By Rama Gaind
The hustle and bustle aside, it doesn’t take long to become enamoured of the quintessential blend of old and new in Bangkok. Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Thailand’s capital is both a gateway and principal destination for most travellers.
Bangkok has embraced modern development with a joyful exuberance: a picture of thrusting office towers, world-class hotels offering deluxe comforts, glittering shopping plazas with restaurants serving acclaimed Thai spicy specialities, as well as virtually all other delectable cuisines from the east and west.
The capital is a chic, urban city with a remarkable skyline. Comfort and relaxation was in abundance at the Cape House Serviced Apartments in Ploenchit Road.
Spiritual comfort was free-for-all at the Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, while Bangkok’s ‘Little India’ was thriving at the the Pahurat Market which is home to a thriving Indian community made up largely of Hindus and Sikhs who have been living there for generations. The stallholders in Chakrawat Road and Sampeng Lane have their own special ambience.
One quaint feature is the seemingly endless array of Hindu shrines in the city streets. The building style of the shrines varies, but worshippers turn to each of the shrines with different objectives in mind. These temples have a protective function: to ward off negative influences.
Despite the fact that most Thais are Buddhist, there are a substantial number of Hindu Shrines in Bangkok. A total of at least six are located close to the Rajaprasong intersection. It seems to be that all major enterprises close to this intersection have seen the need to erect different Hindu shrines. Well known is, of course, the Erawan Shrine which is an elaborately-decorated Hindu memorial that houses a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu God of creation – Brahma. However, all others can easily be reached by strolling around, and at each shrine you will always see at least a few worshippers.
Bangkok does not sleep. There is so much to see and do, but first you should not be deterred by the traffic congestion in Bangkok. There are numerous alternatives to ensure that you have a memorable sojourn.
Huge volume of traffic and traffic jams are a part of the course, but this has eased slightly with the introduction of the elevated monorail, the Skytrain. It provides a much easier alternative to the bus, running two lines above Bangkok’s central areas and provides a much quicker and easier alternative to the bus.
The Bangkok Metro, established in 2004, has one route and covers areas not connected by the Skytrain. The Metro intersects with the Skytrain at three points and has frequent services running until midnight. The extensive bus system has always been the main form of public transport and they are the cheapest, most frequent mode of travel around the city.
The fastest, easiest and most interesting way to get around is on the waterways of the Chao Phraya River where numerous river taxis, long-tail boats and large water buses make most tourist sites easily accessible.
Tuk tuks (colourful three-wheelers) are the standard way of making short journeys, and are cheaper and quicker than regular taxis. Make sure you negotiate the fare before you board. Metered and un-metered taxis are airconditioned, but make sure you have the right amount of cash as drivers don’t carry much change.
If you get caught in a gridlock and need to travel, then hire a motorcycle taxi, which is cheaper and faster, but use them only for short distances. They can be recognised by the colourful, numbered vests worn by drivers.
No matter where you are in the world, you need to be patient to tackle the challenges of public transport. As well, don’t forget your nerves of steel!
Cultural heritage preserved
Amid the dynamic modern world found in Bangkok, the city amazingly manages to preserve its cultural heritage.
The soaring roofs and gleaming spires of the Grand Palace and the more historic temples – Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Temple of Dawn and other evocative shrines – cast a classical halo.
Influences from the past are not limited to major monuments as it continues to colour daily life. Saffron-robed monks making their early morning alms round present a scene that has not changed in essentials with the passing of time.
One marvels at today’s backdrop of high rise buildings and other enduring sights from which the city continues to draw definition. The tower of the Centara Grand Hotel is integrated into the CentralWorld shopping centre; stalls at the Pahurat market or Little India in Bangkok, Chakrawat Road and Sampeng Lane, have their own ambience; and one of the sights to keep an eye out for are the various shrines and spirit houses dotted all over Bangkok streets.
Ultimately, however, Bangkok draws its unique flavour from its people who are easy-going and fun-loving. They possess a rare tolerance which instills the city with a real sense of freedom. At times it’s hectic, yet what is reflected is Bangkok’s good-natured acceptance of life with all its quirkiness.
You’ll marvel at the glories of the past and delight in the golden opportunities of the present.
Thailand’s ‘City of Angels’ is a captivating place where possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination!
Rama Gaind was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and accommodation hosted by Kasemkij Group
Thai International flies from Australia to Bangkok, connecting with Bangkok Airlines services on national routes.
Contact the Tourism Authority of Thailand on (02) 9247 7549 or visit www.tourismthailand.org