Serendipity was in my favour, because as it turns out, Pattaya is only about a 2-hour drive from Bangkok (which I was heading to anyway), so I decided to extend my trip by a couple more days to make full use of my prize. Wheeee!
Pattaya is a very popular side-trip for visitors to Bangkok, so it’s not hard to get there. If you want to get there without any hassle, you can actually hire cabs to take you straight from Bangkok to Pattaya, and vice versa; but obviously this is only a practical choice if you’re traveling in a group. But if you wanna do it for cheap, and travel like the locals do, just hop on a bus from Ekamai Station in Bangkok! A one-way ticket will only cost you 124 baht if I”m not mistaken, and buses leave every half hour.
Okay so I gotta take a moment to talk about my room at the Amari Ocean:
Suh-weeeeeet 😀 Even though it was just a Deluxe room, it was about 5 times the size of my room at home wtf.
That bathtub was awesome, by the way 😛
From the balcony, you get views like this…
… and this! Look. at. that. pool. And in case you were wondering, the blocks of buildings around the palm trees are the Garden Wing of the Amari Orchid; there are two “wings” in the hotel complex, and I was staying in the Ocean Tower.
If you’re ever in Pattaya, I would definitely recommend Amari! The prices are pretty decent for a 5-star hotel, and the service is everything you’d expect from the famed Thai hospitality standards. On a random note: the hotel lobby smells awesome, not sure what scent it was, but I felt utterly relaxed the moment I stepped in.
And of course, one of the best things about the hotel was that it was just literally across the road from Pattaya beach!
To be honest, you probably won’t find Pattaya Beach on any Top 10 lists – it’s not bad, but it’s not spectacular either, and as you can see from the pictures, there’s not a lot of “beach” to play with as the tide comes up pretty high. But the wide beach walk just behind the beach makes for a nice evening stroll to catch sunsets from!
If beaches are what you’re looking for, Jomtien Beach in the southern part of the city is apparently a better choice. But really, beaches are most definitely not the main draw in a place where big, flashy neon signs advertising a “Honey Body Massage” are all up in your face 😛
Yes, this city is one for the sinners and not the saints! Just get out of your hotel and walk around, and you’re guaranteed to end up at least one of the many hotbeds of alcohol and “entertainment” of all sorts, as helpfully catalogued here on WikiTravel.
Unfortunately you won’t be hearing anything any personal accounts of Pattaya’s legendary red-light district insanity from me; I passed by this street rather early in the night when things were barely just heating up, and I don’t have a tendency of prioritising nightlife when I travel alone anyway. And I didn’t dare take too many photos in case I got beaten up wtf. But I did get to see extremely tall ladyboys teetering along the street in 5-inch heels and absolutely spilling out of microscopic dresses that would’ve been a tight fit even on me, so there’s that 😛
So if you ever make it to Pattaya, do check out the Pattaya Walking Street, or any of the other beer bar & go-go bar locations, and lemme know how it’s really like! And if you’re feeling in need of redemption after a night of sinning, there’s a shrine somewhere along Pattaya Beach 😛
But if you’re looking for something a little less tame, fret not – Pattaya has it too. Next up, my trip to the Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens!
To the casual visitor to Bangkok, it might come as a surprise to learn that Bangkok was a city without roads, up until the latter half of the 19th century!
Most visitors to Bangkok will be well aware of the Chao Phraya river that snakes through the bustling metropolis, but Bangkok’s relationship with waterways doesn’t end there. Take a boat ride out to Bangkok’s “khlongs”, or canals, the next time you’re there, and you’ll soon see why Bangkok earned the title of the “Venice of the East” from Western traders who visited the city in the early 1800’s.
According to this fascinating article, Bangkok at the time boasted a network of hundreds of canals criss-crossing throughout the city. Almost everyone lived on houseboats or stilt houses built right on the water’s edge and got around by boat, as residing on land was a right granted only to nobles and well-off families by the king.
Although the canals are obviously not used as heavily as they probably were centuries ago, it is still very much used by the locals as a form of transport, as seen by the boats tethered to some of the houses like in the photo above.
It’s easy to forget that you’re still in Bangkok, because once you break away from the pack of boats filled with other tourists, you can’t help but notice the jarring contrast of the new city’s constant noise with the silence as you cruise along the khlongs.
And it’s not just the noise – where the new city is overflowing with shiny monoliths, the residences along the banks of the khlongs are decidedly less glamourous. Some houses are bigger, some smaller, but most are run-down, albeit still exuding a bit of ramshackle charm.
In fact, this was probably one of the nicest buildings I saw throughout my whole ride through the canals – I suspect (though I can’t really be sure) that it could’ve been the back of the Jim Thompson House, judging by the architecture. My boat driver wasn’t really much help in pointing out stuff, as he didn’t speak much English and just steered the boat in silence for the most part 😐
Seeing the stilt houses along the canals strangely reminded me of home; the houses looked a lot like the traditional Malay stilt houses we’d see in the kampungs at home, except, obviously, without the water 🙂
But that’s where the similarity ends, because you sure wouldn’t find beautiful temples along the road to the kampungs back home!
There are a lot of temples by the riverside that you’ll see along the way – I never realised how many temples there were in Thailand until then.
And of course, you’re bound to meet some of these folks!
While offering a great photo op, the traders in boats that you’ll meet will be selling your run of the mill touristy souvenirs for the most part, and maybe some snacks and drinks. There’s probably not a lot worth buying, but they’ll probably try to get you to buy a beer for yourself, or if not, your boatman.
Just like the roads on solid land you’re used to, the canals you’ll pass through will vary in size. There are the wide, open “highways”…
… the comfortably mid-sized waterways…
… and “BRO, BACK THE HECK UP BRO” 😛
All of which, will give you a fleeting glimpse into the lives of everyday people, who call the khlongs of Bangkok their home.
While not the most spectacular of Bangkok’s sights, a cruise down the canals is something you could consider if you have some extra time there, or if you just want to see something slightly off the beaten path 🙂
Up next, photos from the beach town of Pattaya!
Hello, traveler! Is a gold deficit a problem in your life? Fret no more, because Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew will fill that void perfectly!
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the crown jewel of Bangkok, and it’s not hard to see why. Probably the most costly tourist attraction at 500 baht per entry, it is definitely one of the most stunning group of buildings you’ll see in your lifetime.
As with any other temple in Thailand, you’ll need to be dressed decently in order to enter Wat Phra Kaew, so that means no sleeveless tops, short shorts and skirts, and stuff like that. But as usual, if your attire is lacking, you can always rent sarongs and tops outside to cover up.
This is the explosion of gold that greets your eyes upon entry!
Wat Phra Kaew is actually a whole building complex located adjacent to the Grand Palace, so it covers a pretty large area. Not that you can move around that freely though; prepared to share your personal space with a ton of other camera-wielding tourists gawking together with you!
The structure next to the huge golden stupa in the picture above is the library, Phra Mondop, which houses sacred Buddhist manuscripts. It’s also the building that commands your attention immediately, because of the dizzying, insane detail in the towering structure.
The heart of Wat Phra Kaew however, is the smaller but no less impressive Ordination Hall, with its blue-tiled roof.
The Ordination Hall is the building that houses the precious Emerald Buddha, the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. On most days, you’re welcome to enter the Ordination Hall to view the Emerald Buddha, but of course there had to be some special ceremony happening on the day I went that prevented anyone from going in -___-
Around the Ordination Hall, and throughout the Wat Phra Kaew complex, you’ll find 12 of the small pavilions like in the picture above called ‘salas‘ – they’re resting places for the people, so have a seat there if you feel like catching a break from the burning sun!
Throughout Wat Phra Kaew, you’ll see various marks of the influence from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana. There are the ‘yakshis’, or temple guardians, that watch over all the entrances to the temple:
There are the monkey-demons and giants from the Ramakien:
There’s the ‘kinnara‘, half-human, half-bird creatures originating from Buddhist and Hindu mythology:
And there’s the painstakingly hand-painted mural (“What do you mean too much gold? HAVE SOME GOLD LEAF FOR THE MURAL”), that stretches along all the walls of the Wat Phra Kaew, that depicts the entire Ramakien epic! It’s the longest hand-painted mural in all of Thailand.
Wat Phra Kaew is gorgeous no matter when you look at it, but you’ll only truly appreciate its grandeur when everything glows under the rays of sunlight that pierce through the clouds on a cloudy day 🙂
On your way out, you’ll pass through the grounds of the Grand Palace!
The Grand Palace strangely has a distinctly more European style even though it’s right next to the Wat Phra Kaew. It’s no longer the King’s residence these days, although it is still used for special ceremonies, like coronations.
If you’re a fan of architecture, or have an appreciation for massively decadent things that are a result of a lot of blood, sweat and tears like me, you should definitely check out Wat Phra Kaew when you’re in Bangkok! Sure, it’s a little pricey for a place that’s otherwise cheap to visit, but it’ll make a nice check on your ‘been there, done that’ list 🙂
I really should have been to Bangkok much earlier than I did, what with it being one of the most popular cities closest to home and all, but I always had a bad habit of prioritising faraway destinations first 😉 So when my friends started planning their annual Bangkok trip this year, I decided to tag along too!
The only image I had of Bangkok so far was of its chaotic, seedy, streets, much like those in Hangover 2, and well… the place we stayed at fit the description pretty well. 😛 The street our hotel was located on was in a very “local” area of the city, where nary a foreigner was spotted, and the people barely spoke any English.
Food was also pleasantly cheap; you could easily get lunch for 50 baht or less. And soft drinks come in these old-school glass bottles, which you pour into these old-school metal mugs! #sohipster
I’m not sure why, but I seem to have a knack for traveling to places right around the time some major shit is going down – earlier this year, I visited Istanbul just a while before the Gezi Park protests started, and this time, I managed to walk right into the middle of a protest in Bangkok, when we headed to Terminal 21 for a spot of shopping. Haha! Thankfully, it wasn’t a violent one; the whole thing had a lively carnival atmosphere, with thousands of people chanting, and waving, and blowing shrilly on whistles that we heard from inside our taxi about 300m away.
So yes – shopping was the main agenda for most of us on the trip, but as it was my first time in the city, I decided to take a day to play tourist and see some of the most famous sights of Bangkok, namely Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), and Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace.
Waking up early is pretty important for sightseeing, especially if you’re not staying anywhere near the tourist attractions; Bangkok is pretty massive, and it can take a while to get from Point A to Point B, as I was about to find out. The various train lines are spread throughout the “new city”, but there are no trains running through the “old city” where all the temples are. The best way to get to where Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew are is to take the Silom Line and get off at Saphan Taksin Station, and take the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which looks something like this!
There’ll be a guide on board telling you about all the sights along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, but honestly I didn’t retain much information as it was rather hard to hear above all the noise of everyone on board. You can get an all-day pass to take the Express Boat as many times as you want for 150 baht I think, or a one-way pass for 40 baht.
You know you’re getting close to your destination when you start seeing less of modern skyscrapers like the one above, and more traditional structures like this!
And after about 15-20 minutes, you’ll slowly see Wat Arun coming into view! It’s absolutely gorgeous under the morning sun 🙂
The Chao Phraya Express Boat won’t stop directly in front of Wat Arun though – to get there, you have to get off at the Tha Tien Pier, and take another boat across to the opposite side for just 3 baht.
Although the Wat Arun is mainly known for the “prang“, or tower, there are other buildings you can visit in the compound too, like the ordination hall which you’ll see after you pass through these gates.
Entrance to Wat Arun is 50 baht per person (as of March 2013), and proper attire is required to enter, i.e. no sleeveless tops, short shorts, short skirts and the like. But if you haven’t come prepared, you can also rent sarongs at the stall near the entrance, which you can kinda see at the bottom left in the picture below.
And up we go!
If you think Wat Arun looks cool from the river, you should see it up close! The central “prang” of Wat Arun symbolises Mount Meru in Hindu cosmology, and the entire structure is painstakingly covered in millions of small pieces of Chinese porcelain, which was ballast unloaded from ships from China in ancient times. Imagine having to sift through tons and tons of broken shards to find exactly the right pieces of the right colour to form the patterns for the tallest tower in Thailand, along with the four satellite towers…
The details on the tower are amazing, but you’ll get even better views if you climb up the tower! 😀
It’s not gonna be your favourite activity if you’re scared of heights, because the staircases are really steep and really narrow. I went up like a terrified crab, stepping sideways and clutching on to the handrails for dear life, as did many people (and the lady in the picture above 😛 ). Oh, and there are not one, but two levels you can ascend. 🙂
Another close-up of the porcelain details!
You can also see the ordination hall I mentioned earlier from the terraces.
Don’t stop at the first level – keep going up (an even narrower and steeper staircase), and you’ll get some awesome views of the Chao Phraya river, and Bangkok city! 😀
If you look closely enough, you can see the complex of Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace in the distance, on the other side of the river.
No entry? …That’s totally fine by me bro. Don’t think my heart could’ve taken it anyway.
Don’t forget, after you’ve had your fill of the great rooftop views at the top of the Wat Arun “prang“, you still have to make the return journey down 😛 And sweaty palms in 3, 2, 1…
Wat Arun was a sight to behold, but so was Wat Phra Kaew. Coming up next, my visit to the immensely crowded Wat Phra Kaew!