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Secrets of Bangkok

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.

But it's not easy to find the treasures of Bangkok. The city is noisy, dirty, and chaotic. The first time I visited Bangkok, I hated it. Now, I love it.
Why? Because I know the secrets of Bangkok.

Secret #1 - Get on the River

River Vendor

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 Ayutthaya, 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.

The Grand Palace

Secret #2 - Skip the Tours and Do it Yourself

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.

If you see this on a tour, you won't have time to savor it. Plan on spending a few hours. Watch Thai people come and go. Study the details on the buildings.

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.

Secret #3 - Go to Ayutthaya

This isn't really a secret, but again, the key is to do it without a tour.

Ayutthaya was the location of Thailand's 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.

Ayuthaya Buddha
Buddhas' Body Shop

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".
Take a boat to Ayutthaya, then wander the town. In between tour buses, the temples are peaceful and beautiful. You will find Thai art students sketching the ruins. They are quite happy to talk and let you watch.
If you hire a boat, you can also tour some of the less visited ruins, at your own leisure.

This trip is a great way to escape the hustle-bustle of Bangkok and mix a little history with clean air.

Secret #4 - Meet the People

But, the best traits of Bangkok are the traits that the tourist almost never sees.
Meet the People of Bangkok