Crystal@Home Featured Port: Bangkok, Thailand
Buddha, Boats & the Best Street Food (with a Michelin star!)
City of Buddhas & Beauty
S.J. Perelman wrote in his 1948 piece Westward Ha!... “From the very beginning I was charmed by Bangkok, and I propose to be aggressively syrupy about it in the most buckeye travelogue manner. I liked its polite, gentle, handsome people; its temples, flowers, and canals, the relaxed and peaceful rhythm of life there. Apart from its shrill and tumultuous central thoroughfare swarming with Chinese and Indian bazaars, it struck me as the most soothing metropolis I had thus far seen in the East.
“Its character is complex and inconsistent; it seems at once to combine the Hannibal, Missouri, of Mark Twain's boyhood with Beverly Hills, the Low Countries and Chinatown. You pass from populous, glaring streets laden with traffic into quiet country lanes paralleled by canals out of a Dutch painting; a tree-shaded avenue of pretentious mansions set in wide lawns abruptly becomes a bustling row of shops and stalls, then melts into a sunny village of thatched huts among which water-buffalo graze. The effect is indescribably pleasing; your eye constantly discovers new vistas, isolated little communities around every corner tempting you to explore them.”
Doesn’t that sound just lovely? Certainly, some things have changed since 1948. There are canals that have been filled in with concrete to create motorways. Luxury high-rise hotels now line the Chao Phraya River where once there was only an untamed jungle. Motorized tuk-tuks zip through traffic like mambo dancers on a crowded dance floor. And charge cards have replaced the frayed and faded Bahts in the morning marketplaces. “Speedy boats” fly up the canals and waterways where old world dug-out canoes and paddle boats still aim to float by at a comfortable pace with their cargo of bananas, rambutan and durian.
Time marches inevitably on to the betterment and detriment of all cities, and Bangkok is no exception. But there is much to discover here in the City of Angels; there is a lingering beauty among the razzle and passion of now. And while the language barrier here may seem distinct, the Bangkokian personality places a great emphasis on fun (known in Thai as sà-nùk), so your discoveries here are sure to involve an element of playfulness, and always, of welcome.
Wats & Temples
True, Bangkok boasts hundreds of temples, or wats as they are called in Thai, but none is more important than Wat Phra Keo. This temple was built on the Grand Palace Grounds which had been established in the year 1782 by the Chakri Dynasty. While the fairy tale magic of the Palace itself is enough to satisfy any visitor, the real beauty actually lies within the temple… the Emerald Buddha. Actually made of jade, the icon is so sacred that only the King of Thailand is allowed to change Buddha's cloaks three times annually, once for each of the changing seasons (hot, hotter, hottest). Wat Po is another important temple, reputed to be the country's oldest and most impressive, housing Thailand's largest Reclining Buddha.
Life on the River
Running through the heart of Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is known as the “River of Kings,” so named by King Rama I of Siam (as Thailand was once known) who is also celebrated as the founder of Rattanakosin (now Bangkok). Lined with glimmering hotels and ancient temples, condominiums and churches, it represents the very lifeblood of the city, with 50,000 people using its ferries to go about their daily lives. The klongs (river canals) are livelier in the morning but activities do go on throughout the warmth of midday. Mothers may bathe their children from their watery household steps. Older kids sometimes swim in the tempting waters. Women paddle canoes with vegetables, fruit and frying pans for sale. Life on the river is definitely colorful here in what many call the "Venice of the East."
BEST STREET FOOD AROUND
Let’s face it, no matter how much you may love it, you haven’t really eaten Thai food until you’ve eaten Bangkok street food (and believe it or not, pad Thai is not native to Thailand; even though the locals love it, too – it is quintessentially Chinese!). Bangkok is the street food capital of the world and for the adventurous palate, this is destination dining at its finest. Incredibly diverse and intensely flavorful – think spicy, sour, sweet and salty – Thai cooking places great emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components. Thai street food is one of Bangkok’s great gifts, from nibbling a snack while walking the streets – at any time, 24 hours a day – to bowls of piping hot noodles, stir fried dishes over rice, Thai curry, deep-fried bananas and green papaya salad. For a more refined experience, the city boasts several Michelin-starred restaurants, too. Is your palate perking up yet?