48 Hours in Bangkok
Featured destinations: Northern Thailand & Bangkok
Published 29 September 2016
One scorching hot morning in February, my train pulled into Bangkok Railway Station from Thailand’s jungly north. The sunlight beamed into the cabin and, feeling a little groggy from a night spent in a bunk bed (albeit a surprisingly comfortable one), it took me a while to realise that a dog was licking my foot. Last night’s empty pizza box lay on the floor; he could probably smell it. He wagged his tail and darted off, sniffing under all the seats as he went, on the lookout for forgotten train scraps.Bangkok river view
And that heat, dog and pizza concoction was my first impression of wild, crazy, loud and unstoppable Bangkok, a city where I’ve spent just 48 hours of my life, although the memories have lasted a lot longer.
Needing to cool down and relax after our chaotic arrival, my boyfriend and I headed straight for our hotel. After checking in, we took the Skytrain (the Bangkok Mass Transit System, like the tube but above the ground instead of below) to CentralWorld Shopping Centre. It wasn’t that we particularly wanted to go shopping; it was more that the heat was getting to us after a week in the cooler, more mountainous, north, and we knew that in the shopping centre we’d find air conditioning, something I had clearly underappreciated until this moment. We were amazed at CentralWorld’s enormousness and how glamorous and modern it was. There was even an aquarium with sharks and penguins. Yes, that’s right: penguins. In a shopping centre!
Chatuchak Weekend Market (image: Angela Griffin)
Chatuchak Weekend Market
We enjoyed some refreshing ice cream and then went to the cinema, where we were free to sit in the blissful air conditioning for the entire 150 minutes of the movie. After these exertions we were too full of popcorn to eat much, which had been the plan, and so went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market instead.
Angela at Wat Pho (image: Angela Griffin)
Swarming with shoppers, the market is a vast, sprawling collection of stands and stalls selling everything from jewellery and paintings to fruit and puppies. It could have easily taken the rest of the day to look around, but with limited time in the city we focused on the food section, cooled down with a freshly whizzed-up strawberry juice (very refreshing, thank you) and then left for the Grand Palace. After an hour on the Bangkok Metro, the Skytrain (again) and a boat we arrived at the palace to find it closed due to a state function. Of course we were disappointed – who knows if or when we would be back again – but it turns out that this is pretty rare, so it was just our bad luck. Thinking quickly, we went to Wat Pho next door instead.
Wall detail at Wat Pho (image: Angela Griffin)
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, or by the official tongue twister of a name, Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn, Wat Pho is covered head to toe in glitter and gold, with every wall and surface encrusted with ceramic mosaics. It was one of the prettiest temples I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of temples. Outside, towering stupas are decorated with three-dimensional ceramic flowers, while inside a massive gold Buddha reclines nonchalantly, displaying his mother-of-pearl feet and giving the temple its English name.
Chinatown, Bangkok (image: Angela Griffin)
We left the temple and walked through Chinatown, which to me felt more like Indiatown, with the saris for sale, the smell of curry wafting through the air, and Indian people everywhere. Feeling peckish, we stopped for noodles. I’m a pretty adventurous eater, and so far had enjoyed the Thai food I’d sampled, which mainly consisted of pad Thai and green curry. And so, seeing the Chinatown speciality of kuay jap – otherwise known as noodles with pork offal and pork blood – on the menu, I decided to try it. It came, just like any bowl of noodle soup, a steaming dish of peppery broth, sprinkled with herbs, spring onions and crispy pork belly. But unlike other soups I’ve tried, among the ribbons of noodle were strange small red cubes of blood that wobbled in a jelly-like fashion. These soon melted into the hot broth, creating a slightly thick, reddish liquid that resembled soy more than blood. I know this type of food isn’t for everyone, but I loved it! It was so rich and flavoursome; a tasty, hearty soup.
Wat Arun, Bangkok (image: Angela Griffin)
The Grand Palace part 2
The following morning, after the blood eating of the previous day, we feasted on bacon and eggs for breakfast, giving us the energy to return to the Grand Palace for a second go. To reach it we took a boat along the Chao Phraya River, passing longboats full of orange-clad monks, rowing boats decorated with flowers and the beautiful Wat Arun in the distance.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok (image: Angela Griffin)
Luckily, this time the palace was open. We started with Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. It was dazzling: gold stupas, glass mosaics and gold adorning every inch of the walls. The complex is made up of a number of buildings, one of which, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, houses a green Buddha made of jade (not emerald, despite the name) and clothed in gold. It was surprisingly small (about 66cm tall) but with the entire building covered in gold and glass mosaic that glittered in the sun, it was still very impressive.
Wall detail from Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok (image: Angela Griffin)
You can’t actually go inside the Grand Palace itself, which was protected by stone elephants and armed guards who stared suspiciously at us, but we looked around the well-tended gardens and grounds. We were allowed into the throne rooms though, where we admired the paintings of birds on the walls and the ornate thrones which were made of gold and mother of pearl.
Angela at the Grand Palace, Bangkok (image: Angela Griffin)
Once we had finished at the palace we again headed straight for the air conditioning in the shopping centres, had some dinner and then went to pack for our flight bright and early the following morning. It had been a busy, sweaty, but undoubtedly fabulous 48 hours in the Thai capital.
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