Explore Bustling Bangkok

Filed in Asia, Destination World, Thailand by on July 19, 2013

Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is home to more than eleven million people – a city packed to capacity with both people and cars, one that can easily be dismissed by the ‘eco’ traveller as a no-go. Yet look beneath the traffic, exhaust fumes and high rise buildings and you will find a city that intrigues and delights, a city rich in cultural experiences and ablaze with colour and texture as well as some delightful green oases.

Bangkok dates at least to the early fifteenth century, when it was a small trading post on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Now it functions as Thailand’s cultural, political, commercial and diplomatic centre. It is one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities with magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, busy markets and a vibrant, if not somewhat risqué, nightlife that has something for everyone. Bangkok is also home to numerous ethnic groups and communities, and best way to experience these is on foot or by bicycle. There are a number of operators that offer walking and cycling tours of the city, or grab a map, hop on the public transport and you’re good to go.

The BTS Skytrain whisks you through the city with great ease. It’s fast, clean and highly efficient. The pollution spewing tuk-tuks are great for the experience or short trips but not necessarily the most cost effective, and definitely not ‘green’ – if possible rather go the shared taxi route.

Another ‘must do’ mode of transport is a water taxi on the Chao Phraya River and its many waterways. The Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery for a vast network of river buses, cross-river ferries and water taxis, also known as long-tails. On both sides of River there are many magnificent temples and architectural buildings including the First Presbyterian Church, the Royal Thai Navy Dockyard, the Old Customs House, the Royal Boat House as well as the Grand Palace. Often motorised by old motor-bike engines, the long-tails, sitting low in the murky river quickly take you out of the rush of the city into a place where things seem calmer and less hectic. To the Bangkok Klongs, where amidst the muddy and often polluted water you glide past old bridges and crooked houses, floating markets and elaborate temples. Old men sitting contemplating the day, industrious women selling their wares… something from a different life, a different time.

Back in the city, its time to explore…

Bangkok’s Yaowaraj Chinatown is colourful and captivating, a maze of narrow lanes and bustling streets, each one lined with shops selling everything from gold jewellery to Chinese medicine, religious trinkets to nuts and bolts; street-side stalls laden with fruit, vegetables and an assortment of Chinese delicacies. It both assaults your senses and inspires at the same time a vibrant and energetic place.

Just west of Chinatown is Little India. Pahurat Road is well known for its wide range of textiles. Besides textiles, many of these shops sell Indian CD’s and DVD’s as well as religious statues and pictures, bracelets, trinkets and leather sandals. Fabric fundi’s will want to explore the area behind Pahurat Road, the Pahurat textile market, a labyrinth of narrow lanes, some barely wide enough to pass through, bursting to the seams with fabric – from delicate silks to robust cotton, luxurious lace and even cashmere. Colour and texture abounds.

Also close to Chinatown is the Pak Khlong Flower Market, the biggest fresh flower market in the city where flower traders from all over Thailand convene at the early hours of each morning to unload their freshly cut blossoms in bulk. A kaleidoscope of bright vibrant colours mixed with an exotic blend of fragrant blooms. Paper-swathed lilies, orchids and roses sit side-by-side whilst mounds of greenery and other exotics await their fate.

Chrysanthemum garlands and traditional Thai Puang Malai’s, made from brightly coloured orchids and aromatic jasmine flowers. The flower market is a delightful place for photographers with unexpected ‘scenes’ around every corner.

There are many diverse community groups living and working in Bangkok, each identified by their ethnic groups and many descendent from early immigrants or by the trades and professions that have been handed down through generations. There is the Thai-Vietnamese community known as Little Saigon, a Japanese community near Soi Phrom Phlong as well as Arab and North African communities to mention just a few. Some of the communities well known for their trades are the alms bowl makers in Boriphat Road and the wood craftsmen in the Bang Sue district. There are the Khon mask makers of the Saphan Mai community, the Thai bronze-ware makers in Baan Bu and the Ban Laos community of bamboo flute makers.

Slightly further afield is Koh Kret, a small island in the Chao Phraya River in Nonthaburi, offers a step back in time. A visit to the pottery village is a must. It is located along a pathway around the island, and visitors are able to see the pottery making process. Villagers make an assortment of earthenware products for daily use and this is the oldest and biggest source of earthenware in the Nonthaburi Province. A visit to the Ancient Mon Pottery Centre offers the opportunity of seeing an assortment of pottery in various styles. The Mons is an ancient civilisation, with its roots in Burma, dates back to the 16th century when King Naresuan granted them refuge in Thailand where they settled along the Chao Phraya River. They have lived elsewhere in Bangkok, but it is here in Koh Kret that they have become famous for their pottery.

Floating markets are another traditional way of Thai life, preserving the way things were when communities lived near rivers and canals, which provided the means of transport and trade of their agricultural produce. There are a number of floating markets operational in Bangkok, including the Taling Chan floating market and the Bang Namphueng floating market. The latter being the least touristy with many shops, food stalls and dining areas, it even has a coffee area displaying vintage items. The existence of so many different Bangkok communities reflects the gentleness, openness and tolerance the Thai people have held dear over the centuries. This has resulted in the rich cultural diversity so prevalent today.

Thai etiquette tips for visiting the land of smiles

Thai culture is deeply rooted in historical and religious customs and before setting foot in Thailand, tourists should understand its unique social and cultural etiquette. Thai people are known for their warm hospitality, kind-hearted nature and smiles, always happy to make travellers feel welcome, but to get the most out of a visit to Thailand (or to anywhere for that matter) it is good for travellers to understand the dos and don’ts of their culture.

The word Sawasdee is a general greeting that can be used any time of the day to say hello or goodbye. This is followed by a wai gesture, which is done by pressing the palms together at chest level with the fingertips at the chin, and bowing the head. Shorts or tank tops should not be worn in temples and shoes must be removed before entering. Using feet to point at anyone or anything is frowned upon and Westerners should also ensure that their feet are not accidentally pointed at anyone when they’re sitting down. Do not use a foot to point out anything, or worse, touch someone. Never step over someone’s legs or feet in a bus, rather wait for them to move. And never touch a respected statue, image or Thai person’s head, as it is considered sacred.

When visiting a restaurant or home for dinner, check if the host is wearing shoes. If not, guests should remove their shoes before entering. Sometimes traditional eateries will offer visitors a fork and spoon.  The spoon is held in the right hand and the fork is used to guide food onto the spoon in the left.

In Thailand it is vital to show respect for the monarchy. The king is held in esteem and Thai people expect tourists visiting their country to show the same respect.

Thai customs and etiquette might be overwhelming, but Thai people are warm, welcoming and usually very helpful in showing foreigners how they should behave at different places. However, it’s always helpful to understand some of the basic rules before visiting a country to truly embrace its culture.

Where to stay in Bangkok and beyond…

The luxurious JW MARRIOTT HOTEL BANGKOK is situated on the fashionable Sukhumvit Road, and offers guests a fantastic central location close to business and entertainment. This business hotel in Bangkok hotel features on-site dining locations offering cuisine ranging from international to Thai & Chinese and boasts quick access to the city’s top dining, shopping, entertainment & attractions. In addition this establishment is a certified Green Globe member.

Also in Bangkok and set on the banks of the grand Chao PhrayaRiver, is ANANTARA BANGKOK RIVERSIDE RESORT & SPA. It is a thriving oasis with majestic palms swaying in the sultry breeze. Spa treatments hidden within lush tropical gardens, luxurious suites lit by the twinkle of the city skyline and delectable meals fusing tastes from around the globe. Situated on 11 riverside acres of verdant gardens, this Green Globe member seamlessly blends the thrill of urban living with the serene charms of tropical luxury. Imparted with Thai tradition and legendary Anantara service, this exotic Bangkok resort offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the busy metropolis. 

Located only an hour away from bustling Bangkok is the SAMPRAN RIVERSIDE (formerly known as Rose Garden Riverside),  a family-run property where visitors can experience authentic the Thai way of life. For decades it has been considered one of Bangkok’s favourite attractions because of the obvious dedication to preserving Thailand’s natural and cultural heritage by engaging with the local community. It all began in 1962, when one family cultivated roses to supply them to Bangkok flower markets and their garden of blossoming roses attracted visitors who then referred to the place as ‘Suan Sampran’ or ‘the Rose Garden’. Since then, with the family’s unique vision and under the care of three generations, Sampran Riverside has grown gradually to a 70-acre riverside property that is more like a community rather than a ‘typical’ resort.

Their unique Thai Village within the property is where most daily activities take place that showcase aspects of Thai tradition and culture. Every morning from 10:00hrs to 12:00 hrs, guests can take part in over ten arts and crafts workshops dotted around the village. Visitors are free to roam around and try out these activities, each one in their own pavilion stations such as traditional weaving, rice farming, bamboo dancing, Thai martial arts, garland making, traditional pottery, traditional Thai kitchen, umbrella painting, Thai herbal compress making and much more. Trained staff are available at each station to demonstrate the activity and provide information to enable to obtain a full hands on experience.

Across the other side of the Ta-Chine river is their 10-acre organic farm where vegetables, herbs and fruits are grown. Visitors can take a short traditional boat ride to visit the farm to sample fresh organic vegetables and fruits in season, try their homemade herbal teas and experience the livelihood of Thai farmers. They could also bring back some of the homegrown vegetables and herbs for a cooking class or for making herbal product for spa treatment. The Organic Farm project is in collaboration with the experienced local farmers of Nakhon Pathom who would like to either continue or return back to traditional agriculture practices and come together with the common goal to promote and create awareness on organic farming methods. This was another  major step taken towards responsible tourism.

The Organic Farm project is in collaboration with the experienced local farmers of Nakhon Pathom who would like to either continue or return back to traditional agriculture practices and come together with the common goal to promote and create awareness on organic farming methods. This was another  major step taken towards responsible tourism. In the early years Sampran Riverside built itself on the primary principle of community based tourism which has strengthened over the years. The property further expanded itself under the foundations of being green and organic by eliminating the use of chemicals and replacing them with bio-degradable natural products to maintain cleanliness and adopting natural methods to care for its gardens.

Without the Corporate Social Responsibilities, Sampran Riverside would simply lose its purpose. Sampran Riverside’s philosophy of sustainable tourism is to preserve everything the way they should be. They believe that traditional and natural are ways for a sustainable future. Thus, their support for sustainable tourism is to go back to their roots of traditional Thai way of life – something that they have been practising for the last 50 years.

Perched high up on the hills on Thailand’s border overlooking Myanmar and Lao, ANANTARA GOLDEN TRIANGLE RESORT & SPA has implemented and integrated sustainable practices into the resort’s operations and have been awarded Green Globe certification.  The Resort is perfectly located to provide travellers with an introduction to some of the world’s most pristine rainforests, as well as the great ethnic diversity of the region. In addition they are a proud sponsor of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and encourage guests to visit and support its activities in preserving the well being of these iconic animals. Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa offers guests a number of experiences, including the wonder of riding an elephant through bamboo jungle, the rush of a long-tail boat ride up the Mekong River, sublime spa experiences as well as interactions with local communities ( e.g. immerse yourself in the local culture with the on-site elephant camp, or learn to create authentic Lanna cuisine at the cooking school).

Enjoy breathtaking vistas from the beautifully finished rooms and suites as you watch elephants browsing in the distance and the sound of birdsong playing over the Mekong and Ruak rivers. Anantara Golden Triangle décor features Thai textiles, teak furnishings and artwork from local cultures. Explore three countries including hill-tribe villages, the Hall of Opium museum and the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Saen. Or simply wind down at the world-renowned Anantara Spa.

The SIX SENSES EVASON HUA HIN RESORT & SPA is located at Pranburi, a short 25-minute drive south of Hua Hin town, which is 230 km southwest of Bangkok. The resort a beautiful place with tropical gardens, lotus ponds and waterways, and its guest rooms are fresh and unconventional. This resort offers a laid-back beach environment that has a strong ethos of both social and environmental sustainability with policies in place and practices that promote sustainable waste management, reduce energy use, encourage sustainable purchasing, and minimise carbon emissions.

From its very beginnings in 1996, Six Senses has been committed to sustainability, the environment, and the community. Through careful consideration of the effects that operating systems, materials, and purchasing policies have on the environment, they are continually developing new initiatives and procedures to minimise their ecological impact.

Six Senses remains at the leading edge of sustainable tourism best practices, and these include environmental performance, support for the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, and the enhancing of social and economic benefits to local communities.

The Six Senses commitment to sustainability addresses the carbon emissions resulting from guest travel and their operations, and invites guests to share the responsibility to offset that footprint. There are programmes in place to conserve energy, re-use water for secondary applications and to re-cycle waste materials produced. Responsible purchasing means that only eco-friendly chemicals are procured for use in the operations, while food and beverage products should be produced locally, and wherever possible, packaging be kept to an absolute minimum, be re-usable or recycled. Being located in a place of great beauty and close to nature, the resort has biodiversity opportunities to preserve, protect and rebuild environments.

Indulge in a luxury Thailand holiday directly on the beachfront of the sleepy royal seaside town of Hua Hin with ANATARA HUA HIN RESORT & SPA. Tee off at sunrise on one of the area’s many great golf courses. Take an age old Thai massage surrounded by beautiful gardens at Anantara Spa. Explore the nearby open-air palaces before retreating to the stylish Thai interior of your private suite. Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa is among the most luxurious Hua Hin hotels, designed in the style of an ancient Thai village right beside the beach. Lush tropical gardens surround the hotel, inviting you to spend your hours outdoors, while in the rooms and suites you’ll find all the amenities you need for an idyllic romantic vacation.

The resort offers a range of superior facilities including a beachside swimming pool, tennis courts, cookery school and a choice of glorious dining options of various world cuisines to create the perfect romantic vacation. Embrace the spirit of seaside luxury in this ancient royal playground at Anantara Hua Hin.

Words & pics (unless otherwise indicated)  Tessa Buhrmann



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