of an ‘oh well’ moment and we headed in.
With the construction having commenced in 1899, Wat Benchamapobhit is one of Bangkok’s more modern temples. It’s comparatively and beautifully simple with its blazing white, Italian marble silhouette contrasted between the three-tiered orange-and-gold roof. The simplicity of the white shell of the temple gives way to an ornate hall inside, a large golden, seated buddha towering over everything. We were in there for just a few moments when the hall began to fill with people while a row of monks in their saffron-coloured robes took their seats in front for some ritual; we slipped out shortly after to explore courtyard, which is like a buddha museum with 50-something different buddhas exhibited – each in a different pose, carrying a different meaning.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha – Wat Pho
As the Marble Temple was not busy at all, we weren’t able to shake our persistent taxi driver (who has been waiting for us the whole time) and as he was still insisting that the Grand Palace is closed, we had him take us to one of Bangkok’s more famous temples: Wat Pho.
We made our way through some exhibitions on the temple grounds, marvelling at all the gold leaf everywhere, sometimes even floating around the gold-plastered buddhas on a breeze, before we made our way into the main temple.
Now… I had seen photos of the grand, laid-back buddha, but really nothing could prepare me for what was inside. The enormity of this 46-meter-long reclining buddha is hard to comprehend as you slowly make your way along its gold-leafed body, your eyes frantically switching between the overwhelming monotone shade of gold and the intricate murals on the walls and delicate patterns on the ceiling . We gave up on trying to take photos after not too long, realising the impossibly of it, not even being able to see the entire thing from any point with your own eyes.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha – Wat Phra Kaew
Located on the palace grounds, Wat Phra Kaew enshrines a smallish buddha that was carved from a single block of jade. It is housed in an enormously elaborate temple within even more elaborate palace grounds that bustles with tourists. It is a maze of intricate murals, gold spires, gilded lions and wafts of incense – our heads turned from one point to the next, hardly looking at any one thing at a time, and not even looking at each other – not saying much, because nothing we could think to say would ever describe what we were actually seeing.
Wearing long jeans in the sweltering heat paid off when we entered the palace grounds and noticed strict security guards sending men and women away because of their bare shoulders and legs. However, we did not get to enter the Grand Palace, as women wearing pants are not allowed inside.
Hot, exhausted, and on the verge of hangry, we jumped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the Taling Chan Floating Market. After negotiating a price, and assuring the taxi driver that this is the floating market we want to go to (and not the one tourists usually request), we were off.
Bangkok has many floating markets along the channels, the two most famous being enormous events with hundreds of boats about 100kms from the city centre. We opted for a much smaller one that is only about 12kms from downtown Bangkok, and it was one of our favourite experiences in Thailand and, hands-down, the best and cheapest meal we had.
What it lacks in hundreds of boats it makes up for in proximity and lack of tourists. The market was quiet and relaxed, seemed about 80% local, and had a little bit of everything. Everyone was already busy devouring grilled shellfish and slurping coconut soup and we were 100% ready to join in.
We ate green mango salad, coconut rice, chillies, noodles and freshly grilled shrimp until we couldn’t anymore, all the while shaking our heads in disbelief of how good it all is. Feeling full, relaxed and just a little bit nappy, we watched families throw chunks of bread to the hundreds of catfish swarming in the canal while a local community band played soothing thai music behind us.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
For someone with a mild fear of heights, I really love going up towers or spires or castles or high rise anythings to see what it looks like from up there. If you want someone to climb hundreds of stairs to see some random view, any view, with you – I’m your girl. So, when a new friend we met through our open water diving certification the week before recommended a rooftop bar in Bangkok we were all over it.
And so we found ourselves on the 48th floor of the Marriott Hotel with dusk hanging over the city and the breeze finally cooling us down, looking over the lights flickering below and hearing the city soundscape from a very far distance. With every new hue the city seemed more beautiful, and more crazy as the contrast between the night sky and shimmering city intensified. We reminisced about our first and only day in Bangkok, knowing it now as an undefinable, complex place that we love and that we will undoubtedly return to.
Bangkok, we will be back to lavish our love on you. It’s only a matter of time.