Of Wats, shopping and beer in Bangkok

This article is also published in Rappler‘s travel and lifestyle page. (See: #TravelThursday: Wats, shopping, beer in Bangkok)

Last November, I was in Bangkok, Thailand to attend an international youth forum for ASEAN youth. Luckily, I had enough time to explore the capital of Thailand.

Wats

Wat is the Thai term for temple. Being a predominantly Buddhist country, Bangkok had lots of different temples scattered all throughout the city. I was fortunate enough to visit two of the most important ones.

As part of the forum activities, we visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The Grand Palace was formerly the abode of the King before Thailand turned into a constitutional monarchy.

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The structures were very beautiful and traditional. Almost all of the buildings were gold-plated. All throughout the Palace, one will also find giant soldier-like structures. According to my student liaison, Isaraporn Kitcholwiwat, the structures were supposedly the “protectors” of the Palace. Aside from the gigantic structures, there were also life-size half human and half animal statues. These were supposedly the “animal spirits” who frolic around the Palace.

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Wat Phra Kaew translates into the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is the most important temple in Thailand.  The main feature of this temple is the small statue of Buddha carved out from a single jade (not emerald) rock. Illustrations of the life of Buddha filled the interior of the temple. Photos were not allowed to be taken inside this temple.

I wasn’t required to pay any amount entering the Grand Palace since it was part of the forum activities. Based on the signage I saw, however, I think it costs around 500 Baht  (17 USD) for foreigners and 100 Baht (3 USD) for Thais.

Still at the Grand Palace

The second temple we visited, after the forum was over, was the famous Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It cost us around 100 Baht (3 USD) per person to enter the temple. For children, the entrance fee would be half the price.

I had always wanted to see the Reclining Buddha and so I was very excited to enter the temple. I was awed when I finally saw the structure. It was gigantic and for more, it was gold-plated. Visitors weren’t allowed to touch the structure. On the sides of the temple, there were donation bowls for the monks.

The Reclining Buddha

The structure of Buddha wasn’t the only attraction of Wat Pho. There were other minor temples and hundreds of life-size Buddha statues around the compound.

There’s one important thing foreigners should note, however, when going to any of these temples – there is a dress code. Men and women are required to wear pants and shirts. If you’re wearing sleeveless tops and short pants, you will be required to wear robes before entering the temples. Never mind wearing closed shoes. You’ll be required to walk barefoot anyway.

Two of the many big soldier statues in Wat Pho

When in Bangkok, one should never miss the chance to visit one or two Buddhist temples. They are good windows into understanding Buddhism and Thai culture more.

Shopping

Bangkok is also known to be one of the shopping capitals of Southeast Asia. I personally think that it’s because everything is relatively cheaper than the prices here in the Philippines. This is aside from the fact that there are shopping malls and markets almost everywhere.

During my one week stay in Bangkok, I was only able to visit a few shopping centers. These are: MBK, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Platinum, Terminal 21.

MBK is, perhaps, one of the cheapest if not the cheapest, shopping centers in Bangkok. It’s composed of six floors, where each floor has a category (i.e. 2nd floor – gadgets, 5th floor – shoes). The best thing about MBK is that you can haggle with the store owners to get lower prices. T-shirts are sold at 150 Baht but you can get them for 100 Baht if you buy two or three. Thai silk scarves are at 300 Baht but if you’re good at haggling, you can get them for as low as half the price.

Shopping with my co-delegates in MBK

I only happened to pass by Siam Paragon and Siam Discovery so I cannot really say too much about them. What I do know, however, is that these are the malls where the branded and high-class (at least in Siam Discovery) stores are. This is also where one will find fine Thai restaurants and other cuisines.

Terminal 21 is unique kind of mall. The concept of the entire mall is an airport and every floor had a specific country theme. It’s full of branded shops and miniature replicas of different international landmarks. The food court in Terminal 21 is a good place to experience different cuisines. The food stalls vary from Chinese to American.

Near the food court of Terminal 21

Platinum Shopping Mall (pronounced locally as Pratunam) is a good place to shop when one wants to buy lots of clothes. The shops offers wholesale prices. You can get products for a cheaper price when you buy more than one.

Pratunam Shopping Center

If you’re looking for the cheapest stalls in Bangkok, there’s no place better than the street shops. Some of the products in the malls can be found in the street shops with almost half the prices. It’s also a good place to haggle.

Street stalls in front of the Beer Garden

The best tip in shopping in Bangkok is to have a Thai as a companion. It’s easier to get lower prices when you’re with a person who knows the language. Luckily for me, I had Thai friends to accompany me.

Beer

If you’re a traveler like me who is fond of having a good time in different countries, then you’ll certainly enjoy Bangkok. There are various clubs and drinking places found around the city.

The most famous one is the Beer Garden at the Bangkok Centre. Here you’ll find  three drinking areas run by three beer companies – Chang, Singha and Leo. Single beer bottle prices are okay, albeit, it is cheaper to order beer towers and buckets. It’s pretty easy to get drunk in a relatively cheap price.

At the Chang Beer Garden

Khao San road is where most Caucasians party. The entrance fees and beers are more expensive compared to that of the Beer Garden. It’s a good place to have a wild street party. Anywhere you look, you’ll find someone dancing or drinking with friends, whether it be on the streets or on the bars. There are also fast food restaurants in the area where one can sober up.

The best places to have good times are in the clubs. During my stay, I was able go to one of the clubs, The Safehouse, with my other co-delegates. I paid 700 Baht for the entrance fee but it was worth it. I saw the wild side of my ASEAN friends during the party. Most of us had hangovers the next day.

In Conclusion

Bangkok is a wonderful city. It’s not easy to understand its culture and traditions. Most of the Thais I met are welcoming and fun. The place is a good mixture of modernity and old traditions.

Someday, hopefully, I can go back to Thailand and explore the places outside  Bangkok. Khob kun Krub!

Back at the Grand Palace!

AM+DG

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