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Thailand: How to Waste Four Hours in Bangkok

hao-Phraya-River-Bangkok-Thailand-credit-Supanut Arunoprayote

Hotels and heritage sites line the Eastern shore of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: Supanut Arunoprayote

 Sightseeing

Bangkok's key tourist attractions are grouped near the shores of the Chao Phraya River on the Thai Capital's Eastern flank. I decide to see how many of these  sites I can take in in three hours. Am I in for a big surprise?

Armed with two guidebooks and a SkyTrain map, I board a train at the Siam station headed south then west on the Wong Wian Yai line. Eleven minutes later, I arrive at Wong Nonsi. Most of the passengers get off, and I get a seat.

Off the Beaten Tourism Track

I arrive at Saphan Taksin station. I get off and walk toward Sathorn Pier. This is where the other tourists and I part company. They head for the boats, and I follow the locals, hoping to find my way to the Old European Quarter, the first stop on my itinerary.

I'm usually good at these things. I've never been a slave to guidebooks or maps. I can usually stumble across the places I want to visit. But there's a first time for everything.

I walk past a Chinese temple that looks completely different from Chinese temples in China, sidewalk food stalls selling things that look both disgusting and yummy, and vendors selling all manner of fruit and handmade gadgets for the house.

When I reach what appears to be the main drag, I turn left. It's looking a bit crowded and not very picturesque, but I think, “This is the real Bangkok! I should do this more often rather than hanging out at upscale shopping malls!”

Assumptions About Assumption Cathedral

I consult my map – and try to find a street sign. I'm confident that I'm heading in the right direction, but I'm not sure if I'm on the right street.

I assume that there will be a sign pointing in the direction of the Assumption Cathedral, an impressive brick and stucco edifice, my guidebook says.

After several blocks, I spot large a sign reading “Suraway Junction”. I consult my map. “Oh,” I think. Looks like the Assumption Cathedral was several blocks ago.

Should I backtrack? Not if I want to stay on schedule. I will have to give Assumption Cathedral a pass.

Where to Buy Jewelry in Bangkok

Buddhist Temple in Bangkok's Old Quarter Anyone that likes jewelry – and trusts his or her own taste – should check this neighborhood out.

I say that because there are no designer brands in this neck of the woods. You'll find shops selling unique pieces, and much of it can be customized.

But you've got to be confident enough in your own taste not to have a designer label to reassure yourself that its worthy of being worn by you.

I stumble across a really cool Buddhist Temple on a side street. Slowly the jewelers, tailors, and cutlery shops give way to Chinese antique shops.

When I see a sign pointing to the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, I decide to head that way. I find a pier located next to the hotel. 

I board a very long boat, and it is full of people. Most are tourists, but there is a smattering of locals.

Sailing Up the Chao Phraya River

Students boarding a water taxi on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok When we arrive at Tha Tien Pier, most of the foreign tourists on board stand up and head for the rear of the boat.

A large number of foreign tourists is also awaiting our arrival at the dock. Surveying the shore, I can't see anything out of the ordinary.

My mobile phone rings, and I become distracted. Before I know it, my boat has dislodged itself from the dock, and we are continuing on our way.

I survey the shores. The occasional stylish restaurant. Ramshackle wooden houses. Once in a while a high rise. Buddhist temples here and there. Monks and students making their ways wherever. This keeps me engaged. For a while . . .

Boredom is slowly starting to set in.

"Next time I'll take a taxi to the Grand Palace,” I think. “This is further than I had expected.”

The conductress makes an announcement in Thai. Everyone stands up and heads to the back of the boat. One or two other foreigners - who look as confused as I feel - do the same.

Surprisingly good coffee off the beaten track in Bangkok

Bangkok's key tourist attractions – the Grand Palace, the Old European Quarter, and Chinatown – are grouped along or near the shores of the Chao Phraya River on the Thai Capital's Eastern flank.  

I decide to see how many of these – and other nearby – sites he can take in in three hours. This is the Second in a Two Part Series.

Arrival at Nanthaburi

The sign at the pier informs me that I have arrived at Nanthaburi. It looks like a bustling small town, but I cannot find it on my map. I assume that it must be located next to the Grand Palace. I assume it must be a sort of ancillary community to the palace. 

I assume, I assume, I assume . . . 

I follow the locals off the boat and head up the main drag, thinking that they are making pilgrimages – or perhaps they work at the Grand Palace. 

I try walking down a side street. When I stumble across a military installation of some type, this confirms my assumption that the Grand Palace must be nearby. 

Wild Goose Chase

It's very hot, and I'm very tired. I am starting to think that maybe I'm not in the vicinity of the Grand Palace after all. I spot an Internet café. I go inside, buy a bottle of water, and log on.
 
I check my email. I check out my blog. I surf the net. I pay my bill and walk outside, wondering what to do next. I find a cute little coffee house. I go inside and order an espresso. 

When it arrives, I show the owner my map and ask him where I am. He can't find it on my map. I tell him I'm looking for the Grand Palace. He looks a bit surprised. 

As it turns out, I passed the Grand Palace eons ago when I was chatting on my mobile phone to a friend.

It wasn't so obvious during the day from the water taxi as it had been from the second deck of the Chao Phraya Princess the night before. 

So brightly lit up at night, it dominated the landscape. It almost jumped out at you. I assumed I would recognize it by day, but apparently it isn't as close to the shore as it had appeared from a lofty height while brightly illuminated at night. 

Luncheon Engagement

I'm meeting my friend for lunch – the one I had been chatting with on the phone. I look at the map. There's no way I'm heading back down the river.

I ascertain that the most direct route back to town is to somehow get myself to some place called Mo Chit and take the Skytrain back to Siam station, where I'm supposed to meet my friend. 

I hail a cab. I am driven to the Mo Chit SkyTrain station, which is located next to a leafy park. Much to my relief, the driver doesn't seem to be taking me on the most circuitous route possible. No more self-imposed wild goose chases! 

This is a terminus so there is no problem getting a seat. I pull out my guidebook to see where I went wrong. After about seven minutes, the train departs. The final leg of my journey takes about 15 minutes. 

I pull into Siam station exactly four hours after I departed – one hour behind schedule and not having visited any of the tourist attractions I set out to see. 

Recommended: Taking a Dinner Cruise on the Chao Phraya River>>

Copyright: Michael Taylor 

This post was originally published on 16 December 2010.

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