Volunteering in Asia can truly give a tourist new standards for traffic congestion, urban density, air quality, and gentrification in Asian mega cities. One can argue that traffic in Bangkok is one of the worst in the world or that there are much cleaner and modern cities, both of which are probably true. As compared to other developing countries in Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, volunteers in Thailand can often be experience reverse culture shock upon arrival.
Locals often refer to Bangkok as “Krung Thep”, a shorter version of its Thai name, Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Clearly, a city with the longest name on Earth implies that anything less than a week is hardly enough time to enjoy all that Bangkok as to offer.
Built in 1782, the Grand Palace is the home of the Thai King, the Royal court, and the administrative seat of government. The complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. The intricate detail in every inch of architecture is unbelievably beautiful.
Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
It is a very spiritual and moving experience to participate in a blessing outside of Emerald Buddha. Lotus flowers are dipped into a brass basin of holy water and sprinkled above the head to signify additional blessings from the gods. A strict dress code applies. The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha are Thailand's most sacred sites. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves and no exposed feet. Women must be similarly modestly dressed and avoid shorts and bare shoulders. If a guest arrives at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entrance that provides rented clothing for proper coverage.
Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
The Wat Po complex is the largest temple in Bangkok and famed for the huge and majestic gold leaf Reclining Buddha measured 46 meters long. Behind the Reclining Buddha, 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicate the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Tourists line up to drop coins in the bowls, as it is believed to bring good fortune and to help the monks maintain the wat.
Chao Phraya Tourist Boat
The private boat tour begins at the port near Grand Palace, travel past Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) and King Rama VII Bridge and end at the Royal Barge Museum. Along the journey on the Chao Phraya River, vendors and their floating markets of snacks and souvenirs offer wonderful shopping temptations. Depending on the route of the tour, some offer an opportunity to visit a fish sanctuary to feed frenzied and eager catfish loaves of bread from the boat.
Royal Barge Museum
The royal barges used in ceremonial processions along Chao Phraya river are on display at a museum dock along the boat tour. When not in use, the barges are on display at the Thonburi museum. It is a very powerful contrast of such beautifully decorated and traditional royal barges traveling down the river against the backdrop of both modern buildings and fisherman.
No trip to Bangkok is complete without walking down the Soi Cowboy which was only a ten minute walk from our hotels. Soi Cowboy is the equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. It did not seem as wild as any film may portray. Locals say that the street food is surprisingly good, assuming you don’t mind eating with club staff and dancers.
Traditional Thai massages are without a doubt a favorite and highlight to any tourist experience of Bangkok. Spas are on practically every block and offer a wide variety of pampering services, ranging from traditional Thai massage to a simple foot massage, which is perfect after a long day of sightseeing and walking.
Like most Asian countries, auto rickshaws, more commonly known as “tuk tuks”, are an inexpensive and efficient means of transportation for relatively short distances. They have covered roofs and relatively open on three sides to the fresh air. “Tuk tuks” do not have meters and it is best to negotiate the payment rate prior to driving.
For longer distances, taxis are the next appropriate option. The key to taxi travel is making sure a driver turns on the meter prior to beginning the drive. If not, it is not uncommon for tourists to be charged a high flat rate and cannot argue since the meter was never turned on.
Local Thai cuisine offers noodles, veggies, seafood, sweets, and drinks, all of which have large, tasty, and inexpensive options that can make any food lover’s mouth water. For any foodie who enjoys Thai cuisine in other countries, it cannot compare to the delicacies of an authentic Thai meal in Bangkok. An impressive range of street vendors, mega mall food courts, cafes, and casual and fine dining restaurants allow a tasty treat for any and all palates.
The restaurant concept revolves around Thai recipes from ancient Siamese cookbooks. The appetizer set is the highlight of the menu, with five enjoyable tasters from different parts of Thailand arranged in couplets. Among them are a creamy khao soi kai (Northern curried noodle soup with chicken), lotus-leaf miang (Roasted nuts, coconut shavings, dried shrimp, chilies, and seasonings wrapped in a leaf), shrimp and lemongrass salad, rice crackers topped with curry, and a pandanus leaf encasing roasted chicken. The appetizer set lives up to the adage that one bite of Thai cuisine should compass enough flavors for an entire dish.
This “fashion” café offers delicious Thai and fusion Asian style menus. The signature cocktail is also an unexpected variety of flavors in its fusion of chardonnay with Chinese plums.
Volunteers in Bangkok can enjoy a wonderful adventure for all sensations – the visual beauty is a skyline of modern malls side by side traditional river villages, an explosion of tastes in a single bowl of noodles, a tactile experience of a relaxing Thai massage, the sounds of tuk-tuks, cars, and motorcycles honking and maneuvering their way through traffic, and the scent of the incense from a nearby Buddhist temple combined with a nearby food cart preparing for lunch.