Enter Bangkok - the Land of Smiles. Bangkok is not just about nightclubs, it has a lot more to offer than you can possibly imagine. Tourists from all over the world throng to Bangkok all through the year for varied reasons and also to get a taste of Asia. Getting to Bangkok is not at all difficult. All the major airlines will take you and this has one of the finest airports too! The first impression of Bangkok is not really good - many high rise buildings, flyovers and unending traffic jams welcome you.
Bangkok was established in 1782 after the Burmese sacked the former capital Ayutthaya. Since then, Bangkok has fast emerged as one of the prominent cities in the world. Ratanakosin with its royal palaces and wats (temples), Dusit with European style boulevards and buildings and Siam Square - Sukhumwit with huge shopping malls is what modern Bangkok is made up of. If ever you are hit by an atmosphere of still air with the smell of spicy coconut, sky train, and a lot of women then, unmistakably you are in the kingdom of Siam.
When I went to Bangkok, I did not expect to see many tourists as I went there during the low season in September, when it is hot and wet. However Bangkok was bustling with tourists. I wonder what will high season be like! Since I had heard a lot of contradicting things about this city, it was definitely not wise to explore it right on. I spent the first day walking idly and watching. I bought a book and the next day I knew what to do. So many things are being said about this city that it is really not fair to brand it as a sex city. Although sex industry is prominent, this country has such history, beautiful temples and beaches that few countries can boast of.
There are many tourist agents who offer trips to many places though it works out cheaper if you opt to plan your visits by bus, sky train, taxi or express boat. The only caution you need to take is to know your hotel address or at least the name of the street and the Soi number. Each street here has a name and all the minor roads that cut across these streets are called sois. Each soi has a number too (with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other!)
It is best to see what is in Bangkok first. Rama I in 1782 founded Ratanakosin. The major attractions here are the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Po and the National Museum. Wat Phra Kaeo is the apogee of Thai religious art and the holiest Buddhist site. This temple houses the most important idol of Buddha - The Emerald Buddha. This wat is present in the northeast corner of the Grand Palace. Entering the wat is like stepping in a stage set. This stage is supplied with innumerable details. Inside the Bot(the sanctum sanctorum) a nine-meter high pedestal supports the tiny emerald Buddha, whose mystique draws tourists and devotees alike. The interesting thing is the costume of Buddha, which is changed three times in a year by the king. The three costumes are for each season - the crown and ornaments for summer, the monastic robe for the rainy season and the gold shawl for winter! Inside here on the wat walls you can find many scenes from the Ramayana. The Grand Palace is really grand and though the king doesn't actually stay here, it is still used for some important ceremonies. Only the audience hall at the front of the complex is open to public. You can walk around the premises of this huge palatial area. There is another audience hall called Dusit Maha Prasat. This hall is used to preserve the dead body of the royal member, as it is customary to wait for an auspicious day to be cremated.
A good length walk will take you to Wat Po - the oldest temple in Bangkok. This is also the first university of Bangkok where even now you can get courses in Thai massage for a range of illness or you can get a massage yourself. This is in a sprawling lavishly decorated area and is more known for the reclining Buddha. The huge reclining Buddha depicts Buddha entering Nirvana. The temple is slightly bigger than the Buddha. The feet with black soles are beautifully decorated with mother-of-pearl and show the 108 lakshanas of Buddha. Along one side are 108 bowls, which will bring good luck and long life if you put a coin in each.
The National Museum houses Thailand's chief artistic riches. There are free-guided tours in English on Wednesday and Thursday. The museum also provides information about Thai religion and culture.
Within walking distance is the Democracy monument. This symbolizes the revolution of 1932 that transferred the governing body from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. This monument is the focal point of all public events and demonstrations. It also contains a copy of the constitution. There are other temples near the Democracy monument that are worth paying a visit. There is Wat Suthat that has the giant meditating figure of Buddha and a huge swing. (It used to be once the focal point of the Brahmin ceremony to honour Shiva). There is Wat Saket (the golden mount), a dilapidated 18th century temple built by Rama I. There is Wat Indraviharin, which houses the enormous standing Buddha.
You can also visit Chinatown and Pahurat. These areas are famous for their markets and shops. In downtown Bangkok is a worthwhile visit to Jim Thompson's house. This is very close to Siam square and is an ideal home in elegant Thai style. This beautiful house is in fact a combination of six teak houses and the interiors are beautifully decorated with collector's items. Legend has it that Jim Thompson, an ex CIA agent brought back the dying Thai silk industry and in 1967, Jim Thompson went out for a stroll in Malaysia and never came back. A massive search effort proved futile.
Around Bangkok there are some fine sights that are worth visiting like Ayutthaya - the former capital, Kanchanaburi where you can see the bridge on the river Kwai, and Pattaya - where you can indulge yourself in some water sports.
Ayutthaya - On the way to Ayutthaya is Bang-Pa-In, where you can see the summer palace. The palace is compact and beautiful. Places worth mentioning are the Aisawan Thiphya art in the middle of the lake - an example of pure Thai architecture, the Look-out Tower - for the king to survey the countryside, Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun - where everything comes from China and is intricately and lavishly designed.
Ayutthaya is full of ruins of temples and palaces. This city stands testimonial to Thais' bygone era. There are some domes that are leaning and look like many leaning towers of Pisa. It is said that in the middle of the 17th century at the height of its glory, one million people lived here in houseboats! Bicycles can be rented to go about in Ayutthaya. There are ruins and ruins to see here and one such mentionable sight is Wat Phra Mahathat. This temple is believed to have been constructed to house the remains of the Buddha himself. There are many headless Buddha's here (all destroyed by the Burmese). You can look out for The Head of Buddha in the roots of Bodhi Tree! There are other wats(all in ruins) like Wat Ratburana, Wat Phra Si Sanphet - the grandest of Ayutthaya's temples and still one of the best preserved Viharn Mongkol Bopit - with one of the largest bronze Buddhas.
If you want to know how shopping used to be in Bangkok before the tar roads were built, you can visit the floating market. There are small canals where people paddle away in boats and business transpires between people in boats. A whole bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables are carried in these boats and are sold to people in houseboats and tourists in other boats. This is Venice in disguise! This floating market is opened every morning from 6.00 am to 11.00 am.
For all those who have seen the movie "The bridge on the River Kwai" Kanchanaburi is a must see place. This is 121 kilometers from Bangkok and is easily accessible by bus though train is the best option. During World War II when Japan wanted to connect Thailand and Burma, it used nearly 60,000 allied POWs and 200,000 conscripted Asian labourers. By the time the line was completed, more than half the people who worked on this project died.
The JEATH War Museum gives a very clear introduction to the war history. JEATH is an acronym of the six countries whose people were involved in the railway. JAPAN, ENGLAND, AUSTRALIA, AMERICA, THAILAND and HOLLAND. There is also a war cemetery where many allied POWs who died during the construction of the Thailand-Burma railway are buried.
The bridge is plain for the people who don't know the story that stands testimony to the Thai war history. The best thing is to ride on the Death Railway. For this you can take a train from Kanchanaburi.The train which is a passenger train stops in all small stations till it approaches the 300 meters bridge. Here the train crawls. This stretch is called the Death Railway as nearly everyone who worked here died. The train continues its journey to Namtok. This is an experience you shouldn't miss for the world.
Pattaya is a seaside city that you can visit if you like to laze in sunbathed beaches. This city is beautiful and is like any commercial tourist seaside resort. There are many adventure water sports and many bars for which Thailand is famous for.