Bangkok, the Thai capital, is one of the most exciting cities in the world. The temples, nightlife and shopping have become legendary but there is much more to do and see if you take the time to look. Here are some suggestions for "do-not-miss" activities in this huge city.
Visit the Grand Palace
Your senses will be bombarded with colour, sound and stunning shapes when you visit this sprawling complex. From certain angles, this represents all that is best about Thailand and Thai culture. It is a sight guaranteed to impress the most blasé traveller. The main building is a splendid example of classic Thai architecture with its four-tiered roof and nine-tiered spire.
Perhaps the highlight is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but you will be delighted by many other sights and sounds as you wander around. It takes a few hours to appreciate this place and even then, you won't see everything. There is a dress code which prohibits sleeveless shirts, shorts, open footwear and short skirts.
Ride a River ferry
The Chao Phraya River with its bustle of barges, sampans, ferries and long-tailed boats reminds me of the pulsing life that exists in this crowded metropolis. The river provides a great way to get around, since many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the water.
Regular boat services go up and down the river every few minutes. There is also a tourist boat, which leaves Sathorn Pier every 30 minutes with a guide on board to describe and recommend tourist attractions. We particularly recommend going upriver as far as Koh Kret, a small island in Nonthaburi. This will require a change of boat but it is well worth while. There are several temples and a pottery village there.
For something different, try one of several boats doing dinner cruises on the river. They leave from different locations but all offer good night-time views of the city. Some are all-inclusive while some charge a basic fee and offer different eating alternatives.
Explore Chatuchak Weekend Market
This is claimed to be the largest weekend market in the world. Chatuchak, or JJ market as it is known to the Thais, and the immediate area is home to thousands of market stalls. On a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors come here to sift through the goods on offer. Veteran shoppers would agree that just about everything is on sale here, although not all is at the best bargain rates. You will be amazed at the sheer variety of merchandise, but you will find the Thai-made items the best buys.
Bargaining is expected at the market so brush up your negotiation skills and be prepared to walk away when the deal fails to go your way. Then, you'll either be offered a lower price or simply find the same merchandise at another stall. A friendly attitude and big smile are your biggest allies in securing a good deal.
Visit the Wats (Temples)
Apart from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace, there are several other temples that you should visit. Wat Po is located just south of the Grand Palace. It is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok and is often called Thailand's first university. The main attraction for most visitors is the gigantic 46-metre-long reclining Buddha, entirely covered in gold leaf.
Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is one of my favourites. It sits beside the Chao Phraya River and is particularly spectacular in the early morning. The main temple consists of a central "prang" with four smaller "prangs" at the four corners. Multicoloured porcelain pieces embedded in the towers sparkle and flash in the sun to produce a kaleidoscope of colour. Take a cross-river ferry to reach here.
Eat plenty of Thai food
Many of us enjoy Thai food but it's not until you eat in Thailand that you fully appreciate the variety on offer. Thai food has a reputation for being spicy hot but many dishes are not. These allow you to appreciate the subtle blend of textures and flavours that is the hallmark of real Thai food.
I enjoy sitting on a rickety stool on a street footpath watching the passing throng just as much as I do sitting in a fine-dining restaurant. A meal on the footpath will cost less than C$2 while in the restaurant it may be C$30. Don't be scared of street food but try to get something that is wok-cooked in front of you.
The food courts in the shopping malls are also fun. You can wander around and select from stalls selling all sorts of food. If there are several of you, a gourmet meal to share can be easily assembled.
Experience the Nightlife
Bangkok has a reputation for seedy nightlife but that is only a small part of the total picture. There are cultural events such as orchestral concerts, dancing and Thai music shows, puppet theatre and more. Kickboxing will appeal to some visitors while a leisurely dinner cruise will be enjoyed by others. Ladyboy shows have glamorous performers while Siam Niramit has a nightly spectacular performance of Thai art and cultural heritage with elephants and amazing state-of-the-art special effects.
The live music scene is alive and well with venues featuring pop, hard rock, soul, country, easy listening and jazz. A few of my favourite venues are Brown Sugar for rock, Saxaphone near Victory Monument for jazz, and Adhere the 13th Blues Bar in Samsen Road for, you guessed it, blues.
The variety of pubs and bars make sure nobody needs to go thirsty while Royal City Avenue (RCA) has a host of trendy clubs and bars which draw big crowds of young locals on weekends.
Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Thailand 2018 available as an ebook or paperback at www.amazon.com/dp/B078GDR17N.