Along The Silkroad

By Rebecca Bowering

Much to my disbelief I actually made my flight to Bangkok . It had seemed that there was simply too much to do but, as is always the case, the things that haven’t been completed will wait and it’s not the end of the world.

12 hours later the sights and sounds of Bangkok assault my senses and I truly realise I am on my way to Europe. We head downstairs at Suvarnabhumi Airport and find a public taxi. Then 30 minutes and 700 bahts  (NZD29) later we are at our hotel on the river via the expressway.

Bangkok has an energy that is quite different from its Asian cousins – the people are gentle, smiley and genuine. We arrive on a public holiday called Vesak and in deference to the religion of the people and Buddha, it is a day of no alcohol and the entire city – restaurants, bars and hotels – comply willingly. I cannot imagine the same happening in New Zealand or Australia.

Arising in the morning my colleague heads into Sukhomvit for a dental appointment. Dentists in Bangkok are highly qualified and inexpensive compared to home, and many people visit Bangkok for their dentists, hospitals and surgeons. I, on the other hand, lounge around the pool for a much welcomed dose of Vitamin D.

I love to stay on the Chao Phraya River, and have stayed at some of the finest hotels – The Peninsula, The Oriental and Shangri La, to name a few.  I now stay at a relatively inexpensive hotel The Chatrium Riverside, which features suite style apartments with their own balconies and gloriously comfy beds.

The river is a hustling and bustling field for commerce. Barges and ferries making their way in both directions, carefully avoiding the numerous free hotel shuttle boats heading both across and up and down the river. If you have some spare time jump on a local ferry that costs next to nothing and take in the sights, culture, temples, markets, and of course, the people! If you have more time enjoy some of the local tours: the orchid gardens, the floating markets and the many and varied temple tours. Take one of the free hotel boats at the Sathorn Pier and head to The Peninsula or The Oriental Hotel for afternoon tea or a fabulous cocktail and watch the world go by.

One treat I always allow myself is a visit to Jim Thompson House, which pays homage to the man behind the eponymous world-renowned fabric brand. Jim Thompson disappeared mysteriously in the 1960s, but his legacy lives on both in the House, which is now a museum, and with The Thai Silk Trading Company – known as Jim Thompson. Set in lush tropical gardens, the house is quite magnificent and we can all imagine the parties, the intrigue and the lifestyle that took place here years ago. I understand too, from many locals, that Jim Thompson will continue to be a hero in their eyes. Both for developing the silk industry in Thailand, but also for offering a prosperity previously unheard of to many of the silk farmers up North.

We head briefly to Central World – one of many superb shopping malls in Bangkok. If you are a shopper Bangkok is for you! Every brand you can think of is represented here. Travelling by the BTS Skytrain is the best and easiest way to move about. Bangkok is inexpensive and efficient (and even air-conditioned!). Catching a Tuk Tuk is fun and a must do (not for the faint hearted), but you will find a metred taxi is by far cheaper.

Asiatique is a new market area filled with fabulous restaurants, stalls and local artisan products – based on the river you can reach it by taxi or their free shuttle boat form Sathorn Pier (Saphan Taksin stop on the Silom Line).

Packed and ready to leave, we head there for our last meal – delicious Thai – and a whizz on the ferris wheel to drink in the lights and colours of Bangkok.

Bangkok is a special place – our 24 hour stopover isn’t long enough – it truly is a destination in its own right!

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