You’ll never forget the first time you experience Bangkok. It startles all the senses, instantly tuning you into the hum of life in the “land of smiles.”
Petite women clad in chut thai wait on restaurant tables. Their long, straight skirts and matching tops of stiff Thai silk in vibrant hues shimmer with thread that’s golden like the spires of the temples scattered throughout the city.
Inside the walls of the Grand Palace you’ll step into a dreamland of the greenest lawns and trees. Thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass beads and porcelain, meticulously arranged piece by piece, adorn massive columns and spires, dazzling the eyes as sunlight sparkles off each one.
A long narrow boat with a rainbow-covered canopy takes us up and down the canals of Bangkok, past the houses on stilts sitting just inches above the river that overflows every rainy season. People wash and bathe, waving and smiling as our boat coasts by and we get a glimpse into their lives. Brightly colored spirit houses (miniature temples with offerings) brighten up the dull wooden shacks with tin roofs showing how important it is to give the spirits—bringers of good fortune and health—a more desirable home.
When Thai people speak, you can hear the smile woven into the soft chatter. Even the guy in the nightclub who’s had a little too much Singha to drink, slurs, “Welcome to Thailand…everything here no problem. Smile, be happy!” The zooming of cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks is a modern counterpoint to the traditional ways of life that still exist today.
The Royal Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Bangkok and a significant building during the student revolution 30 years ago. The restaurant has a nice vibe and offers cultural favorites in the restaurant lounge, such as a nice bowl of tom ka gai (coconut milk soup).
If you like spicy food, you should know that spicy dishes served up in Thailand tend to be much more fiery than the ones we get back home. You can always ask for not spicy and the Thais will readily oblige.
In the street stalls you’ll have your pick of moo ping (grilled pork) and kai yang (grilled whole chicken) and delicious som tamthai (papaya salad), an unripened papaya salad like coleslaw without the mayo but sweet and spicy.
Thais also like sweet things like koa nieow (mango and sticky rice) and kanom krok, a morning treat of coconut custard grilled in a special iron skillet with depressions like a small egg poacher.
It’s not just a whiff; it’s the sweet hot air you experience in this city of golden temples and Buddhas. Unfamiliar scents from fruits and vegetables you’ve never seen before combine with the delicious aroma of spicy noodles sizzling in big woks on street corners, blending with incense burning in a traditional family shrine at a sidewalk shop. Olfactor-ily speaking, there’s nothing in our experience to even compare it to.
A great cure for jet lag is a visit to a traditional Thai massage school for an hour of stretching and kneading. Thai massage comes from India and China, an invigorating blend of yoga (with somebody else doing all the work) and strong pressure along the meridians (the chi energy points) of the body. For just under $12 you’ll walk away rejuvenated and ready for your next tuk-tuk ride.
Get out and shop early, as the first sale of the day is thought to bring more business for the shop owner and they’re more likely to take a lower offer to encourage the sales to keep flowing. We bargain for every souvenir but just keep smiling.
Women who want to do something you don’t usually do at home, get your hair braided with beads on Khao San Road where all the farang (foreigners) hang out—a global, cultural experience in itself.
Whatever you do in Bangkok, do it with open heart, mind and senses. In this city you’ll likely feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before.