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BANGKOK - CITY OF ANGELS

Traditional danceThe Thais call their capital Krung Thep the 'City of Angels'  which is pushing it a bit. But Bangkok is certainly worth several days to explore the rich splendours of the Grand Palace, the major temples and the age-old lifestyle of people who live on and beside the klongs. 

One basic fact stands out. Bangkok is not an easy city for sightseeing on foot. Only a few tourist sites are grouped closely together. Walking the distances in the heat is not advisable. In steaming Bangkok, most visitors prefer the luxury of air-conditioned transport if available.

A guided city tour is the best introduction. This will help you grasp the city's geography, and decide which places to visit again in more detail. 

Key sites are featured in a range of different packages, which can also include out-of-town destinations reached by road, river or canal. 

 

Travel Facts

 

 

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TRAVEL FACTS

On temple and palace tours, ladies should cover their shoulders and knees and no-one should wear shorts. Otherwise, entry may be refused. Remove shoes before entry into a temple. 

Inside some buildings, photography is not permitted. 

Opening times of temples and museums vary from one to another. Check before you set off. Try to start early, before the temperature rises to midday levels.

For visits up to 30 days, no visa is needed for UK passport holders. 

Thai currency is very stable, linked to the US dollar, and the current exchange rate makes prices seem very reasonable.

More information, and brochures: Tourism Authority of Thailand, 3rd Floor, Brook House, 98/99 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6EE. Tel: 0870 900 2007. 

Brochures can be ordered online.

Some images on this website have been supplied courtesy of the Tourism Authority. With enough time to spare, there are still more memorable sights within easy day-trip range. 

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The prime destination is the Grand Palace. A visit normally includes entrance to the Emerald Buddha Temple which is within the palace grounds. Originally built as a royal residence, the Palace today is used only for State ceremonies. (The king today lives in Chitralada Palace, near Dusit Zoo in northeast Bangkok).

Temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Grand Palace complexSpread over almost a square kilometre beside the river, the white-walled complex of the Grand Palace is packed with an oriental splendour that makes Disneyland seem restrained. Gilded spires, pavilions and mythological demons combine into a dazzling medley of colour. Green, golden and orange gables are topped by the ornamental chofa a 'sky tassel' shaped like a Thai dancer's finger-nail.

Since the foundation in 1782 by Rama I, later kings have made many additions. Hence there is great mixture of styles, with traditional Thai architecture alongside features of Italian Renaissance or 19th-century Victorian. 

That exotic mixture came during the reign of Rama V, when he commissioned a British architect to build the Chakri Palace (Maha Prasat) for Chakri dynasty's centenary. The Amarin Winitchai Hall is used for coronations. At the far end is the Queen's Elephant Stand, where the royal spouse could mount directly on the royal elephant's back.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Keo): is the great highlight of the palace complex, and is the most impressive of all the 400 temples in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha, actually made of green jasper, is claimed to have supernatural powers, and is newly dressed by the King himself three times a year at the beginning of each season. 
A statue stands guard within the Grand Palace
Only 30 inches high, mounted on an orange base, the Buddha was discovered during the 15th century in Chiang Rai, north Thailand. This royal chapel rates as the most sacred monastery in Thailand, thanks to the supreme image of the legendary Buddha. Rich colour and decoration is everywhere, with glass- encrusted walls sparkling like jewels. 

Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho): also known as Wat Phra Chetupon, is located within walking distance of the Grand Palace. With its 95 pagodas, this is Bangkok's oldest and largest monastery complex. 

The giant 145-ft statue, 50 feet high, represents Buddha passing into the ultimate state of nirvana. The construction materials are brick, plaster and then the final topping of gold leaf. Of interest are the soles of the mother-of-pearl feet, inlaid with the 108 signs which characterise a Buddha.

The monastery was an early centre of learning, and numerous buildings were dedicated to the teaching of philosophy, literature, astrology, herbal medicine and traditional massage. These activities still continue.

The Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabopit): During the reign of Rama V, white marble was imported from Carrara in Italy to create this masterpiece of Buddhist architecture, the most modern of Bangkok's royal temples. The interior is magnificently decorated, and contains the most beautiful bronze Buddha statue in the country. 

Over fifty Buddha images of widely varying style are displayed in a spacious inner courtyard. They are mostly copies of famous Buddhas from other parts of Thailand and neighbouring countries.

Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit): Just imagine 5? tons of solid gold, forming a Buddha ten feet tall. It dates from the 13th century. 

Wat Saket and the Golden Mount: If you can face the prospect of climbing 318 steps up an artificial hill, the reward is a splendid panorama over Bangkok as you listen to the evocative sound of wind chimes. The temple itself was built in 1782, and houses a sacred Buddha relic from India, presented to King Rama V by the British government. 

Wat Arun - Temple of the DawnThe Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun): is Bangkok's best known landmark on the Thonburi bank of the Chao Phraya river. The tallest central spire (called a prang) is 282 ft high and is surrounded by four lesser towers, studded with brightly coloured ceramic. This was the royal chapel when Thonburi was the capital. It housed the Emerald Buddha until Rama I moved his government across the river.

Royal Barges: Close to Wat Arun, on Klong Bangkok Noi, a huge boathouse shelters the ceremonial Royal Barges. Formerly they doubled as war vessels, but today they are used only now and then for state occasions. Highly ornate, the barges are interesting for their unique design.

Vimanmek Teak Palace: Located behind the National Assembly and opposite Dusit Zoo, the 81-room four-storey mansion built by Rama V in 1900 is claimed as the world's largest building made entirely of golden teak. This wood, now rare, is exceptionally durable, and can last 1,000 years.

The palace is a treasure house of paintings, china, furniture and personal effects. A one-hour guided tour in English gives a vivid impression of the royal lifestyle. 

King Rama V, who reigned from 1868 to 1910, played an effective part in keeping his country free of the colonialism that was sweeping through Asia. He was the first Thai monarch to make state visits to Europe. Rama V was a greatly loved king who had four wives and three consorts who between them gave him 33 sons and 44 daughters.

Back to see more of the Grand Palace complexUnderstandably, his palace needed large audience and reception areas, and spacious verandahs and terraces.

Klongs and floating markets: Wheeled traffic has long since taken over on the Bangkok side of the river, but the old-time klongs canals still flourish on the Thonburi side. A trip along the waterways shouldn't be missed, for the incomparable chance of getting a first-hand view of traditional waterside life. 

Many tours start from the Oriental Pier on the main river, just by the Oriental Hotel. The usual craft is either a regular motor launch, or a so-called long-tail boat narrow, and powered by an outboard motor which snarls at high speed, but is tolerable at a more leisured tempo. 

A more peaceful alternative is aboard a sedate rice barge which cruises through rural areas. 

Some parts of the Chao Phraya River waterfront have a decayed appearance, with decrepit warehouses roofed by rusty sheets of corrugated iron, rotting piles to the jetties, and a total absence of new paint.

But then, rather like a side turning from the broad river, the canal called Klong Dao Khanong leads to an entire network of minor canals. 

All along the klongs, one gets close glimpses of family life. Children play at the water's edge, in and out of the water all the time sometimes hitching a ride by clinging to a passing barge. Some heavily laden barges have their decks awash, in a land where the Plimsoll line is unknown.

On the verandas of the canalside houses are the household monkeys and dogs; and there are flowers everywhere. 

Overall, there is a feeling of rich, abundant fertility, both agricultural and human all brought to quick ripening by the humid hothouse temperature.

Selling products in the klongshere is wide variety of memorable sights an occasional temple; tiny side canals, leading through groves of tropical fruit trees; or a sampan with baby swinging peacefully in a hammock.

Depending on the chosen route, you may come to a more exclusive residential section, with solid wooden houses set back amongst the trees. 

Some houses are thatched with palm leaves, others with corrugated iron and a TV aerial on top. The range goes all the way from scenes of squalor to those of great beauty. 


 

Check out these other Thailand features:

BANGKOK - Ancient City and Crocodile Farm 

CHIANG MAI - North to "Rose of the North"                                            

PHUKET - Holiday pearl  of the South

THAI CUISINE- Try that spicy food

THAI ENTERTAINMENT  - Sample the night-time scene

SHOPPING IN THAILAND - The enjoyable search for good quality trditional handicrafts

TRIPS OUT OF BANGKOK - Looking at the rich variety of excursion possibilities from the capital.

 


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"The Rough Guide to Bangkok" by Paul Gray and Lucy Ridout - A dependable handbook to the Thai capital, also featuring day-trip excursions.

Bangkok (Lonely Planet Best of ... S.) by China Williams - an up-to-date guide for the city.

AA CityPack Bangkok (AA CityPack Guides S.) - A combination of guidebook and city map in a plastic wallet, helping you round the basic highlights of the capital.

Bangkok Insight Pocket Guide - a 96-page guide featuring 21 itineraries around Bangkok and including some of the out-of-town excursions. 

 


 

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