Is One Day Enough?
A simple answer to this question would be: no, it’s not enough. But time is often restrictive, and if organised, many manage to see the highlights of Bangkok in one day, without driving themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Rule number one: accept the limited time you have and don’t try to pack too much in. It would only result in feeling stressed and tired. Instead, choose a few favourites (see below), explore them and remember- you’ll be back!
Some people prefer spending all the time they have in Bangkok indulging in guilt-free pampering. A visit to the spa or a massage parlour can be a nice opportunity to wind down and ease into your holiday mood. I have met many, especially ladies, who use Bangkok as a welcome stop to treat themselves to a nice hair cut or a body scrub and a massage.
But massage parlours are fifteen to the dozen in Bangkok, and you don’t need me to steer you to one.
If you are ready to appreciate the cultural and historic abundance this city has to offer, then you’ll enjoy the following suggestions.
Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East, complete with canals and long-tail boats. If you only have a day to experience the city, travelling by water is a sensual must. You need only reach the Chao Phraya river, then the chances are you are close to one of the piers where the river ferries stop. Conveniently, the main pier or Central Pier (Tha Sathon) is located right next to Saphan Taksin BTS station. Tickets can be purchased on the ferry, or before boarding, and different options are available – from single journeys to a daily hop-on, hop-off pass.
Make Tha Chang (pier number 6) your first ferry stop. See the Grand Palace and its Wat Phra Kaew, one of the architectural gems of Bangkok. The latter is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, after the statue of the Buddha made out of green naphrite (rather than emerald) and clothed in gold, which is on display there. If you happen to visit the North of Thailand at some point, you might see the model of this same Emerald Buddha in Wat Suthep in Chiang Mai. They’ll tell you the original was “stolen” from them. Every country has its tensions and intrigues, Thailand is no exception. The Emerald Buddha holds a mystical significance to the Thais and is visited by the king on ceremonial occasions. The Grand Palace was the former royal residence. The current king, Rama IX, now resides in the Chitlada Palace.
Please observe the dress code when visiting the palaces and wats (temples). This includes covering your shoulders and wearing a dress or trousers that reach below the knees. You know, when in Rome (Thailand), do as the Romans (Thais). It’s respectful and you won’t risk being turned away (or having to hire or buy clothes at the gate).
After exploring the palace and the Wat, head to the nearby Wat Pho, which is within walking distance. This is the oldest and the largest temple in Bangkok, with the statue of the reclining Buddha as the main attraction. The temple also hosts the traditional Thai medical and massage school so you can use this opportunity to pause for a massage in atmospheric surroundings (although some find the place overrated).
By now it’s time for lunch, which can be taken by the river. Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day as the tropical heat and humidity can bring down even the most resilient. Wat Pho is close to Tha Tien pier (pier number 7), from where you can then quickly cross to the other side of the river to visit the majestic Wat Arun. You will notice that this temple is different from the ones you visited so far. It’s a Khmer style temple and if you are planning to visit Cambodia’s breathtaking Angkor Wat complex, Wat Arun can be a good prelude. The name Arun originates from the name of the Hindu God of Dawn, and the temple shines with a brilliant, otherworldly light at sunrise and sunset (maybe next time, if time is short?)
Taking a picturesque stroll South along the river, you’ll reach a small Portuguese catholic church – Santa Cruz Church. It feels so out of place and at the same time so proud of its existence. It’s worth a visit just to experience the secluded and somewhat surreal vibe it emits. You suddenly feel you are back in Europe and get to witness how the old immigrants and colonisers tried to re-create their distant lands of origin wherever they went. The Portuguese were granted this plot of land in 1770 by the Thai king Taksin, for their services to the crown, but the present church was built in 1916.
Europe revisited, you might be ready to cross back to the other side of Chao Phraya and make it just in time for the 6 PM meditation at the International Buddhist Meditation Centre in Wat Mahathat (river ferry pier Tha Maharaj or Tha Chang). The meditation classes are offered in English but they last up to 3 hours so they require a little commitment.
If that’s not your bag, you could instead devote some time to a leisurely wander through one of the famous amulet markets. The biggest amulet market in Bangkok is situated at Wat Rajnadda (in Mahachai road, it closes at 5 PM). However, a less pricey version is back at Wat Mahathat (which closes at 6 PM). Amulet markets sell images of the Buddha in different sizes, designs and materials. The amulets are very popular with Thais, who wear them to keep evil spirits away.
After all the day’s excitement and novelty, you’ll be ripe to dive into Bangkok’s famous, sparkling nightlife! Or maybe just go for a great dinner and a sound sleep in your hotel room….