Enticing, exciting, alarming and alluring. There are a thousand more words to describe your first thoughts when you step out into the hustle bustle of Thailand’s capital, but those were the four to hit me. I loved it immediately – but it’s also a shock to the system. I warn you: after 24 hours in the city, your eyeballs will literally hurt from everything you’ve seen.
Racing through the city on a tuk-tuk is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to get around and feel part of the street. As you dart in and out of the traffic (it’s the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world, worse than Athens on a bad day!), exotic smells hit your nostrils and the colors of spices and fish and fruits come into view.
There will be stall after stall of sellers, trying to trap you with promises of a good meal at a good price. Then you’ll whizz past ancient temples as expert salesman wave gleaming jewel tones of fabric in your path, promising to make you the best suit in your wardrobe by 4pm that afternoon. And as soon as you step from your tuk-tuk out into the heat, there’s a gaggle of petite, pretty girls, pulling you towards their parlor for the massage of your life – like no other you’ve ever had.
This is all startling and stunning but sometimes, when the shocks come too hard and too quick, you need a sanctuary to escape to. Thankfully the Shangri-La became my very own, well, Shangri-La. Perfectly positioned on the edge of the river Chao Phraya, the hotel’s location not only offers a cooling breeze but a great travelling–without-moving edge. If you get too exhausted getting out into the melee, you can let the madness come to you. Watching the life of the river from the calm of your lounger, cocktail in hand, cold towel and fruit being offered at regular intervals, is bliss. And surely has to be the most charming and luxurious way to witness the people and their comings and goings without having to fasten your seatbelt. If your stomach feels as sensitive as your soul, hideaway in Angelina’s, the hotels Italian brasserie, voted best Italian restaurant in Bangkok 10 years in a row– and serving a very refreshing high tea at the peak of the midday sun.
1. Shopping for items you didn’t even know you wanted at the legendary weekend market, Chatuchak. Everything is reasonably well made and reasonably priced, so even if you’re venturing to Thailand in February, stock up on Christmas presents for people back home.
2. Gawking in wonder at the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is another don’t miss thing on any sensible Siam traveler’s agenda. Wat Pho is the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, dating back to the 16th century, and its famous lazy Buddha is 46m long and 15m high. It’s breathtaking. Imitating the Buddha as he rested before reaching his final nirvana, his eyes and feet are decorated with mother of pearl while the rest of him is covered in gold leaf. He glows! He inspires! He transfixes! Allow for a full morning there as you’ll feel blessed just soaking in the atmosphere (yes, there are a few monks on hand to make it authentic).
3. Clapping for traditional Thai dancers as they weave their way towards you in elaborate gold costumes and magnificent head pieces (seriously, each head piece is unique, ornate and resembles a temple). Sway to the customary music as they perform a dance that their ancestors have been doing for centuries. Watch their finger tips for the most subtle of movements – they draw attention to the beautiful arching of their hands with finger decorations quite unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the world. We saw a great show at Salathip, the Shangri-La’s Thai restaurant – where by the way I had the most delicious mushroom and lemongrass soup of my life. Ever. I can still taste it now.
So for tastes, sights, smells and of course the odd crazy person on a tuk-tuk that you will never forget, Bangkok is the place. And the Shangri-La is the place to keep you sane once you’re amongst it all. A winning combination of shocking and soothing.