Exploring Bangkok and Local Culture
So many people leave infamous cities disappointed because they spend the whole time going to stereotypical tourists traps to take pictures of statues and monuments that are often times not altogether that fascinating. What looks cool in a picture can sometimes be underwhelming in person, and being surrounded and bumped into by crowds of people edging each other out for the best view or the best photo opportunity can take away the authenticity of the experience. Bangkok distinguishes itself from the typical tourist city in that it is not a place you go to simply sight-see, it is a place you go to experience culture and immerse yourself with locals. It is the most visited city in the world, and there are many reasons why so many people flock from all over to basque in its rich culture and history.
One cannot say they have truly experienced Bangkok without going to the markets. Markets are a huge part of everyday life for Thai people. For many locals markets are the first and foremost place to go for clothes, groceries, household items, kitchenware and much more. Arriving to a Bangkok market for the first time can feel like pure chaos, but that is the beauty of it. One can spend hours getting lost amongst the aisles of brightly coloured clothing, knock-off electronics and of course friendly vendors trying to entice you to buy their products. The food you can get here is unlike anywhere else in the world, from sweet coconut ice cream served fresh out of the fruit to fried octopus on a stick. There is an incredible range of flavors and diversity in the food at these markets and they certainly offer something for everyone's taste. The prices also can't be beat here with many meals and snacks selling for one to three dollars.
One market certainly worth checking out is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This market probably receives the biggest draw from tourists because of its convenient location; however, it is a hotspot for locals as well. Chatuchak market is set up in a park and has 8,000 stalls spanning over 30 acres. It is a great place to go to try some of Thailand's most popular street food and to buy beautifully designed clothing with rich colours. You can find souvenirs unlike anywhere else in the world. There is even a stall here that sells coloured contact lenses!
Khlong Toei Pier Market is another fantastic place to go for a true cultural experience. This is a no frills market where Thais go to get the best prices on fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat. The fresh produce prices are unbeatable and at any hour of the day you can witness truckloads of fresh products being delivered. You will see chickens clucking around in cages, fish flopping and waiting to be butchered,, goldfish being sold in little baggies and much, much more. This market is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who want to really experience an authentic part of everyday Thai life. Some other great markets to visit in Bangkok are Rod Fai Night Market, Siam Gypsy Market, Pak Khlong Flower Market and Or Tor Kor Market. Each one offers something a little different than the other but they all offer a truly invigorating and immersive cultural experience.
A little ways out along the outskirts of the city are the infamous floating markets of Bangkok. Filled with boats drifting peacefully along the canals and selling snacks and sweets of all varieties, the floating markets offer a unique experience unlike any other market you will visit in the world. Taling Chan is perhaps the best option if you want something that is not too far from Bangkok's center yet still offers an authentic experience. Here you can spend the afternoon trying various snacks, enjoying a satisfying seafood lunch sitting on the floor amongst locals, receiving a cheap massage under a tree and going for a leisurely long tail boat ride around the surrounding canals. A few other equally authentic and colorful floating markets to check out are Amphawa Floating Market, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market and the Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market.
If shopping at the markets hasn't completely emptied your wallets and filled your stomach and you are still looking for other destinations to explore, then head to one of Bangkok's major shopping complexes. When travelling, visiting another city's shopping centre seems silly because often the same stores offered there are the same ones offered back home. However, Bangkok's shopping centers cannot be missed. Not only do they offer many high quality brands unfamiliar to western tourists, but they also offer another excellent glimpse into Bangkok's culture. They are another major hotspot for locals to gather and socialise, as they are entertainment hubs as well as shopping centers.
One of the best shopping complexes to check out is Siam. Siam is a three part shopping complex that is made up of Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, and Siam Center. Each of these could be a stand alone centre and still be fascinating. Combined, they make up one of the largest retail precincts in all of Asia. This shopping mecca was Instagram's most photographed place in 2013, and when you get there you will understand why. Walking through the sky-ways you will often see Thais taking photos of each other with high quality cameras. You will see many younger Thais still in their school uniform who have come to socialise with their friends and indulge in a sweet treat. You will see gargantuan food courts that offer every type of international cuisine imaginable. Visitors who need a break from shopping can explore Southeast Asia's largest aquarium, Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, or experience an IMAX movie in undoubtedly one of the most luxurious theatres you will ever set foot in. If the wonderment of Siam leaves you wanting more shopping extravaganza experiences, a short ten minute walk to next door Central World will leave you just as amazed and satisfied. Bangkok's shopping centers are not to be missed when exploring this amazing city.
Bangkok is more than just entertainment and shopping though. Buddhism is the major religion in Thailand and Bangkok is an excellent city to explore the spiritual side of the Thai culture. The best way to do this is to pay visits to the city's beautiful Buddhist temples.
With its glistening gold plated reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is at the top of the list for must visit temples in Bangkok. 20 acres large and 200 years old make it the largest and oldest Wat in Bangkok. One can peruse through over one thousand Buddha images scattered throughout the large temple grounds, and if you are lucky, bump into a monk who is looking to practice English with a nice tourist. It is also perhaps the best place to experience a traditional Thai massage, as the Wat has a Thai massage centre and training school that people from all over the world come to study at.
Another thing that's great about Wat Pho is that it is conveniently located near Bangkok's other must see Buddhist temple, Wat Arun. A quick boat ride across the river will take you to this stunning temple which offers panoramic views of Bangkok. At night, the light from the temple reflects into the water of the Chao Phraya River and gives you a view that is nothing short of breathtaking.
Nearby Wat Arun and Wat Pho is the Grand Palace. While the Royal family does not reside here, the intricate craftsmanship and stunning architecture make it worth the visit. It also houses another famous Buddhist temple, Wat Pha Kaew. This temple is home to the stunning emerald Buddha statue and is widely regarded as Thailand's most sacred temple.
To complete your journey of Buddhist expiration in Thailand you should also head downtown to visit the Erawan Shrine. Here you can experience Buddhist worship in action, as Thais visit the temple day and night to bring offerings consisting of flower garlands and freshly lit incense and to pay respects to the gods of creation in hopes of being blessed with good fortune. These are just a few of Bangkok's many Buddhist temples. Some other amazing temples worth visiting are Wat Saket, Wat Traimit, Wat Benchamabophit and Wat Kalayanamit.
If you think Bangkok is alive during the day and has plenty to do, just wait until nighttime. Bangkok becomes an adult's playground at night with lively bars and stylish clubs that keep Thais and tourists entertained into the wee hours of the night. Perhaps the best place to experience the thriving nightlife scene is along Sukhumvit Road, Thailand's longest road which is conveniently located right beneath the BTS sky train. Jumping off at anyone of the sky train's stops in order to experience Bangkok's energetic nightlife.
If the bar scene really isn't for you, Bangkok also offers plenty of other wonderful and exciting alternatives for a night out that are still rich in cultural experience. Rajamangala National Stadium is a great place to go of such events. Home to Thailand's national football team, Rajamangala National Stadium is the go to place for Bangkok's largest and most anticipated events. Musical performances, sporting competitions and musicals are just a few of the types of events you can come here to enjoy. If there isn't an event taking place during your time in Bangkok, visitors are also welcome to explore the massive grounds during the day.
One nighttime event that you should be sure to seek out while in Bangkok is a Muay Thai fight. Unlike the islands which often times only offer tourist centered fights, the fights in Bangkok at Rajadamnern Stadium are authentic matches between world class fighters. These thrilling fights draw in large and enthusiastic crowds, as Thais take the sport very seriously and its competitors train day in and day out for years. Attending a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok is a great way to feel the local spirit and camaraderie.
While Bangkok is definitely a concrete jungle, the city does offer some very impressive parks if you are craving a little greenery and a little tranquillity from the hustle and bustle. Most notable is Bangkok's Lumpini Park, where at any time of the day you'll find walkers, joggers, and bikers making their way around the 2.5 kilometre loop. One can also witness and take part in other activities beyond traditional exercise at this park. Every night the park offers open air aerobics classes that anyone can join in. You can also see ballroom dance classes taking place and early morning Tai Chi groups. Foreigners are welcome to jump in on the fun. Also, the park is another great place to catch a Muay Thai match if you're reeling off the excitement of Rajadamnern Stadium.
Undoubtedly, Bangkok is a city that lends itself to an authentic cultural experience for its visitors. It is nearly impossible to not become captivated with this city's rich history, energetic atmosphere and endless unique entertainment options. Bangkok is an amazing city that is always welcoming to visitors and waiting to be explored. A visit to Bangkok will leave one chock full of memories of great food, friendly people and enthralling culture.
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