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Learn about Bangkok, Thailand, by reading Escape to Paradise by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Escape To Paradise-Bangkok, Thailand

by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer and WTA Member

Traditional Dancing
Classical Siamese dancing at Silom Village.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

Bangkok, the capital and largest urban area of Thailand, offers an exotic setting to experience ancient customs while indulging yourself in the finest restaurants, hotels, and spas. All of this can be done at a fraction of the cost of what you‘d pay in the United States. Located in the middle of Southeastern Asia, Thailand is one of the world's top tourist destinations with a variety of things to do that suit all interests. In 2006, Bangkok received the second highest number of tourists in the world after London. Its influence in the arts, politics, fashion, education, and entertainment, as well as being the business, financial and cultural center of Asia has given Bangkok the status of a global city. It is also the world's 22nd largest city by population with approximately 8,000,000 registered residents.

The city boasts some of the country's most visited historical venues such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are a large number of palaces in Bangkok, several which are still in use by the Thai royal family, while others are open to the public and still others have become governmental buildings or universities. The Grand Palace, which dates to 1782, is a complex of buildings and was the king’s official residence. It served as the official residence of Thailand's monarchs for over 150 years - from the 18th century to the mid-20th century.

Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is regarded as the most sacred and important Buddhist temple (wat) in Thailand. It houses the Emerald Buddha and is located within the grounds of the Grand Palace. The construction of the temple started in 1785, and unlike other temples, it doesn’t contain living quarters for monks but highly decorated holy buildings, statues, and pagodas. The Emerald Buddha is a statue of the sitting Buddha, made of green jade (rather than emerald), approximately 18 feet tall and adorned with garments made of gold. There are three different sets of gold clothing, which are changed by the King in a ceremony at the changing of the seasons -around March, July and November. The three sets of gold garments correspond to Thailand's hot season, rainy season, and cool season. The two sets of gold clothing not in use at any given time are kept on display in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Thai Coins on the grounds of the Grand Palace, where the public may view them.

Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is one of the most visited temples in Bangkok. Perhaps so named because the first morning light is reflected off the surface of the temple. The temple is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, rises 279 feet and is the tallest structure in Bangkok.

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is directly adjacent to the Grand Palace. It is the largest temple in Bangkok and named for its huge reclining Buddha measuring 151 feet long and covered in gold leaf. The Buddha's feet alone are 10 feet long. This temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is a type of massage that involves stretching and deep massage.

Bangkok is also home to the National Gallery of Thailand. It exhibits collections of both traditional Thai and contemporary arts by past and present famous artists of Thailand. Also found at the National Gallery are the Bangkok Metropolitan Museum of Contemporary Art, the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC), the Thailand Cultural Centre, the National Theatre, as well as many other museums, concert halls, theatres, and art galleries.

Bangkok was laced with canals in the 19th century, giving the capital the designation “Venice of the East”. Surviving canals and the Chao Phraya River provide memorable vignettes of traditional waterborne way-of-life that has remained essentially unchanged over the centuries. The river and canals may be conveniently explored by chartered boat or cruise. Riverine Bangkok offers some of the capital’s most arresting sights, particularly at night when the weather is cooler and reflections bestow the Chao Phraya River with flickering lights.

Thailand has a variety of shopping experiences from street markets to world class luxury malls. Tourists have historically always preferred markets and bazaars to other forms of shopping. The Chatuchak weekend market is one of the largest shopping destinations in Bangkok. Water markets are gradually disappearing, but remain strong tourist attractions as many tours are offered through the canals on which the markets are located.

The city also hosts two major film festivals annually. The Bangkok International Film Festival is an international film festival held annually since 2003. In addition to film screenings, seminars, and gala events, the Golden Kinnaree Awards are presented to the winning films and filmmakers. The World Film Festival of Bangkok is the second film festival held and its emphasis is predominantly on independent films from mostly emerging directors.

Day Tours

House on Stilts
Traditional houses are built on stilts along the Chao Phraya River.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

A tour to Bangkok’s Floating Market is relaxing and thrilling at the same time. Climb on a long-tailed boat to experience life along the Chao Phraya River (“River of Kings”), because every turn of the river brings exotic sights of old temples and traditional wooden houses built on stilts. The river is busy with vendors paddling their small boats to sell fruit, vegetables and flowers. The Floating Market in Old Bangkok is so named because the boats float around the waterfront cafes and shops, and some boats are floating kitchens with food being cooked on small stoves.

Floating Market
A vendor prepares food to sell at the floating market.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

Theme tours are very popular today, focusing on traveler’s special interests. Stop for a cooking class at M.L. Puang Dinakara Royal Exquisite Thai Culinary Center. It was founded in 1986 by the granddaughter of M. L. Puang Dinakara, who was a chef to the king and his family. Her culinary creations are unique interpretations of traditional Thai dishes. You can learn to cook Thai cuisine, and also learn some of the finest recipes of royalty. The class takes about two hours and afterwards you can sit in the dining room to eat your Thai cuisine feast.

Medical Tourism

The latest term “Medical Tourism” is defining a new reason to travel. The Tria Integrative Wellness Spa (www.triaintegrativewellness.com) goes further than massages and treatments. They offer wellness programs for the whole body to optimize client health and well-being. Whether your wish is modern medicine or ancient disciplines, you can arrange a consultation with a medical doctor, a naturopathic doctor, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, an Indian healer, a nutritionist and other health practitioners. Perhaps learning meditation, yoga or pilates can reduce your stress. Their programs include reflexology, hydrotherapy, detoxification, life coaching, psychotherapy, and much more.

Ancient Customs and Classical Dances

Ruen Thep, in Silom Village (www.silomvillage.co.th), presents Thai classical dances and brings ancient Siamese music and dancing to Bangkok. All of the music, dances, and songs are authentic and have been handed down throughout the ages. Performers, dressed in their dazzling jeweled costumes, ornate headdresses and theatrical masks, move to classical Thai music with grace and charm. Journey back to the days of ancient Siam and watch sword fights and learn stories of the people. Watch a classical Thai orchestra, dressed in traditional costumes, play their ancient musical instruments, not normally seen today. The Ruen Thep Thai classical dancers perform twice nightly, inside the Silom Village Trade Center-the last traditional Thai village on Silom Road. It consists of 15 teak houses and 3 buildings built in 1908.

Places to Stay

The gardens at the Sukhothai Hotel.
The gardens at the Sukhothai Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

Enter the five-star Sukhothai Hotel (www.sukhothai.com) and see the true meaning of world-class luxury! The Sukhothai resembles a palace in Thailand’s ancient Sukhothai Kingdom. Their ancient frescos, objects d’art, reflection pools, and impressive pillars all present a picture of the past. Silken fabrics adorn the furnishings, wallpaper, and drapes. You will also see many members of the staff wearing colorful traditional silk clothing. The sliding silk-lined wooden curtains are a perfectly beautiful way to keep out the sunlight when you want to sleep late. There is a telephone at each side of the bed, on the desk and in the bathroom next to the oversized tub. The plasma television swivels around (180 degrees) for viewing either from the bedroom or living room. Light dimmers and air conditioning control panels allow you to regulate each area of the suite. And the grandest suite of them all, the Sukhothai Suite (2,132 square feet), is known as the “Suite of Kings”. A long list of movie stars, heads of state and other dignitaries have stayed there.

Choose from the Celadon Thai Restaurant, Colonnade buffet, or La Scala Italian Restaurant. The leisure facilities include a health club, a swimming pool, a shopping arcade, and squash and tennis courts. New guests receive flowers when they arrive and best of all the exchange rate (34 Baht = $1 US-October 2008) allows you to savor these surroundings at more reasonable rates. Imagine how far your dollars will go in Thailand!

A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the five-star Lebua Hotel at State Tower (bangkok.lebua.com), lives up to its motto - “Life is not worth living unless it is simply exceptional”. They provide exceptional amenities and services to make certain that your life is essentially as it should be. With that attitude, you know you will be treated like royalty. Even the message in the elevator says, “You were born free, so break free from the expected, indulge in the exceptional and experience genuine care”.

Everything about the Lebua Hotel expresses a feeling of luxury-from the lobby to the restaurants, suites, banquet rooms and even cocktail lounges. Those “extras” really count. With over 330 count linens, silky feather Finesse bed mats, Bvlgari bath line amenities and a shower head that makes your shower more like a spa treatment, the Lebua Hotel seems more luxurious than hotels in the United States. You can even have their Conde Nast accredited chefs cook in your suite.

Details

Getting There

Thai Airways reaches 70 cities in five countries. Daily non-stop flights are available from Los Angeles and New York City to Bangkok, www.thaiairways.com

Tourist Information

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), www.tourismthailand.org

Entry Requirements

All travelers must have a valid passport and return or through ticket. <mailto:info@sukhothai.com>

Notice: This information is current as of November 2008. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.