Footsteps into…the fascinating culture of Bangkok

A trip to Bangkok is not complete without the mandatory tour of all the temples. Tourist tip – there are a myriad of agencies at the arrivals terminal of Suvarnabhumi Airport that organise tours (private or group) at fantastic prices, with a door to door service and complete with a tour guide. We booked our tours with Great Bangkok

Travel Co Ltd and there was a niggly bit of doubt which turned into a sigh of relief when our driver and guide showed up for our first tour!

Our first stop that morning (after a hearty breakfast at S15) was the Wat Pho Temple, home to what seem like over 100 jewel encrusted stupas and Buddha images and the school of Thai Massage.

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Wat Pho is also home to the breath taking reclining Buddha, which is 46 m long and covered in gold leaf and mother of pearl. Thank goodness for our guide and his explanations of what each one signified – I would highly recommend a guide for the temple tours!

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We had our first ‘Thai Temple Experience’ at Wat Pho – which involved buying some incense sticks, lotus flowers and tiny pieces of gold leaf, and after kow towing in front of a beautiful gold statue of the Lord Buddha, placing these items in a designated area and adorning a specific statue with gold leaf.

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It is nice to be able to absorb the culture of a country through its religion, and the Thai’s are very accommodating when it comes to tourists gawping at their Temples, they go about their worship in a serene manner and the myriads of tourists just melt into the background. However, do remember to be respectfully dressed – no bare shoulders or knees, take off your shoes when entering a temple, and do not sit with your feet pointing directly at the image of the Lord Buddha. Do remember to leave a donation!

Next stop – a walk across the street and past a smelly fish market, to hop on board a fan tail boat gliding across the Chao Phraya River to majestic Wat Arun, also known as the temple of dawn.

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Wat Arun is a single large stupa, which seems to be encrusted with jewels from afar but is not. I remember it as having the steepest steps to get to the top, well worth the climb for the stunning view of the river and some of Bangkok!

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Onward to the temples that adorn all postcards and brochures enticing visitors to Thailand – the Grand  Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha.

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The buildings in this complex are nothing short of stunning. A golden stupa is said to house the works of Buddha, as are the two other buildings encrusted with sparkling jewels.

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There is also a large scale model of Angkor Wat, a destination on the bucket list!

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The Emerald Buddha is not as big as one might expect, and photography is prohibited in the temple itself however, one may get a decent shot with a zoom lens from outside! Interesting factoid – the Buddha itself is adorned with robes, one for each season – rainy, hot and cool, and the King himself has the privilege of changing the robes at the start of each season. Pretty awesome!

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The Grand Palace has tonnes of fascinating rooms to visit. We were particularly impressed with the artillery room and the Throne Room, and with the soldiers, who try as one might, just will not smile despite the nickname given to their Country!!

Final stop for the day – a drive by the King’s palace, and a tour of a clothes factory and a jewellery shop. Further investigations reveal that the tour guides get a commission  or petrol vouchers for every tourist that they bring to the shops…you cannot get out of it – even tuk tuk and taxi drivers are part of this scheme, but do as I do and don’t feel compelled to buy anything you don’t want to!

And what could be better than a foot massage at the end of a day touring temples??  No trip to Thailand is complete without indulging in a few sessions of a Thai Foot Massage. The parlour opposite S15 has reclining leather chairs and the Thai masseuses certainly know their reflexology – aided with a medical stick and balm of sorts, they soon massage the feeling back into your weary feet, tired from trudging around temples all day!

Another ‘must do’ while in the land of smiles is Patpong, with its peep shows and ahem, ‘other shows’…..it really is a once in a lifetime experience – I wouldn’t indulge again but I certainly am glad I experienced what Patpong had to offer. I don’t think our trip to Bangkok would have been complete without it! Apart from the raunchy shows, Patpong has a fantastic night market. I bought some beautiful Cheoung Sams and dresses here at unbelievable prices – the only downside being that being a market you can’t really try anything on, but I did get lucky with sizes! Patpong was an ironic way to end the day, given that we had spent it touring temples, but hey – c’est la vie!

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