As the capital of Thailand, Bangkok necessarily is a busy industrious city. Yet within that city is an undeniable charm. Within the same city of skyscrapers and busy streets, there are glorious temples and palaces. A few minutes away from city streets are floating markets on narrow canals. There are haute luxury hotels and affordable guesthouses. Street carts selling chilled fresh coconut. Little shops selling rattan baskets and silk scarves. The financial district of Bangkok becomes the party district of Bangkok at night. These fascinating contrasts make Bangkok a traveler-friendly introduction to Asia.
1. Climb the Golden Mount. This temple is ringed by a long, winding staircase that carries visitors atop the mountain. While the temple itself is small and not particularly notable, it offers an excellent view of Bangkok from above.
2. Visit the temples. There are hundreds of Buddhist temples in Bangkok (typically of the Theravada variety), but the three most popular are Wat Pho, The Grand Palace, and Wat Arun. Some orange-robed monks (especially at monasteries with schools on the premises) may speak English and be willing to answer questions about their lifestyle.
3. See the Standing Buddha of Wat Indrawiharn, an enormous golden Buddha statue that stands 32 meters tall. Wat Indrawiharn lies in a slightly less traveled section of Bangkok; it’s a pleasant place to take a bit of a break from some of the busier temples.
4. Watch a Muay Thai fight at either Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom or Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin. Fights are held weekly, and sessions span an evening (with the most-hyped matches featured later in the evening). Be prepared to haggle a bit on ticket prices but expect to pay more than you’re used to in Bangkok. Foreigners often get good seats, but they pay ten times as much as the locals.
5. Take a canal tour. Most of the boat tours of the canal and the river start at the Eastern end of the Chao Phraya, and though they can be a bit pricey, they are a memorable way of seeing a lot of the city while relaxing downstream.
6. Go to a drag show. Drag shows feature transvestites – some of them extremely convincing – performing in a kind of variety show with dancing, singing, and comedy. This isn’t for everyone, but it’s not sleazy, and alcoholic drinks are often available for the audience.
7. Those not into the drag show scene can watch Siam Niramit, a cultural performance, in Ratchadaphisek. Nearly 200 performers act out the history of each of Thailand’s regions. Ratchadaphisek itself is worth visiting anyways, even independently of this show – it’s a wonderful entertainment spot.
8. Get a massage. Thai massage is some of the best in the world, and in Bangkok it’s extremely affordable. Be selective about the parlor you visit. Bangkok’s seedy underbelly is apt to show itself in massage parlors, and many are little more than poorly disguised brothels. However, legitimate parlors are also numerous, and if you ask your hotel or hostel where to find one, your travel-worn body will thank you.
9. Learn to cook Thai food at one of Thailand’s many cooking schools. Many schools offer half-day classes, and some can instruct you in English. Even if you don’t understand the instructor, if you keep a good attitude about it you’ll find that people are good natured and willing to work with you.
10. Meditate. Theravada Buddhism, the predominant school of Buddhism in Thailand, is not as meditation-focused as some other sects, but meditation can be practiced at most temples. Bangkok is home to the International Buddhist Meditation Center at Wat Mahathat, where many monks speak excellent English.
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