Bliss in Bangkok
A slice of heaven on earth awaits in the City of Angels.
Small, cheerful stalls along sidewalks compete for your dollar against imposing mini cities with endless escalators beckoning shoppers toward the promised land of department stores and independent boutiques.
The heady scent of incense lingers in the air as muted chanting lulls one into a state of serenity. In the distance, temple bells chime. Birds serenade those seeking tranquillity and shade from the leafy giants scattered amid stark-white buildings crowned with red-, green- and yellow-tiled roofs.
Walking into Wat Pho, the tranquil figure of the reclining Buddha stretches out languidly before visitors in resplendent glory, all 45 metres of it covered in gold leaf. Reverie at this breathtaking sight is broken only by the haphazard dropping of coins for good luck into the 108 bronze bowls flanking the statue.
Being a predominantly Buddhist country, Bangkok is blessed with temples that are true works of art, in addition to being places of worship. While there’s never enough time to cover every one, the holy trinity of Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun is not be missed.
Located on the grounds of the Grand Palace, the former residence of the Thai monarch, Wat Phra Kaew (link: http://tat-la.com/activities--events/culture) (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is regarded by many as the most sacred of all Buddhist temples in the country. Royal ceremonies are conducted here thrice a year and the king (or his representative) changes the Emerald Buddha’s robe to reflect the season – cool, rainy or summer.
At Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), visitors make a beeline for its central prang (tower) to get a panoramic view of Bangkok by the river. Contrary to its name, the temple is spectacular at sunset when the rosy hues of dusk provide a brilliant backdrop to its distinctive Khmer-style architecture.
Conveniently for the faithful and curious alike, these temples are located along the Chao Phraya that runs through the heart of Bangkok. After a day of divine exploration, catch the scenic route back in a river taxi. Hop off at the pier near Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok, which commands an amazing view from its unbeatable riverside location.
Temple hopping can be rather exhausting, so get rejuvenated at Shangri-La’s CHI, The Spa. Taking luxury to the next level, the ‘spa within a spa’ consists of 11 exquisitely decadent suite rooms. Be it a Jasmine Rice Body Scrub, Aromatic Water Therapy in the in-room Jacuzzi or a Traditional Thai Massage, you’ll definitely be pampered.
For a peek into the soul of the city, head to Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, and wander down the maze-like alleys, each offering items like dried foods, second-hand goods and homeware from the ‘70s. It’s nostalgia and quirk mixed together amid charming and colourful shophouses offering a look back into a bygone era.
It is, perhaps, no wonder that art galleries and hipster cafes are popping up in the suburb. Integrated into the local landscape, creative spaces like Speedy Grandma and Soy Sauce Factory, which blend art with lifestyle events, are breathing new life into an old neighbourhood.
Fashionistas descend on Bangkok – a shopping mecca – to pay homage to the latest trends. Small, cheerful stalls along sidewalks compete for your dollar against imposing mini cities with endless escalators beckoning shoppers toward the promised land of department stores and independent boutiques.
One shopping centre that has been drawing the crowds since its opening earlier this year is EmQuartier. Featuring a mixture of luxury brands and perennial favourites, it’ll be a challenge to keep the purse strings drawn tight. However, the one destination that every shopper must conquer, or at least venture into, is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Spanning 27 acres and consisting of as many sections, the market is one of the largest in the world. Be prepared to get lost in the bewildering labyrinth of more than 8,000 stalls selling a staggering variety of items ranging from antique rosewood furniture to cult fashion labels, handmade ceramic sinks and even cuddly baby squirrels.
From street hawkers offering the tastiest treats at rock-bottom prices to restaurants owned by Michelin-starred chefs, Bangkok is a dream come true for epicureans. The variety of local and international dishes in this food paradise is dizzying and gluttony is not a sin, but a survival skill.
To sample local cuisine at its most authentic, visit the de facto kitchen and dining room of Bangkok – the streets. Watch the world whizz by right in front of you as you sample a smorgasbord of mouth-watering dishes ranging from the ubiquitous Som Tum (papaya salad) to the indulgent Hoy Tod (oyster omelette) and a comforting bowl of Khao Tom Pla (rice with fish soup). A night out on a town like this hits the spot, not the pocket.
Those hankering for a more intimate dining experience should try Seven Spoons, which serves modern cuisine in a historic Chinatown shophouse. A relatively new entrant that has been garnering top awards, the restaurant offers fare that is as attractive as its ambience. Grab a seat and a cocktail at this tiny charmer before the waiting list gets too long.
The beauty of a great destination lies in its ability to resonate with each traveller in a way that outlives the expedition itself. Bangkok is one of those places – it invites you to come back to sample more of its pleasures and remember why it is a slice of paradise on Earth.
Tips for Bangkok
- Enjoy an intriguing alfresco dining experience cruising along the Chao Phraya River on the hotel’s private riverboat.
- To get around Bangkok quickly, use the BTS and Metro lines. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, but tend to get stuck in traffic.
- Follow the crowd when trying to figure out which street food stall to patronise – choose the one with the most local customers.
- The weekend market at Chatuchak is not for the faint-hearted or indecisive. If you find something you like, buy it as you most probably won’t be able to find the same shop again later.
- Don’t be afraid of language barriers – Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason.
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While being near Shangri-La Hotel,Bangkok most suitable to heal a heart and a body, I'd like to visit by all means.