Bangkok’s Tourist Attractions
Surprisingly, Bangkok doesn’t have a huge amount of tourist attractions, relative to the size of the city. However, the attractions really do take up a good chunk of time to visit. The Grand Palace area is by far the most visited site. It includes the Grand Palace (where the King lives) and three beautiful Buddhist temples. The area is right by the Chao Phraya River and can easily be accessed by public train or by ferry. We visited these sites here over the course of two separate days.
Outside of this, we visited Chinatown and Asiatique(as mentioned in my previous post), and also the more modern downtown area near Lumpini Park. This modern downtown area didn’t seem to be anything special to me. Besides the fact that there were markets all over the place, it feels like any other modern city. It was actually much more than I had expected. Shopping malls featured stores like Chanel and Coach. The Skytrain passes about five stories above the road, similar to that of the Chicago elevated train. I was also surprised by the amount of foreigners in the city. Between expats and tourists, foreigners seemed to make up 15-20% of the people in the city center.
Although there aren’t a lot of attractions, I was impressed by what the sites did offer. Here are some of the main ones.
Wat Pho Temple
Wat Pho sits just south of the Grand Palace, along the Chao Phraya River. We paid the 100 Baht ($3) entrance fee expecting to be in and out within a hour, but we ended up staying for three hours of so. We knew nothing about the temple before going in, and we were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
Wat Pho is the biggest temple in Thailand. It features an enormous reclining Buddha, literally a 140 foot (43 meters) long Buddha laying down with his head propped up on his right arm. The Buddha is massive and takes up almost an entire temple building. It’s an impressive site.
We were shocked by the size of the entire temple. Different temples led to even more temples. Small and large pagodas dotted the landscape. Everything is so colorful and delicately detailed. There must be 15 different temples in the site, each with its own Buddha statue, typically seated and surrounded by statues of monks and other decorations. Shoes are never allowed on inside the temples, so you leave them outside or carry them with you.
We noticed that Thais typically enter the temple and, while on their knees, bow and touch their hands to the ground and then return upright. This is repeated two more times. Many continue praying, while others admire the site of the Buddha and the surroundings.
There was enough to see here to last an entire afternoon. I was sincerely impressed by the details, colors, and the size of the facility and the temples. For 100 Bahts, I don’t know if you can get much better value for an afternoon.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew Temple
In 1782, the King of Thailand decided to build a new place to live for himself and for future royalty. In that year, construction was started for the Grand Palace. This is definitely the main tourist attraction in Bangkok, with the most visitors per day. The entry price is a bit steep for Thailand prices. At 500 Bahts ($15), you’ll get access to the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew Temple. One must wear appropriate clothing covering shoulders and knees.
After first entering, you are in the Wat Phra Kaew Temple. Right away, I was blown away. Like Wat Pho, the colors, the shapes, the designs, and the size are just unbelievable. It’s like nothing I had ever seen before. Inside the main temple is the Emerald Buddha, which has been in northern Thailand and even Laos before being brought to Bangkok. The Buddha isn’t actually emerald, but it was thought to be emerald hundreds of years ago when it was first discovered.
After exploring the temple for about two hours, we moved on to the rest of the Grand Palace. The facility contains different buildings for the residence of the King, where birthday celebrations take place, where funerals take place, where large ceremonies and speeches take place, and even where foreign visitors would stay (for example, where Obama would stay). These buildings range in construction dates from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. This part of the Grand Palace took us about two hours to slowly walk around and visit the various buildings. All of it is incredible to see, and one could use an entire day just in the site.
Although Bangkok doesn’t have too many tourist attractions, the ones they have are impressive and very much worth seeing. We didn’t even have time to enter Wat Arun, the temple first pictured in the blog above. I know that at the end of this trip, I’ll be tired of seeing Buddhist temples. It’s like cathedrals in Europe and ruins in South America. They’re fantastic sites, but you can only see so many before they all kind of blend together. We saw some of the biggest temples in Southeast Asia very early in our trip. However, I’m sure that we’ll continue to see very impressive temples in the countries throughout our trip.