Thai one on

Bangkok of­fers amaz­ing sights and food

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL - By Robert Sel­witz

HFOR a to­tal change of pace, take a weekend SkyTrain to the Chatuchak mar­ket, Thai­land’s largest, fea­tur­ing more than 6,000 stalls. While you can­not pos­si­bly see ev­ery­thing in the mar­ket, do check out the amaz­ing pet sec­tion, which in­cludes Si­amese fight­ing fish, live coral in fil­tered wa­ter tanks, as­tound­ing flu­o­res­cent and iri­des­cent sea crea­tures and fear­some lizards. Also find an­tiques, ar­ti­facts, tex­tiles, fresh seafood and an as­tound­ing ar­ray of fresh veg­eta­bles.

Since Chatuchak ex­ists pri­mar­ily for Thais, you can see an amaz­ing crosssec­tion of not only the coun­try’s goods but also its peo­ple. Ar­rive early to avoid the heat and the crowds, both of which in­crease as the day wears on.

There are many other fas­ci­nat­ing Bangkok des­ti­na­tions, some of which re­quire hir­ing a driver or book­ing a tour. One of th­ese is the in­trigu­ing Prasart Mu­seum, a pri­vate ar­chi­tec­tural and dec­o­ra­tive arts col­lec­tion re­quir­ing ad­vance reser­va­tions for weekend vis­its. Some­what near the air­port but ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to reach on one’s own, Prasart is the brain­child of a Thai real-es­tate mogul and fea­tures works the owner ac­quired dur­ing the past half-cen­tury.

On site are tem­ples, pavil­ions, li­braries, al­tars, lin­tels and all man­ner of dec­o­ra­tive arts in­clud­ing wood­carv­ings, fur­ni­ture, sculp­tures, Bud­dha stat­ues and jew­elry. Much is housed in tra­di­tion­ally de­signed build­ings erected to show­case the trea­sures.

Then there is Ayut­thaya, Thai­land’s cap­i­tal city for more than four cen­turies be­fore it was moved in the late 1700s near — and ul­ti­mately to — present-day Bangkok. Roughly an hour’s drive north of Bangkok, Ayut­thaya is most eas­ily reached via day trips start­ing at most ma­jor ho­tels. Th­ese usu­ally fea­ture a morn­ing bus trip to the site, lunch and a leisurely af­ter­noon re­turn to Bangkok via the Chao Phraya River.

High­lights in­clude the brick rem­nants of Bud­dhist stu­pas, many of which were bro­ken open by in­vaders who in­cor­rectly thought vast gold stores were hid­den in­side.

Other must-sees in­clude the 14th­cen­tury Wat Phra Ma­hathat palaces and pavil­ions built by traders who re­turned to the city af­ter the con­quer­ing Burmese left soon af­ter their 1767 invasion; and the trea­sure-packed Chao Sam Phraya Na­tional Mu­seum. It’s filled with ex­tra­or­di­nary rem­nants of Ayut­thaya’s glory days, in­clud­ing co­pi­ous gold ar­ti­facts and a jew­e­len­crusted sword and scab­bard. EAD­ING for South­east Asia? Thai­land should be the coun­try you think of first. Rea­son­able prices, great food, amaz­ing sights, a rapidly im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture and English spo­ken vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where com­ple­ment the fact this is a gen­uinely wel­com­ing land.

Of course, there’s al­ways room for up­grades.

Auto traf­fic re­mains for­mi­da­ble, and visi­tors are wise not to rent cars. But within the cap­i­tal, the air-con­di­tioned, el­e­vated over­head SkyTrain and swift un­der­ground Metro make get­ting around the city sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier.

Bangkok is also the ideal gate­way for neigh­bour­ing coun­try vis­its. Cana­di­ans head­ing for Laos, Viet­nam, Myan­mar (Burma) or Cambodia will find con­nec­tions par­tic­u­larly easy once their trans-Pa­cific car­rier lands in Bangkok.

First-time Bangkok visi­tors will cer­tainly want to ex­pe­ri­ence the city’s most fa­mous at­trac­tions. Th­ese in­clude the glo­ri­ous Grand Palace and the home of Wat Phra Kaew, the leg­endary Emer­ald Bud­dha.

Other must-sees are the 46-me­tre­long gold-leaf-cov­ered re­clin­ing Bud­dha statue called Wat Pho; the Wat Arun or Tem­ple of Dawn, the soar­ing river­side Bud­dhist tem­ple dec­o­rated with bro­ken crock­ery; and the Royal Barges Mu­seum. Ev­ery­one should ride along the dy­namic Chao Phraya River and wend through the klongs, a dense net­work of canals feed­ing into the river. Here, thou­sands live on or di­rectly above the wa­ter. The best way to ex­pe­ri­ence the klongs is to board a wooden, pow­ered dragon boat.

Be­yond sight­see­ing, Bangkok is fa­mous for its shop­ping. But don’t just fo­cus on shop­ping malls that are pri­mar­ily filled with in­ter­na­tional goods. Rather, wan­der among the many street­side shops pur­vey­ing fash­ion, an­tiques and sou­venirs.

One favourite choice is the Jim Thomp­son stores, in­clud­ing a main cen­tre and lo­ca­tions within ma­jor ho­tels, where qual­ity silks are the main draw. A main store is at Su­ra­wong, near leg­endary Pat­pong, Bangkok’s most fa­mous red-light dis­trict. You can also visit Thomp­son’s for­mer home, now a ver­i­ta­ble mu­seum. It’s filled with ar­ti­facts he ac­quired dur­ing years of pro­mot­ing Thai­land’s in­ter­na­tional silk trade. A fine restau­rant and re­tail out­let are also on site.

PHO­TOS BY POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

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