Southeast Asia Vacation Part 2: Bangkok’s Ornate Temples & Bustling Streets

Bangkok, Thailand, seems to be a popular destination among people who travel to Southeast Asia. Personally, I think we could’ve skipped it. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun there or that the city doesn’t have anything worthwhile to offer, but we could’ve happily gone without a big-city experience during our vacation.

We were surprised during the drive to our hotel to see such a sprawling city with so many high-rises and skyscrapers — wow! I’d argue there are way more high-rises in Bangkok than in L.A. We also spotted numerous mosques and halal-friendly hotels and buildings, which was a first for us (we’d never seen entire hotels with a golden dome on top).

From humongous billboards along the highway and super luxurious shopping malls to crowded markets and dilapidated homes along the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok was a hodgepodge of sceneries. Here’s the view from our hotel, the Hotel Icon Bangkok. It was nice, our room was spacious and clean, and the hotel provides free shuttle service to the main avenue where you can catch the train.

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I’m pretty sure our first night there we went to see a movie. We do love movies! Will was excited to see Jurassic World at the Krungsri IMAX Theater inside the Siam Paragon shopping mall, one of the largest shopping centers in Asia. This mall may be even fancier than South Korean malls, by the way, which is impressive. Siam Paragon is part of a larger shopping complex that includes the Central World mall as well. Just think big, luxury, nothing a normal person like me could afford. Except maybe eating at one of their huge food courts.

There’s an elevated pedestrian walkway that runs along the avenue and connects you with the BTS Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System). Their train system was shockingly small for such a big city, but efficient and easy to use. Also, while the trains get pretty crowded, they thankfully have A/C which helps keep you from fainting, especially with it being so hot and humid outside, too. Here are some photos of that area. Yes, we were there just a few weeks before the tragic bombing at the Erawan Shrine, which you can see in the second photo below.

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During that first jaunt, we observed things like:

  • The fact that pictures of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej are everywhere (often montages of photos showing him doing charitable works). Here are some we saw at the airport and walking along one of the main avenues.

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  • Like in South Korea and Cambodia, there are a lot of motorcycles and scooters in Thailand. However, there appears to be somewhat more order on the roads here. Somewhat.

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Our plan the following day was to go see some of the famous attractions — Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. Quick tip here: the Grand Palace closes at 3:30pm, so plan ahead! We didn’t know this and were unable to see it that day. 

We could’ve taken a tuk tuk to get there, but we decided to travel by ferry along the Chao Phraya River. It may be a bit more time-consuming, since you have to take the BTS Skytrain to the pier, but it was more fun (I’ll tell you more about our one tuk tuk ride in Bangkok later). Another quick tip: once you get to the pier, any pier, just get in the line with the most people. Don’t try to read the signs and figure out which boat to take. Just follow the crowd! We took the boat with the orange flag, which is the cheapest. Other boats are more expensive and tourists fall for it. 

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Here are some scenes from the area around Wat Pho. We were walking around looking for a wrap I could buy, since you have to cover up at most of the temples. It makes sightseeing a somewhat miserable experience since it’s already so hot out, but hey, you have to respect local customs, even if it means sweating through all of your clothes.

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Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex that apparently houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand (more than 1,000), including the Reclining Buddha. The Reclining Buddha measures 46 meters long and 15 meters tall, and is made of brick, plaster and gold leaves.

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There are other buildings throughout the Wat Pho complex housing other Buddhas, but what’s most impressive are the stupas scattered across the various courtyards, covered in thousands of colorful mosaic tiles.

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By this point, we were hungry, so we walked over to Tha Tien market. What a loud place! Lots of vendors selling all kinds of fresh fruit products — jackfruit, mango, watermelon, guava, pineapple, and especially durian. They LOVE durian. The vendors basically have a shouting match trying to lure visitors to their stall (watch the video below). They also sell everything from shoes/sandals to medicinal items like Tiger Balm, and have food stalls along the side where you can sit and eat street food under giant tarps. We had some tasty, cheap noodles there.

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With the Grand Palace being closed for the day already, we instead went for a walk and figured out how to get across the river to visit another popular temple, Wat Arun. Here are some of the things we saw along the way. Don’t miss the lizard creeping along the sidewalk (oh don’t worry, it’s nothing like the ones we saw later):

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Wat Arun is another Buddhist temple — one of over 30,000 in Thailand — named after Aruna, the Indian god of dawn. Though part of it was under scaffolding when we went, it was still beautiful and serene. We were there just before sunset and got to enjoy it almost all to ourselves, except for the small population of stray cats that calls the temple grounds home. Will made friends with them.

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We ended our day with some hearty Thai food (and American dessert) and another common sight in Bangkok: outdoor group exercising. It looks like so much fun! I love that Thai people take advantage of their evenings to go out and be active and healthy.

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For more photos from our first couple of days in Bangkok, go here.

Up next: The Grand Palace, monitor lizards, a snake farm, Lumphini Park and more.

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