Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sawadee Krup - Bangkok, Thailand

The next location on my trip around Asia is the capital city of one of the few Countries in Asia that was never colonized. Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or Bangkok as we know it in the West houses 15 Million people in it's greater vicinity and is the capital city of the Kingdom of Thailand.

I visited Bangkok in February with Jack and Ken, two Singaporean friends of mine, more as a boys weekend than an embarkation on Asian culture. I went again a few months later with Cindy in April and enjoyed everything the City of Bangkok has to offer.

Let me start with the culture, let's start with the Temples...

The whole of South East Asia is full of temples, there's even small talk between Asian trailblazers that you can get "Templed-out" the sensation you get when you've spent too much time in Temples. Bangkok is no exception and contains some of the best Temples in South East Asia. It's too daunting to visit all the temples there is that many - focus on the largest ones, The Royal Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho are three of the largest and most popular (Wat being Thai for temple):

Row of buddhist monks at the Wat Arun temple.

We spent most of our time at the Wat Arun (Temple of The Dawn); I didn't plan enough time into our schedule for temple visiting.. we spent hours in this temple, a whole afternoon in-fact.

Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is believed that after fighting his way out of Ayutthaya, which was besieged by a Burmese army at the time, King Taksin arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking.

He later had the temple renovated and renamed it Wat Chaeng, the Temple of the Dawn. During his reign (Thonburi Period), Wat Chaeng was the chief temple, and it once enshrined the Emerald Buddha and another important Buddha image, the Phra Bang, both of which had been removed from Vientiane.

A Temple Guardian shown to be supporting the main spire of the temple.

The temple has flourished throughout the Rattanakosin Period. The beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship declare its status as a temple of the first grade and one of the most outstanding temples in Thailand. The spire (prang) of Wat Arun on the bank of Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok's world-famous landmarks. It has an imposing spire over 70 metres high, beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of coloured glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns. Although it is known as the Temple of the Dawn, it's absolutely stunning at sunset, particularly when lit up at night.

Wat Arun @ Night

 When I was at the temple with Cindy we were lucky enough to catch the Monks praying. We were inside the room they were carrying out their ceremony and they allowed us to stay; I obviously took some photos while I had the chance:

Young Buddhists @ Wat Arun, Bangkok

The Temple Guard of Wat Arun

Despite Thailand's Red Light name it carries in the west for its open policy on sex and prostitution, religion and the soul of Thailand is conservation and honor. Cindy found out the hard way on our way into the temple..

No Scantily Clad Females Allowed

On the third day we took a day trip approx 90km outside of Bangkok to the Damnoen Saduak - the original floating market of Thailand. While on the back of a tuk-tuk powering through the streets of Bangkok me and Cindy were talking about going to the floating market, she was telling me there was actually two markets. One was inside the city skirts of Bangkok and the othhe other was a little bit further out, the Tuk-Tuk driver quickly caught onto our conversation and insisted he made a detour from our destination and take us to somewhere we good book the floating market visit. Almost against our will he took us to a place where they looked like they were waiting for a tourist, they sat us down and rolled on their best sales pitch. We booked two tickets to be picked up at 6.30am the next morning to be taken to the market.

Following day we got into the back of a people carrier; very Volkswagen T-2 Panel van-ish but wider. The van stopped at a few choice locations inside the inner city before we were onto a highway towards the market.

Damnoen Saduak - Floating Market, Bangkok

Floating Delicacies

The market was a spectacle of colour aided with the golden sunshine of the day. The local longboats congesting the waters carry general goods for sale such as hats, postcards and other tourists souvenir's other boats carrying women preparing all kinds of local dishes for sale and others fill up the river with colour from their boats filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. The market is a stunning spectacle however after you've tried all the food, gotten over the novelty of leaning over a boat to make your purchase and inspected all that the Damnoem Saduak has to offer you realize it doesn't really have much. I insist that all travelers to Bangkok who have more than a few days at their disposal go to visit the Floating Market, if you only have a few days I wouldn't bother. For me it was the colour and the theater of the day that made it special not the extent of the vendors wares. After viewing and experiencing the market we went on a mini-boat ride down the river through the back streams of peoples lives and houses, it was a beautiful experience especially beautiful as they boats with engines and not oars. Apart from seeing a dead dog floating in the river it was a perfect day and by the end of this day I was in love with Thailand.

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok

Over the weekend in Bangkok you have to take an hour or two to visit the Chatuchak weekend market, the largest market in Bangkok and probably one of the largest markets in South East Asia? It's the largest market I've ever been to I know that. You can get lost so very easily inside the market with its seemingly endless corridors inside and out. The majority of the market is clothes but the variety is as big as your imaginations - all kinds of stores covering all fashion scopes possible except those who our attached to designer gear. Designer gear at Chatuchak is Guzzi rather than Gucci and Marvin Klein instead of Calvin Klein.

We got lost in the maze of corridors for a few hours but I enjoyed every minute of it; while Bangkok doesn't get as humid as Singapore it get's even hotter in terms of sheet numbers reaching 40 degrees celsius on a good day. Scattered throughout the food section of the market we found this incredible looking contraption. It's an ice lolly maker; the vendor sticks pre-poured tubes of liquid colour upside down with a wooden stick through the middle into this machine, magic happens and then hey presto you have an Ice Lolly in any color of the rainbow.

Chatuchak Ice Lolly Vendor and His Machine

The Ice Lollies are a good idea in theory but in reality unfortunately don't work, they're not properly formed when you get them and even if they were you've got about 5 minutes to eat that thing when its 38 degrees outside.

Khaosan Road
Another tourist spot that is a must-do is the famous Khaosan Road, Khaosan directly translates as 'Milled Rice' as back in the day this road was one of the largest Rice Markets in Thailand. Over the last 20 years however it has developed into a world famous 'backpacker' location with street food, mini markets and very cheap mattress only style hotels. It's not the safest place in Bangkok I must say but it's a great hangout if you've got company and with a little bit of leg power and keen eye sight you can find some fantastic bars and restaurants around this area too.

Susie Walking Street @ Khaosan Road

Bangkok is brimful of cultural and wonderfulness, you don't have to go any of the places I've mentioned above you can literally just walk around areas close to your hotel and I guarantee you'll see first hand random cultural extravaganza's. In the outskirts of the city, in the poor areas of the city, in the commercial and central business directs of the city - wherever you are in Bangkok you're constantly bombarded by beautiful sights.

One random morning, walking with my friend Jack Tan to find some food.. he wanted to stop at a shrine to pay some respects and I was privileged enough to catch a group of ladies doing a traditional Thai dance.

Thai Dancing @ Erawan Shrine

The very same morning, on the way back from the food (we had epic steamboat by the way) in the hustling bustling shopping mecca that is Siam Square; I saw a man praying at a Shrine of Hindu God Ganesh; the Destroyer of Obstacles.

Rose Prayers in Bangkok

I've got so many more photos (all on facebook) to show you but fearful this post is already a mammoth task to go through I'll skip onto something else I and many others love about Thailand. The food.

No matter which country or continent you are from I'm certain you're all aware of delicious cuisine of Thailand. The spices, the curries, the textures, the Mango sticky rice :) all of it.. before I'd moved to Asia I loved Thai food but when I went to Thailand I ate authentic Thai food. My mind was blown. Now, I'm not saying you can't get 'authentic Thai food' outside of Thailand because you can, some of the best Thai food I've ever eaten was in Australia.

There is a famous Australian chef called David Thompson who so poetically puts it:

"Thai food ain't about simplicity. It's about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it's got to have a smooth surface but it doesn't matter what's happening underneath. Simplicity isn't the dictum here, at all. Some westerners think it's a jumble of flavours, but to a Thai that's important, it's the complexity they delight in."

Pad Thai
Pad Thai is a dish of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chili pepper plus any combination of beans sprouts, shrimps, chicken or tofu garnished with crushed peanuts, coriander and lime.

Tom Yum Soup @ Chatuchak Weekend Market
Tom Yum or Tom Yam is a spicy clear soup typical in Laos and Thailand. Tom yum is widely served in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and has been popularised around the world.

Fantastic Quail Eggs
Deep Fried Squid Eggs with Chili (of course)
Kanom Krok

Delicious Thai Sweet breakfast dish also widely found as part of their street food agenda is Kanom Krok or Khanom Krok directly translated into English as Coconut Pudding. It's basically a mixture of flour batter and coconut cream generally cooked in a pan over a charcoal fire. Delicious and so so cheap!

So to summarize I absolutely adore Bangkok and it has become a favourite place of mine to visit. Only 2 hours from Singapore this city is a mass of culture, food, more culture, more food, traffic jams and epicness.

I've tons more photos to share from my time in Bangkok but for now I'll leave it here. Once again if you're friends of mine on facebook check out my album for more stunning photos of this beautiful place. More from the Kingdom of Thailand to come soon.