There are few capital cities in Asia that hold as many cultural treasures as Bangkok.
Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taipei are relatively young. Tokyo and Jakarta have destroyed the past (or had it destroyed).
Seoul and Beijing are, I guess, the only cities that compare.
The first stop in Bangkok has to be the Grand Palace. It's a site of historical, religious, political, and cultural importance.
It's also the most overwhelming human construction I've ever seen. Your eye wants to go everywhere at once.
Colors, shapes, textures, sizes; the entire visual palette was used here.
The Grand Palace
The Emerald Buddha is housed here, and the Reclining Buddha is nearby, at Wat Pho. Across the river is Wat Arun, another picturesque temple, with excellent views of the river and the city.
Thai Spirit House
As you travel around Thailand, you will see a lot of these little houses.
The Thai people believe that spirits live in the earth. If you build a house, the spirits will move into your house. This is, apparently, not a good thing.
So, you must build a spirit house. This house will be positioned such that it never falls in the shadow of your new house. It should also be nicer than your house, to attract the spirit. With blessings or daily offerings, the spirit will be happy and content. And so will you.
Cool concept, I think!
Bangkok was designed as a canal city, and as soon as you get on the river, you can see what a great city this must have been in those days.
Today, the river culture is diminished, but still there, and taking a longboat through the canals (or Klongs) is still the best way to get around Bangkok, if your destination is near the river. If you get a hotel near the river, you can go to the Grand Palace, or the old capital Ayuttuya, without suffering through the congested road traffic. Actually, I've been told that you can take a river taxi from the hotel to downtown, but I've never tried to do it.
Even if you have no destinations near the river, you should hire a boat for an hour or two, relax, and watch the scenery go by. It's an inexpensive, cool, and scenic way to experience Bangkok.
Buddhas' Body Shop
Ayutthaya was the location of Thailands' capital until its' downfall in 1767. The city was burned, and the capital moved to Bangkok.
Today, there are dozens of temple remnants that testify to the former greatness of this city. Walking among the collapsed chedi, broken Buddhas, and overgrown grounds, reminds us how short the life of mans' constructs can be.
In some areas, the Buddha parts are so numerous (even after massive looting in the intervening years), that we joked that the city could be called "Buddhas' Body Shop".
If you want to get out of the hustle-bustle of Bangkok and mix a little history with clean air, head to Ayutthaya for a day trip.
Here are some Faces from Bangkok.