Thailand is famous for its exotic beaches and ornate temples. Its capital, Bangkok has 22% of the country’s population (metropolitan area). It is the largest urban center in the country. We combined our trip to Thailand with Cambodia (see our post on Cambodia) and Viet Nam (see our post on Vietnam). Although Bangkok is filled with some of the country’s most iconic treasures, a Bangkok itinerary should include more than just the city itself. Besides the temples, food and unique events in Bangkok, we decided to venture out in order to explore the local floating markets outside the city of Bangkok as well the Maeklong Railway crossing.
A bad workman blames his tools – Thai proberb
Safety in Bangkok and Thailand
The biggest safety issue for tourists in Thailand are the roads, which are comparatively dangerous, especially the inexperienced moped drivers. Otherwise, Bangkok itself is not any more dangerous than most big cities. In the south of the country, terrorism remains a minor threat in areas near Pattani, Yala, Narathiwas and Songkhla on the Thai-Malaysia border. Extra care should also be taken around the Thai-Burma and Thai-Cambodia borders.
Wat Arun Temple
One of the most visited sites in Thailand, the Wat Arun Temple was built in the1760s and used to be the home of the Emerald Buddha. The four cornered pagoda is a representation of Mount Meru, which is the center of the world in Buddhism.
The first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple, and for this reason it was named the ‘Temple of the Dawn’ by King Rama in 1792. You have to dress appropriately to enter the temple, with covered arms and knees. You can also rent a sarong at the entrance in case you need one.
The vast majority of Thailand’s population is Buddist, with a very small Islamic community and even smaller Christian community.
Wat Traimit Temple and the Golden Buddha
The Wat Traimit Temple is home to the iconic Golden Buddha, the largest solid gold Buddha image in the world (5.5 tonnes). It is speculated that the statue was created around the 13th century and for some time it was covered with stucco in order to conceal its value. It was permanently relocated to the temple of Wat Traimit in 1955.
The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha
The Emerald Buddha is a meditating Buddha seated in the lotus position and clothed in gold. The image is Thailand’s sacred palladium (sacred object). It sits in the Grand Palace of Bangkok. The statue is said to have been discovered when lightening hit a monastery in northern Thailand in 1434, revealing a buddha covered with stucco. As the stucco flaked, a green semi precious stone was revealed. Stories surrounding the Emerald Buddha are legends mixed with fables. One of the legends says that the Hindu god Vishnu helped a saint create the Buddha in 43 BCE.
Bangkok’s Floating Markets
There are several floating markets close to the city of Bangkok, each with its unique characteristics. The best known market is Damnoen Saduak, but it is very popular and very crowded. It was also used in a James Bond movie setting, The Man with the Golden Gun. Being 100 km away from Bangkok, it is a day trip at least to get there and back.
Amphawa floating market is more authentic and a bit closer to Bangkok but still extremely touristy and crowded. It has a little temple and many little wooden houses lined up on the canal. You can take a cruise along the canal.
We opted for a smaller, less touristy market, the Taling Chan Floating Market, only 14 Km from downtown Bangkok. The market is open all day Saturday and Sunday and has a local market attached to it. It also has breakfast. The locals come out and cook breakfast on their boats. Being on the Khlong Chak Phra Canal, you can take a boat cruise around the Khlongs (canals) while you are there. We found the surrounding tropical marsh area had a very rustic feel.
Maeklong Railway Station Market
The Maeklong Railway runs for 67 kilometers between Wongwian Yai, Bangkok and Samut Songkhram. The railway is famous for its ‘umbrella pulldown market’. It is one of the largest seafood markets in Thailand and is centered right on the railroad tracks. Just before the train arrives, a charming little bell goes off over the speaker system and the vendors start scrambling to pull back their wares. The awnings are especially designed to be moved back temporarily until the train has passed. The train passes several times daily, and there are no traffic signals, although the train does slow down when it is at the station. Built in 1901, the train was initially a goods line, a transport vehicle for fish and produce.
The most interesting thing about this market is watching the tourists who come to observe the event. Tourists jostle for a position as they try to not step on the fruit and vegetables but to get close enough to take pictures. The train rolls in slowly, then passes the station. The trains come incredibly close to baskets of fruits and vegetables that have been shifted just enough to stop the train from slicing them.
The Songkran Festival – stay away
Bangkok celebrates the Songkram Festival, taking place from April 13th to the 15th, with such events as water throwing, a ritual of bathing of Buddha images, processions and street parties. There are also special dishes that are prepared for the occasion.
Generally, we enjoy local festivals on our travels as they provide an added layer of cultural exploration. Had we realized when we made our plans in Thailand that our dates coincided with the water festival, we may not have changed our itinerary. However, having experienced the festival, we can truly say it is not worthwhile being in Bangkok during this time. Instead of a cultural event, it becomes a juvenile, tiresome water throwing free-for-all where tourists are especially targeted. We were sprayed getting in and out of our vehicle, while dressed for dinner on our way to a restaurant nearby, outside one of the temples before we entered and even going in to our hotel. We objected of course but it only made them more determined. There was no cultural enrichment at this festival, only cultural annoyance.
Mondisti’s Bangkok (Thailand) Trip Tips
- Bangkok is a great place to visit but do go outside of Bangkok for some local culture.
- The Maeklong Railway Market is a fun afternoon, worth the drive from Bangkok.
- The floating markets outside of Bangkok are a must see but beware of some very touristy ones as they have lost their authenticity.
- Bangkok is a relatively safe city to visit.
- Do not go to Bangkok during the Songkran or water festival. It is not a cultural event and very annoying to be there at that time.