Glittering Temples, Muay Thai, and Smog in Bangkok

When thinking about the world’s most dubious cities — the places where anything goes, where the party rages all night long, and dirty deeds occur on a regular basis — places like Las Vegas or Amsterdam always spring to mind, but usually the one that takes the cake is the chaotic capital city of Bangkok.  Whereas most of the rumors you’ll hear have some grain of truth to them, I’ve found that — much like in the other cities of notoriety that I’ve visited — the unsavory reputation that precedes Bangkok is largely unfounded, and where it does exist, it only represents a small facet of the country’s culture.  The “areas of disrepute,” so to speak, in Bangkok are largely confined to a few small streets and alleyways of the city (Patpong Alley, Soi Cowboy, Nana), most restaurants and bars close at midnight (if not before), the drunkest people you’ll meet will all be foreigners, and the average Thai person you meet on the street couldn’t be much more friendly and accommodating.

Bangkok today, however, is a city that seems to be trying to hide it heart behind modern shopping malls, air-conditioned public transport, flashy rooftop bars, and posh restaurants.  The ruse doesn’t completely work, however, as you’d be hard-pressed not to feel like you’re stepping back in time when wandering around the ancient wats and temples that dot the city, braving the hot and hectic markets, or strolling through the street food stall-lined streets of Chinatown.  It takes a few days to get used to the crowded atmosphere, the traffic-jammed streets, the smog that blocks out most of the sky, and the oppressive heat that stews in the concrete jungle, but once you do, you’ll realize that Bangkok has grown on you and you’ll begin to see why it is one of the world’s great cities to visit.

The streets of the Chinatown section of the city

The ADHD-themed Khao San Road. Long touted as a backpacker mecca, I didn’t find much besides a raft of obnoxiously drunk tourists, bad Thai food, and scam artists in waiting. It’s worth a quick stroll through for the experience, but I’d advise not spending too much time here

Images of the Amulet Market, where small clay amulets, each carrying its own symbolic meaning, are bought and sold, with some rare examples fetching extremely high prices

The neon glare of Soi Cowboy, the area where those looking to satisfy their deviant desires venture, as opposed to the more famous (and surprisingly touristy) Patpong Alley

Taking a breather from the commotion of the city in Lumphini Park

Venturing into the “Old Town” sector known as Ko Ratanakosin, a pseudo island created by a bend in the Mae Nam Chao Praya River and a small canal, you’ll see what the city looked like decades, or even centuries ago, as you wander through the tiny streets and alleys, marvelling at the glittering wats (temples) and palaces that still remain today.  And although there are hundreds of wats strewn through the city, the “holy trinity” that most travelers choose to visit include the 82 meter high tower of Wat Arun, the pagoda-strewn landscape and reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, and the Grand Palaces and Emerald Buddha of Wat Phra Kaew.

Wat Arun’s Khmer-style tower as seen from across the river

The entrance to Wat Arun

It is possible to climb the tower of Wat Arun, but be forewarned, the steps are extremely steep. It does, however, afford a great view back over the river, which seems just as traffic-clogged as the streets of the city

Pagodas raising one’s eye to the sky on the grounds of Wat Pho

The largest reclining Buddha, measuring in at 46 meters long (a little over 50 yards). The reclining posture depicts the Buddha’s passing into Nirvana (the Buddha’s death, in other words)

Wat Pho also boasts the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand

The grounds of Wat Phra Keuw, or the Grand Palace, house more than 200 elaborately decorated buildings in a variety of experimental architectural styles

I wasn’t able to snag a picture of the popular Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace, as photography isn’t permitted (or not without paying extra, that is), so these three guys will have to suffice

Another of the cities most iconographic images is that of the bustling markets.  I’ll give you a tour through the wet market of Klong Toey in my next post, and the Chatuchak Weekend Market isn’t to be missed (one of the largest markets in the world, actually), but the most photogenic — and photographed — is that of the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.  Though the market’s existence is largely propagated by the many tourists who visit, it is still a pretty unique experience to see how villages used to conduct their commerce before the area’s many canals were filled in to create the concrete city we now see:

Being that my stay in Bangkok overlapped with that most ignominious holiday of Valentine’s Day, I was faced with the decision of how to celebrate.  Being that I’m just a solo traveler, I wasn’t up for enduring the embarrassment of being labeled “that guy” out at the bars and restaurants eating by myself, and venturing over towards Soi Cowboy or Patpong Alley isn’t really my cup of tea.  So after much deliberation, I decided the best way I could celebrate this romantic holiday was to watch a bunch of Thai boxers beat the tar out of each other instead.  The style of Thai Boxing is known as Muay Thai, and it involves using any of the eight points of contact (punches, kicks, elbow strikes, or knees strikes) to inflict damage upon one’s opponent — as opposed to traditional boxing in which one can only use the hands.

The Ring at Lumphini Stadium.  Though the riotous atmosphere of the normal “standing-room” sections would have been quite an experience, I opted to splash out a few extra dollars and spring for ring-side seats (look who’s the high-roller now!)

Pre-match ceremonies

The ringside seats were definitely the way to go, as I was right up next to the action

I continually receive reminders from family and friends to ensure I post pictures of myself on this blog as opposed to just those of the places I visit, so here is a quick photo-op with me and a few of the fighters just before they took to the ring

After a week and a half in the city, I’m planning on heading north next, taking in the historical cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai on my way towards Chiang Mai.  As I promised earlier, I’ve still got a few posts in the works focusing on the culinary scene here in Thailand, so hopefully I’ll have the first ready in the next few days.  And lastly, much like I found in Singapore, the phenomenon of roof-top bars has swept through the city of Bangkok.  I’ll leave you off with a few pictures from the Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel.  Enjoy!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

9 Responses to “Glittering Temples, Muay Thai, and Smog in Bangkok”

  1. Wow…love the photo of the hats and I want some fabric!!!

  2. Andrew,
    I am thoroughly enjoying reading your blog and looking at the pictures. Those pictures are fantastic. I think you should write a book when you finally return to the US, although, judging from the comments you make and the pictures you take, coming back to the “good ole US of A” might be difficult for you.

    • Throughout my whole trip, I’ve always assumed that I’ll return home after traveling, but I haven’t given up on the idea that I might find a place that suits me well enough that I’ll want to settle down and live there for a few years (or I could just keep traveling!)

  3. You could have taken both of those guys….

    • It was the case that in 12 of the 13 bouts I watched, I personally weighed more than both fighters combined. I hold no illusions, however, that despite my size advantage, any one of those guys would have me on the ground in a matter of seconds!

  4. You took that hat picture for me, didn’t you? I actually have one of them, not decorated, just plain – but authentic. Your photography on this post was brilliant. Loved the picture of you!

  5. Dude if you didn’t go to JutJuJak (Thieves Market) that can be fun. I actually liked the rooftop bar at Banyan but very pricy like 500 bhat per drink at the time. Good to hear you steered clear of the redlight but you would never have been alone had you gone out to the bars, in fact once you get out of Bangkok most Thais will invite you to eat and drink with them if you give them half a chance. If you go to say Lopburi my hometown so to speak kids will probably want to touch your arm hair and practice their english on you which can be fun for a few weeks – get’s old after a year thought, LOL.

    Obviously you will make it to Doi Sutep while in Chiang Mai but also make sure to rent a motorcycle and go to the top of the mountain and visit the hill tribes and if you plan to do any backpacking don’t go anywhere near the boarder. DON’T buy anything from the hill tribes- private update later.

    • Awesome, man, thanks for the advice. I’ll be a bit wary of the boarder when hiking and buying anything from the hill tribes. After spending a few weeks up North, I’ve got to head back south to Bangkok to fetch my broken camera (that will hopefully be fixed by then), so I’ll try to swing over to Lopburi then (I missed it on my way up). Plus, it will also give me a chance to check out the Thieves Market when I’m back in Bangkok for a few days. Talk to you soon!

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