Ok, more than one… but that cult 1984 song from Chess kept playing in my head for the duration. What can I say? The city’s vibe is still the same =)
One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me
As far as golden cloisters, just this one trip to Bangkok fulfilled my lifetime quotas on the sightings of golden Buddhas. The city’s most famous temples are teeming with gold in a seemingly unending parade of Buddhist statues and pagodas. Traffic in Bangkok can be a real challenge so unless you’re staying in the walking distance, your cheapest and most convenient way to get to the temples is via the city’s amazing BTS transit system (to Saphan Taksin stop) and then via the north-bound orange water taxi up the “muddy old river” to Tha Chang stop.
Bangkok crown, jewel, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), is located in the historic city center on the right bank of the Chao Phraya River. The temple sits in the center of an elaborate complex of religious structures adjacent to the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam between 1782 and 1925 (the King has since moved but the Palace still serves certain state functions). The complex is simply dazzling! The Golden Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, its main stupa, is a jaw-dropping sight and a fitting companion to the temple itself, ornate with colorful tiles and elaborate decorations. The Emerald Buddha inside the temple is a small dark green statue carved from jade stone. Only the King is allowed to touch the statue when he changes the cloak around it three times a year in a special ceremony devoted to securing divine blessing for new seasons.
The sheer concentration of opulence at Wat Phra Kaew is simply stunning. The temple was built in 1792 during the reign of King Rama I the Great to house the much more ancient statue of the Emerald Buddha whose origin is shrouded in legend. The temple and the many ceremonial buildings around it are a sight to behold… And, despite being overrun with tourists, they are still places of active Buddhist worship. Walking through this amazing complex gives one a strange feeling hard to describe other than it mixes the awe-inspiring religious serenity with a gold-themed fairly-tale Disneyland of Oriental palaces.
If – after feasting your eyes on radiant golden temples – you’re experiencing somewhat of a visual overload, take a well-deserved break across the street from Wat Phra Kaew’s main gate in a tiny treasure of a restaurant, Krisa Coffee Shop!
Just a short stroll away from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Bangkok’s other crown jewel: the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). Just like Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po is an elaborate and seemingly endless complex of temples and other religious structures as well as more than one thousand Buddha images enclosed in a spacious compound. While still extremely touristy, I found many parts of it less crowded than the Temple of the Emerald Buddha’s vicinity, allowing for a few moments of silent contemplation. Here you can also experience traditional Thai massage. But the main reason for visiting Wat Po is its central attraction: larger-than-life, truly giant Reclining Buddha in the main temple building – 15 meters high and 43 meters long to be exact. It’s really hard to appreciate how big that statue is without a human standing nearby for scale comparison. Amazing sight, although not easy to photograph, I tried…
As the sun goes down, it’s time to head back after a long and intense day of admiring golden Buddhas and gleaming temples. A special treat for making the trek back on the Chao Phraya River at sunset is an unforgettable view of the Temple of Dawn, or Arun Wat, sitting on the other bank. The temple held the Emerald Buddha statue before it was transferred to Wat Phra Kaew across the river in 1785, and it is located on the grounds of the former royal palace before King Rama I moved the palace to the other side of the Chao Phraya. The central Khmer-style tower of Wat Arun is an amazing sight when it lights up in the last gasps of the day…
If you’re not ready to call it a day, no one-night-in Bangkok experience can be complete without a glass of martini at the top of the world: the famous Sky Bar. Get off at the Taksin Saphan water taxi stop and walk over toward one of the most iconic of Bangkok’s skyscrapers, the State Tower. Located on the 64th floor, Sky Bar in Sirocco restaurant is the world’s highest open air bar, offering unmatched views of Bangkok especially after dark. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, drinks are expensive (because you’re paying for the view). But yes, it’s definitely worth it!
The popularity of Sky Bar exploded in 2011 when it was prominently featured in the otherwise forgettable Hollywood flick Hangover II. You can even get a Hangovertini at the Sky Bar to commemorate the film! Here is the scene in question:
For a more affordable yet still elegant and unique dining experience, wrap up the day in Sukhumvit district. Personal highlights: The Terrace at the Landmark hotel (perfect for people watching), Cabbages & Condoms (dining with a cause), and Suk 11/11 Gallery (traditional Thai in a traditional house on Soi 11 opposite Ambassador Hotel). Are you still humming along?
Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know what the city is getting