EXPLORING BANGKOK

Another business trip to Bangkok, another opportunity to go exploring.
I went to Thailand for a product launch at the picturesque Hua Hin (3 hours away from Bangkok) and returning to Bangkok for another adventure. The product launch was a success, with many journalists enjoying the outdoor challenge of driving on zigzag roads that served as proving grounds for our product.
A product launch at the Kaeng Krachan circuit in Hua Hin.
The event in Hua Hin happened at the Kaeng Krachan circuit, which is 45 minutes away from a hidden treasure — the Sheraton Hua Hin Resort & Spa. This hotel is definitely a great getaway. Most rooms were connected directly to the large swimming pool that spanned a majority of the hotel’s first level. Visitors can just jump into the pool and swim back to the room without having to take a walk outside. Although I don’t have much to say about the beach, one can still enjoy the fab surroundings and fantastic food. A world-class spa is also there, with massages at only 1,800 baht per person.
When the event was all over, I returned to Bangkok and sent my visitors home ahead. The succeeding days were my adventure opportunities (apart from the mandated business meetings).
I will start explaining my route starting from the time we left Hua Hin to return to Bangkok. From Hua Hin, it is advisable to leave early because of traffic. And it’s 3 hours away. This is not my first time in Bangkok but I must say that Bangkok traffic is horrible at all times of the day. If you are visiting Bangkok allot 1-2 hours for traffic.
Unfortunately, we left Hua Hin at 1pm and got to Bangkok almost at 3 pm, the height of traffic jams. I was supposed to take some people to the airport to an 11pm flight so I thought we had lots of time to kill and had planned trips to 3 places. We only made it to 1 place (Paragon Mall) for a quick meal, had 1 hour to roam around the mall then leave again at 6 pm to go to the airport. Terrible traffic! At least my visitors made it on time for their flight).
From there I transferred to a hotel which was now on my own cost so I had chosen Asoke Suites hotel, a tiny hotel at Sukhumvit Road (right next to the train station – nice location!). On a side note, the hotel isn’t bad if you aren’t particular about your surroundings and just want an inexpensive place to sleep in. But if you want a little more luxury and don’t mind being a distance from the train station go for the more upscale hotels in Sukhumvit road like the Sheraton.
On day 2 I was on my own. I spent the whole morning in a meeting. After lunch (at 1 pm), I took a taxi to the Grand Palace (spending about 200 baht on the cab). It was quite a long drive too. I arrived there and entered the Grand Palace with a 350 baht entrance fee. Some policemen had stopped me from entering and asked me to roll down the edges of my jeans (which were folded up to near my knees) since showing legs is not allowed in the sacred place. There are some areas that rent out large shawls and wraps to hide this.
Once inside, one goes first into the Upper Terrace where one would be immediately be greeted by what looks like a giant bell – actually a reliquary in the shape of a golden chedi.
On the same terrace is a stone miniature model of the Angkor Wat structure in Cambodia along with little intriguing statues.
A miniature Angkor Wat replica
There were other structures on the terrace like the Mondop (a repository for Buddist scriptures) and the Royal Pantheon but I didn’t really look at those anymore since I was there to look at the most important structure which was the Emerald Buddha. Housed in the Royal Monastery on the Upper Terrace, the Emerald Buddha is the most important and most sacred statue in all of Thailand. It was a bit of a madhouse with all the tourists. Understandably with all the people I was able to take a photo along with a thousand others even though cameras were not allowed there. The Emerald Buddha statue is actually made of jade but the first time it was discovered it was mistaken as made of emerald because of its green hue.
Stolen shot of the Emerald Buddha.

After all the madness at the Monastery, I went down to the lower level buildings to view the paintings on many walls – referred to as galleries— depicting scenes of what seems to be stages of war. I was told the stories in the paintings refer to the story of the Ramakien where a ruler named Rama tries to rescue his abducted wife from the king of an opposing kingdom.

After looking at the paintings, I came upon an exit door which led me to the picturesque outdoor garden area where the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall stood. This seems to be the main entrance to the Grand Palace and which I was told houses the Central Throne Hall. This hall, I was told, was built by King Rama V and is used for state banquets and entertaining visiting Heads of State.

From there it was already 3 pm so I cut the tour short and exited. From the Palace exit, I crossed the street and stumbled upon the Au Bon Pain, a most charming coffeeshop where all Grand Palace visitors flocked to cool off (did I mention it is very hot in the Grand Palace? They should invest in electric fans and ventilation in the temples).

Au Bon Pain coffeeshop right across the Grand Palace.

I enjoyed a leisurely smoothie with a roast beef sandwich at Au Bon Pain before heading off again to my next target place – the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). From Au Bon Pain, I took a right turn and walked into a street bazaar with vendors hawking souvenirs and overpriced boat rides (more than 1,000 baht) to the Wat Arun. I almost fell for the latter, thinking the Wat Arun was really far away and I needed to hire a boat until I asked another vendor for a second opinion and he told me that the Wat Arun ferry boat was only a 5-minute walk away. So I turned left at the next street and sure enough a short distance away was a park and next to it was the rundown entry hall (actually a rundown market area) to the boat ferry. The boat ferry only costs a total of 6 baht (3 baht going and 3 baht to return). The ferry boat took us across the Chao Phraya river to the area where the Wat Arun stood in less than 7 minutes. It really wasn’t far away, and though the river looked very brown, it wasn’t smelly and there was no trash floating in it, save a few seaweeds. It was a pleasant ride.

I was told the best time to visit the Wat Arun is at sunset. However it was only 4 pm when I got there so I didn’t get to take any sunset photos. Upon arriving, one would walk by the Arun Temple coffeeshop, a surprising modern touch to the area. When entering, one would be greeted by giant guardian statues and a fat, golden Buddha before one gets to the main structures (for 50 baht).
The main structures are towering, intricately designed and breathtakingly ancient. Once there I attempted to follow the people climbing up the towers. However, after 2 flights of stairs, my usually adventurous spirit failed me as my fear of heights took over. Unlike the steps at the Golden Mount (see my entry last Oct 2010), the steps of the Wat Arun are very steep and narrowly cut and one has to hold on the metal railings for dear life. I contented myself with just taking whatever photos I could. Not for the faint hearted!
Wat Arun Temple
Climbing up the Wat Arun is not for the faint hearted!
Returning to the point of departure I hailed a taxi to take me to the Central World shopping mall. I made it a point to agree on a price before taking the ride (200 baht). However, on hindsight I think one should just walk to the nearest train station instead. I arrived at Central World close to 7pm (horrible traffic again) and I stayed in the mall till dinnertime. With so much choices for food in the mall, I would recommend taking dinner at the 7th floor dining area, particular Ted’s Pasta and Steak place where I had a delicious pork steak dinner (190 baht) while enjoying the gorgeous interiors of the restaurant. This was followed by a short walk to the Cupcake Love booth just opposite Ted’s where I had a fantastic cupcake dessert (125 baht with drinks).

The Central World mall is full of high end luxury shops, but it does have a pleasant area for bargain hunters at the top floor near the cinemas where an informal bazaar takes place, with all vendors just laying out their merchandise (and themselves) on the floor. I ended the day here, with another crazy taxi ride to the hotel in the middle of more traffic jams.

After all the taxi inconveniences, I vowed to take the train the next day.
On day 3, I checked out and left my bags with the concierge first before heading off to the famous Chatuchak market via train at 11am. It was my first time to ride the train there and I realize I could have saved so much money by using it. I got down at Mo Chit station and descended straight into the Chatuchak weekend market. As expected, it is a madhouse of shoppers. If anyone wants to try shopping here, dress for hot weather. I also got lost in the enormous market within 30 minutes so for others I would encourage a little more effort in navigating, use the train structures as a reference point. I could not find my way back to any of the stores where I liked something, best to buy once you see something you like!
Chatuchak weekend market
A cool bar in the middle of Chatuchak.

At 2:30 pm I returned to the Mo Chit station and headed for the MBK Mall. One has to go to Siam station and transfer to the National Stadium station to do this. I spent a pleasant hour or two looking at low-priced finds (compared to those in Paragon and Central World). At 4 pm I already headed back to the Asoke hotel to grab my bags and head for the airport.

On this note I would highly recommend going to the airport or anywhere by train instead of by taxi or tuktuks. It is much more economical. When taking taxis or buying from street vendors, no one gives back any change so try to give exact payment as well (or ask them for change).
All in all, my trip to Thailand – my 4th if I’m not mistaken— was another pleasant one, with new discoveries.
Looking forward to my next adventure!
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